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Time May Be Running Out For The Videogame History Museum

Time May Be Running Out For The Videogame History Museum

August 19, 2011 | By Frank Cifaldi

[With less than two weeks left on its Kickstarter campaign, the Videogame History Museum may not reach its goal. Organizer Joe Santulli tells Gamasutra what that could mean for the organization's one-of-a-kind collection.]

Joe Santulli didn't start off as a video game collector.

Back in 1991, when he started small mail-order fanzine Digital Press with his childhood friend Kevin, Santulli was simply a packrat gamer that never grew up, wondering if anyone else out there was still playing old Atari 2600 games.

The term "collector" didn't even occur to him back then, mainly because he didn't really know what was out there to collect. Nobody did.

As word of his 'zine got around, he started networking with other like-minded hobbyists, whose numbers flourished once the internet started catching on. He edited and published a video game price guide, compiling for the first time every known game into a comprehensive database that is still referenced today.

In 1998 he helped organize the Classic Gaming Expo (known back then as the World of Atari Expo), a get-together for like-minded collectors of video game history.

And through it all, he and his colleagues kept collecting, completing entire console libraries, unearthing one-of-a-kind gizmos and unreleased games, arcade cabinets, original design documents, production notes, paraphernalia, magazines, merchandise, toys, retail displays, and any other piece of the industry's history they could get their hands on.

Now, after nearly 40 years of acquisitions (yes, they've been holding on to their games since literally the earliest days of home gaming), Santulli and friends Sean Kelly and John Hardie want to share their archives with the world by putting a combined collection of nearly 30,000 items into a permanent, official home where they will be available to be researched, documented and enjoyed for generations to come.

To do this, they need about $30,000 to set up a home base in Silicon Valley, where they can hold all of their materials and set up shop. There, they'll start organizing and readying a sort of a mobile traveling exhibit that will hit all the trade shows (you may have seen them at E3 this year) to drum up interest and donations for an eventual public museum space.

The problem is, with less than two weeks to go and not even half of the needed money pledged on Kickstarter, things aren't looking as good as they might have hoped.

"We're not exactly thrilled with where we are at the moment, but it's been an interesting experience learning how that whole process works," Santulli tells us. "I don't want to sound like we're not confident that we're doing the right thing. We are. But this is all new to us."

Part of the problem, Santulli admits, is that backers may not have a clear idea of where their money is going. For over a decade now, Santulli, Hardie and Kelly have been exhibiting portions of their collections at trade shows and events at great personal expense: they have to step away from their day jobs (Santulli and Kelly run independent game stores, Hardie works at Verizon), ship priceless artifacts from different places around the country, unload, set up, exhibit, pack up, and ship them back, all while picking up the tab. Even their recent E3 exhibit took the better part of two months to organize, Santulli tells us.

With the initial round of funding, they hope to ease the transportation and organization of the collection by putting it under one roof. Santulli himself would relocate from New Jersey ("I have the least ties," he explains) and focus on bringing exhibits to as many events as will have them.

Eventually, the hope is that the donations that come from the traveling exhibits (as well as commissioned research work from game publishers and rights holders) will be enough to open a public space.

Santulli's ready to go, but the question remains: what if the initial funding goal isn't hit?

"I don't really have an answer for that," he admits.

"Maybe we're not the best people to embrace an entire industry, and maybe we don't look like the right type of people to do it. But we're also pretty confident that whether word gets out in time to beat the Kickstarter deadline or not, that it's going to happen eventually, and we'll be involved in it in some way or another."

And whether an eventual archive is run by Santulli or not, at least his collection will live on somewhere, he says.

"I don't have kids, I don't have an heir to pass it on to. I fully intend to turn my collection over to the person or people that I think are doing the right thing."

More information on the Videogame History Museum is available on its Kickstarter page. For a taste of the kinds of items the museum would house, refer to this annotated gallery from its exhibit at last year's Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas.

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