For a good part of their history, videogames have experienced a fair amount of contention as an art form. Any recognition is hard-fought and hard-won in the wider world, but a positive base is growing. For as gamers mature, so too do ideas about the medium of videogames.
And so news of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s decision to feature an exhibit examining the history and culture of videogames is an exciting step in a forward direction.
The V&A Museum is one of the world’s leading museums of art and design, and its decision to feature videogames among its works featured isn’t offhand. The museum itself is based in the heart of London and showcases over 2.3 million creative works that span over 5,000 years of human history. Though it can be hard to find a place among so much history, the description for the V&A’s upcoming videogame exhibit describes the medium as “one of the most important design fields of our time.”
The exhibition opens exactly one year from today (September 8, 2018) and runs through to February 24, 2019. Specifically, the exhibition explores the design and culture of videogames since the mid-2000s. The official description tells us that the exhibit will include multimedia installations and displays focusing on immersion and interactivity, alongside “object-based displays providing rare glimpses of design materials from the leading studios whose work defines this new wave.”
But as anyone familiar with videogames might know, showcasing the medium isn’t all about design work or creative gameplay. There’s also a major social and political component, though it might not necessarily be what the general public thinks it is.
The Telegraph recently wrote an article on this same exhibit and it may be that its writer is approaching it with some long-held, outsider notions about the medium. The introduction sounds like something fairly typical of those unfamiliar with videogames:
“With their images of scantily clad women and bloodthirsty violence, they have long been the domain of geeky adolescents and testosterone-driven young men ensconced in their bedrooms.” (Source)
It is true that sexism and violence have plagued the videogame industry, but it cannot be said to be all there is to it. Nor is it fair to generalize the entire videogame community as done in the previous quote. It’s one thing to look at Dead or Alive and Doom and think these things, and another thing entirely to also consider titles like Undertale and Shovel Knight and their communities.
The history of misogyny and violence does need to be recognized still and it’s impossible to cover the medium without mentioning it. Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, is quoted by Telegraph as recognizing this:
“Gender, misogyny, violence – we are not moving away from any of that. You have to understand the design component, but you can’t remove that entirely from some of the social political context in which it is placed.” (Source)
But in a point also included that seems ironically unrecognized by the reporter, Tristram Hunt said this too:
“We are very happy to have [videogames] in the same building as Donatello, Botticelli, Constable and Turner. One of the challenges of the V&A is to get people to think differently about what they might not respect visually.” (Source)
It’s true that the bad stuff isn’t just something we can wish away for videogames. But as the V&A seems to be doing, it’s important to recognize that the medium is moving forward, and that the community today is working towards becoming much more diverse and accepting, as a new generation of gamers fills out its ranks.
London’s a long ways from here, but my hope is that the upcoming exhibit will introduce a positive effect into the perceptions of the American public as well. For as the V&A page tells us, “a new wave of designers, players and critics are pushing the boundaries of the medium in radical new ways.” Videogames represent a new means of speech for future generations and the upcoming V&A exhibit proves that it can’t be ignored.
And if one is to truly hear, one must listen first.