28 Feb 2018

Collecting Birmingham’s Gaming Heritage

In November and December 2017 two Collecting Birmingham community consultation sessions on the topic of video gaming, took place. Stories and recollections of gaming, game development and popular memorabilia connected to gaming practices in Birmingham throughout the 70's, 80's, 90's and 2000's were collected by the project's staff.

Collecting Birmingham is researching gaming as part of the themes of childhood and leisure in Birmingham. The project hopes to collect objects that resonate with the local communities; an object selected by the public will form part of an upcoming exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

At the end of October 2017 a small group of gaming experts joined us at the John Lewis Community Hub. The attendees were invited due to their professional connection to gaming, programming, or computer development industries in the city. These experts shared their most memorable experiences, games played, and observations in regards to gaming culture and the places people attended the most. This helped compile a long list of objects and stories to be researched further.

Collecting Birmingham Session

These experts had many comments about gaming in the 70's, 80's and 90's. The conversation started, with the 1970's, with memories of vector displays and games like Atari or Pong. Later, throughout the 70's and 80's, the gaming industry developed producing more advanced video games, with the most popular Arcade machines, Pac-Man and Mario Brothers,  forming into a distinctive subculture with a wide range of artworks such as magazines, posters and memorabilia.

Some remembered such publishers as Elite and US Gold, based in the West Midlands. Technical support also became more complex, allowing people to play video games at home. In the 90's cartridge and CD games (Sega, PlayStation, Nintendo) were introduced, and video game music became popularized. Gamers started rewriting and trading videogames, making it possible to purchase pre-owned video game for less money. The late 90's and early 2000's were noted for the rise of videogames fully in 3D and the migration of games onto mobile phones. By 2010 users were able to livestream gaming experience, and gaming videoblogs became hugely popular. Retro gaming became a trend, incorporating new technology like Virtual Reality.

Collecting Birmingham Gaming Session Notes

The second engagement session took place at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in early December. This took the form of a retro gaming event, where museum visitors and gaming enthusiast came together to play some vintage video games, share their video gaming memories, and help us shortlist objects and stories for display.

Collecting Birmingham Gaming

The audience was very diverse, and Collecting Birmingham got feedback from over 60 people. People made positive comments about the soundtrack of the event and could recognize cover songs played in a simple, early videogame sound manner.

Many were surprised to find the event in one of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery spaces. However, there was a visitor who had been looking forward to the event for over two weeks. Interestingly, most of the video game players were adults. Some people we talked to remembered hits such as Final Fantasy, Minecraft, Sonic the Hedgehog and Pac-Man, which they had played in their childhood/youth. When asked about what would best represent the gaming history of Birmingham, people's tendency was to think of an Arcade machine from the '70s or 80s'.

Collecting Birmingham Gaming Computers

Altogether, the event was a great success and participants took genuine interest in the videogaming experience, as well as in contributing their time and opinions to the staff of Collecting Birmingham.

Collecting Birmingham Gaming Session Participants