In the spring of 2016, Frisco, Texas welcomed a new museum. The public has embraced the National Videogame Museum (NVM) with open arms, which has thus far been a resounding success. Sean Kelly, a founder along with Joe Santulli and John Hardie, considers the first year phenomenal, “the level of interest more than even we were expecting.”
The NVM is located within the Frisco Discovery Center and spreads across 10,000 square feet. In addition to the interactive exhibits and impressive displays, admission comes with tokens for the 1980s-style arcade, Pixel Dreams. Guests can play games such as PacMan, Mortal Kombat, and Donkey Kong Jr., underneath black lighting and surrounded by neon.
The Founders’ Vision
We’ve said from day one that we don’t want the NVM to be too “museum-y,” Sean Kelly explained. “We’re pretty confident we achieved taht.” The three ended up becoming a little more museum-y themselves, however, in order to get things up and running; their success proves this compromise was invaluable. While he feels the three founders have adapted well to their new roles, Kelly considered running a museum “a constant learning process.”
The trio has been dedicated to all things videogame (a concept they label as a single word) for most of their lives. Partnering in the early 1990s, they have taken their exhibits on the road for over 20 years. A permenant endeavor has always been a drea, albeit a terrifying one in many ways. The three joke about a shared bad dream, experienced on numerous occasions: “We open the doors to the show or the exhibit and virtually no one shows up. The dream is always way too real and quite terrifying!”
In a way, the three faced that fear on opening day, when driving by 30 minutes before opening showed only a small crowd. “We were freaking out,” Kelly remembered. However, it did not take long after the first admissions for the line to grow, peaking at two to three city blocks long.
There on opening day with Santulli, Hardie, and Kelly were their families, who have been putting up with their shenanigans for over a quarter of a century. “They think we’re nuts!” Kelly said. “Though, in all honestly, when everything finally came to fruition here in Frisco they did have to eat a little crow!” Kelly said that the feedback has been positive and visitor numbers steady. “The support we’ve seen from the people both in and out of Texas has surpassed even our wildest dreams.”
Versions 1.0 and 2.0
While Frisco may seem an unusual home for the NVM, it has been the perfect fit. “We truly believe we couldn’t have found a better home,” Kelly said. “We’re thrilled to be playing a part in the growth of this amazing community.” The museum features reproductions of a 1980s living room and a 1990s bedroom. “I can’t even count how many times someone has said that they ‘had that exact same paneling’ or ‘where in the world did you find my sofa from 1983?'” Kelly said. “We’ve heard that reaction hundreds of times, but it never gets old.”
One of the most enjoyable areas of the museum is the arcade. “Pixel Dreams is part of the overall package at the NVM.” When asked if a stand-alone arcade was ever an option, Kelly replied that he does not see their efforts heading in that direction. “It’s hard but we have to constantly remind ourselves that we are not an arcade museum but rather have an arcade as part of our museum.” Even now, collecting, displaying, and maintaining the games is an enormous feat. Pixel Dreams provides guests with a “good representation of the games that essentially drove the videogame industry both in the arcades and at home.”
Visitors can expect to learn interesting facts about the videogame industry, like the crash of 1983, and view consoles or controllers they never knew existed. The NVM houses rare Atari Mindlink controllers. “From a marketing standpoint, I’m sure Atari’s marketing team saw a controller that would allow the player to control the game with their mind as a ‘home run,’” says Kelly. Technically, it was impossible to implement and never worked, and the Mindlink was never released due to unreliability. “I believe we have five of them in the museum, but there have only been two found that resemble anything close to a retail product,” explains Kelly. The NVM owns one of those two.
Of course, one would be remiss not to mention BLIP!, the museum’s mascot comprised of videogame components. The incredibly talented artist, Oliver Wade “did the Super Mario World wall, the handheld room, the gift shop, the sound exhibit, and helped with several others.” Kelly recalls, “We told Oliver that we thought it would be cool to have a mascot and he ran with it. BLIP! was entirely his creation and required very little input from us.”
With the first year under their belts, Kelly considered year two. “Expansion,” he said is on the front of their minds. Most of the space within their Discovery Center is dedicated to exhibits. The NVM currently houses about 20, but the three originally brainstormed about 56 possibilities. Heavy on ideas, but short on space, they call the current NVM “V1.0,” which focuses more on attractions than the academic side of their collective miscellany. If expansion comes to fruition, Kelly explained, “We plan to build an extensive library that will give users access to our massive paperwork and software libraries for the first time ever. We also plan to use that library to digitally archive the hundreds of thousands of pieces of paperwork we have and make as much of it available online as possible.” They would also like a large space for camps, parties, and events than what they have now.
Their plans to expand may not longer be just dreams. “Those conversations with the City of Frisco have been going on for a while now,” Kelly said. “We hope to have something to announce sooner rather than later.”
The Shared Goal
Currently, visitors can take full advantage of the crème-de-la-crème of their unified collection. Their amassing of documents, consoles, and more started decades ago, and only continues to grow. “In the beginning, we were each doing our own thing to build our little ‘archives,'” Kelly said. “We were unknowingly the pioneers of the vintage gaming community and among the first to recognize the importance of the videogame industry in popular culture in general.” Kelly emphasized that “It wasn’t until we came together as [a team] that we realized just how important what we were doing was.”
Even with a shared goal, the trio is not free of conflict. “Each of us has his own strengths and weaknesses and without the other two, none of this would have been possible,” Kelly said. “At the end of the day, we all realize that the whole unit will suffer so we refrain from strangling anyone.” All joking aside, they are now like brothers. Whether visiting the NVM for nostalgia, education, or to play in Pixel Dreams, there is truly something for everyone!