National Videogame Arcade: We must build cultural confidence

Iain Simons is the CEO of the National Videogame Foundation. It runs the National Videogame Arcade, GameCity Festival and lots of other brilliant work that you can check on

The last month at the National Videogame Arcade has been confusing and I’m knackered. I’ve spoken at a national cinema exhibitors conference about our new festival idea, we’ve announced a new video game music event, planned out the Monument Valley exhibition, welcomed a delegation from Indonesia who sees us as a model for public engagement in creative industries, welcomed over 2,000 paying visitors to the galleries, had a board meeting for EFGAMP (that’s a bunch of European museums trying to reform copyright law so we can preserve games easier)… And that’s just our stuff. There’s a tonne of equally brilliant work happening around the country. It’s video game culture and it’s happening, right now. 

So, why is there still a case to answer for games? Why don’t games have any cultural confidence? I don’t mean in the insoluble ‘are games art yet’ debate that used to be a panel at every conference. I mean, when will people acknowledge that they’re fundamentally interesting and valuable in and of themselves?

The argument that gets batted around most is that games make a lot of money, therefore they must be culturally valuable. I think people objectively understand that games have economic value. The problem is they don’t understand that games have intrinsic, cultural value. They’re weightless, floating around untethered to anything and the instinct to auto-trivialise is too strong. There’s such amazing work being made, and yet potential focus is pulled from it by making trailers about smashing up women with hammers.

"Why is there still a case to answer for games? When will people acknowledge that they’re fundamentally interesting and valuable in and of themselves?"

Recently, some industry colleagues proposed a British Games Institute. There’s been some turbulence around it, it’s not a perfect proposal, but it’s marked out some vital ground. There’s no mainstream, tangible support for games culture that we can see. The Arts Council is interested in games, but some way from having a cohesive policy, BAFTA does some amazing work but it’s not going to add a ‘G’, the BFI is naturally dedicated to film. The BGI has described itself as a ‘centre of gravity’ for games culture, something for the floating, weightless mass of vital game culture to orbit. The fact that the BGI has captured the imagination as much as it has demonstrates the size of the vacuum its proposing to help fill. 

When I was a kid, I learned how to play the guitar because I loved it. I can feel the value in sitting and playing music. 

At a videogame skills event recently a number of major publishers were talking about how they were looking to bring computer science to kids, all through the lens of driving the production. A colleague who funds major creative projects leaned over to me and asked: "This is all good, but what about the kids who want to learn how to make games but don’t want to be in the games industry?” For me, that’s the point. It’s can’t all be about production, it can’t all be about the economy. People make games for lots of reasons and they’re doing it right now, even as you read this. If we can create a funding mechanism that can recognise that kind of creative value, it would be amazing. 

Finally, gravity.

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