ON Barbican Centre
Well I was going up to London and it was a grey and
overcast day yet again. Why do all my ‘going up to London’
articles have to start on such a down note? It’s always ‘Oh,
we were tired and didn’t feel like going anywhere’ or
‘It was grey and shit and we all just wanted to die’.
Moan, moan, moan.
Anyway, this time I wasn’t depressed,
or bored or tired. If anything I was glad that I was getting out
of Brighton for the day. As beautiful and relaxing as it is, the
joy of going to the beach with an overly expensive coffee only lasts
for so many days on end. But, I’m telling it like it is here,
and it was cloudy, grey and overcast when it’s supposed to
It probably wasn’t the best thing to have to go stand in front
of the Job Centre waiting for Trevor either. There are a few Job
Centres in Brighton, and this one is by far the most soul sucking
of the bunch. It’s grey and dowdy, constantly in shadow and
I’m pretty sure the walls are made from an asbestos/asbestos
mix. I can just about cope with having to go anywhere near one of
these places every two weeks, but having to go stand outside one
the day after I had to go myself was pushing it a little.
But you build up a certain stereotype
of the sorts of people who have to go to the Job Centre, and standing
outside waiting I got to watch who went in and out, rather than
just focusing on me getting in and out as quick as possible. Some
people just seem to go with the place, such as the man with bandaged
hands and a blue plastic carrier bag full of who knows what, possibly
a copy of The Sun and his wife’s head.
Then the anorexic looking blonde lady
with no ass and a tight-faced partner with bleached-blonde hair,
again with bandaged hands. A nice girl rides past on a bicycle.
She looks at me, I smile, knowing full well she’s only got
one word on her mind – ‘Dolescum’. Ah, life is
We’re sat on the train, Trevor’s reading comics. I’m
joining in with everyone else in the game of ‘Who’s
The Killer?’ This mostly just involves furtively glancing
at everyone else in the same carriage out of the corner of your
eye. I don’t quite know why everyone does this or what they’re
waiting for. It’s either a kind of ‘You lookin’
at me?’ thing, or someone’s waiting for trouble and
can’t wait to jump in and try and stop it. Everyone loves
Coming nearer towards London, we’re
further from Brighton and the sky starts to turn a more favourable
blue. There’s got to be some kind of meaning there; leaving
the grey, overcast bleakness of Brighton and heading for the hopeful
sunshine of London? See how wrong that is? So it has to mean something.
Maybe something is telling me that leaving the flat today was a
good idea and a wise move. Although the cost of doing so is making
me think otherwise. Freedom has its price. And today that price
I’m a little concerned about
how good this exhibition is going to be, I haven’t bothered
reading any reviews myself, and I’d rather just be surprised.
Well not surprised as such, just find out for myself with a clear
head that isn’t full of preconceptions, doubts or negativity.
I’ve only been to the Barbican Gallery once and that was for
the Art of Star Wars exhibit.
I’ve left going to see this thing for too long and a lot
of these modern antiques aren’t going to be working anymore."
That was a good day out. But this is
arcade machines. Old arcade machines; and my fears rise above the
new 10p’s not working in them, or that the cabinets will have
had diet coke spilled over them, been pock-marked with cigarette
burns and lightly dusted with ash. I’m just thinking maybe
I’ve left going to see this thing for too long and a lot of
these modern antiques aren’t going to be working anymore.
So on the one hand I’m looking
forward to playing a lot of the games that were out before my time
and also reliving some fond memories; but on the other I’m
hoping not to be left with a the sort of disappointment you feel
when the only ATM you’ve found is ‘Not in use’.
Getting into Farringdon was a strange
experience for me. I don’t think I’ve had to come to
this station for well over a year, even though, as with all good
experiences, it only seemed like yesterday that I was here last.
Still, good to see the resident beggar is still sat outside ‘Food
& Wine’ opposite the station entrance, this time trying
his hand at insulting people into giving him money, even going so
far as to suggest that ‘a cheque will do, mate’. Yes,
and I’d love to see you try and cash that one in.
So I bought my stinking ‘Chicken
Salad with Mayo’ sub, featuring brown lettuce, sodding tomato
and hard bread and we carried onto the Barbican, meeting new pal,
Beth at Barbican Station along the way.
The Centre always baffles me a little when I go there. Ok, so this
was only the third time I’ve been but it’s still a little
confusing nonetheless. I manage to find my way around fine but it’s
such a large and strangely confusing building that it’s disconcerting
just how easily you find your way around; and the way the lifts
talk to you gives the feeling that you’re not entirely in
control of where you want to go.
They’re a fair bunch in the Centre
though, and who said being unemployed was hard? We got a whole £2
knocked off our admission fee for being out of work; apart from
Beth who lied and pretended she was a student. Don’t worry,
the police have been informed*.
The exhibition seemed to be set out
in a strange way. I could see what they tried to do by firstly showing
the progression of video games throughout the years, with the retro
machines coming first – headed, of course, by Spacewar! –
and then taking you though to the top consoles of the ages. But
then you have to wonder if they started thinking ‘Shit, what
do we do now?’ So the rest of the exhibit was really sort
of set out into different themes, like ‘Mind Games’,
‘Sports’ and ‘Simulation’, with the upstairs
Gallery featuring ‘Culture’, ‘Sound’ and
So all in all it was set out pretty
well, but let’s face it, everyone was really going there to
play some vintage original video games. Maybe they should have saved
those for last so everyone would take in all the other stuff before
arriving at the big finale.
My initial fears about not being able
to play some of the original machines were confirmed with the first
game encountered, Spacewar! They had a mock up of the original machine,
made out of some metal boxes and what appeared to be a changing
room locker, mainly to show size, but you only got to play the game
in emulation form on a MB Vectrex.
Which would have been ok had you been able to use the actual Vectrex
controllers, but this, as with a few of these games, was hooked
up with big square plastic buttons to bash away at instead. Understandable
really, I know I’d be heartbroken to see my Vectrex controller
being pawed and hammered at by some grubby handed kids. But anyway,
here’s a rundown of the different areas of the show:
Retro Arcade Games.
Like I mentioned, this section just had a bunch of old arcade machines
from the early 80s. I was a little disappointed that the games I
really wanted to play, the ones that were out before I got into
games, and never really made it to these shores anyway, such as
Pong and Computer Space, were turned off and unplayable. They did
however have this pretty awful version of pong projected on the
wall to play. I’m sure they could have got a cheap pong clone
console from somewhere and just hooked that up, would have been
a lot better than this thing that someone probably knocked up in
Flash the night before.
There was also a small Space Invaders
section which was great as they had two cocktail cabinets there,
but without the beer mat and glass of coke on the side it didn’t
feel quite the same. There was also an upright cabinet, featuring
the mirror projected version of the game on the moon/space background.
It was great to see these machines in the good condition they were.
But for some reason, in the same section, they had ‘Mr.Do!’
projected on one of the walls to play. Quite what this guy had to
do with Space Invaders is beyond me.
Other games in this area included Ms.
Pac-Man, Pac-Man, Galaxian, Defender (which I still suck at!), Missile
Command (which is still shit), Crystal Castles and Centipede. This
section, for me, was the main reason for going to the show. It brought
back a lot of memories. I just needed a pocket full of 10ps to make
it authentic; and maybe Zammo in a pool of his own sick in the corner.
Top Ten Consoles.
Well I’d like to know who’s ‘Top Ten’ these
consoles actually were. They seemed to have all the major ones covered
but – as Trevor kept complaining about – there wasn’t
an Intellivision in sight. Again it was a shame that you weren’t
able to touch or use the actual consoles. They were all behind some
sort of futuristic bullet-proof plastic, giving the impression that
if you so much as looked at them for too long, you’d get your
eyes burned out with lasers. It was also fairly odd to see a Spectrum
being controlled with a PC keyboard. You just know everything here
was running on emulators and MAME.
All the important advancements seemed
to be covered, ranging from the Odyssey (which I didn’t get
to play), through to the Spectrum, C64, Amiga, SNES, Saturn, Jaguar,
PlayStation, XBOX and Gamecube; although the Gamecube wasn’t
actually plugged into anything. It was just sat in a box on its
own. And as I stood and watched the lonely Gamecube for a while,
a small tear ran out of the disc tray, and slowly trickled down
its plastic cheek.
All the consoles (with the exception
of the Gamecube) were playable, but for some of the older machines
and computers different controllers were on offer - such as a Saturn
controller for the C46. I also think that the Amiga should have
been set up with QuickShot II’s instead of the Atari VCS sticks
There was something seedy about this
room. The kids playing on the games all had varying troll-like qualities
that were un-nerving to say the least. Quickly turn round and there’d
be one grinning behind your back. Get away from me, troll-boy!
More Consoles and Mind Games.
So this is kind of where things seemed to get a little desperate
for the organisers. I can really see what they were trying to do
here, by showing the importance of video games throughout the ages;
their development, the varying genres et cetera, but I honestly
believe around 95% of the people there were only there to play games.
Which is a good thing, thats what they’re there for, right?
But someone having a 5 minute blast
on Bust-A-Move 4 isn’t going to suddenly make them realise
just how in depth and mentally challenging these games are, nor
how important they are, if anything it’ll just piss them off
that they can’t stay on there all day and will, at some point,
have to put the controller down and let someone else have a go.
probably took the day off from work as a secretary to go and
find herself typing away playing a text adventure."
So this section consisted of a bunch
of TV screens mounted into the walls displaying a selection of some
of the landmark games from the ‘Puzzle’ genre. This
included games like Super Monkey-Ball, Flashback, Codebreaker –
playing which offered an experience very similar to trying to guess
the product codes on those keypads in Argos stores – Mr. Driller
and oddly enough, The Secret Of Monkey Island and Zork!
The inclusion of Zork was interesting,
but odd. It’s great for kids of this 128-bit era to see just
how simplistic games were back then, but come on, they were never
going to even approach that screen, let alone start playing it.
There was one woman having a go though; thing is she probably took
the day off from work as a secretary to go and find herself typing
away playing a text adventure. See, life does suck after all.
Also showing Monkey Island was pretty
odd. This is one of my favourite games of all time, but with graphic
adventures you really need to sit down and play through the game
and get drawn into the story. Seeing as there was a 5 minute time
limit on all the games I doubt that was going to happen for anyone.
Still, it was great to see a couple of the character design sketches
on display, even if the photo is a little blurry.
Got something to add or comment on?
Click here to discuss it in the eyemachine reviews forum.