V&A announces major video games exhibition and residency

Concept art from the The Last of Us, by Naughty Dog
Blue Sky Concept, 2013-2014, from the The Last of Us, by Naughty Dog.
(Image credit: © Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC)

Video games are about to level up as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London announces a major exhibition dedicated to the medium, opening later this year. ‘There is a wealth of creativity to explore, from the craft of the studios to the innovation of the audience as players,’ explains V&A director Tristram Hunt, who considers video game design as ‘one of the most important design disciplines of our time.’

The V&A exhibition will focus on video game design from the mid-2000s, and while this will mean the stunning omission of history-making games such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), there will be plenty else to feast the eyes on, from concept art to moving footage, prototypes, character design sketches, and interactive installations.

Highlights will include glimpses into the creative process Nintendo’s Splatoon (2015), and of The Last of Us (2013) – a breathtaking post-apocalyptic marvel from Naughty Dog (a sequel is currently in the works). Also on view will be the painstakingly accurate recreation of the continent of Westeros from Game of Thrones in Minecraft, and a section exploring DIY arcade games and grassroots gaming culture.

Video games are big business. The eSports industry alone cracked the $1 billion mark last year, earlier than predicted (footage from the League of Legends World Championships will be shown as part of an immersive installation at the exhibition). Independent studios will get their dues too: take Cardboard Computer’s Kentucky Route Zero (2013), a magical realist adventure game. Its parallax scenography draws on brutalist architecture, theatre, set design, typography and – surprisingly enough – René Magritte’s 1965 optical illusion painting La Blanc Seing (The Blank Signature).

‘Video Games: Design/Play/Disrupt’ will be jointly curated by Marie Foulston – who arguably holds one of the world’s most enviable museum posts as the V&A’s Curator of Videogames – and Kristian Volsing, research curator. Pernilla Ohrstedt Studio will oversee the exhibition design, with support from Squint Opera (AV design), Julia (graphic design) and Coda to Coda (sound design). To coincide with the exhibition, the V&A is also inviting applications from UK-based artists, designers or makers involved in the video games scene for a Videogames Residency, which will run from 15 October 2018 until 15 June 2019.

Still from Journey

Still from Journey, 2012-2014, developed by Thatgamecompany. 

(Image credit: © Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC)

While it may seem an unlikely move by the 166-year-old institution, it’s not the first prestigious art museum to do so. The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC staged an exhibition in 2012 exploring the 40-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, and the MoMa in New York has a number of video games (and a console) in its permanent collection.

‘There is a rich universality to video games in contemporary culture,’ adds 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.’

Le Blanc Seing, 1965, by René Magritte, optical illusion painting

Le Blanc Seing, 1965, by René Magritte. The Belgian surrealist artist’s optical illusion painting directly influenced the parallax scenography a forest scene from magical realist adventure game Kentucky Route Zero, 2013, by Cardboard Computer. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Still from magical realist adventure game Kentucky Route Zero, 2013, by Cardboard Computer

Kentucky Route Zero, 2013, by Cardboard Computer. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Cardboard Computer)

Aerial view of a Minecraft recreation of Winterfell from Game of Thrones

The building of the continent of Westeros from Game of Thrones in Minecraft (pictured here, Winterfell from WesterosCraft) represents the pinnacle of what is possible to create virtually. Footage will be shown of the vast scale and incredible detail of the engineering and construction created by a dedicated community of hundreds of people working collaboratively to build castles, mountains and cities, block by block. 

(Image credit: © Minecraft)

‘Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt’ will be on view 8 September 2018 – 24 February 2019. The exhibition is supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation. For more information, visit the V&A website