Yesterday was a day of caffiene. Red Bulls, coffees and Relentlesses did their best, bless ’em, to rouse me into some sort of coherent and functional state, after a night where I got approximately four hours sleep and filled them with a dream about not being able to sleep. That in mind, a public apology to Introversion may be in order. Having listened back to the recording, it’s not as bad as I feared, but man, I was not all together with it for that interview.
Trotting off to the coach station for my trip to Manchester (that’s how cheap I am. I get coaches instead of trains) I found myself pondering the nature of Videogame Nation, the summer-long exhibition of videogame history at the Urbis Centre. It felt important somehow, yet I couldn’t place why. But then, like a lightbulb smashing over my head, it hit me: something so blindingly obvious. Y’know, what is Urbis?
It’s an art gallery.
Now, I don’t profess to know the history of videogames being displayed in an art gallery, but it can’t be a huge one. It’s especially impressive that Urbis has the balls to dedicate an entire, sizeable floor of the museum to the exhibit. And, though the draw for a lot of people will be the chance to play a whole host of games from across the decades, it’s not the most interesting thing about VGN. That award goes to the fascinating commentary: quotes from various papers and websites and developers about games, the ongoing battle between mainstream distrust and enthusiast gushing, and the various social, cultural and political issues that surround the medium.
It’s a really historical piece, as well. The path through the exhibition is completely linear and walled – a witty remark about the nature of games, perhaps? – and follows the timeline from inception to modern day. It’s a thoroughly impressive collection, with plenty of original material to gawp at. This, for example, doesn’t look like much from my crappy phone-cam picture, but it is, in fact, some original concept art from Broken Sword:
But the absolutely, most positively and awesomely impressive thing about VGN wasn’t anything to do with what was there.
It’s who was there.
Kids. Grownups. Men and women of all different ages, races, sizes. One family wandered in and paid their entrance fee despite noting that they knew nothing about videogames. One older couple wandered through with their teenage son; as he wandered off, his folks started playing one of the consoles. To begin with, they didn’t have a clue, and were somewhat suspicious. Within five minutes, they were battling furiously against each other, aggressive smiles plastered to their faces. A younger pair, a man and woman in their early twenties, played through a level of LittleBigPlanet in co-op. Upon completion, they hugged and kissed each other. This is an event that brings people together, and that is wonderful.
It’s all about the interaction. Even away from the multitude of playable games, there’s the chance to become involved by drafting up some “alternative box-art” for your favourite releases. Here are a couple that tickled me:
It took about an hour to walk round, all-in-all. You could do it in ten minutes, but you’d be missing out. If you read everything, played everything, watched everything, you’d be there all day.
I timed everything hideously, of course, and left myself approximately three and a half hours longer than I needed in Manchester. With 90 minutes until Introversion’s talk, I wandered off into Manchester and saw the first of the Strange Things of Yesterday. A marching band, which seemed to be a combination of all things British – from bagpipes and kilts to English horns and Welsh dragons. They seemed to be going round and round the Urbis, making it rather difficult to get in and out. (The other Strange Things, should you be wondering, were the entire population of Manchester being blind drunk by 5pm on a Sunday afternoon, and a little girl – maybe six years old – carrying an enormous gorrilla teddy, going on three times her size.)
After an overpriced lunch in the café (£4 for a panini and no salad? NEARLY TWO QUID FOR A BOTTLE OF WATER?!) it was on to Introversion’s talk. I don’t want to discuss Introversion stuff too much here, as I’ll be reporting back on my interview with them over at GameSetWatch in a couple of weeks (oh – random aside – I’m doing some regular work for GameSetWatch now. My first column should be live this afternoon, I think). But I will comment on the audacity and honesty with which they spoke. It was an intimate group – probably 30 of us in the room in total – but even so, it felt like something heartfelt, something proper, not just the usual PR nonsense we’re used to. It was a genuine look at their company, its ups and downs, and their thoughts on various aspects of the games industry. I think I audibly squirmed at one comment Mark Morris made about the “lazy press”, but I was more refreshed than offended. Good, frank discussion, catered mainly towards those interested in the business side of the games industry, but really enlightening for the lot of us, I’d say.
Talk, Q&A session and interview complete, I found myself with two hours to kill in Manchester. I did what any sensible person would have done: I found a pub, and sat in it. Good times.