My other-half and I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London last Friday to take a look at their new Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition. As described on their website, this event explores the medium since the mid-2000s when major technological advancements profoundly changed the way titles are designed, played and discussed.
The Design section featured materials from the desks and hard-drives of leading developers who are all ‘united by their ambition to break boundaries’. The notebooks, drawings and diagrams on display caused us to feel a kind of reverence; they gave off a sense of being incredibly personal and a unique insight into the design process. If you have any kind of interest in the work that goes into making a video game, it’s for this reason I’d highly recommend taking a trip to the exhibition.
The area devoted to Journey was a highlight for me as it’s a title that holds significance, and it was amazing to see just how much thought had gone into it. thatgamecompany used a huge spreadsheet to chart the journey through their game and document how they wanted both the character and player to feel during each level. Seeing how their drawings of protagonist changed over time, starting with a human face obscured by a scarf and then changing to the design we know now so there could be no cultural bias, was particularly interesting.
The Kentucky Route Zero area was also great as attendees got to find out about Carboard Computer’s use of Twine along with the films and paintings which inspired their game. And discovering how Splatoon started off a shooter about rabbits (who are quite territorial and so suited the turf-war-style gameplay) was amusing: Nintendo decided to switch to squids after one of the developers realised they couldn’t adequately explain why the bunnies were shooting ink at each other.
Next up was the Disrupt section which aimed to challenge ideas about video games, what they should be and how this relates to society. Videos showing discussions with developers and commentators were projected onto a wall while separate stands were devoted to each subject. I first started blogging shortly after the furore over Anita Sarkeesian and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games erupted so I remember it pretty well; and reading about this event and how it inspired important conversations around diversity in games made me feel quite proud.
Last up was the Play area of the exhibition. A huge theatre showed short films about how online communities come together to create, collaborate and spectate to celebrate the ‘dazzling imagination and creative chaos shown by players’; and a room containing handmade arcade cabinets and interactive installations looked at the rise of a new DIY arcade scene. Unsurprisingly, this was where most of the visitors ended up congregating as it where you could try out some titles for yourself.
On that note, I should point out here that the Design/Play/Disrupt event isn’t necessarily aimed at children and I wouldn’t recommend it as a way of entertaining them for the day. The hands-on time with games is limited and several of the titles featured were unsuitable for those under 16. Many families had come along due to school holidays, and this meant we saw a lot of bored younger kids who were only interested in watching the video about Minecraft and playing in the arcade finale.
If you have an interest in video games yourself however, get yourself an exhibition ticket and head to the V&A before 24 February 2018. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the museum and having the opportunity to attend an event about video games, yet not so focused on the actual playing of them, reminded us just why we love our hobby as much as we do.
Design/Play/Disrupt photo gallery