We were invited by Manchester's Museum of Science & Industry to spend the evening of Friday, 24th July, at the press preview of a new, hands-on exhibition, called PLAY It!, and we thought you'd like to hear all about it. This is the first time that MOSI has run any kind of gaming event, which it's doing in partnership with retro connoisseurs Replay Events, and is a perfect addition to the venue's already entertaining offerings.
The PLAY It! 80s Classroom. Quiet at the Back!
Primarily we went along because of the 80s computer classroom that takes up one corner of the event space. Lined up against the wall is a row of pristine condition BBC Micro computers (interspersed with the odd Acorn), all intended to trigger quiet, tearful yearnings of a childhood long forgotten. Which is echoed throughout the event, for that matter.
We're reliving the halcyon days of the BBC Micro right now here on element14, due to the imminent launch of the Beeb's new educational program, the bbc_microbit. And as much as we've all been sharing rose-tinted micromemories of our early computing days, actually getting our fingers on the wonderfully tactile keyboard of the super-solid BBC Micro has thus far eluded us. Until we went to PLAY It!, of course.
The Micro's are like new, and all are up and running and ready for code. Those in the know can dive in and start hacking out the BASIC right away, or you can follow a handful of simple, programming exercises (much like we did when the Micro was new and cutting edge) to remind yourself of the effort it took just to get your name to appear in big, blocky pixels. And, naturally, you could play Elite. As you can imagine, there's was a much longer line that machine...
The Games Room
Firstly, it's worth pointing out that the room within MOSI that's been chosen to host PLAY It! is a superb choice. It's homely and rustic, thanks to its original life as a low-ceiling mill, which works surprisingly well. It's warm, and filled with dark corners that lend themselves ideally to the herds of old computers and consoles. The raster glow of a hundred or more TV screens gives it an atmosphere that lands somewhere between your best friend's super-cool living room, and a fine arcade or yesteryear, rich with dancing ambiance from the plethora of games all running at once.
The hall is invisibly sectioned to offer a journey through the last 30 years of gaming in a way that you don't immediately notice. You can hunt down your favourite computers and consoles of old - and you're pretty much guaranteed to find it - or you can venture out to play the games you've heard about, but never quite got around to. Online Halo, for example, on a ring of networked Xbox 360s, or go and find your kids who are waiting over in the Minecraft alley, absorbed by the block-building game/app when they should be playing Streets of Rage 2 on the 16-bit Sega.
While the Museum of Science & Industry offers free entry, the PLAY It! event has a £4 price tag attached to its one and a half hour sessions (of which there are four, daily). Or you can stump up a tenner and spend the whole day in there. Either way it's money very well spent, and the whole family is going to find more digital entertainment than one trip can fully reveal. If you're wondering whether it's worth making the trip to Manchester with PLAY It! as the focus of your day, I can say with confidence that it most certainly is for anyone reading this on element14. You guys will love it, because I did.
PLAY It! kicked off on the 24th July, and runs daily until 9th August, so don't waste time. Go check it out!