A stone’s throw from the Tiber in the heart of the Prati district in Rome stands Vigamus, the first Italian museum dedicated entirely to video games, directed by Professor Marco Accordi Rickards. The museum was founded with the aim of “creating culture and making video gaming accessible to all, with a particular focus on newcomers to this exciting universe (…), by providing an archive that can be consulted by anyone wishing to explore the field, for study or curiosity”. Inside the museum we find an exhibition of more than four hundred items (software, hardware, consoles and vintage toys), which guide us through the history of video games and their creators, all arranged in themed sections and illustrated by informative panels recounting the background to the games and interesting facts about their authors or the techniques used.
Moreover, the display is enriched by the special magic of the passionate words of Fabio D’Anna (founder and responsible of exhibitions of the museum, whose own collection formed its initial nucleus). During our guided tour with the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, Fabio in person talked us through the complex development of the video game over its forty-year history. With him we discover the various stories behind Pong (Atari, 1972), the famous tennis simulator, the technical and psychological intuitions of Space Invaders (Atari, 1978), the ultra-addictive game where aliens are trying to take over the earth, or incredible legends such as the birth of Pacman (Namco, 1980), which, amazingly, this year celebrates its 35th birthday! “It’s so hard to understand how a game functions! Endless bugs!” are our first impressions on trying E.T. – Extra Terrestrial (Atari,1982), even for just five minutes! And yet these games are veritable masterpieces of computer science.
In the various themed areas visitors can also try out old-style arcade cabinets and classic video games, and we immediately realise just how much methods of gaming have changed over the years. Today, in fact, we can forget about armchairs or stools, and we need to make sure there’s enough room for our virtual enemies to surround us, so that we can interact with them, not only with our intellect, but with our senses and our movements. This new gaming experience can be tested in the Oculus Room which Fabio enthusiastically provides for his visitors. Once the visor is on, the room is transformed into a completely transitory space inhabited by virtual enemies that would awe the senses of any visitor. The game thus becomes a triumph of shapes, colours and sounds created by highly skilled artists. It becomes the composite of various professionals: designers, digital architects, writers and programmers, always enthused with a spirit of playfulness.
Indeed, in the light of this, the aesthetic and cultural value of video games has recently been recognised by major institutes such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington), which in 2012 presented The Art of Video Games, curated by Chris Melissinos, and the MoMA (New York), which in 2013 launched a section expressly dedicated to video gaming, the first acquisitions being part of the Applied Design exhibit.
In Rome, in Italy, and abroad, VIGAMUS is an invaluable resource. And equally valuable are the multiple channels of communication used by Fabio d’Anna to reach a vast public and offer them the chance to learn by playing and interacting directly with these artworks, as well as the opportunity to access an extremely rich archive. Furthermore, it is now also possible to get an Academic Degree with the Vigamus Academy, a three years program that the Museum has started in 2014 for future professionals of the video ludic world.