Beneath A Steel Sky and Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons on looking at games from outside the industry

Dave Gibbons has worked in the videogame industry, but he exists outside of that world. His art for Beneath A Steel Sky may be instantly recognisable, but it’s his work within comics, and Watchmen, for which he’s famed. It’s exactly that outsider’s perspective that led to him being chosen as juror for the inaugural GameCity prize, which put a selection of contemporary titles in the hands of a panel of inexperienced commentators. After his interview session at GameCityNight’s London leg on Tuesday, we dragged Gibbons into a green room at BFI Southbank to discuss the experience.

Had you played many games before the GameCity titles?
In my house it’s my son who’s always been the gamer. I first got an Amstrad computer around 1983. And I can remember playing Harrier Attack with my son. It used to take about half an hour to load. It would be one little group of half a dozen pixels flying over the top of another jumble of pixels and we were quite a convinced that it was a Harrier jump-jet flying over the Falklands. I can remember a Superman game for the Atari. Four blue pixels and two red pixels. And that was Superman flying over Metropolis.

It was interesting to asked to be a juror for the GameCity awards. I think the idea behind that was to get some people who were familiar with the basic idea of games, either through the family members or just being culturally aware, but who weren’t, as it were, game players, and to give them games and find out what they thought of them. I was really interested to see the range of games, from things that were quite abstract and quite poetic almost, like Journey, to really hard-edged science where every detail had been thought through and everything was customisable, like in Mass Effect. Also, I was really intrigued by Fez: it was like one of the old games I used to play with my son on the Game Boy but with rotating 3D space. It was interesting to get that snapshot.

Did you find any barriers to entry playing the games?
I must say with the Xbox, which I know is hugely popular, I actually found the controller a little bit hard to work, and I had to look at what I was doing. Journey was easy to play, with less to think about and less to learn, and therefore was much easier to think about and get immersed in. I know that’s a superficial thing. I remember when I learned to drive I didn’t know where the pedals were and so on, but after a while you can just do it. But I definitely think that sometimes the interface can be an obstacle, which isn’t to say that it isn’t a good game, and of course, to play a pretty complex game you need a pretty complex way of controlling it. But I played lots of games recently on my iPad and on my iPhone.

Things like Angry Birds or The Heist, things that are essentially very easy to control and feel very instinctive. I think the fact you can actually put your fingers on the screen to control things makes them very easy to get the hang of. So, it [can be] difficult for people like me who aren’t experienced gamers, but with technology like Kinect, I expect it isn’t something thing that will be difficulty for very long.

Did you get a sense the games were built for people who understood the conventions of games in the first place?
It can be a problem, but I know from talking to other people that they find comics hard to read. I find comics quite obvious to read – I don’t see how you could wrong. It’s a learnt thing. It’s always a trade off between getting people into something and satisfying the sophisticated taste of people who are already interested. It’s always going to be a balancing act. But I think it’s a balancing act that you should be aware of, and at least be able to give people a fairly satisfying experience, even if it’s the first game they’ve picked up or the first graphic novel they’ve ever read.

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