Game On, an in-depth, interactive exhibition looking at the history and culture of video games, opens at London’s Barbican Centre today.

It’s the first major UK exhibition to explore the theme. Additionally, the event marks the first occasion a major UK art institution has accepted game-design as an art form.

Exhibition curator, Conrad Bodman, explained: “The creative people in the games industry need to be accepted as part of contemporary design. This exhibition is about expanding the concept of art. It throws down the gauntlet to the art establishment, and says that games have an important role in contemporary culture.”

Play away The majority of the exhibitions are functional. What’s on offer will thrill retro gamers, ranging from classic tabletop video games to two rare examples of the first gaming consoles ever released.

Games sales are expected to eclipse music sales this year, according to the European Leisure Publishers Association. While the music business protects itself from the tidal wave of digital convergence with copy protection strategies that damage its customers, the developing games industry embraces new technology.

Game On covers gaming history from 1962 to the present day. It looks at technological development – from the mainframe computers of the early ‘60s to today’s next-generation consoles. It also looks at the twin evolution of content and technology, examining gaming’s influence on culture.

Visitors get to play games, too – from PacMan to Pong, and Max Payne to Space War!. The show organisers have done their research to present a wide spread of popular classics from across three decades of operating systems: Sinclair, Amstrad, and PlayStation – there’s a Mac presence, too.

The show explores different games types, and the making and marketing of games. Games design and character development gets extensive attention at the show. Japanese gaming and design-culture also gets its own special treatment.

On the road Game On has been developed as a touring exhibition. It goes to the National Museum of Scotland next, and negotiations are already taking place to take the show to galleries in Europe. Galleries in the US may also get the chance to see the show – the Andy Warhol Museum, for example, has expressed interest in hosting the event.

More information is available online. Admission costs £11 for adults; £5 for children; £8 concessions. The show opens from 10am to 6pm, with a late-night showing until 9pm on Wednesdays. It will run until September 15.