V&A, London: Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt

Screenshot, Journey™ ©2012, 2014 Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC. Journey is a trademark of Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC. Developed by Thatgamecompany.

 

Design/Play/Disrupt has clearly put itself in an uncomfortable position. It’s Britain’s first exhibition aiming to expand the definition of design and highlight games development’s place among other arts. Like any attempt at a translation of the digital to the gallery space, it faces some fundamental issues, but it still manages to render the field as complex and creative.

The first section of the exhibition, Disrupt, can seem a little bit unfocused and disorientating, but there is a fair point made here, which sets out the arena for the exploration of games. Their influences are diverse. Going through an array of rooms intersected with mesh wall, one can analyse some of the most iconic games produced in this century, among others The Journey, Bloodborne, The Last of Us. Each game is analysed through the lens of the creative processes in their production and the material included is a bit of a mish-mash; sketchbooks, Tumblr inspirations, motion caption suits and even Rene Magritte’s The Blank Signature. It’s not a comprehensive overview or an attempt to define the canon of contemporary gaming, but investigation of the fascinating space where technology and art intersect. For those who are avid gamers – basics, for someone like me, who recognised one or two titles – fascinating. So far a general overview of seas of creativity, which allows appreciating games’ multidimensional nature and the varied skills used in their production.

 

No Man's Sky - ™/© 2016 Hello Games Ltd. Developed by Hello Games Ltd. All rights reserved. Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, at the V&A from 8 September 2018 – 24 February 2019 vam.ac.uk/videogames
No Man’s Sky ™/© 2016 Hello Games Ltd. Developed by Hello Games Ltd. All rights reserved. Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, at the V&A from 8 September 2018 – 24 February 2019 vam.ac.uk/videogames

 

Computer games source from our culture, but also influence it. The themes, issues and controversies which they raise are as diverse as the players themselves, and like any industry, it is haunted by stereotypes, clichés and insecurities. The next section, Play, aims at addressing these issues and discussing them but also shows how games’ potential to social change is unappreciated. There is a lot of violence in games, usually, they have Western-centric bias and generally, lack inclusivity. But the exhibition gives hope for a change, in which all the communities can be connected. Since games are so widely available, they have the potential to be used as tools in the fight for social justice, in which parallel to the real world, games can change and connect communities.

The show also highlights the stories of the players and rightly, as, without them, their cultural impact would have much less impact. Games only can gain their afterlife due to the creativity and engagement of their fans, who skilfully blur the online and offline world. The next room dedicated to them, showcases mash-ups of fan art, cosplay, alternative digital worlds and competitions exploring these two intersecting realities. They all constitute a proof that behind the games and their makers, there is an enormous and lively community of supporters, fanatics and game-lovers.

Splatoon © 2015 Nintendo. Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, at the V&A from 8 September 2018 – 24 February 2019 vam.ac.uk/videogames
Splatoon © 2015 Nintendo. Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, at the V&A from 8 September 2018 – 24 February 2019 vam.ac.uk/videogames

 

There is a certain aesthetic associated with the offline gaming environment; neon lights, mesh, metal. Its story, that of DIY arcade games, is told in this industrial setting. Space is peculiar and unorganised. There’s a cat video and a game which it inspired, Line Wobbler. But there’s also a sedan car cut in half, in which one can play a racing game. There are a lot of interesting games here, but the downside of this section results from failure to merge the gaming experience and the museum experience. There are just things which are annoying, but which will always happen in exhibitions like this – something is broken and being worked on or something else has been occupied by this one person for too long.

 

Arcade Backpack, UCLA Games Lab (Photo by Robin Baumgarten). Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, at the V&A from 8 September 2018 – 24 February 2019 vam.ac.uk/videogames
Arcade Backpack, UCLA Games Lab (Photo by Robin Baumgarten). Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, at the V&A from 8 September 2018 – 24 February 2019 vam.ac.uk/videogames

 

The show’s definitely lacking focus and if attentively going through it, can be draining. There is loads of information given to the visitor on the plate, which may be overwhelming, especially for someone who has no special interest in games. And while it seems like there were a lot of points which could be developed in more depth and a lot of settings done differently, this show is a positive sign for the art world. It shows that it is slowly, and perhaps with a bit of reluctance, embracing them.

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