Three years ago today I was very lucky and went on my first date with what turned out to be the love of my life. As an early celebration of our anniversary, Gabriel and I decided to go down to Dundee last Sunday to visit the Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition at the V&A, and these are some brief scribbles on what my personal highlights were for what was an incredible display of video games and they way in which they can inspire many.
As I entered into the first section of the exhibition, dedicated to the creative process involved in making some of our favourite games, I was greeted with a quote from one Frank Lantz during his talk at the Games Developer Conference back in 2014. Quite elegantly, it states: “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“. After my time floating around the Design portion of the exhibition and getting a sense of the mindset and dedication that goes into making the titles represented I would have to say it is a perfect reflection. Some of the biggest names in the industry were represented, with a mix of concept art, gameplay footage, design sketches and more on display from The Last of Us, Bloodborne, Journey, Splatoon 2 and No Man’s Sky. I was very happy to see that the indie scene was shown some love with games like Kentucky Route Zero being displayed with as much care and attention to detail as the others.
I loved that among the concept art, gameplay footage and sketches there were displays dotted around of notebooks from developers containing frantic scribbles or cork-boards with sticky notes outlining storylines, providing a brief glimpse into the mindset and process that goes into creating these works of art. The Last of Us display had a board that laid out the main points of the storyline was a favourite of mine and gave me the opportunity to imagine what it is like to be a part of a team creating something so monumentally important.
The Disrupt section was dedicated to encouraging meaningful discussion about video games as an art form. A large projection onto the wall cycled through interviews that highlighted a number of different topics such as gender, race, sex within the video game context. Visitors could go to individual screens throughout the room to engage with these topics further if they wished and I found that I really enjoyed the discussion surrounding the prevalence of violence within video games. The contributions from those interviewed were very unique, focusing less on the age-old question of whether video games make you violent, and more on the potential impact that relying heavily on combat or violent mechanics has on our ability to tell unique stories or to have unique gameplay mechanics. It was a fascinating conversation and it may just turn into a post later down the line…
The Play section was dedicated to showcasing the rising DIY arcade scene. I was completely taken aback by Line Wobbler, a one-dimension dungeon crawler game from the mind of Robin Baumgarten, as it completely challenges my impression on what classifies as an arcade game. A long stretch of LED lights showcased you as a little green light, enemies as red lights, and eventually long stretch of orange lights that my mind decided was spontaneous lava. The joystick is a spring which is unique as it is designed to be wobbled and as your little green light approaches red lights you need to wobble the joystick in an attempt to defeat the enemy. This got surprisingly challenging towards the end. It may be the furthest I have stepped away from what I would consider to be a traditional video game whilst also simultaneously being some of the most fun I have had playing video games and I need one in my life. If you ever happen to discover this post Robin, hook me up with one, please.
If Found was another game I really enjoyed. I initially passed it by but seeing Gabriel play it with a big smile on her face peaked my curiosity. You play as an alien visiting Earth and who takes interest in a boy she meets. As you erased parts of the alien’s diary you reveal more scribbles and notes that bring out more of the story. It was a little bit of a challenge to find out more about If Found on Google but I am very happy to see that the experience, or something very similar, is coming to PC in the near future.
My final highlight from this section was a game called Queers in Love at the End of the World, a text-based adventure that gave you ten seconds to interact with your lover before the end of the world arrived and they perished. I genuinely laughed out loud whilst playing it and found the time-sensitive nature of the gameplay look very stressful so it is well worth-checking out if you want a unique experience. In fact, better yet, if you feel like facing the end of the world you can check it out for yourself at Anna’s itch.io page: https://w.itch.io/end-of-the-world
Operas and Bridges
As an added bonus because it was the final day of Design/Play/Disrupt being hosted at the V&A, the showcase for the Operas and Bridges Game Jam was being held in partnership with Abertay University, which gave participating teams three days to come up with a concept from scratch and develop it. By far my favourite project was Bib Goes Home, a wonderfully created 2D platformer that used a handmade pop-up book to display the levels, with your character being projected onto each page. As Bib reaches doors and goes through them, the player is prompted to flick over to the next page in real-life, providing a sense of playfulness that brought me back to the way in which Media Molecule tried to incorporate real-life origami into Tearaway. I love projects like this and I am looking forward to seeing where these guys end up in the next few years.
As someone who has never visited any event that is centred solely around video games it was lovely to be surrounded by like-minded people who loved them as much as I do. As I wandered around the displays admiring all of the concept art and unique games I could play, I would pick up on small conversations of those equally enthusiastic individuals who would be discussing the very developers that have inspired me and games that I have adored and it was wonderful. It has inspired me to one day make the effort to visit an expo and fingers crossed my goal is to attend EGX next year.
A big thank you if you have gotten this far through all my thoughts and scribbles about my trip to the V&A. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Design/Play/Disrupt or something similar I would highly recommend doing so. And I would like to say a quick thank you to Gabriel for being really thoughtful and booking our trip down to Dundee so that we could experience this. The last three years have been perfect and I love you.
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