Back in the late 90s I was stuck on a level of Tomb Raider. A massive pixel bear guarded a hut harbouring an important reward. To claim that reward your character, Lara Croft, had to kill the bear. This sounds very simple. But for the life of me, I couldn’t kill that bear.
No matter which way I ran, rolled, jumped or shot, that bloody bear got me every time. I employed the help of my mum – no luck. My dad? No joy either. The entire horde of neighbour kids who had fought and conquered their own virtual worlds? None succeeded. But my six-year-old self refused to admit defeat.
One day my Granda was over for tea and I’d assumed my usual spot on the sitting room floor, frantically button-mashing and hoping for the best. My Granda was asked if he’d like a turn on the PlayStation and he agreed. Bemused, my family settled down to watch him, absolutely certain that a 70-year-old man who’d never touched a game controller in his life would struggle to make Lara perform the most basic of movements. And you know what? Within five minutes he’d killed that bear. On his first attempt! And that ladies and gentlemen is the day I learned two valuable lessons – never doubt your Granda’s abilities, and gamers come in all ages.
Fast forward to 2015 and I’m still an avid gamer. So I was thrilled to be invited along to PLAY it! Manchester, a new event which gives visitors (of all ages) the chance to try some of the most popular video games of the past 30 years. Hosted at the Museum of Science and Industry and in partnership with Replay Events, more than 120 games and consoles are available to play with.
As you wander around, you discover dedicated areas devoted to all-time favourites. From Mario to Minecraft, Street Fighter to Star Wars, each section is decorated with colourful banners depicting the evolution of our most beloved characters.
Aside from the single player big brands there’s plenty more fun to indulge in, including sports and rhythm games, multi-player games to challenge your friends and family, arcade units and even the chance to try some fancy-pants new virtual reality goggles.
The exhibition also pays tribute to local success Ocean Software. Established in Manchester in the 1980s, the software development company produced some of the world’s most iconic games for a range of consoles including the SNES and Sega Mega Drive. And if you’d like you can experiment with a bit of 80s coding, or go on a nostalgia trip, you can do that in the retro area too.
A little detail I loved about the retro gaming section was this: all the old consoles are hooked up to those little boxy TVs that your mum (and if you were lucky enough – you) had in her bedroom until the early noughties. Sure, there were loads of flat screens dotted around the exhibition for the newer consoles, but it just wouldn’t be the same if the pixelated, gaudy-coloured graphics of the old faithfuls were viewed in HD.
PLAY it! is set to be a great summer activity option for local families because, let’s face it, in the North it rains. Of the options available, there are 90 minute session tickets or full day passes so you and the young ‘uns can game to your hearts’ content while you wait for the sun to reappear (a full day pass would probably be best).
Refreshingly, there are a number of ‘adults only’ evening sessions on offer too – a perfect way for long-time gamers to relive old memories and try something new. I attended one of these events and it was truly glorious. Seeing fully-grown men and women getting over-excited at the mere sight of a forgotten favourite (Crash Bandicoot was especially popular) was both heart-warming and infectious: the room was a sea of smiles. And the absence of children, along with all their interrupting your game or hogging the consoles potential, was the icing on the cake (sorry kids!).
Me and Wor Lad, also an avid gamer, enjoyed the best night out we’d had in ages. I beat him at Mario Kart, he beat me at Street Fighter, and we replayed plenty of games that had been wonderful parts of our childhood. It felt like we were meeting up with long-lost friends. There I was, playing Tomb Raider again for the first time in over a decade, and I had the biggest grin on my face. No, I didn’t manage to progress through to the demon bear that had plagued my youth. But I did trump a different bear so, after all this time, I think we can call it even. Bears-1, Steph-1.
Photos by Jason Lock
Where: Museum of Science and Industry
When: until August 9, 2015
More info: Priced from £4 per person. Day sessions run from 10am – 5pm. Evening adult-only sessions are available from 7pm to 9pm on July 30 – 31 and August 6 -7.