Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, is the latest interactive exhibit to be added to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Launched in September 2018, the museum boasts that Videogames is the first exhibition of its kind to explore the culture of contemporary gaming, and with such unique, behind-the-scenes gaming material, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
As a non-gamer, I was probably not the target demographic for this exhibition, but the ex-media studies student in me was drawn towards the promise of interactivity, and the chance to learn about how multiple creatives come together to produce such ground-breaking products. I might not have experienced the hypnotic pull of Grand Theft Auto V as so many others did, but I was keen to understand such a culturally and financially significant section of the entertainment industry.
The exhibition was divided into 3 sections, as referenced by its title. The Design section showcased a variety of sketches, diagrams and gameplay footage concerning character concept art, landscapes and storyboards. The Disrupt section presented interactive examples of games and debates which delved into the socio-political context of the modern gaming world. Finally, the Play at the end of the exhibition managed to successfully recreate the bright atmosphere of an arcade.
The Disrupt section was easily my favourite part of the exhibition. You could try your hand at Robert Yang’s male shower simulator Rinse and Repeat in one corner of the room, while simultaneously listening to interviews with industry professionals being broadcast on the room’s central screen. These interviews largely concerned the issues of social and political issues in gaming – including but not limited to: sexuality, racism and gun control.
For example, Rami Ismali, an indie games developer, noted the discrepancy between the amount of money spent on realising detailed graphic violence towards Arabs, compared to the poor competence of the Arabic language demonstrated in games such as Battlefield 3. On a different note, Robert Yang, an assistant arts professor who makes games about gay culture and intimacy, questioned how he so rarely saw his own demographic being represented in the games he played. Clearly, videogames reflect the inequalities of modern society, but the very same medium can also be used to question the status quo and explore potential solutions to the problem.
These fascinating interviews were conducted with journalists, critics, sociologists, broadcasters and many other individuals involved in and/or reporting on the videogames industry, including feminist blogger and media critic Anita Sarkeesian. By the exhibition’s end, I found myself amazed by the sheer number of people involved in the game-making process. Artists, directors and sound editors are only a few examples of the professionals subsumed into this extensively creative discipline. I was impressed by how the exhibit managed to engage in each section. There was even an e-sports room which showed a League of Legends final on an IMAX size screen!
I later learned that the exhibition’s interactive reach extended further beyond the four walls of the room it was housed in, courtesy of the V&A website. Here, games commissioned for the exhibition can be downloaded, numerous hyperlinks to articles on videogame ethics are provided, and there’s even a step-by-step video tutorial provided by the V&A’s Videogames Residency on how to create your own game. With resources such as these, perhaps it won’t be long until Robert Yang’s suggested game of “giving a hug” comes to fruition. Until then, I highly recommend that you experience the wonders of Videogames for yourself.
The exhibition is open until the 24th of February.
Words, Hazel Meades
Image, Hello Games Ltd.