Game Masters

Sarah Rothwell, Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary Design from the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) has very kindly taken the time to write about the Game Masters exhibition for the Scottish Museums Federation blog.

Game Masters was originally conceived and opened at the Australian Centre for Moving Image and with its tour to National Museums Scotland we have been able to highlight Scotland’s game industry.  We’ve approached this from an Art and Design perspective curatorially, but NMS also actively collects gaming material under our Science and Technology collections.

Arcade Heroes - Photo Ruth Armstrong © National Museums Scotland
Arcade Heroes – Photo Ruth Armstrong © National Museums Scotland

With over 90 pioneering and award winning companies, Scotland is recognised internationally as one of the top developer locations in the world. From its hub in Dundee developers big and small are thriving throughout the country.  So how do you select with so many to choose from? New to the world of gaming, I went to Dundee to meet with a former colleague Dr Sarah Cook, Reader at Duncan of Jordonstone and New Media Curator who introduced me to those who could advise and help introduce me to the sector.

Space Invaders - Photo Ruth Armstrong © National Museums Scotland
Space Invaders – Photo Ruth Armstrong © National Museums Scotland

At the University of Abertay we met with Gregor White Principal Investigator on Video Games in the Museum (an AHRC Video Games Network in partnership with the V&A Museum) and Clare Brennen Curator and Teaching Fellow in Visual Arts practice School of Arts, Media & Computer Games. Here we discussed the different influences that inspire developers from fine art, literature, music and architecture to geography, ethnography and history. Plus those Scottish developers who are looking to challenge the idea of what is considered a computer game.

I also met Donna Holford-Lovell, Director of NeoN, Scotland’s only Digital Arts Festival and Donna Leishman media artist and researcher who introduced me to some amazing artists who are influenced by gaming.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to pursue this thread in the context of Game Masters however I still hold the hope that at some point I will be able to see Grand Theft Bicycle by Steve Gibson, Justin Love and Jim Olson brought to Scotland.

With space at a premium the selection of the final three Scottish Indie Developers was narrowed down to showcase innovative developers who are making a mark with their use of art, literature and music.  I would especially like to thank Gregor for his time, advice and contacts following my visit as he was a key help in the choice of our three Indies.

Lucky Frame is a BAFTA award winning studio based in Edinburgh known for its quirky, creative, and musical approach to design and development.   Bad Hotel was awarded Best Game at the Scottish BAFTAs in 2012, is one of a small group of games developed by Lucky Frame which generate music via gameplay.

Bad Hotel - © Lucky Frame
Bad Hotel – © Lucky Frame

Recent graduates from the University of Abertay, Dundee’s Space Budgie formed within the Dare to be Digital 2012 competition, receiving a BAFTA nomination for their game 9.03m, an art empathy game based around the after effects of the Japanese Tsunami. Featured in the exhibition is recently released Glitchspace, a first person programming game that’s centred around a visual programming mechanic that allows the player to experience what it is like to programme code and is currently being trialled at San Francisco’s Academy of Arts as a tool for students to visualise coding.

 © Space Budgie
© Space Budgie

Simon Meek featured in The List’s top 100 Scots to watch, as well as in Canongate’s Future 40 Scottish storytellers, established The Story Mechanics within Glasgow based Scottish-indie Tern TV in 2011. Originally conceived as an experiment to explore how good storytelling can create a more empathetic experience in gaming, The 39 Steps combines cross cultural collaborations with actors, archives and publishers to create a game which has all the elements of literature, gaming and film in one ground breaking format.

Simon Meek - © The Storymechanics
Simon Meek – © The Storymechanics

It was also key that we should represent one of the first Scottish developers to be recognised on the international gaming stage. Dundee based DMA Design created some of the most innovative games of the 1990’s including Britain’s fastest selling game, Lemmings (1991) which you can come and play within the exhibition, and their biggest success, Grand Theft Auto (1997). Brain Baglow former DMA employee, scripted the original GTA and had generously donated pages from the original script and many other objects to the Museum some of which are on show.

Handwritten scripts for the original Grand Theft Auto © National Museums Scotland
Handwritten scripts for the original Grand Theft Auto © National Museums Scotland
Poster for the original Grand Theft Auto © National Museums Scotland
Poster for the original Grand Theft Auto © National Museums Scotland
Original Lemmings Sketches  © National Museums Scotland
Original Lemmings Sketches © National Museums Scotland

Game Masters runs at the National Museum Scotland until the 20th April. More details about the exhibition are available here

Museum Lates: Game Masters takes place on the 13th February. Tickets are available from here 

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