The world famous Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) is currently running the Video Games: Design/Play/ Disrupt exhibition. The real boon of the exhibition is that it allows the wider community to understand the gaming community and the lure of the virtual world.
Many contemporary video games are creative, immersive and innovative and some are having a huge social and cultural impact across the globe, not always for the best but it is important to consider the positives alongside the negatives which is what the media seems to focus on. The exhibitions focus is quite narrow as it doesn't really look at the history of video games but rather issues around the medium including the portrayals of violence, race and sexuality, which I feel are very important in an artform that is still quite young and seen as the enfant terrible of pop culture.
Across the exhibition well known big budget games and characters rub shoulders with some indie and cult classics but all are accorded respect and lovingly curated. There are large-scale immersive multimedia and interactive installations alongside the usual display stands and cases.
As I entered the space I was welcomed with a rush of colour and a wall of sound, with an extremely large screen showcasing some of the games I would be seeing.
Passing a material mesh doorway, there was another large screen, this time showing the beautiful images from Journey. Austin Wintory's BAFTA winning soundtrack played and its beauty washed over me. The design documents and concept are from the game were on show and the information accompanying the pieces was informative and rich. The concept art sketches and paintings were wonderful to behold and creator, Jenova Chen, had his storyboard based on the classic Hero's journey on display.
The next doorway led to The Last of Us and had the same layout, a large video screen showing images from the game and some of the minutiae that went into its creation. A highlight was the original cork board from creators Naughty Dog with the notes and ideas that helped to consolidate the narrative arc of the game and characters. Within the same room was Bloodborne, the classic hard-as-nails gothic horror game by From Software. There was a playthrough of the Beast Cleric with a voice over by hilarious YouTuber Matt Lees that discussed the strategies needed to defeat the boss and play the game. Also featured were original sketches and a short documentary covering the creation of the soundtrack.
The next room did a complete volte-face as it featured one of the most colourful games of the current generation, Splatoon. Some concept art and early prototypes were on display but the wall featuring the logos and street art inspired fashion was the thing to look for here.
Also in the same room was an indie game I had never heard of called Consume Me. It was a fun mobile game with elements of Tetris but with food and details of its calorie content. It features a cute aesthetic and I can see why it was placed with Splatoon.
Following on, we had Kentucky Route Zero, the magical realism game which features beautiful art. The original Rene Magritte painting Le Blanc Seing was beautiful to behold and spoke about the inspiration for the game.
On the other side of the room was Tale of Tales' The Graveyard, in which you play an old woman with a walking stick walking through a graveyard and remembering her past. I had played the experience many years ago and found it moving, however I remember there being a backlash amongst many gamers as they claimed that the title wasn't really a game but more of a walking simulator. The sketchbooks and original wire frame animation offered a real insight into how Tale of Tales came up with their concepts. Their 10 point manifesto challenged what video games could be and how they could emotionally resonate with people, much like the Dogme 95 manifesto did for film.
Afterwards I entered a room which contained No Man's Sky, the much maligned but recently patched and actually wonderful procedurally generated space exploration game. As you entered there was a wall of screens, showing GIFs of the worlds you could explore in-game. It was beautiful and looked like an art installation. There were also animal concept art and books that inspired the look of the game, including Asimov’s Foundation books and Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars film art.
The next room was a large one and had several stations which asked deeper questions: Are video games political? Why are video games so white? Why are video games aimed primarily at boys? There was a super wide screen that features talking heads discussing these questions and asking the audience to consider their opinions.
After weaving my way through a black curtain I entered a large room with a huge screen showing a variety of e-sports, showcasing how huge it had all got. There were montages of Eve Online battles, Overwatch matches and League Of Legends world finals. There was also a video on the creation of Westeros from Game of Thrones in Minecraft.
After that I entered an arcade area that reminded me of entering a beachfront arcade in the 80s in Southend or the like... Some muted neon lighting added to the industrial look of the area but it was good to play some of the experimental games.
And so I had reached the end of the exhibition. So, after all this was it worth a visit. In a word, YES! The whole exhibition was well crafted and placed video games in an interesting space that requires people to examine it further. There is more that can be done but as the first major exhibition of its kind in London it is very worthwhile.