As you walk into the V&A’s Videogames exhibition there is a large screen running scenes from Journey, thatgamecompany’s game, that is “critically adored” and “one of the best games of our times”. I am mesmerised by the beauty and softness of the images. Pablo Manero, a fellow student, tells me it is “an emotional game” that involves making a journey, often with the help of fellow travellers. I didn’t know such games existed nor the level of artistry and planning that goes into designing a new video game. So, this three-part exhibition came as a revelation.
And here is why this exhibition works for gamers and non-gamers alike. In the first part of the exhibition called “Design”, we go behind the scenes to see first-hand the planning and artistry behind a selection of eight contemporary games. Designer’s sketch books, video footage of people walking, sliding, moving in costume to create prototypes, timelines, coding, and artwork are all on display.
The second part of the exhibition “Play”, provides a welcome interactive section but does not ease up on showing the increasing range of types of games. One game called The Graveyard, made by Tale of Tales, showcases how creators Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn tell a story through animations that work in real time. Their games go beyond shooting an opponent or running scared through a post-apocalyptic universe. Instead, this game focuses on “atmosphere and meaning” as you play an old woman walking slowly through a graveyard to sit on a bench. If you try to speed her up, she does a sweet little skip, and if you turn her round to go backwards you can make her do a Michael Jackson moonwalk back towards the bench. By the time I got her to sit down I had gathered quite a crowd willing me on. I am not sure what meaning we all got from that, but it was different to anything I expected in a video game.
The final section “Disrupt” provides space for writers, designers, players and commentators who are challenging some of the gaming stereotypes and exploring how games can be a new cultural force for good. New games challenge head-on the exploitation of children in the mining of rare earths for our mobile phones, (a game shockingly banned from the Apple store); question the use of guns in games; sexual stereotypes and racist portrayals. This part of the exhibition remains interactive and asks difficult questions: it shows but does not tell.
So go alone, go with friends, go with family, just go to have a glimpse of this emerging potentially radical cultural force before it closes on 24th February 2019!
Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt is on at the Victoria & Albert Museum until 24 February 2019
Hilary Guite is studying for a MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London.
Banner image: Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, V&A