- David Pollock
- 7 May 2019
Fresh and detailed view of the industry and culture of videogames
On first appearance, the need for a new Scottish exhibition on the culture and design of videogames may seem somewhat redundant, so soon after the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh made a big impression with Game Masters back in 2014/15. Yet even to those who soaked up every facet of that rich and varied show, this new display in V&A Dundee's large and atmospheric temporary display galleries – only the second show to be held there – offers a view upon the industry and culture surrounding it which is fresh and detailed.
Where Game Masters was as much a retrospective as it was a state of play overview, taking us throughout the development years of coin-op, arcade and console devices before looking ahead, Videogames drops us right into a gaming present which already feels like it's thundering on into the future. Opening on a beautiful, scene-setting quote from the director of the New York University Game Centre Frank Lantz – 'Making games combines everything that's hard about building a bridge with everything that's hard about composing an opera. Games are operas made out of bridges.' – the first and largest element of the exhibition is an in-depth study of eight ground-breaking games, each broken down into individual design processes.
This sequence is dense, and filled with intriguing ephemera and behind-the-scenes technical detail, yet in regard of the V&A's brief and the way it attempts to show the design process in action, it's perfectly pitched. We see the online multiplayer game Journey, in which users must interact through action and gesture, and are shown the 'emotional moodboards' used to influence responses to every scene; the breadth of character designs, set paintings and motion-capture movement creation which informed the cinematic scope of The Last of Us; the elements of city planning and fashion design which Splatoon incorporates; and the very different literature roots which feed into the aesthetic and dialogue of Kentucky Route Zero and No Man's Sky.
Also featuring Bloodborne, Consume Me and The Graveyard (whose creators, Tale of Tales, produced a 'Realtime Art Manifesto' in 2006, recreated here), this section is packed with detail in the form of notebooks, development art and concept visualisations. It's a fun introduction to the mass of design and development work the industry's creators undertake, while the next section, Disruptors, moves on into the political implications of the games industry. Through film and text, it looks at subjects like violence, sex, representation, the treatment of women and the slow shift of the industry away from white, Western ideals, before lighter concluding sections include films on gaming communities and a mock-up DIY arcade featuring playable versions of some eccentric contemporary designs.
Throughout, there's a huge amount to take in, and perhaps some basic functional knowledge of how videogames operate might be useful for full enjoyment of the show. Yet within that, even committed gamers will no doubt see many things they were never aware of, all wrapped in a bubble of context which clearly illustrates why the subject is important and informative to the way we live and play in the 21st century. Just leave yourself plenty of time to soak up every last detail.
Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt is at V&A Dundee until Sun 8 Sep.