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Hit the Road

Mario Lives

National Videogame Museum in Frisco showcases decades of gaming history

When I was 18, I met my future wife, and the hunt was back on to get back all the games I’d sold,” Sean Kelly says. “That hunt opened a whole new world for me. Some people are bitten by the collecting bug. The collecting bug fears me!”

Kelly recounts this personal quest as he welcomes me to the National Videogame Museum in Frisco with a quick smile and a firm handshake. He, along with Joe Santulli and John Hardie, opened the museum in April 2016.

I am immediately impressed with the lobby centerpiece—a massive sculpture of brightly colored boxes, 40 monitors running video game-related films and 45 video game consoles. “It was created by Fort Worth artist Jeremy Zvitt,” Kelly says.

“Pretty much everything else in the museum is from our collections,” Kelly says as we stop in front of a statue of Mario near a giant Pong game projected on a 15-foot screen. “Joe was a gamer from the word ‘go.’ He never really got rid of anything.”

“John has always specialized in Atari. His never-ending quest to own anything and everything Atari has taken him to the ends of the Earth, not to mention the bottom of many dumpsters,” he says, laughing.

The trio met and became friends in the early 1990s when they began trading games through the mail and dealing over the phone. They later hosted Classic Gaming Expo—the first event of its kind—in Las Vegas and went on to create a featured exhibit at E3, the industry’s largest event.

“We were constantly asked where people could see our collection on a regular basis,” Kelly explains. “Then we met Randy Pitchford, who knew exactly where that permanent home needed to be: Frisco, Texas. He made some introductions to the city officials he’d been working with to relocate his company’s headquarters [Gearbox Software] to Frisco, and work on the National Videogame Museum began.”

Past Mario and the Pong game, Kelly shows me Head-to-Head Hall, an area where visitors go head-to-head with competitors in tournaments. “I am sure some visitors will find games they’ve never seen before, or they’ll find a tribute to their favorite game franchise played on 10 different systems,” he says. “We have a library of more than 12,000 games.”

One of the exhibits that they are most proud of features rare and one-of-a-kind prototypes, the kind that make diehard fans seek out the museum. This exhibit includes Sega Neptune, an unreleased console planned as a combination of the Genesis and 32X, and the unreleased Barbie edition for the Nintendo Game Boy Pocket system. You’ll also find one of only two Atari Mindlink controllers in the world as well as the ultra-rare RDI Halcyon laserdisc-based game console and the Nintendo World Championships cartridge from 1990.

The museum is a chronological journey of video game history. Consoles, controllers and brightly painted murals transport me back to the 1980s and ’90s when my three children were into video games. There’s even a 1980s living room and bedroom with a console TV, a rotary phone and a 1982 TV Guide sitting on the coffee table.

The last stop is the arcade of classics such as Asteroids, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders. “Our collection is by far the largest in the world,” Kelly says. “And we invite visitors to play the vintage video games.”

The museum emphasizes that the video game industry is larger than the film and music industries, and there are thousands of rewarding jobs related to video games in the United States alone.

“In order to successfully navigate the waters of the video game industry as a professional, a fundamental understanding of not only the technology behind them but also the past successes and failures is extremely important,” he adds. “Our goal is to provide that understanding.

“The museum is about the industry, the collection and the history,” Kelly says.

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Marilyn Jones lives in Henderson and writes about travel.