405 Video Games: The London Games Festival Art Exhibition
Strolling on hard stone floors, noticing the ice cream stands, the joggers and the happy-snappers; I’m adjacent to the Thames, in the shadow of Tower Bridge. A hundred yards away there are swirls of perpetual conversation, where a squadron of security guards encase the prestigious doors of London City Hall. Usually, they’re marching their lines with the concern of the city in hand, breaking down the continual queue of Boris’ prospective-assassins but today they’re not; they’re sifting through the rucksacks of computer-game enthusiasts as, for this week only, London City Hall becomes the home of the London Games Festival's Video-Game Art Exhibition.
Spiralling down the circular ramp, we’re introduced to Gotham and the stylistically sinister conceptual images from last year’s Arkham City. There are arrays of wonderfully textured compositions on display but two canvases are extremely striking: the biblical Cain is shown carrying his murdered brother Able, which is paralleled by Batman carrying an inanimate Joker. These unseen digital paintings were birthed specifically for the exhibition, and there’s warmth in the fact that Arkham’s creators, Rocksteady studios, are based just a stone’s throw away from where you’re stood admiring the art.
Is this the industry that a million mothers have cursed as useless? Shouldn’t we all have square eyes by now? In all seriousness: it’s about time that the aristocracy began to listen to the gaming industry. The £3 billion valuation it was given earlier this year made it worth more than both the Film & Music industries combined, thus it became un-ignorable, it’s just a shame that’s what it took.
Metal Gear Solid's long-term artist, Yoji Shinkawa’s 25th Anniversary sketches of Snake and Raiden are both stunning and suitably harassed by an interested proletariat. A half-formed screaming snake is constructed subtly by a collage of weapons, objects and characters from the vast series. Funnily enough, they arrived in time for the exhibition by the skin of their teeth – the exhibition’s curators are personable, approachable, and willing to tell the stories of both triumph and short-comings on their journey to the foyer.
The main aims of the exhibition according to the Director of London Games Festival, Kirsty Payne, is to “showcase the creative talent that we have within the UK”, and “celebrate the culture of games and interactive entertainment”. London Studios on show arrive in the form of Rocksteady, Mediatonic, Sports Interactive, and Mind Candy. The diversity of both artwork and games respectively is certainly a strength of the exhibition. On one side of the display we’ve got the life-crushing Football Manager, the other a humorous character collage from Lionhead’s Fable series, and on the next a dystopian London landscape is on show from Dishonoured.
I searched high and wide for the archetypal classics, but couldn’t find more than an unrendered image of my favourite blue hedgehog. Anybody wanting to see a landscape of Midgar or a life-size mural of Guybrush Threepwood won’t find that here, and would be better probing their attic for a nostalgic hit.
Images from the Oliver Twins and the Darling Brothers prompted thoughts about the beginning of independent programming, and Kirsty Payne assured an intrigued group of young programmers that it’s “going full circle”. She said that “because of the way the Market has opened up, people can code at home again. You don’t have to be part of an enormous publishing studio to be part of the games industry – people can now create and sell an app from the comfort of their own home”. As the industry becomes more democratised, it feels more like an art; suddenly a gallery feels like a natural progression.
Concept stills from the forthcoming release of LEGO Lord of the Rings are recognisably composed, and charmingly considered, whilst a rather different form of the iconic Lara Croft was on show; Square Enix just snatched and grabbed. The only problem is that after half an hour, you’ve seen everything twice. Whilst the size of the collection is relatively small, it just isn’t really aided by the layout of City Hall itself – I’d hope that next time, they expand and re-locate.
Amending the public’s perception of the industry is a revisited theme and not only “putting gaming into a better light” but more importantly each piece is to be auctioned via eBay after the exhibition, with all proceeds being handed to the unique charity, SpecialEffect. SpecialEffect work tirelessly to amend and reconstruct games so they can be played by people with severe disabilities. Unbelievably, there are examples where those with paralysis are now able to play Fifa 13 with only their eyes – to aid and expand lives like that is special.
Whilst the exhibition caters mainly for the uninformed as opposed to the fanatics, its clear idiosyncrasies and modicums of the gaming landscape are in places joyous. It’s an event that should be regarded as a beginning as opposed to its ultimate incarnation, however, there’s more than enough on show to warrant a visit to the most annoying man in London’s un-humble abode.
The exhibition runs from the 22nd of October until the 26th, and the pieces are auctioned online from the 29th. For more information, visit http://www.londongamesart.com.