They Save Games – An Interview with Founders of Digital Game Museum

With PAX 2012 the place to see so many new and upcoming titles, it’s nice to come across a nod to the past. Tucked away on the 6th floor of the convention centre, the Digital Game Museum’s Evolution of the Console Controller exhibit connected the past with the future.

We met with founding members, Executive Director Judith Haemmerle and Ben Wilhelm to talk about the exhibit, the museum, and their goals for the future.

Check out our full interview after the break.

Crowds at the Digitial Game Museum

Retro gaming draws a crowd. Nostalgia’s a powerful thing.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): Who are you and what do you do?

Ben Wilhelm: My name is Ben Wilhelm and I’m one of the founders of the Digital Game Museum. We’ve been setting this up for a few years now and we’re trying to preserve and archive digital games and entertainment media.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): Do you have a background in museums and archiving?

Ben Wilhelm: I personally do not, you’ll have to talk to our Director about that. I work in the game industry at Trion Worlds on Rift.

Judith Haemmerle: Hi, I’m Judith Haemmerle. I’m the Director of the Digital Game Museum. I have a masters in museum studies. We take conservation and preservation very seriously.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): Your team. How many are there and who are they?

Ben Wilhelm: We have a total of five board members right now. We have a number of volunteers, members from the professional gaming industry and people who just want to be involved in preserving games and game culture.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): What is your ultimate goal for the museum?

Ben Wilhelm: To preserve everything we can of this art form. There’s a lot that’s being lost right now and needs to be preserved. It’s clear that this a major artistic form that is a part of our culture. We’d like this to be a long term museum. We’re trying to get space for a physical location where we can have long term exhibits. So, short term we’re looking for funding so we can get space.

One of the Digitial Game Museum's volunteers shows

One of the Digitial Game Museum’s volunteers explains an exhibit.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): Where are you based out of?

Ben Wilhelm: The San Francisco Bay area.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): Is this your first exhibit?

Ben Wilhelm: No, we were at PAX last year where we had The Rise and Fall of Adventure Games. We’ve also done a few exhibits at Maker Fair in the Bay area and a few smaller things at Atari Party.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): Are you getting sponsors for these exhibits?

Ben Wilhelm: We have several for this event. We have Novint which donated several items to give away and exhibit. NeuroSky who donated several Mind Waves headsets to display. We have the Avenger which is the controller adapter for disabled children, which was donated for display and giveaway. And Sony Entertainment provided several controllers for exhibit.

Glove love

Pinkie out Power Glove. Truely, the most classy of gaming accoutrements.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): Tell me a little about how the museum came to be and your inspiration for it.

Judith Haemmerle: Basically my son here was my inspiration for it. We gamed together for most of his childhood. I saved all the game boxes for reasons that have never been clear to me and when we moved down to the Bay area I got involved with the computer history museum. I found museums to be interesting so I went back and got a masters of museum studies. No other museum was really giving games the attention we thought they deserved we decided we would do it.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): So what’s next for the Digital Game Museum

Judith Haemmerle: Coming next year we’re getting into a physical location where we can do better curation and better care. We can set up some permanent exhibits, develop more temporary exhibits that we hope we can send to other places. We can develop a game play space for people to come and visit and just really engage the community. We also have some educational ventures planned and we’re basically hoping to be a working museum not too long from now.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): Tell me a little about the exhibit you have here.

Ben Wilhelm: We’re exhibiting the evolution of the console controller. We started with the classic era where the controller was new and we didn’t really know how they worked. Then we move on to where the digital pad or d-pad reigned supreme, the analog era where 3D and analog positioning became standard, and finally the modern era which is based around a more direct connectivity to the player and the game. Things like motion tracking and camera based control.

One of the things we found fascinating is that there’s a jump between the Super Nintendo controller and that of the N64 where the controller gained two big handles and a whole bunch of extra controls on it. I’ve always wondered why this happened. This missing link was the Virtual Boy’s controller. They system’s screen was really small and caused headaches, but if we look at the controller, it has two handles, two d-pads and is very clearly a predecessor to the N64. We forgot about it because it was attached to a console that was not successful.

Judith Haemmerle and Ben Wilhelm

Son and mom team Judith Haemmerle and Ben Wilhelm are taking the past into the future.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): And how is the Digital Game Museum sponsored?

Ben Wilhelm: We run off donations. We get donations from visitors and people who are trying to get this thing started. We do have online pledges and we’re looking at putting the entire exhibit online.

Judith Haemmerle: It’s all volunteer. Everyone who is here works at it completely as a labour of love. Our travel expenses and everything comes out of our own pockets other than what we manage to get from membership and financial donations.

Ben Wilhelm: The last thing I’d like to say is that we could use supporters. We’re a small museum. Even $5 a month helps us preserve games and is more help than you could possibly imagine.

JTM Games (Lee Guille): Thank you very much and best of luck in the future!

Thanks again to Judith Haemmerle and Ben Wilhelm for the interview. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Digital Game Museum or donating, check out their website here.


About Lee Guille

Gamer, writer, marketer, husband, oppressed slave to cats. Follow me on twitter: Writeleewrite

Posted on October 3, 2012, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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