From Atari to apps, the relatively short history of video gaming is an extensive one. Covering numerous demographics, encompassing all facets of humanity and appealing to the most basic instincts of the human consciousness, it is no surprise the gaming industry is one of the most successful in the world. ACMI’s upcoming Game Masters exhibition is set to showcase the exceptional life of the video game and the people who create them. Featuring exclusive interviews with some of the biggest names in gaming, rare concept artwork, huge interactive displays and over 125 playable games, Game Masters promises to be one of the most exciting gaming exhibitions Melbourne has seen in awhile.
Video games have come a ridiculously long way since their inception 50 years ago. Yeah, you read right. Fifty years ago. Do you feel old yet? The gaming industry hasn’t stopped for a breath since Space Invaders literally invaded the psyche of the youth of the day and permanently altered the way that the young people of the wealthy west define fun. Fast-forward to 2012, and 99 percent of us have gaming consoles in our pockets. While hemped-up hippies might scowl at this fact, the interactive entertainment industry is one of the most profitable in the world. Reports indicate that the industry earned upwards of $74 billion last year alone and, due to the increased popularity of mobile gaming, that figure is expected to rise significantly in the next few years.
But to the creatives behind the production of these amazing demonstrations of technology, money has nothing to do with it. The artists and designers who bring their revolutionary ideas to the attention of our tiny, Gen Y-sized attention spans every day are a somewhat under-celebrated part of the industry, and ACMI will attempt to bring these people out from behind your screens.
Opening at the end of the month, Game Masters will take a unique look at the wide world of video gaming; instead of focusing solely on the games themselves (although of course, there will be tonnes of games), ACMI will explore the ideas and the craft behind creating those games and particularly, the developers themselves. Categorised by game designers rather than games, each exhibit will include rarely seen artwork and in depth career descriptions, exclusive video interviews with the designers and of course interactive demonstrations of the games they’ve created. The exhibition will be split into three sections: Arcade Heroes will focus on the pioneering arcade game designers like Tõru Iwatani and Tomohiro Nishikado while The Indies explores the growing trend of independent game designers like Halfbrick and Rovio. The Game Changers section of the exhibition focuses on the biggest gaming names over the years such as Blizzard Entertainment, Nintendo and Paulina Bozek.
Bozek didn’t grow up as a gaming fanatic; one of the luckier sister’s of the world, she was granted permission to play the occasional level on her brother’s Nintendo. Although not as obsessed with his console as her brother, Bozek remembers having a particular fascination with it. Even today, she describes herself as a “casual gamer”, which perhaps has contributed to the huge part she played in the recent casual gaming boom. Joining Sony Computer Entertainment’s prototype department as a fresh-faced master’s graduate, Bozek soon began working on a revolutionary gaming technology which came to be known as SingStar.
“We began experimenting with a new game experience that would use a voice as the input rather than pressing buttons,” Bozek explains. “Then we introduced the idea of singing, as it’s something very natural. We wanted to make a game that was social, something that had a party vibe. We wanted to make a game that didn’t look like a traditional game; we wanted to try something new.”
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time Bozek was very aware that they were taking a huge risk stepping this far outside of the well-established box. “It was new for the time and it was reaching out to a brand new audience that didn’t yet play games so there was a lot of like, ‘Is this going to work?’”. Turns out, the market was ready and waiting for something like SingStar to grab their attention. It was, and still is, a global phenomenon and it completely revolutionised the gaming landscape.
The success of SingStar paved the way for games like Guitar Hero and consoles like Nintendo Wii, and the gaming industry hasn’t looked back since. The increased accessibility to smartphones, however, has transformed the gaming world like nothing else before it. “It used to be all about the consoles, and it’s not anymore,” Bozek argues. “Mobile phones and the internet are just so accessible; it’s really hard to beat that convenience. I mean, it’s in your pocket! That’s a really compelling thing for users.” And it’s in this new age of gaming that Bozek established her own independent games company, Inensu. Unlike Bozek’s previous work, Inensu is focused on the development of apps and exploring the capabilities of online gaming platforms. The idea of apps particularly appeals to Bozek because they are simplified games and therefore have the opportunity to engage a wider audience. But whether you’d rather samurai cut pieces of fruit on your iPhone, or spend the rest of your life trying to clock The Sims, Game Masters promises to bring a unique view to this dynamic industry that we are all a part of.
BY KATE MCCARTEN
Games Masters opens at ACMI on Thursday June 28 and runs until Sunday October 28. For tickets and more information visit acmi.net.au