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On Game On

October 20, 2006 ・ Blog

I went to the media opening of the Game On exhibition this morning. Its pretty much the same as the original Barbican one, but with some updates (360 et al), Jon Burgerman’s (great) illustrations and a rather tacked on ‘what place do videogames have in contemporary culture’ commentary that didn’t really go anywhere.

Essentially Game On is a big arcade, filled with free-to-play videogames, from Space War to Guitar Hero. I was like a kid in a sweetshop, but I’m not sure what good it truly does for videogames.

The space, on the second floor of the Science Museum, is windowless and slightly cramped. It’s noisy and filled with with the urgent flashings of neighbouring exhibits. For people that aren’t into games, I can’t see what the exhibition does to communicate videogames’ many qualities.

If anything, the exhibition will confirm to the uninitiated that games are mindless wastes of time that fuel kids’ attention deficient disorders. Because, if the text on the displays is anything to go by, the whole thing is largely aimed at children.

Game On misses a lot of opportunities - a chance to celebrate the efforts of independent game developers is wasted with a half-hearted case filled with a PS1 Net Yaroze and PS2 Linux development kit in it, and a couple of contextless playable games. I can’t even remember what they were. Ironically, the game Warning Forever, a perfect example of home-made games, was playing just across the aisle, but no one would ever know it.

It also missed its chance to discuss videogames’ place in modern culture, skating over it with the obvious ‘are games bad for kids?’ stuff. Boring. How about a deep (but totally accessible) look at videogame aesthetics and how they’ve been absorbed into contemporary arts and design? Or something more insightful about the way games are developed?

While I found the exhibition fun purely because I got to play a load of games, I don’t think Game On adds anything to videogames and their place in culture. They deserve more.