Videogames and Digital Design at the V&A

April 6, 2018

At the V&A, a core part of our remit is to explore and present innovative design and the cultures that surround them. The Museum has a long history of engaging with and collecting digital design, from early computer art in the 1960s through to major exhibitions such as 2009–10’s Decode: Digital Design Sensations, which surveyed contemporary digital and interactive art and technology. Videogames  are one of the most important design disciplines of our time making them the perfect fit for the V&A. Our 2018 headline autumn exhibition Videogames: Design/ Play/ Disrupt will explore how a new wave of designers, players and critics are pushing the boundaries of the medium in a variety of playful and radical new ways.

No Man's Sky - ™/© 2016 Hello Games Ltd. Developed by Hello Games Ltd. All rights reserved
No Man’s Sky – ™/© 2016 Hello Games Ltd. Developed by Hello Games Ltd. All rights reserved

The exhibition builds on the work of the Design, Architecture and Digital department, which through its Rapid Response Collecting strand has collected digital design material including the mobile phone game Flappy Bird and Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. These acquisitions represent a response to events and technological advances that have had a global impact, inviting visitors to think about how design issues impact on their daily lives. Beyond Rapid Response, the department has collected the Chinese social media platform WeChat, and are also interested in exploring how videogames as digital objects can be preserved and exhibited – their collection, conservation and display is of considerable interest to the museum and this exhibition has been paramount in thinking about creative ways of working with this design material.

Arcade Backpack, UCLA Games Lab (Photo by Robin Baumgarten)
Arcade Backpack, UCLA Games Lab (Photo by Robin Baumgarten)

Alongside collecting, the department has produced other events, workshops and a series of conferences that have brought independent designers and the industry into the museum, including several Friday Lates dedicated to videogames, that brought thousands of players and fans to the V&A – 2013’s The World of Minecraft, 2015’s Pushing Buttons, the virtual reality themed Parallel Worlds in 2016 and Making Play in 2017. These curated nights brought designers in from all aspects of videogames design and culture: from the lo-fi hacker maker scenes and DIY collectives such as Cardboard Arcade and We Throw Switches, examples of independent offline social gaming such as Speed Chess (for 16 players) and Joust, fan artists creating costumes that celebrate their favourite titles through cosplay, through to installations featuring casters from ESL commentating on Hearthstone tournaments and opportunities to try out PlayStation VR games.

Our Parallel Worlds conference series began in 2016, seeking to establish a space in which to talk about videogames design and culture. The concept brings international speakers from videogames in touch with designers from other creative industries, to start conversations between different but complementary disciplines, much as the V&A does through its collections and permanent galleries. With speakers from all over the world, including talks from designers of Horizon Zero Dawn, WipeOut,.Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan and the upcoming Dreams.

The Museum has also engaged with videogames through its learning programmes, holding coding workshops and the annual Digital Design Weekend, while the residency progamme has previously hosted videogame designer Sophia George, resulting in the production of a game based on the museum’s collection, The Strawberry Thief.

With this exhibition we look to build on previous fascinating conversations about videogames design and culture across the globe and the links to other disciplines and technologies. More accessible than ever, videogames are at a tipping point where their culture and meaning is being examined and reassessed, both by critics and designers, opening the medium to new dimensions.  This is the perfect time for the V&A to be exploring videogames as part of its responsibility to cover all forms of design and creative industries.

Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt





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