V&A director Tristram Hunt: This is “the right time” for an exhibition on video games

The director of the Victoria and Albert Museum has said that 2018 is “the right time” for his museum to host a blockbuster exhibition on the design and culture of video games.

V&A director Tristram Hunt: This is “the right time” for an exhibition on video games

Due to be the museum’s tentpole exhibition for 2018 when it opens in autumn, Videogames: Design/ Play/ Disrupt will take a prismatic lens to the young artform, pulling in surrealist artists, eSports, design and politics.

Framed by the V&A as the world’s first exhibition to fully explore the social and cultural impact of video games, the show will look at the ways contemporary designers, critics and players are shaping the field. V&A director Tristram Hunt – the former Labour shadow education secretary – lauded the field as one of the most important areas of design in the 21st century.

“There is a rich universality to video games in contemporary culture,” said Hunt. “This is the right time for the V&A to be building on our active interest in video games to investigate this exciting and varied design field at the intersection between technology, engineering and broader visual culture, presenting the influences, inspiration and debates that define it.

“There is a wealth of creativity to explore, from the craft of the studios to the innovation of the audience as players. The exhibition will provide a compelling insight into one of the most important design disciplines of our time.”

In a radical move, the exhibition won’t retread the chronological advance of gaming from its early days of Pac-Man, but will instead hone in on the period from the mid-2000s to the present day; a timespan when technological advancements in internet access and social media redrew the lines around games. It’s also a period of deepening conversations about the political and social potential of gaming.


(League of Legends, Worlds 2017. Credit: Riot Games)

Split into three sections (Design/ Play/ Disrupt), the exhibition will throw a light on everything from the design process behind hits such as The Last of Us and Journey, to the growth of the DIY arcade scene. A project to build Game of Thrones’ world of Westeros in Minecraft will be featured, as will footage of the League of Legends World Championship final in Beijing’s Olympic stadium.

Other highlights include Rene Magritte’s 1965 painting La Blanc Seing, shown beside a section of the 2013 game Kentucky Route Zero, which it inspired. Elsewhere, the scope for games to explore complex topics such as sex and globalisation is examined through Nina Freeman’s How do you do it? – in which a young girl explores sexuality using plastic dolls – and Molleindustria’s Phone Story – which touches on child exploitation and worker suicide within the production of smartphones.  game_screenshot_how_do_you_do_it_2014

(How do you do it? Credit: Freeman, Butler, Kittaka, Coss)

With so many aspects of video games covered, it will be interesting to see how the V&A manages to contain Nintendo fun, geopolitical satire and Overwatch fan art all in the same space. There’s also the question of how the exhibition will approach less positive trends in gaming over the past few years, such as harassment campaigns under the Gamergate hashtag. At the very least, the diversity of what’s in the exhibition stands to show just how broad the conversation around video games has become over the past decade.

Alongside the exhibition, the V&A will be hosting a video games residency for a UK-based artist or designer. More information on that can be found on the museum’s website.   

Videogames: Design/ Play/ Disrupt will run from 8 September 2018 to 24 February 2019, with advance tickets costing £18. Tickets go on sale today.

Lead image: Le Blanc Seing – National Gallery of Art Washington, Kentucky Route Zero – Cardboard Computer

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