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Virginia Heffernan Writes About the Seductive Wonders of the Analog Arcade

Heffernan’s essay is part of PlayTime at the Peabody Essex Museum, the first major thematic exhibition to explore the role of play in contemporary art and culture.

The Pinball Hall of Fame (photo by Kent Kanouse)

In the middle of the journey of life, I found myself astray in a vast executive conference center, my pulse ramping up as it can during weekends of airports, strangers, and vertiginous hotels cold as meat lockers. I was trying to avoid a tech conference. I aimed to look intent on something, improvising a straight path, though all I was really looking for was an armchair where I could be alone with my phone.

Down one hall and up the next was nothing but evidence of other conferences: still lifes of coffee and KIND bars flanked by signs announcing plenary and breakout sessions on subjects ranging from — well, the one I remember was “Rendering.” Horses to glue. But it wasn’t as simple as that; rendering had made giant strides.

At last I found what it turned out I’d been looking for all along: an arcade. Dated, neglected, this oddly shaped chamber, lined in cola-stained linoleum contained maybe seven gaming machines, three of them lightless and lifeless. It was a floor down, visible through a slanted window, two glass doors away from a swimming pool. I zagged around and burst into it.

Virginia Heffernan’s essay continues on playtime.pem.org; join her as she rediscovers non-digital games and “all the disreputable excitement [that’s] possible with mere mechanics and electricity.”

 

On playtime.pem.org the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) explores “how is play changing our lives?” with leading writers, thinkers, game designers, poets, artists— and you. Discover new writing on games and society, hear artists talk about what play means to them and see curators in action as PEM prepares to open, PlayTime, the first major thematic exhibition to explore the role of play in contemporary art and culture.

PlayTime
 opens at the Peabody Essex Museum (161 Essex Street, Salem, Massachusetts) on February 10, 2018.