The UK’s only museum dedicated to video games is based in Sheffield. It aims to preserve, exhibit and encourage people to immersively experience video games through the ages. We spoke to creative director John O’Shea to find out more about the Museum and their upcoming exhibition ‘The Art of Play’
Why is Sheffield a good host city for the museum?
We recognised Sheffield as a happening place that has led on cultural experiences for decades. There are already a number of globally recognised games companies in South Yorkshire and our move to the city marked the start of a new phase for the museum where we wanted to raise awareness of the societal, economic, educational and cultural value of video games.
How do you promote the skills of the gaming industry?
There are a huge number of roles in the gaming industry and every year we run an education summit working with universities and industry to highlight the opportunities available. It is important to have great coders, but there are other skills that are in demand as well, such as project management, creative direction, soundscaping, marketing and finance. Soft skills are important, as well as technical skills.
Why are video games so important?
Video games have been part of our culture for around 50 years. The first game consoles came out around the mid-’70s, along with arcade experiences where people would go and play video games. Then people started to bring gaming into their homes – fast forward to the 1990s and gaming has become the number one global entertainment industry. When the James Bond film Goldeneye was released 25 years ago, it was the videogame, released after the film, that was economically more successful. It was produced by a UK company called Rare and it was a pivotal moment, where people sat up and thought, this is really important. It reached a level of critical acclaim and mass participation not seen before. So, even though that was 25 years ago, the UK’s influence on video games has remained.
What is their cultural significance?
Video games can be fun and light, but they also offer the opportunity to have deeper experiences. They provide enormous space for empathy through adopting a character who lives a different societal experience to you. When people want to study culture, they often turn to books and literature, or films that explore the human condition at that time. Video games have moved into that lineage as an art form by incorporating sophisticated psychology about how we experience the world. We want to champion video games as a contemporary art form that’s changing all the time. It is one of the most exciting art forms in the world today because you have agency, you are able to make choices in real-time and you can explore environments and characters at a level and depth no other art form offers.
What benefit do video games have to individuals?
Games can feel trivial but the passive knowledge people gain is immense. If you take a game like Assassin’s Creed – there will be dozens of PhD-level researchers that ensure historical accuracy. You can learn about historic periods, environments and challenges through video games in a way that is entertaining. The social aspect to gaming is also really important and was highlighted over the pandemic when everyone had increased exposure to the digital world. In the past, people have criticized gaming for increasing social isolation, but now we hear more people sharing the opinion that it provides a vital way for young people, in particular, to stay connected. At the Museum we are interested in how video games relate to educational experiences. There are a whole set of skills naturally within games such as communication, collaboration, problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as computational skills such as coding. We have recently worked with the University of Sheffield exploring how games can be a resource for learning and teaching in schools.
What should people expect in the ‘Art of Play’ exhibition?
The Art of Play exhibits videogames as a contemporary art form, illustrating the craft techniques and creativity behind indie games Monument Valley, Lumino City and No Longer Home. As well as the opportunity for people to explore and play the games of their youth, we deconstruct the experiences and enable people to discover the hidden skills behind them. For example, we have intricate paper models that formed the concept of a Lumino City visual identity. We highlight the handcrafted elements of games and show all the work that goes on “behind the screens”. The exhibition showcases the full creative potential of games and we have curated a museum-style display of stunning visuals, including the recently re-released ‘Monument Valley – Panoramic Edition’. The artistic realisation in the game is unique and really beautiful to look at and will appeal to anyone interested in creativity and design.
There is also a series of rarely-seen objects on display including an Amiga 4000 computer (on loan from the U.S.) that was used to design and develop the videogames Worms and Worms 2. Through design memos, rough notes, storyboard designs and an exclusive video interview, Chris Blyth, the Art Director for Worms 2, paints a picture of how blockbuster games were created in Yorkshire in the late 1990s. This exhibit is part of “Living Collections”, a new interview series supported by Arts Council England that enables visitors to deep-dive into the tools and techniques behind the production of much-loved videogames in the Museum’s collection.
There really is a game for everyone and we have teased out the intricate and elegant solutions that have been arrived at by innovative UK games studios. We are a family-friendly day out and our exhibits are suited to children 5 +. We recommend booking online here and planning around 2 hours for your visit, your ticket price includes entry into the museum, all playable exhibits, and the exhibition.
Book your ticket here