Video Games in the Museum

Lead Research Organisation: University of Abertay Dundee
Department Name: Sch of Arts Media and Computer Games

Abstract

Video games are one of the most important art and design phenomena of our times. A game is a gesamtkunstwerk or 'total artwork', incorporating animation and architecture, cinematography and costume and product design and performance, scriptwriting and scenography, and many other disciplines. Millions of people are affected by the gaming industry through production, distribution or consumption. Techniques developed in this field are starting to be applied in many others, from education and training to advertising. In 100 years, people will look back on our moment as a key phase of emergence for the video game.

Yet there has been little effort to preserve this history-in-the-making. Game developers have shown little interest in archiving their own work, and with few exceptions the museum and archive sector has been disengaged, perhaps seeing video games as a form of popular culture that lies outside its remit. With the support of specialist academic expertise at the University of Abertay, the V&A is now set to fill this gap. Our ambition is to ensure that the video games of today will be part of the cultural heritage of the future.

While we expect the network to prompt new ideas about achieving this objective, our approach is to work with industry partners to create interpretive 'meta-versions' of games for acquisition. We will collaboratively create a digital artifact, designed explicitly for the purpose of museum acquisition alongside the standard commercial version. The 'meta-version' will be a palimpsest, in which the features of the game are layered with interpretation and archival material. For example, scenes and characters might be presented in step-by-step reconstructions, which are further annotated by developers using voiceover and graphics. This will provide viewers with an in-depth understanding of the game and the processes used to create it. Such a 'meta-version' will be rendered within the existing design language of the game and could itself be interactive, ideally in a way that is derived from the 'play style' of the commercial product. The result will be specific to the museum's collection (a unique and authentic artefact with historic value). Subject to agreement it could be made available to the public online, as well as in-gallery.

The research network would discuss this proposed approach and develop case studies for acquisition and display. It will also encourage debate about the collection and display of video games generally. Four workshops will provide opportunities for knowledge exchange and dissemination:

1) V&A, [Mar 2014]. Organized by Co-I Kieran Long with support from the Contemporary and Research Departments at the Museum, the first workshop will set objectives and propose models for partner feedback. Participants will include industry representatives; academic specialists; and industry observers such as Alex Wiltshire (the former editor of Edge magazine, commissioned in 2013 to report for the V&A on video game design & development).
2) Dundee Contemporary Arts, [Aug 2014]. Organized by PI Gregor White, the second event will engage art and design specialists from the video games industry. This workshop will support ongoing work toward V&A Dundee, set to open in 2016.
3) Games Developer Conference/University of Southern California, [March 2015]. USC is a world-leading center for video game design. This workshop would serve as a platform to engage USA-based developers, permitting an expansion of the V&A's collecting activities and an opportunity for comparative study.
4) V&A, [June 2015]. The concluding event will present findings to an interested public. At this symposium we will release a report on our recommended protocol, and profile case studies showing how the research has been applied to the acquisition of specific games.

Planned Impact

In addition to academic researchers, teachers and students, direct beneficiaries of this research will include galleries, libraries, archives and museums that collect materials relating to video games and gaming culture. By collectively establishing a considered methodology for video game collection and display, the project will enable holders of such collections, both in the UK and internationally, to enhance their collections and public outputs. The V&A's main site in South Kensington is visited annually by over 3 million people; its touring exhibitions programme and online presence reaches millions more on an international basis. This makes the Museum an outstanding platform for advancing the public understanding of new art and design. We expect that a coherent strategy around the collection and display of video games (both in gallery and online) will attract enormous attention from the industry, scholars in the field, enthusiasts, and the general public. These beneficiaries will benefit generally from improved accuracy and detail of information about objects in galleries, museums, libraries and archives and user communities. The V&A has already made some steps toward improving knowledge of video game design, including the commissioning of a substantive report on video game design from Alex Wiltshire, and the recent appointment of a video game designer in residence (Sophia George). Widespread press attention to the latter suggests a high degree of public interest in the topic.

The network will also support greater collaboration between heritage institutions and the games industry, particularly through the development of freely accessible protocols for the collection and display of games. Project results can be implemented and disseminated by a significant number of leading heritage institutions and games designers who are partners on this proposal, promising a high level of impact, and the inclusion of US partners will ensure that impact extends beyond the UK.

The network seeks to support the video games industry in a number of other ways. The Development of a games collection at the V&A will promote games research amongst students and academics through enhanced access to international research, professional expertise concentrated on the interpretation of a few examples of highly innovative or creative video games or elements of video games. The visibility of these network outputs will bring enhanced credibility to the study of video games art and design disciplines and careers in the video games industry.

Over the course of its history the video games industry has faced a number of challenges including accusations of corrupting the young, promoting violent behavior, gender stereotyping, and deliberately addicting players. The representation of games content in the context of its production and consumption will help researchers interested in games as a sociological phenomenon to understand games culture and contribute to the development of new ways of understanding and engaging audiences.

As the sector continues to mature and engage a broadening audience demographic the video games industry must continue to find products that appeal to new audiences. Interdisciplinary research between arts and humanities researchers and video games academics has the potential to result in new forms of gameplay and meaning-making through interaction. The establishment of a museological and gallery context to the exhibition of video games will result in a new platform for the promotion of innovation and creative practice to the sector.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The nature of research network projects is to build networks in order to share knowledge and experiences in a specific field, to improve our understanding of the landscape of knowledge and practice and identify challenges and opportunities for further research activity and investment. The acquisition, collection and exhibition of videogames are emerging disciplines and conventions and policies are yet to be codified. This project has identifies the following issues as areas of interest.

1. The research identifies the design and representation of objects and environments, video and audio content while important to the appeal of the game, is subordinate to the application and execution of quality experience design in this deeply embedded interdependency.

This problem is an on-going theme within games and games design research communities. Further research into the wider context of design vision and player agency will improve our understanding of the potential for games beyond entertainment into societal and cultural contexts.

2. Issues around acquisition, collection and preservation are complex and contingent on the exhibition context and exhibition organisation. An increasing range of approaches and context continues to emerge and lines between creator and curator are increasingly blurred.

3. As new approaches and methods emerge the challenge to researchers and research councils to recognise these methods a legitimate research activity and to continue to support practice as research in this field.

4. There remains a role for museums and games historians to record and curate the history of the social context and ethical development of the medium. Although there is much work being done in this area the low levels of visibility of individual practitioners involved in early days of games design and development mean that collecting primary source accounts can be increasingly difficult.

Researchers should consider adopting ethnographic and other social science methods to collect and preserve early games histories.

5. It was observed that where partnerships between studios and museums have been established and trust developed, studios have become more willing to share there games media. Where successful, studios have also shared much of the ephemera, documentation and original designs and drawings with museums. Ultimately it is these materials that offer most insight into the design process.

Institutions and organisations committed to collecting and exhibiting games should be encouraged to establish and maintain direct relationships with development studios and games publishers.
Exploitation Route The exhibition of Videogames is increasingly the subject of academic research and professional/cultural practice
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.vam.ac.uk/dundee/exhibitions/videogames
 
Description The public impact of the project is to inform the curatorship of a large scale exhibition of video games at the V&A Museum in South Kensington London. The Museum has now committed to the exhibition planned for 2017. Curators Marie Fulston and Kristian Vosling Other project events engaged wider expert and non-expert audiences; GDC Panel - Games Industry and industry stakeholders (~50 attendees) CRUMB online discussion - New media curators and practitioners Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee (Scottish Government) Creative Industries Enquiry Scottish Affairs Committee (UK Parliament) Creative industries in Scotland
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

 
Description Small Wars. Exhibition of Arts Games by Eddo Stern 
Organisation Dundee Contemporary Arts
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Small Wars and CD-ROMS, two exhibitions in partnership with Abertay University exploring the cultural impact of computer games, programmed and curated in partnership with Dr William Huber, Head of the Centre for Excellence in Game Education.
Collaborator Contribution The exhibition was based on work produced by the artist will in residence at Hospitalfied House in Arbroath Scotland (Partnership between Hospitalfield Arts and Abertay University), The exhbition was co-curated in partnership between Dundee Contemporary Arts and Abertay University.
Impact For Small Wars, Stern presents a monumental installation of his celebrated Vietnam Romance. This work recreates and interrogates the fictionalised history of the Vietnam War and its culturally commodified remains through a mash-up of cultural artefacts drawn primarily from Hollywood film culture as well as war literature, comic books, popular music, collectable war memorabilia, and adventure tourism packages. Stern is spending several weeks in Angus in 2016 to prepare for the exhibition, initially participating in the Hospitalfield Arts residency programme in Arbroath.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Small Wars. Exhibition of Arts Games by Eddo Stern 
Organisation Hospitalfield Arts
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Small Wars and CD-ROMS, two exhibitions in partnership with Abertay University exploring the cultural impact of computer games, programmed and curated in partnership with Dr William Huber, Head of the Centre for Excellence in Game Education.
Collaborator Contribution The exhibition was based on work produced by the artist will in residence at Hospitalfied House in Arbroath Scotland (Partnership between Hospitalfield Arts and Abertay University), The exhbition was co-curated in partnership between Dundee Contemporary Arts and Abertay University.
Impact For Small Wars, Stern presents a monumental installation of his celebrated Vietnam Romance. This work recreates and interrogates the fictionalised history of the Vietnam War and its culturally commodified remains through a mash-up of cultural artefacts drawn primarily from Hollywood film culture as well as war literature, comic books, popular music, collectable war memorabilia, and adventure tourism packages. Stern is spending several weeks in Angus in 2016 to prepare for the exhibition, initially participating in the Hospitalfield Arts residency programme in Arbroath.
Start Year 2016