Review: Game Masters, National Museum of Scotland

GamMasterAppearing in the wake of Mammoths and Vikings, The National Museum of Scotland is currently hosting the Melbourne-developed exhibition, Game Masters, featuring over 100 playable games. With such a multitude of games available I was excited to visit this exhibition, hoping to re-discover some childhood favourites and try out games I’ve only gazed at from afar since parting with my console many years ago.

Game Masters is marketed as an exhibition focusing on the development and evolution of video games, and includes interviews with leading video game designers and developers. Awesome concept art and sketches of various names are also displayed and allow visitors a unique insight into the process of creating the finished game. Altogether there are three main parts to the exhibition, Arcade Heroes, Game Changers and Indie Pioneers. The exhibition also features a particular focus on Scottish games that was added by the National Museum, recognising Scotland as a leading hub for game developers in the UK. Although featuring many huge developer names, the exhibition does not include some of the key Scottish games such as GTA and Crackdown.

I knew upon first visiting Game Masters that my experience of games probably doesn’t entitle me the nerd credentials many gamers would implicitly need to consider my enjoyment of games legitimate. The ridiculousness of covert or overt ‘geek’ sexism is a phenomenon better documented by women who are frequent game players, and can be read about by doing a quick Google search. The insecurity connected to potentially being ‘outed’ as incompetent puts a frustrating hamper on taking enjoyment from a medium that has grown incredibly popular amongst all ages and genders. Upon my first visit to Game Masters, I instinctively started looking for games I was already familiar with, partly due to nostalgia and partly for comfort; to have teenage boys hovering behind me waiting for their turn to play (whilst providing thinly veiled condescending help) would too closely stab at those adolescent anxieties of not really being good enough to even try. Still, the only similar experience this time around was a very small boy questioning my poor attempts at Lego Star Wars, offering to “just get me past this one thing” and then he promised me I could work out the rest. Regardless of this (mostly amusing) interaction, I had great fun at the exhibition and thoroughly enjoyed being able to immerse myself in such a variety of games – from The Sims to Braid to Rez to Shadow of Colossus to Guitar HeroGame Masters is an awesome place to just hang out and play.

Being hosted in the National Gallery, the interactive exhibition and artwork enables the space to open up games to a wide audience. The demographic present was of a broad range, as both my visits confirmed (shout-out to the slightly older man acing Fruit Ninja), although I got the impression that what kind of games people played was another story. I was very happy to roam around the exhibition, challenging my friends in Dance Central 2 and jumping along to Get Low, for the slightly inappropriate amusement of a bunch of kids. Game Masters also offers a great opportunity to revisit old classics like Donkey Kong, Space Invaders and Virtua Fighter.

As I went back to Game Masters with a more critical lens in preparation for this review, I found that only one of the 13 game developers featured by interview is a woman. Paulina Bozek, the creator of Singstar, speaks enthusiastically about creating a game with no narrative, a party game just about you having a good time with your friends and family. Whilst Game Masters hardly could have incorporated every single aspect of game development, due simply to practicality, the choice in games represented still involves a selection. In the Arcade Heroes section, the description of Pacman tells visitors that this game was the first with a broad appeal to a ‘female market’. However, notes on developments in diversifying game audiences are lacking from the rest of the exhibition.

It would be interesting had Game Masters also included the first game with a woman protagonist, Metroid. Alongside Mirror’s Edge and Portal, one of the other games sorely missed was Tomb Raider, featuring perhaps one of the most iconic women characters in video game history. The development of Lara Croft as a character and her fame in cinematic form would surely entitle some acknowledgment, particularly in the Game Changers section. This is not to say that the character of Lara Croft is unproblematic in terms of gender representation, but still, Tomb Raider’s stands as an iconic symbol for badass women protagonists and is an important counter representation to a lack of diverse visibility in many other games. Altogether, I would (unsurprisingly) have loved to see more acknowledgment of women developers and the development and representation of women characters.

A visit to the exhibition is bookable in 3 hour slots, and if you check the back of your single bus ticket – you might get a 2-for-1 deal. The layout of the exhibition entices exploration, which can almost get you lost in the plentiful worlds you can enter, unless an impatient visitor taps you on the shoulder. The multiplayer games really cater to a family or friend-friendly atmosphere and Game Masters probably has something for everyone so I would strongly encourage anyone with even the slightest interest in games to make a visit.

Game Masters will be at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh until April 20th 2015.

Selma Augestad

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