Inside Bradford’s National Media Museum, in a café tucked around the corner from the Imax screens, Iain Simons reflects on the first leg of the Edge Presents GameCityNights UK tour.
“I enjoyed it,” he beams with a gusto that belies the fact he and co-host James Newman have just spent almost four hours guiding an audience of enthusiasts and industry hopefuls on a tour of videogame culture. Simons is the director of GameCity at Nottingham Trent University and this is the first time he’s taken the evening celebration of gaming – GameCityNights – on the road.
“This is very different and more detailed to what we usually do,” says Simons, who in his opening address had promised to use the evening to explore some of the “grubby nuances” of videogames. In keeping with that less formal aim, the event is more akin to a gig than a presentation or conference panel discussion. And it’s the kind of experience you should take in more than once, if you can, as it has been structured – rather loosely – to evolve in response to its audience.
“I really like to be surprised by things,” Simons tells us. “It’s not to say that we think this thing is a special snowflake that is totally unique. But the idea is that we are open to randomness and collaboration.”
“It’s more like stand-up [comedy],” Newman, a professor of digital media at Bath Spa University, says. “We use non-linear software and we are developing sets that we can hop around. We want to be agile and in the moment to respond to the crowd.”
Future events will include guest appearances by industry legends, including game and comic book artist Dave Gibbons who is currently working on Revolution Software Kickstarter project Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse. He is scheduled to attend the the November 20 date at BFI Southbank inLondon.
Edge Presents GameCityNights will also offer indie developers a chance to show off their work-in-progress games, all of which will be featured here on Edge’s website. And there are plans to reprise the popular From The Desk Of… interviews for other dates on the tour in which indie developers appear via Skype to give a more intimate insight into their work and working practices.
But for this first date, Iain and James are on their own. On their own, that is, with an audience who are warmly encouraged to participate in and even steer discussions. And the pair – who co-authored eclectic listings book 100 Videogames – are quite the double act, riffing off comments from the audience in between regular drink breaks for attendees.
After an initial address the night starts with a montage of footage showing an independent retailer’s shop window as the shopkeeper moves pre-owned hardware around a display. It’s interspersed with a slow panning shot of used games being sold for as little as 19p.
This is the spark for a conversation around how we value games, led by Newman. He invites the audience to consider the iterative nature of games, and to question why games depreciate more quickly than a new car. He reflects on the experience of peeling off the price stickers of pre-owned games to trace the ever-diminishing value put on the product by retailers, likening the process to the excavations of a palaeontologist.
And for all that the event is very much about games now and in the future, the night is an opportunity for reflection on how the industry has evolved and how we should cherish games as cultural artefacts. The first venue – Bradford’s National Media Museum- provided an apt setting for such an exploration. The museum holds a collection of 2,500 game-related artefacts in its National Videogame Archive.
Game preservation is a passion for Newman, and the evening includes a discussion of how we decide what games should be preserved for posterity. “Should we have a gaming heaven?” he asked. “Should it be full of the usual suspects? We know the games we are supposed to like. People might say, ‘Mario 64’ – it’s like a reflex.
“We don’t only want to preserve the best games, as that’s not our experience of games. It’s about the ordinary, the mundane – the stuff we play every day. Some of my favourite games are quite derivative, but they have an emotional resonance.”
The event, which like the rest of the tour is the result of a partnership between GameCity, Edge and Maxis’ upcoming SimCity, goes on to include a discussion of what games the audience feels should be in the canon for preservation. Attendees vote for which game is better from the individual choices in a winner-stays-on standoff. That’s followed by a quiz and the victor’s prize haul includes a year’s subscription to Edge.
Many of those at the Bradford gig, which coincided with the Bradford Animation Festival, are students hoping to break into the games industry. Sarah York, a 24-year-old student of Animation and Visual Effects at the Universityof Bradford, says she was at the event as she wants to make games and get some industry feedback on her ideas, telling us she is “inspired by storytelling environments such as those in BioShock and Silent Hill. I want to be a 3D environment artist.”
Lufti Couri, 23, is studying Interactive Systems and Videogames Design, and explains he’s at the event for an insight into the industry: “I want to get into programming. I’m working on a project and I’m interested in what designers working on iOS and Facebook games have to say.”
But Edge Presents GameCityNights is about more than the mechanics of making games. It’s about reflecting on their place in our culture and heritage and exploring bigger questions about what we cherish and why we play the games we love. That and having a drink and a laugh in the company of friends, of course.
– November 20: BFI Southbank, London
– November 21: Dublin Science Gallery, Dublin
– January 24: Antenna, Nottingham
– January 29: Arnolfini, Bristol
– January 31: Junction,Cambridge
– February 5: MAC, Birmingham
– February 22: Animated Exeter Festival
– February 23: GEEK2013, Margate
– February 25: Carriageworks, Leeds
– February 26: FACT, Liverpool