Oakland's own Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment is a video game archive for the people
The first time I walked into The MADE, it was a trip. A trip because I hadn’t expected to confront my childhood and feel the nostalgia of remembering how dope it was to be a kid. As the bleeps and bops, loading screens, and box art images flashed in my head, I kept asking myself, “how haven’t I heard about this place?”
If at some point in the past, you were obsessed and consumed with video games, The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment is quite literally a safe place you can go to relive and reflect on a time when NBA Jam Tournament Edition was all that mattered and which one of your homies got all 120 stars in Super Mario 64. Looking around at everything for me started to trigger vivid memories of once meaningful video game achievements and that one time on my birthday when I wanted Street Fighter 2 for the SNES but that shit was sold out everywhere. Haven’t fucked with birthdays since then.
The MADE is a non-profit museum that houses a collection of historically significant works in video games. It is dedicated to educating and teaching the public about how video games are created, and how they’ve changed over the years. Its main goals are preserving the history of video games and heralding them as an artistic medium.
Oh, and you can play them.
The MADE also offers free programming classes for all ages and skill ranges. A little-known community resource for Downtown Oakland, MADE’s 16th Street location also host community events and tournaments.Its founder, Alex Handy, is an internationally published journalist covering video games, software development and Bay Area culture. His writings have been used in curriculum at Harvard. He also happens to be a collector. And we’re talking about rare, rare shit, like the Apple Pippin, a fleet of Neo-Geo arcade cartridges, ancient servers intended to host the very first online MMO’s, and even a fucking Power Glove.
Before we started our conversation, we played a match of SVC: Chaos on a Neo Geo Multi Video Selector cabinet. The cabinet had every imaginable golden era Neo-Geo fighting game in it, at your fingertips, and all at once, I was reminded of how transitory life is. As we move closer to getting all our media IV dripped into our veins, I realize why it’s important to preserve, collect and cherish the stuff we loved in our childhood. Over the course of my conversation with Alex, we talked about art in video games, the Laney Flea and reflected on what was a golden time in life for a lot of us.
Let’s start with your own personal history with video games…
The first video game I ever played was the Atari 2600 at a friend’s house. My parents were in marketing and advertising and got an Atari ST 520 for doing typesetting and copywriting. It’s basically a 16-bit computer and I really played a lot of games on that.
Tell us about moving out West from Maryland.
Somewhere in the ‘90s I decided I wanted to move West. In ‘98 I moved out here with the goal of becoming a game reviewer. Within 3 months, I got a job at Mac Home Journal, doing reviews for Macintosh. From there I got deeper into the professional side of it and started to accrue some stuff by being in the tech journalism world.
You mentioned that while you were writing for Mac Home Journal, you acquired some very rare things…
In ‘99 I picked up the Apple Pippin and that’s when I started collecting hardcore.
So that was the first thing that set it off?
Well I had been collecting before, but that was the first item where I was like, “Wow this is rare, I have to hold on to this” type of thing. It’s survived, I don’t know, four, five, six moves. Now, stuff from my own collection only makes up about two or three percent of the whole museum. Items from friends are about 10 percent and the major contributor was GamePro Magazine.
GamePro is no longer in publication, so how did the MADE end up with everything?
When they closed down, we got everything. That Playstation wall, all those SNES boxes, GameCube games, that’s all from GamePro. Things that do come from a personal collection are the nicer things like the Odyssey.
When did the museum become a thing you wanted to do?
It was because I was collecting and I also spent some time working at a computer recycling facility in Berkeley. I had the ability to recognize old weird technology outside of the games space, like servers, chips and stuff like that. In 2004 or 2005 I started to figure out that Laney Flea was the best video game flea market in the world.
I think I’m going to have to cosign that because I saw some amazing things there recently.
Yeah! And that’s the thing, it’s a sketchy flea, if your bike gets stolen that’s where it will be.
Or your laptop or your cellphone.
Your laptop, your iPod, I mean everything is going to show up there. At the same time, I feel like people have these booths there and during the week, they have their jobs–maintenance workers, movers and cleaners–and their jobs are to just get rid of stuff, so they just take it to the flea.
As a result of this, in 2008 I found 57 bare EPROM chips that contained 27 games, including 4 unreleased games for the ColecoVision and one unreleased game for the Atari 2600. These 27 chips contained every revision the programmer made from beginning to end; I was basically looking at how a game comes into development. I had never seen anything like that, let alone an unreleased Atari game, which is the holy grail of video game collecting. When I discovered that at the Laney Flea I started to think, “what am I going to do with this?” It wasn’t a personal collection piece; it was a unique and interesting find, “what happens if I get run over by a bus?”
So I started looking at institutions to donate it to. There was the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, but that was in New York. Then I started thinking about donating it to Stanford. Stanford has a magnificent collection. It is the largest curated video game collection in the world, but [then] you and I wouldn’t be able to see it.
Do you have to be a student?
AH: You can’t even see it as a student. They’re sort of locking it away for all time and somebody needs to do that and keep track of it and say “We have everything, it’s OK, it’s safe.” [That’s] a totally valid thing, but it isn’t a museum. The MADE is a museum. This is a place I want people to come in, put their hands on the controller and play the games.
When was the museum founded and what does it do now?
In 2010 it was founded and it was a place to put the games, a place to have classes and meetups to foster things for the games community. Outside of the games and the fun stuff, the main thing we do is we offer classes. Free programming classes for kids, adults, everybody. Every Saturday morning you can come here, get your kid a free programming class and by the end class they will know how to program a game. The software was developed by MIT to teach kindergartners how to program. We have an interactive fiction class, and on the other end of the spectrum we’ll be doing an Android programming class. That’s an eight week course where you literally will make an Android application from start to end and you don’t need to know how to program. This is a college level course that people drop out of, but its being offered here for free. The first lady to try the course made an application that allowed her to track dog walking hours, distances including GPS coordinates of where the dog had been walked.
How would you explain what the MADE is to someone who has never heard about it?
The MADE is a video game museum that focuses on playable exhibits of significant works and inspiring the next generation of game developers by offering classes, free events and community meetups.
When people think of museums they tend to think of paintings, sculptures. Is there art in video games?
You know, with thirty, forty years of history behind them, video games can finally be recognized for the art that they are. Movies had a long way to go before they were recognized as art. You have to remember the first big film ever released in America was a KKK propaganda movie. It takes awhile for an art form to get its leg and video games certainly can be respected as an artistic medium, an art form that is rendered in math and also nods towards the future. A future where outside of the mechanics of gameplay, we consider what it is that we are trying to convey. What feelings, thoughts emotions, and artistic impressions are we trying to make? When those considerations are made, then it’s liberated into art. It’s when the first thought isn’t, “how many copies am I going to sell?” but instead what impression will I make upon people who play this game.