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Iain Simons

7 May 15 words: Charlie Phair
Celebrations for the opening of the GameCity National Videogame Arcade continue with an interview with one of the co-directors
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Photo: Sam Kirby

How did you get involved with GameCity and the NVA?
My background is in contemporary art, music and writing. I worked in new media for a while before transitioning into games. Around the early noughties, we did events for game developers by game developers. This led to a book [100 Videogames – as part of the the BFI Screen Guides], and when I met Jonathan [Smith – co-director], it became an opportunity to do GameCity, a more arts and public-focused event than E3 or EGX. We pitched the idea to a couple of cities, NTU got behind it and things grew.

It all led to the opening of the NVA…
We love the festival and we’re going to keep doing it, but our ideas were getting more ambitious and site-specific. When we found this place, things started accelerating rapidly. There was a lot of discussion about what we would call it. The only real collective noun we have for putting a bunch of games together is arcade, which brings up ideas of an eighties-esque dark room full of lit cabinets. We wanted big windows, a place families feel at home. We tried to make things as transparent as possible. You see it most in the back stairs where everyone can see the veins [wires] of the building.

What is the history of the building?
It was Connexions, a careers advice agency, before we got it. Most famously, the building was home to fine art collective the Midland Group in the late seventies and eighties. They were the most renowned fine art studio outside of London. Robert Mapplethorpe and Michael Nier were exhibited here too. It’s nice to be continuing the legacy of amazing people. This is a place where things are made. The Lace Market spirit is returning.

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Photo: Chris Harris

How do you come up with the ideas for exhibits and events?
We built a hardware team, a software team and an engineering team to make new ways for people to play together and we have a different temporary exhibit three or four times a year. At the moment we’re running Jump, which is about jumping in video games. We wanted to look down from a high level on one mechanic that is a big part of games in general. It’s drawing attention to things that you often take for granted. We’re creating an arcade where you can play games that are accessible but also lean into discussions of physics or design that provide a deeper level of understanding.

What kind of events do you have scheduled for the future?
We have GameCity nights starting up at the end of April and the developers of 80 Days coming in as our feature ‘royal variety performance’ piece. We have members nights on Thursdays, on Saturday nights we have social events and tournaments. We’re going to do night events where we turn out the lights, stay open until midnight and let people play in a different environment. A slightly more grown up event, because it’s a place for families and kids, but we also like to explore more adult discussion of games.

Since opening, how has the arcade been received?
It’s going really well. We’re all surprised and delighted in how positively it’s been received. We want to make sure that we keep developing it and keep it social for all ages. The whole arcade will be bursting into life as we head into the summer. There are a few great spaces we haven’t opened up yet, such as outdoor spaces. Just come on in!

The National Videogame Arcade, 24 - 32 Carlton Street, NG1 1NN, £5.20/£6.50/£8.50.

GameCity website

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