Opinion: Game Masters exhibition and the art of the gaming world
- Murray Robertson
- 11 November 2014
'This exhibition is an opportunity to end the argument over whether or not games can be art'
The List’s resident gamer Murray Robertson tells us why the tools of his chosen leisure pursuit deserve to be seen as design icons
Most of us play video games in some form. Even if you don't consider yourself to be a gamer, chances are you've picked up a microphone to belt out some Beyoncé on Singstar, tried your hand at tennis on a friend's Wii or played Angry Birds on your smartphone. It's a hobby that's gone from a niche, bedroom-oriented pastime to the mainstream, with game consoles now controlling all facets of our living-room entertainment, and gaming revenues far outstripping those from the cinema.
The Game Masters exhibition is a long-overdue appraisal of the industry, with a particular focus on the most influential designers. This installation at the National Museum of Scotland is important for two reasons: firstly, it recognises the expanding cultural significance of this 40-year-old industry and, secondly, its location of Edinburgh (the only European stop on a worldwide tour) recognises Scotland's enormous contribution to this rapidly innovating artform. After all, the capital is famously home to Rockstar North (formerly DMA Design of Dundee), one of the undisputed giants in gaming. With Dundee's well-established reputation as a centre for game design education and employment, Scotland's influence looks set to continue for some time to come.
This exhibition is also an opportunity to end the argument over whether or not games can be art, once and for all. From the procedurally-generated landscapes of Minecraft, Proteus and No Man's Sky, to the lovingly hand-crafted vistas of Skyrim, Bioshock: Infinite and World of Warcraft, game environments have the power to inspire awe and capture the imagination just as vividly as any other artform.
Way back in 2002, Rockstar was nominated for the London Design Museum's 'biggest contribution to design' for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, alongside other modern icons such as the iPod. In recent years, the explosion of independent games has seen experimental releases featuring stunningly realised environments with a focus on exploration rather than traditional gameplay. Games such as Dear Esther, Gone Home and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter have bravely blurred the distinction between gameplay and interactive fiction to huge critical acclaim.
And when Facebook's Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is released for consumers (hopefully next year) we'll see a seismic shift in the way games are played and experienced. If you're old enough to remember virtual reality from the 90s then banish those blocky thoughts from your aching head. Oculus Rift is set to revolutionise the way we experience 3D games and environments forever. The traditional barriers to gaming (complex controls, niche genres and adolescent iconography) are all tumbling down. There is now a game for everyone.
What really sets video games apart from other artforms is their interactivity and immersion. And the Game Masters exhibition format serves that brilliantly, enabling its audience to get hands-on to explore the sights, sounds and controls of video games, and see how they've changed over the decades. If we can excite young fans by demonstrating how far we've come in such a short space of time, who knows where they'll take us in the future.