Game Masters exhibition celebrating the art of the gaming world comes to Edinburgh
Capital hosts first European stopover for interactive display inviting audiences to play 100 games
We'll start with an easy one: how many film directors can you name? Probably loads. How many record producers? Trickier but still a decent handful. How about game designers? Even with pop culture icons like Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog or global franchises such as Angry Birds and Grand Theft Auto most people would struggle to name a single videogame designer. Millions upon millions of people play games every day but only the most dedicated have looked beyond the bytes at the artists who create these complex electronic playgrounds.
Game Masters hopes to redress that balance, shining a light on the digital masterminds behind some of the world's most popular titles. This will be the exhibition's first European stopover after premiering at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. 'It focuses on all the key names behind the games people know and love,' explains Sarah Rothwell who curated the exclusive Scottish content which will be on display when Game Masters opens at the National Museum of Scotland this December.
There will be over 100 playable games from early pioneers in the 70s and 80s to the home gaming revolution of the 90s to next gen consoles and the explosion in casual gaming we see today. 'Not just the games themselves but the artwork behind the games as well as video documentaries,' says Rothwell. 'So you are able to see the influences and the key points the developers were facing when they were trying to achieve these games at the time. You are really getting a full understanding of what went into creating the games.'
It's a world filled with mavericks who pushed at the boundaries of technology. Game Masters starts with a section entitled Arcade Heroes highlighting Tomohiro Nishikado, who created the original Space Invaders released in 1978; Toru Iwatani who gave the world Pac-Man in 1980 and Shigeru Miyamoto, perhaps the most influential games designer of all time. Since he started working with Nintendo in 1977 his career mirrored and shaped the world of gaming from the release of Donkey Kong at the arcades in 1981 before spearheading home gaming with Super Mario Bros and Zelda and playing a major role in developing the revolutionary Wii console in 2006.
The Wii brought gaming back to the masses. Home consoles were caught up in a power struggle over better graphics and faster processing. The Wii threw out the rule book, you didn't need to learn a series of complex controls, the Wii Remote was intuitive, aimed at a wider family market. The recent rise of casual gaming on mobile phones, tablets and handheld devices completely changed the landscape. Recent statistics from a study by the Internet Advertising Bureau show that the market has shifted. The clichéd image of spotty teenage boys hunched over their consoles is now wildly inaccurate. For a start, nearly everyone is a gamer these days; 70% of the UK population (33.5 million) played a game in the last six months and 52% of those gamers were female. This is no longer a niche hobby, from trivia games to Angry Birds to SingStar, the world of gaming is now expansive and inclusive. 'We're all gaming more than ever,' says Rothwell. 'We're actually engaging with it in many different forms. The traditional form of sitting down at a computer or arcade machine has changed – it's so much easier than ever before.'
It was also important to showcase Scotland's contribution. 'There are over 95 organisations that work within games development in Scotland,' adds Rothwell. 'One of the big names that appeared first in the late 80s and early 90s was DMA Design. So we'll have artwork from Lemmings which was created in 1991 and some of the original scripts from the first Grand Theft Auto.'
The developers of the world conquering Grand Theft Auto series, which has become one of the most successful videogames of all time, are now based in Edinburgh and better known as Rockstar North. But GTA is just the tip of the iceberg – Scotland is a hive of innovation. 'It's one of Scotland's leading exports. We have three independent developers which we'll be highlighting. We've got Space Budgie from Dundee who are a very young team straight out of the University of Abertay. They are creating some really interesting games at the moment [including Glitchspace, 39.03m and Konformity]; Simon Meek from Glasgow's The Story Mechanics who developed the interactive The 39 Steps and Edinburgh's Lucky Frame highlighting their BAFTA Award-winning game Bad Hotel.'
Gaming has become a facet of modern life and slowly but surely people are starting to take the medium seriously. 'The technical side and the engineering is another form of art and design that people don't always appreciate because they see it as recreational,' adds Rothwell. 'It's important to highlight the work and people behind the scenes that create these wonderful games that we all enjoy.'
Game Masters, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Fri 5 Dec–Sun 20 Apr.