Spacewar! on a model of the PDP-1. Photo by Daniel Love.

Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off

December 15–March 3, 2013
Changing Exhibitions Gallery

Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off looks at the first 50 years of video games through the lens of Spacewar!, the first digital video game, its development, and the culture from which it sprang. In addition to a model of the original PDP-1 (Programmed Data Processor-1) computer running a playable simulation of Spacewar!, the exhibition presents 20 playable video games ranging in platform (arcade, console, handheld, PC), genre (shooters, platformers, action, arcade) and developer (commercial, independent, experimental). From Computer Space to Portal, the exhibition draws connections and contrasts between these games and Spacewar!, signaling the latter’s central place in the development of video games as a cultural form. 

Spacewar! was created by a group of students and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1961, conceived of as a demonstration for the new Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-1 computer. The game premiered at the 1962 Science Open House at MIT, and was later shared and modified at computer labs around the United States. This “computer toy” influenced untold technological advances and gave rise to the cultural phenomenon now known as video games. Among other things, Spacewar! set the template for the game development industry and its relationship to technology, established shooting as a core game mechanic, and inspired space and science fiction themes for future games.

This exhibition was organized by guest curator John Sharp.

Full game list (subject to change):
Spacewar! (1961–62), PDP-1 model
Computer Space (1971), arcade
Space Wars (1977), arcade
Space Invaders(1978), arcade
(1979), arcade
Battlezone (1980), arcade
Defender (1980), arcade
Missile Command (1980), arcade
Tempest (1981), arcade
Planet Zeon
(1982), Tomytronic
Yars' Revenge (1982), Atari Video Computer System
Star Wars (1983), arcade
Metroid II: Return of Samus (1991), Game Boy
Galaxy Force II (1988), arcade
Galaga ‘91 (1991), Game Gear
Star Fox (1993), Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Vertical Force (1995), Virtual Boy
Portal (2007), PS3
Osmos (2009), iPad
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010), Wii
Child of Eden (2011), Xbox 360

Each paid visitor will receive four complimentary arcade tokens (maximum ten per party). Additional tokens may be purchased in the gallery. Recommended for ages 8+.

Support for Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off was provided by the Entertainment Software Association.