``This is how kids played video games when I was growing up.''
If you could get a dollar for every time a Bay Area parent is going to say that over the next few months, you could stop buying lottery tickets. It's going to be said so often that it might as well be the official phrase for the exhibit provoking it: ``Game On: The History, Culture and Future of Videogames,'' which opens today at San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation.
Think ``Space Invaders,'' just the way it appeared in arcades and hotels, as a hulking cabinet-encased game machine. Or think ``Frogger'' in its Coleco tabletop version.
But don't get the idea that ``Game On,'' developed by London's Barbican Art Gallery in conjunction with the National Museums of Scotland, is just a tribute to the blinking pixels of nostalgia. The exhibit's deep sense of worldwide gaming history also conveys some intellectual heft. Games are art, games are science, and modern games are entertainment on a level approaching film and television.
Perhaps you're the other kind of parent -- you've never laid a finger on a video game machine or controller of any kind. Then ``Game On'' is also for you. It's an easily absorbed, up-to-date course in the way gaming influences the pop culture swirling around your kids, and it will educate everybody in the family about the industry's development and impact in Japan and Europe as well as in the United States.
You'll be able to solve that never-ever-played problem, too: More than 100 games will be available for free play, ranging from the legendary ``Space War'' on a largely forgotten Vectrex machine to the current bongo-controlled ``Donkey Konga 2'' for Nintendo's GameCube.
The exhibit spans more than 8,000 square feet and is divided into 13 sections.
You can start in an area that features early arcade games, with items that include two of the strikingly designed fiberglass cabinets for the early 1970s ``Computer Space'' game.
You'll find sections devoted to the history of home console systems and examples of how games are made and marketed. You'll reflect on the Pokémon craze in a section focused on games and small children. And you'll spot a unique treasure in the section on video game characters: crayon sketches of Nintendo's Mario and Donkey Kong icons, drawn by their creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, for the exhibit's organizers.
It's not a sanitized exhibit, although the Tech took pains to evaluate how much of the material might be inappropriate for children. In order to portray the full nature of the industry, there will be some games and items that fall into the Mature category, which is defined as 17 and older. But the bulk of the displays and games would qualify as Teen or Everyone products.
Of course, much of the vintage memorabilia predates the era of those age-group ratings.
Barry Hitchings, one of the game experts who travel with the exhibit, says a diligent effort is made ``to keep as many things in as original condition as possible.''
But the dinged or worn quality of some items, such as the 1975 shark-themed ``Maneater'' arcade game, only adds to the nostalgic appeal and collectible allure.
Or at least, that's how some older gamers will react. You can always let your son or daughter go off to a more contemporary corner while you ogle the token-sucking addictions that are now 30 to 35 years old.
`Game On: The History, Culture and Future of Videogames'
Where: The Tech Museum of Innovation, 201 S. Market St., San Jose.
When: Today-Jan. 2.
Information: www.thetech.org

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