Spot On: Famicom makes history in Japan

Level X game exhibition and Famicom 20th anniversary treated as high art in Japan. GameSpot takes you behind the scenes.

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TOKYO--The Level X game exhibition and Famicom retrospective that opens in Tokyo on December 4 will showcase just how far video games have come since Nintendo launched its first console 20 years ago. According to its organizers, the fact that the show is being held in a straightforward manner at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography reflects how much video games have become a part of Japanese culture.

Kenji Ono (pictured, left), who helped plan the exhibit, explained. "Until now, if we didn't say 'games are art,' they wouldn't be acknowledged as worthwhile subjects for an exhibition. Now, we're saying that they're interesting because they are games--and people are taking notice."

Yuki Denda (pictured, right), the exhibit's curator, agrees. A former game industry professional, she described the show's presentation as "legit." The museum is a municipal facility, and the fact that some of the exhibit's budget comes from public funds is powerful support for Ono and Denda's argument that in Japan, games are becoming accepted as more than simply "children's toys."

This acceptance has been a long time coming. Nintendo produced the first Famicom game console in 1983. Initially sold as the "Family Computer," it soon became known as the "Famicom." (The same console was sold in the US as the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES.) It was in production until this year, and it enjoyed enviable developer support over its long life, boasting a total of 1,200 games.

When GameSpot visited the museum, the opening was two days away and the staff was busy with final preparations. Nonetheless, Denda graciously allowed us to enter the hall to see the exhibit in its incomplete state (see screenshots). Amazingly, she has found a copy of every one of the 1,200 Famicom games. Covering table after table and displayed in their original boxes, they are the heart of the exhibit.

The classic cartridges would have been a great exhibit all by themselves, but Level X doesn't stop there. In addition to the games, all the Famicom peripherals and a total of 50 other significant game consoles are on display. The last Famicom ever made is here--on loan from Nintendo--as is one of the limited edition GBA SPs that features the Famicom color scheme and early sketches of Donkey Kong and Mario. Twelve consoles along one wall are lined up in chronological order, from the Famicom to the Xbox. They're all running baseball games, which represents a vivid display of how consoles have improved since 1983.

This represents an impressive and comprehensive collection. When we asked Denda if any items on her display wish list proved impossible to find, she quickly answered. "No, we pretty much got everything that we wanted."

To cap things off, the exhibit also features videotaped interviews with eight well-known game creators. The eight subjects are Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of the Mario games), Naka Yuji (Sonic), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear), Shigesato Itoi (Mother), Satoshi Tajiri (Pokémon), Ken Sugimori (Pokémon), Yuji Horii (Dragon Quest) and Koichi Nakamura (Dragon Quest). Each game maker was interviewed while playing one of his own games. The museum installed five-monitor clusters to display the interviews. This allows the museum to show each designer's face, his game screen, his controller technique, and some background information all at the same time.

Hidekuni Shida, a writer who helped plan the exhibit, conducted the interviews. When asked about his thoughts on interviewing such an influential group of people, he responded, "Gaming is unique because the people that built the industry are still actively involved. These people are the model for younger workers in the industry. I think the interviews gave me some hints on how games will change in the future."

Level X will give its visitors a look at both gaming's past and its future.

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