Sometimes, between the hot takes and community controversies, it can be hard to remember why we fell in love with videogames. Although games are an unequalled immersive and interactive medium, the artistic nature of them can be buried under the weight placed on their entertainment value. The Victoria & Albert Museum’s latest exhibition aims to excavate these dusty remains and put them front and centre – reminding you why you fell in love with videogames in the first place.
The V&A’s Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition is the first major exhibition of its kind in the UK, investigating contemporary videogames (from 2000 onwards) and how modern technologies such as the internet have had an impact on their design and increasing success – allowing designers to push boundaries and increase their cultural reach.
Design is at the heart of this exhibition, which from the moment you walk in is evident. A quote from Frank Lantz’s 2014 Game Developer’s Conference greets you as you enter. “Making games combines everything that’s hard about building a bridge with everything that’s hard about composing an opera,” the quote reads. “Games are operas made out of bridges.”
The exhibited items themselves focus on the various design elements which go into creating a videogame, from the orchestral scores to the artwork and CGI capture presented through immersive multimedia and interactive installations. Scrawled notebooks and paper scraps, desk decorations and photographs of peculiar animals or textures – this is how videogames are truly built and it’s a deeply emotional experience.
The exhibit itself is set out room by room, with each section focusing on a particular game or theme. The first section focuses on the design inspirations, craftsmanship and creative practice behind critically-acclaimed titles such as The Last of Us, Splatoon, Journey, Bloodborne and Kentucky Route Zero.
It’s a marvel to watch the team behind indie-hit Journey sliding through the sands of a Californian dunes with a scarf to research how the robe-clad main character would move through the desert landscape, to see the developing sketches of Nintendo’s Splatoon characters laid out alongside the desk knick-knacks of developer Jenny Jiao which influenced the artistic style of her mobile title Consume Me. These are the people pushing videogame design to new horizons.
The second section explores the common controversies surrounding games and the debates they spark. Why are games so white and male-focused? Is gun violence and sex in games OK? Why is the medium so westernised? What is the role of games in society? It’s the ‘taboo’ room of the games.
Games such as Nina Freeman’s How Do You Do It?, which sees a young girl explore sexuality through dolls, and capitalist satire Phone Story are on display to visitors. Each controversial title has various journalistic arguments littered around it, while a screen displays video snippets from well-respected individuals in the industry speaking about their personal experience. Videogames are entertainment, but they can have an important societal impact – if that’s what they choose to be.
The third section aims to show the dedication of the gaming community – the oil that keeps the engine running. A huge screen displays the dedicated work of Minecraft players who rebuilt Game of Thrones’ Westeros, professional players battling it out in stadiums of thousands, and fans expressing their love through art and cosplay. It’s emotional to watch and reminds me why I entered the games industry in the first place: for the passion.
Having walked you through the important of videogames as a medium, the final section lets you get your hands on grassroots arcade games – DIY machines produced from love, dedication and a creative spark. These aren’t the games you will see in your local retail store, these are the wonderful peculiarities that sit outside the mainstream box.
Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt runs from September 8, 2018 to February 25, 2019 in Room 39 and the North Court of the V&A Museum in London. Advance tickets are £18 but V&A members can access the exhibit for free.