As if the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield wasn’t enough, I had another game-related museum trip recently. This was an almost completely opposite experience in fact! I headed to London’s famous V&A museum to see their temporary exhibition, Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt. This was a much more traditional museum setup than the National Videogame Museum, notwithstanding the non-traditional subject matter.
The exhibition was a guided tour through a few different sections. First up was an interesting ‘making of’ of various modern indie and AAA games, including The Last of Us, Journey, Bloodborne, Splatoon, and more. That was pretty interesting, with design docs and prototypes on display, videos of motion capture sessions, concept art and even diaries. Naturally some were more interesting than others but the spread of games was good. I have to say I came out of this section really wanting to play Bloodborne based on the concept art. Just… wow.
The next section of the museum was around broader cultural and political issues in relation to games, touching on topics like politics, violence and guns, sex and sexuality, race, language and gender. While some of these are obviously familiar hot topics I understand why these were included in the exhibition and they felt well-handled here. My favourite was a playable sex education game where you were asked to play with naked dolls while your parents were out – definitely not something I expected to see in a museum!
The exhibition continued with a largely celebratory film about various aspects of gaming communities and fandoms. Minecraft had a dedicated section, as did EVE Online, cosplay and eSports. A lot of cheesy fun to be had here, and a good argument for gaming’s immense reach and relevance today. Where was the blogging section featuring esteemed blog sites like Very Very Gaming, V&A? You sure missed a trick there guys.
Finally, the exhibition wrapped with a hipster section about DIY gaming and arcades. This was easily had the most playable content with several custom-built indie arcade cabinets. As you might expect these varied in quality, but at least one was genuinely great. My favourite was a game displayed on a cable (yes a floor-to-ceiling cable, with LED lights on it) with a joystick deliberately made to feel like a door stopper – Line Wobbler, by Robin Baumgarten.
Of course no museum would be complete without a gift shop, and this exhibition had its own dedicated selection of stuff to buy. And it was surprisingly good! Many of the games featured in the exhibition were for sale, as well as a wide range of videogame-related books, posters, clothes etc. The V&A is well known for its high quality gift shop (a worthy tourist destination in its own right!) and this carried the torch nicely.
That pretty well wraps things up for two very different days out with videogames at museums! I had fun with both, but on reflection the V&A was my preferred of the two. Still, it entirely depends on what you’re looking for. The V&A exhibition is on until Feb 24th 2019.