“Game/Play” at the NGV Studio is a long over due exhibition of games in a major art gallery. Why are there games in the NGV? As, the project curator, Paul Callaghan states: “what it (games and play) can show us about the human condition.” Games are cultural artifacts; the game pieces, the printed cards, the game boards or the computer graphics are all designed to be attractive as well as functional. Games belong in an art gallery in the same way that furniture and fashion belong.
The exhibition at the NGV Studio has a selection of board games, five computer games and lot of computer art associated with game design. Along with a program of associated events has plenty of game sessions for the public.
What was missing from this exhibition was a fully painted Warhammer 40K army, that would have looked good, or a selection of gem like geometric dice from the role-playing games. Well, as an old gamer, a lot of things were missing from this exhibition but it was good to see it because it is so long over due.
The history of culture rarely focuses on the creators of games and toys. The origin of many games is lost in myth. The ancient Greeks believed that they were only remembering far older competitions when they added new events to the Olympic games. In the past games were an alternative to the real thing, a practice, and a heuristic devise for training. A culture does not require that many games until all position for games in that culture have been filled. One or two running around games, a target game, a strategy board game and a couple of gambling games will suffice, any more diversity is simply competing for player’s leisure time. So games like chess lasted for centuries and were able to successfully colonize game players in other areas.
Games as entertainment do not have a long history; their development is often smothered by their popularity. Increased leisure time afforded more time to play and more variety of games. In the 20th century the variety of games has increased; there is now a lot more games than chess and playing cards.
Just after looking at the “Game/Play” exhibition I ran into my friend and gamer, Sean Doyle, who works at ACMI. Sean was telling me about being up in Brisbane installing an exhibition of computer games. In past discussions, Sean Doyle compared the time line of computer game development to the development of movies. The first 20 years of computer game development are comparable to the first 20 years of movies. Computer games, like movies, were a novelty and not to be considered art. ACMI regularly exhibits computer games involving moving images; it is good to see that the NGV are catching up with “Game/Play”.