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Video game history gets its day with 'Game Masters' exhibit at Franklin Institute

The must-play games at the Franklin Institute's new exhibit

ACMI Game Masters 2012
ACMI Game Masters 2012Read moreMark Ashkanasy/Franklin Institute

There are more than 100 playable video games at the Franklin Institute's latest exhibition, but if you're looking for museum president and CEO Larry Dubinski, you'll want to hang around the old-school arcade cabinets.

"[That is] where it all began — the golden age of arcade games," he says. "I'm a child of the '80s, so Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Defender. That's where you'll find me."

As with a good role-playing game, though, guests at the museum's Game Masters: The Exhibition, will have to choose their own path. Opening Saturday and running through Sept. 3, the 14,000-square-foot exhibition features tons of games, from arcade games to console titles and everything in between — no quarters necessary. Fans not playing can dig into concept art, interviews with 30 featured creators, and educational programming, all while listening to a specially curated playlist of '80s hits.

"Game Masters really takes a look at five decades of video game evolution," Dubinski says. "You'll dig in and see how gaming has evolved over the last 50 years."

The exhibit was initially developed in 2012 by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, but the Franklin Institute's version adds 1,200 square feet of space for special programming, which includes coding and robotics demos, virtual reality, and meet-and-greets with local video game industry pros.

Monthly after-hours nights for those 21 and up are also scheduled, as well as screenings of game-centric movies like 1983's WarGames and 1982's Tron.

Game Masters organizes its games into three sections. Arcade Heroes, the first area, focuses on early video games, like Tempest, Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Space Invaders. Game Changers moves on to the '90s and 2000s, with titles like Sonic the Hedgehog, WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne, and Shadow of the Colossus. Indies looks at current games and the creators behind them, such as Alien Hominid by The Behemoth, Thatgamecompany's Flower, and Markus "Notch" Persson's hit, Minecraft.

Nintendo fans, however, may feel left out, as there is a conspicuous lack of the company's titles at the exhibit because of licensing issues. Namely, no Mario.

So, Sega, PlayStation, XBox, PC, and arcade game lovers, this one is for you.

But with so many games to play, and only so many hours in a day, it could be a little tough deciding where to spend your time. So, here, we've rounded up a few can't-miss games available for play at Game Masters. But, please, remember to share — after all, no one likes a controller hog.

Gun Fight

Released in 1975, Midway's Gun Fight is one of the earliest examples of arcade gaming. It was developed by legendary creator Tomohiro Nishikado, who would go on to release Space Invaders in 1978. It's a simple, Old West-themed shooter featuring cowboys squaring off in a duel; the graphics (if you can call them that) aren't great. But it is important to know where you came from.

Missile Command

Atari's Missile Command is rudimentary, and has long been playable on electronics as simple as TI-83 graphing calculators, but that doesn't make it any less fun. Designed by Tempest's Dave Theurer, the game was released in arcades in 1980, and became one of the most popular cartridges for Atari 2600 following its release in 1981. For the uninitiated, Missile Command puts you in the position of a regional commander protecting six cities from missile attacks.


A 1981 release, Defender is considered one of the most influential titles to come out of the so-called Golden Age of Video Arcade Games, from the late '70s to mid-'80s. Former pinball machine producer Eugene Jarvis developed the game, and would go on to create other important titles like Midway's Cruis'n car racing game series and the 1982 arcade shooter, Total Carnage. Defender is also a shooter, but with a space theme that involves killing off waves of aliens as they attempt to invade an unidentified planet.

Dance Central 3

Harmonix's Dance Central 3 is fun, but it's even more fun with an enormous multiplayer stage, as the Franklin Institute has set up for Game Masters. Released in 2012, the game is similar to Dance Dance Revolution, and has players compete in guided dance-offs. Adding a little more spectacle doesn't hurt. Sorry, though — no bonus points for busting moves in public.


Arcade rats from the '80s will remember Sega's Hang-On as one of the first arcade games to feature a full-size, plastic motorcycle as a motion controller. A 1985 release, the game features a video screen embedded into the dash of the motorcycle controller, and gives players the experience of racing with a lifelike throttle controller and lean-controlled steering. An early entry into today's motion controlled gaming style, this one is an especially interactive look back at gaming history.

Spore Creature Creator

These days, game development studio Maxis' Spore Creature Creator is often overlooked, thanks to designer Will Wright's more successful efforts like SimCity and The Sims, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. In the game, released in 2008, players create outlandish creatures to populate an online universe. According to tech news site Engadget, players did so quickly — and with about 38 percent the efficiency of god. While it took the Almighty seven days to create about 1.5 million species of animals, Spore users hit that number in 18 days.

Parappa the Rapper

An early entry into the popular rhythm video game category of today, Parappa the Rapper came out in North America in 1997 on the original PlayStation. Creator Masaya Matsuura puts players in rapping dog Parappa's shoes, and has them rap along via button. Think of it as a precursor to the enormously successful Rock Band or Guitar Hero, but with a hip-hop influence. If you're a fan, check out followups Um Jammer Lammy and Parappa the Rapper 2.

Castle Crashers

Game studio The Behemoth broke onto the gaming scene with Alien Hominid in 2002, but its second game, Castle Crashers, cemented its hold on the 2D side-scrolling genre. Released in 2008 via Xbox Live Arcade, the game puts players in an alternative, medieval universe ruled over by an evil wizard, and users play the four knights who are tasked with reclaiming a stolen gem and rescuing four princesses from him.

Fruit Ninja

Most folks know Halfbrick's Fruit Ninja as a good time waster to play on their phones, but blow that experience up a little, and you have a whole different one. Game Masters' version of Fruit Ninja upgrades to a full-sized flatscreen TV, and has users make slicing motions to chop up the fruits thrown at them. We're not saying you should play it tipsy at an after-hours event, but it would be a lot safer than swinging a real katana around.


Undeniably one of the most popular video games today, Minecraft is a "sandbox" style video game, meaning that it has no inherent goals to complete or purpose to pursue. With that lack of direction comes freedom, and some users have gone so far as to create incredibly complex builds in the game, such as a Minecraft-playing computer constructed entirely within the game. A 2011 release, the game had 74 million active players online in December, according to gaming magazine PC Gamer.