This Video Games Exhibition At V&A Fails At The First Level

Videogames, V&A ★★☆☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 69 months ago

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Last Updated 06 September 2018

This Video Games Exhibition At V&A Fails At The First Level Videogames, V&A 2
Video Games exhibition at the V&A - no man's sky
The rather gorgeous looking game No Man's Sky. Copyright 2016 Hello Games.

Look around on your commute and it’s almost guaranteed at least one person will be video gaming as they go. We’ve even bumped into a few who were gaming as they walked — a stern glare was directed their way.

The V&A has opened a new exhibition on gaming. Rather than trying to tackle the rather trite argument of whether video games are art, it states that they are and goes on to try to prove the point. This gutsy decision gets us hyped for the rest of this monster exhibition. Power Up.

A recreation of Game of Thrones' Westeros in Minecraft, show how innovative gamers can be. Copyright Minecraft.

The show doesn't cover the entire history of gaming, just how it has evolved over the last decade or so. It starts with recent boundary-breaking games such as cartoon paintball shoot 'em up Splatoon and the rather aesthetically gorgeous The Last Of Us, showing how they were developed and constructed. There are pinboards, concept art, notebooks and actors in motion capture suits.

It’s great to see the hard work that goes into each game but one example would suffice. Going through six games is a chore that only hardcore gamers will enjoy. Noobs (newbies, in gamer speak) may lose interest in the first third of the show. One life lost.

Thankfully the next section is easily the best level in this exhibition. It looks at the worrying representation of women as sex objects in games, why video games are so white, and even things we hadn’t given a thought to such as why all coding languages use the Latin alphabet.

Video games exhibition at V&A 2018
The disruptors section is easily the best bit as it asks the important questions of gaming. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

This section of disruptors challenges the gratuitous violence in video games with a game that shows the flash of gunshot in domestic settings, reminding us of how senseless a lot of video game violence can be.

Mafia III received due praise for using a black lead character for a game set in the 1960s, with the character suffering racial slurs if he gets too close to a police officer. It’s a shame that disruption is only a small section of this show as greater focus on this topic would have been welcome. Even though it only makes up a quarter of the exhibition, we spent most of our time here. 2000XP (experience points) gained.

Video gaming exhibition at V&A
League of Legends matches are played in stadiums where 80,000 spectators watch on.

A big screen shows how games have exploded, with a massive online space battle that lasted 21 hours and a stadium filled with 80,000 spectators to watch a League of Legends fighting showdown. It’s great to set this in context and would have been welcome towards the start, to give gaming newbies some background as to how big gaming has become.

There are some quirky games that are trying to break the mould in gaming to play at the end, but they are best played for absurdity value than for any gaming enjoyment.

An inventive use of half a car to make an arcade machine. Alas, it's too delicate to have a go. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

Our issue with this show is it doesn’t know what it’s trying to do. It’s not niche enough and lacks enough playable games to appeal to gamers, but at the same time isn’t broad enough to bring novices into the world of gaming by showing why people love gaming so much. Two lives lost.

What we end up with is a large show with a thought provoking section, lots of dreary elements and no overall takeaway — it’s as messy as a Mortal Kombat fatality.

We love that a major museum has an exhibition on video games as it's a topic that deserves more coverage. We're just disappointed that V&A has gone up against the end of level boss and been found wanting. All three lives have been lost and it's game over.

Videogames: Design / Play / Disrupt at V&A is on from 8 September 2018 until 24 February 2019. Tickets are £18 for adults.