Video games culture deserves a national archive to rival those of books and film

With more people involved from different fields of study, games get better. rich_lem, CC BY-NC-SA

This year’s GameCity festival in Nottingham will include the announcement of the UK National Videogames Arcade which will open in the city in 2015. The arcade will be a centre for gaming culture and a repository of gaming history to educate and inspire. It will include interactive exhibitions, hands-on game-making opportunities and treasures from the UK’s National Videogame Archive.

In it’s tenth year, GameCity has worked with Nottingham Trent University to bring video games to the widest possible audiences. The festival’s aim has always been to champion games as accessible, visionary and enduring pieces of artistic work made by creative people with diverse skills and imagination. Through the GameCity Prize, the festival seeks to promote and reward great games – because video games deserve praise in the same way as films have the Oscars, television the Grammys and Baftas, and books have the Man Booker Prize and many other accolades.

In the same way as films are archived and remembered at the BFI and books at the British Library, the National Videogame Arcade will hold the cultural record of the public’s developing relationship with video games. A place for people to play yesterday’s games, to create new games whose appeals transcend age, gender or background, including the development of serious games and virtual spaces where play informs important scientific research.

An institution of record is long overdue. Video games are now ubiquitous. It doesn’t matter whether you were first exposed to Space Invaders, Nintendo, or some obscure multi-user dungeon, whether you are obsessed with the latest gory 3D action game or demanding strategy game, or simply like to while away your time with something that involves jewels, bubbles, crushable candy or farms on your phone, video games are increasingly part of our social and cultural fabric.

With each generation we become increasingly plugged in – and it’s important this evolution is debated, discussed, critiqued and analysed. GameCity is a place where we ask “Why?”, “How?” or, indeed, “What the Farmville?”. The Arcade will be a civic, cultural and academic space where that evolution is recorded and explored.

Games are for everyone – and should be made for everyone. Nor is there any reason why they can’t be made by everyone. Games, including video games and the pre-digital aspects such as board games and storytelling, appeal to virtually everyone. Around 70,000 people visit GameCity each year – and not just to see the latest releases. This year the festival hopes to revive an ancient Nottingham tradition with the help of around 1,500 people: the Sheriff’s Gauntlet will see citizens competing in mental and physical trials, echoing medieval challenges of centuries gone by.

We need to educate and inspire the developers, critics and researchers of the future – and the arcade will provide a point of accessibility for those wanting to build the digital products of tomorrow. But more than that, it will act as a hub for those researching video game culture, acting as a conduit through which students and researchers within the arts and humanities can bring their fields of knowledge to add cultural and political narratives to games, and critiquing what already exist, beyond the technical aspects of engineering and design.

By engaging with GameCity and the arcade, humanities students can mix the theory and practice of the curriculum and add to their learning in ways that appeal to employers, or set graduates up as self-starters or future research students. It’s important that it is not just people looking for careers in the gaming industry who are thinking this way – as all students will increasingly need digital awareness and production skills. When students are involved in the ownership, design, marketing and innovation of cultural products, the opportunities extend beyond just CV box-ticking.

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