At­tract se­quence

In­side the Ed­in­burgh ex­hi­bi­tion that ex­plores the le­gacy of gam­ing’s great­est de­sign­ers


We trek to Ed­in­burgh to take in the Game Masters ex­hi­bi­tion

Cur­rently re­sid­ing at the Na­tional Mu­seum Of Scot­land (NMS) in Ed­in­burgh, the Game Masters ex­hi­bi­tion brings to­gether over 100 games to chart 40 years of gam­ing his­tory. Ex­cept in­stead of retelling the tale of gam­ing’s past, this ex­hibit looks at gam­ing through the lens of the au­teurs and pi­o­neers who shaped it, such as Tetsuya Mizuguchi, War­ren Spec­tor and Hideo Ko­jima.

Game Masters was con­ceived by Con­rad Bod­man, for­merly head of ex­hi­bi­tions at the Aus­tralian Cen­tre For The Mov­ing Im­age (ACMI) and now work­ing at the Bri­tish Film In­sti­tute, and fol­lows on from a pre­vi­ous ex­hi­bi­tion called Game On, which pre­sented a more gen­eral his­tory of games. “This show is in­tended to be a de­vel­oper-led show as op­posed to a straight his­tory,” Bod­man says. “It brings to the sur­face a lot of ma­jor names who have been in­volved with the in­dus­try for a long time, and re­ally show­cases their work over a num­ber of decades.”

That means pre­sent­ing the orig­i­nal Deus Ex de­sign doc­u­ment (when it was sim­ply ti­tled Shooter) along­side pro­duc­tion art­work from Day Of The Ten­ta­cle and The Sims, but the main at­trac­tion is un­doubt­edly the games them­selves, playable here, the vast ma­jor­ity on their orig­i­nal plat­forms. This in­cludes around 30 ar­cade ma­chines, such as Space In­vaders, Pac-Man, Mis­sile Com­mand and As­ter­oids. Imag­ine a bustling, time­trav­el­ling ar­cade and you’ll have some idea of how Game Masters is ar­ranged.

The older cabs are a par­tic­u­lar plea­sure, demon­strat­ing how well games such as Don­key Kong stand up to­day when played on their orig­i­nal plat­forms. Track­ing them down was a chal­lenge for Bod­man and the ex­hibit’s or­gan­is­ers at the ACMI, who had to source them from across the world. “We work with a cou­ple of ar­cade game col­lec­tors, who had con­tacts in the States,” Bod­man says, “and we ac­quired all the ar­cade through a net­work of col­lec­tors that we met on­line.”

While most ar­rived in good con­di­tion, a few re­quired re­fur­bish­ment be­fore they could go on dis­play, rais­ing the ques­tion of play ver­sus preser­va­tion. Let­ting at­ten­dees get hands-on is un­doubt­edly the best way for them to as­sess the works, but doesn’t that con­tra­dict a mu­seum’s re­mit to pre­serve th­ese items for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions? Bod­man doesn’t seem con­flicted: “It’s im­por­tant to have them playable in gal­leries. I think as time goes on, though, it will be­come more prob­lem­atic as the hard­ware and soft­ware be­comes very rare.” In­deed, Bod­man es­ti­mates it may be as lit­tle as five years be­fore some of the old­est ar­cade games are im­pos­si­ble to ac­quire.

The loss of th­ese games isn’t an in­evitabil­ity. In an oth­er­wise ex­tremely for­ward-look­ing in­dus­try, bring­ing th­ese older games to the at­ten­tion of younger play­ers is part of that preser­va­tion. As such, Game Masters is de­signed to be fam­ily-friendly. Only a hand­ful of games – in­clud­ing Deus Ex, Sys­tem Shock and Di­ablo III – are adult-ori­ented, and th­ese are mon­i­tored by NMS staff.

Work­ing di­rectly with game cre­ators to pre­serve their code pro­vides an­other so­lu­tion. This is an idea that Bod­man is par­tic­u­larly keen on. “The Mu­seum Of Mod­ern Art in New York re­cently ac­quired ten videogames for its per­ma­nent col­lec­tion,” he points out. “They es­sen­tially ac­quired the code and worked with the orig­i­nal de­vel­op­ers to un­der­stand how they want that code to be dis­played in the fu­ture.”

Game Masters ended its run at the ACMI in mid-2012, and is now tour­ing the globe, stop­ping over in Scot­land un­til April 20. It was de­signed to adapt to its lo­ca­tion, and its spell at the NMS in has seen it al­tered to il­lus­trate Scot­land’s gam­ing her­itage. “Dundee’s DMA De­sign was the log­i­cal choice to in­clude in the Game Chang­ers sec­tion in or­der to re­flect Scot­land’s his­tor­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion to gam­ing,” says Sarah Roth­well, as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor for art and de­sign. “Ma­te­rial on dis­play in Game Masters in­cludes the orig­i­nal poster for GTA, signed by those who worked on it, and pages from the hand­writ­ten script for the game.”

Also on dis­play is the orig­i­nal art­work for DMA’s Lem­mings, and the Game Masters indie sec­tion in­cludes sev­eral Scot­tish ti­tles, which means that sit­ting along­side the likes of Minecraft and Jour­ney are Gl­itchspace and Lucky Frame’s Bad Ho­tel. “We opted for ti­tles which per­haps show some dif­fer­ent sides to gam­ing, and with a geo­graphic spread across Scot­land,” says Roth­well.

Mu­se­ums and gal­leries are dis­play­ing a grow­ing in­ter­est in ex­hibit­ing games as the art­form be­comes widely ac­cepted, since their in­ter­ac­tive na­ture makes them par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive to at­ten­dees. As such, we’ll likely see more shows like Game Masters spring up. But Bod­man is al­ready con­sid­er­ing ways to take the con­ceit fur­ther. “I think the next stage would be to do a whole show on one in­di­vid­ual de­vel­oper,” he says.

“This show is in­tended to be a de­vel­oper-led show as op­posed to a straight his­tory”

Con­rad Bod­man (top), the mind be­hind Game Masters, and Sarah Roth­well, as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor for art and de­sign at the NMS

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