Game Over – Portsmouth’s First Retro-Gaming Exhibition

Steve Lowe – a lifelong gamer and collector of consoles and games – is the founder of Game Over, the only retro internet gaming cafe on the South coast. He is currently working with the City Museum to open the first retro gaming exhibition in Pompey’s history: Game Over – The Future of the Past. Sarah Cheverton caught up with Steve as he was working on the exhibition in the City Museum.

Steve’s collection spans over four generations of gaming from 1972 through to 2014, taking visitors on a gaming journey through time.

He told me, “Gaming is obviously my passion, but I think it’s something that anyone can be involved with. In creating the cafe and now the exhibition, I want to provide people with a way to experience the rich history of gaming in different ways and different places. What’s fantastic about doing the exhibition is how close the cafe and museum are to each other, which makes it even easier for visitors to combine the two.”

We met Steve down at the City Museum and chatted to him about the exhibition as he was putting it together.

“I’ve travelled all over the country looking at different gaming exhibitions and displays in places like The National Computing Museum, the Science Museum and Bletchley Park. As far as we’ve been able to tell Game Over: The Future of the Past exhibition will be the largest single private collection of TV games, home computers and consoles on display in the UK, from the first Pong TV game to the latest Playstation console. The exhibition will span over 40 years of home video gaming and I’ve not seen any other exhibition in the UK like it.”

Over 128 machines spanning 8 generations will be on display exploring the history of the video game. Visitors will be invited to test out their own retro-gaming skills on a hand-picked selection of playable consoles.

Just around the corner from the exhibition at the City Museum is the Game Over Cafe, so if you enjoy the exhibition experience, you can continue to play your way through the history of gaming at the Cafe after only a short walk.

A hidden gem. Game Over, 16 High Street, Old Portsmouth

A hidden gem.
Game Over, 16 High Street, Old Portsmouth

The Game Over Cafe is the only retro internet gaming café on the South coast, and it’s tucked away like an Easter Egg on the High Street in Old Portsmouth. It opened on 24th October 2015 and has since been featured in various gaming magazines, numerous blogs and even The Daily Mail – though you shouldn’t hold that against them.

When I first visited with my brother, Matt, we presented a stark contrast: the lifelong gamer (my bro) and the complete rookie (me). He was in his element but at first I was a little overwhelmed. For someone who has been gaming since he was in short trousers, walking into Game Over for the first time was like a viking entering Valhalla. For me it was more about preparing myself to be publicly and soundly defeated by my older sibling, so how it must feel to him when we play Scrabble.

There was no need for my trepidation, as my brother enjoyed a reunion with GauntletSteve hooked me up to a game of Pong and I’ve never looked back. The cafe offers a unique and exciting social entertainment space that redefines the gaming experience for all, newbie to hardcore gamer alike.

“The cafe is home to more than 30 consoles and over 1000 games spanning almost 4 decades,” Steve tells me, “I wanted people to take a journey through gaming history as well as through genres like classic arcade, multiplayer or racing.”

The cafe has certainly enjoyed great popularity with locals and visitors.

“I have quite a strong band of regulars now, faces we see quite often, but I’m always surprised at how far people will travel for a visit. We’ve had visitors from Cornwall and even Suffolk! The thing is, the gaming community is massive, passionate, and exceptionally loyal so when you get something right, they’ll not only support you, they’ll keep coming back for more.”

Steve shows me some of the feedback from visitors to the Cafe

My favourite part of Game Over is the sound as we come in…

The amount of dedication put into bringing it all together and having so many great systems…

…what can I say. The pictures and the reviews barely do it justice. If you’re a gamer from any walk of life you owe it to yourself to pay Steve and his lovely staff a visit because there’s really no other place like it…

Truly a fantastic place to go. I’ve been gaming since my Commodore 64 days, right through to my Xbox One…To see a place like this pop up, is absolutely mind-blowing. Until you get there and you’re just stumped for words. Steve and his team is great, very welcoming and the atmosphere is so relaxed. Choose your console, pick a game and just be taken back to your youth. Best internet cafe I’ve ever been to…Book your time at this place – allow for extra, ‘coz you won’t want to leave.

“The reception we’ve enjoyed at the Cafe has been amazing. I really want to make sure that we do the exhibition justice in the same way.”

The Game Over Cafe is, in part, a living and interactive museum that allows people to learn more about the history of gaming by playing the games and experiencing the evolution of gaming for themselves.

“The Cafe is a purely interactive experience,” said Steve, “People book for two hour sessions and use as much of the equipment on offer as they like in that time. The museum allows us to combine that element of interactivity with a visitor experience that enables people to explore the history of gaming at their own pace, in the familiar environment of the City Museum. I also think there will be an element of surprise for many people, as they don’t expect to find gaming in the Museum!”

Steve has been working closely with the Museums Service team to put the exhibition together.

GO sign“The staff at the Museum have all been so supportive. I’m a collector and I know a lot about gaming; I have some experience putting exhibitions together, but the team have really helped me on the technical side. I’ve been able to tap into their expertise a lot and I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Steve has invested his own money in creating the Game Over Cafe and the exhibition at the City Museum, but he says he couldn’t do it without the support of many more people who have helped him along the way.

“Right from the beginning, a lot of people invested their time and energy to help me with this: my family and friends, but also a lot of people I’ve met along the way. In order to take time out of the Cafe to put the exhibition together, I’ve been working with volunteers from the IBD Partnership and local people who volunteer their time helping to run the cafe.

“When the exhibition launches, I’m also going to need volunteers over the summer months to staff the exhibition. The main role there will be to encourage people to play the games, to answer questions, and really to make sure people have a great time during their visit.”

Volunteers will need to be reliable, and available between 10am and 5pm for at least one day each week, though if they can cover more, it would be welcome. Most importantly, volunteers will need to have a passion for retro gaming and experience of playing a variety of games.

“I want our volunteers to get something out of the experience of working with us. It’s not just about being around games you love and are passionate about, I want volunteers to be able to boost their CVs, meet new people and gain new skills by working with us and I’m keen to support that in any way I can. The Museums team will also be offering training to each volunteer, so I’m hopeful people will get a lot from being involved.”

If you’re interested in being a Game Over volunteer, email Steve Lowe at booking@gameover.cafe

Game Over: The Future of the Past exhibition opens at the City Museum on Saturday 28th May 2016. You can find out more about Game Over on their website, Facebook and Twitter.

Images by Sarah Cheverton.