Outside of museums, my personal interest is quite simple. I enjoy LEGO and I enjoy videogames. I was raised on Nintendo growing up with NES, SNES, N64 and when I was old enough, buying a Gamecube, Wii, Wii U, and Nintendo Switch. I’ve also owned Gameboys, DS’, 3DS’, Playstations and Xbox’s. I would describe myself as a gamer. Not hardcore, but a bit more than casual.
I love seeing videogames represented in museums, particularly loving the Game Masters exhibition hosted at the National Museums of Scotland in 2016. On a recent trip to London, I went to see Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt at the V&A there. Whilst I enjoyed the exhibition, bought the book and took as many pictures as I could, to me the exhibition was a bit claustrophobic, and I felt like I was constantly competing for space with other visitors.
I was, of course, delighted to hear that Videogames would be coming to Dundee as the new temporary summer exhibition at the V&A Dundee. The museum is polarising a lot of people at the moment. Many like it, but many think, why is it so empty, why is there nothing going on, why is there only one gallery? Granted there is one main gallery and huge temporary exhibition space, but to me, it feels fresh and open and less enclosed that other museum offerings. V&A Dundee wants it to be a living room for the city, and I think it will be. It’s only been open for about 8 months, and this is only the second temporary exhibition. I was fortunate enough to attend a press preview ahead of the opening weekend. I was not disappointed.
The set up for Videogames was largely the same as the London exhibition, however, this one had more space. There was more room to move about, more room to get close to the exhibits and more room generally. There are 1,100 square metres of space dedicated to the temporary exhibition, twice as much as the permanent Scottish Design Galleries.
When you think of videogames, what do you think of? Do you stereotype? Probably. Its the same attitude of “it’s not for me“, that people have about visiting art galleries. With the exhibition, it challenges the visitor to think about games and how far they’ve come. Social media and technology have changed games dramatically in the last 15 years, and the creation and design of videogames do not nearly get the credit it deserves. The British videogame industry contributes nearly £3bn to the UK economy.
In the first space, we are presented to storyboards and concept up for The Last of Us, a PlayStation 3 title released in 2013 and re-released in 2014 for PlayStation 4. We are given the opportunity to view motion capture recordings, that were done by Naughty Dog, the publisher of the game, in order to capture realistic human movements. Straight off the bat, we are looking at the art of videogames, the design that goes into developing a game and the sheer effort that is required.
This is further explored when the exhibition looks at Splatoon, a third-person shooter from Nintendo. The concept art here focuses on the early development of the inkling characters who were human and rabbit-like before settling on their anthropomorphic look of an inkling, a squid/human hybrid.
Fashion is an important aspect to the games and this was further explored during the sequel, Splatoon 2, where billboards were plastered around Tokyo, with inkling characters stylised in threads available to buy in-game. This is a neat look at a Nintendo game that adds a bit of something different to the idea of what a videogame is.
Throughout the remainder of the gallery, concept art at development looks at several more games, such as No Man’s Sky, Kentucky Route Zero and the Graveyard, looking at different aspects of inspiration, for games.
Into the next area, curtained off, we enter the Disruptor section. Here we are challenged to think about the stereotypes we have about videogames.
“videogames are violent”
“videogames are for boys”
“videogames are for kids”
In this section, we are presented with a video of disruptors, those who are attempting to change the status quo. Whilst the video is quite extensive, it features designers, artists, writers, players, and commentators pushing back against the stereotypes that exist in videogames. I don’t want to go into too much detail but it is definitely something you should spend time watching should you visit.
The next two sections of this exhibition look at communities. Online communities go further than just playing online with your mates. Fan communities develop content for games, play in competing in e-sport competitions, and become co-creators.
Gaming is also going offline as well. Developing homebrew arcade machines, and running gaming club nights. There’s an extensive collection of homemade arcade machines at the end of the exhibition space. And there is so much more space. In London, this same area was pretty crammed in, and with a large number of people visiting it made for an uncomfortable experience. Here there are more machines and more space and a fantastic mural from Glasgow-based illustrator Ursula Kam-Ling Cheng. She has created a colourful and chaotic mural called Girl Evader incorporating designs by V&A Dundee’s Young People’s Collective! it looks spectacular.
What I love about the exhibition is that you go in expecting one thing, and you end up getting another. With the NMS exhibition, it was very much a potted history of videogames, with some playable parts throughout. Every time an exhibition on videogames comes around, it seems to be the same old. Here’s a history, here’s what happened, here’s where we are now. With this exhibition, it flips it around. It looks at it from an artistic point of view, the creative process behind a videogame, before we get to the finished product. I hope that those who aren’t gamers experience this exhibition and come away with a newfound respect for videogames as an artistic medium.