The Salon of 1767, Paris, France
The first thing that greets you as you walk into the Game Masters exhibition, which opened this week at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, is not so different from what you’d see walking into your average video arcade in the heyday of quarter-per-play gaming. Maybe a bit cleaner, and there’s some space and expository materials between the lined up arcade cabinets, but the noise, flashing color, and of course, players, are all present. Unlike how games are displayed at the MoMA, their original consoles, art, and context ferreted away so that all that remains is a controller and a screen, Game Masters offers a throwback to the original site and context of these arcade cabinets. The arcade era themed section opens up to a vaguely defined “Game Changers” area, and then a lounge-like area where a variety of indie titles are running on both desktop PCs and iPads.
The striking difference between the first area and the second two is partly due to the attempted scope of the exhibition, to cover videogames, as a new cultural form, from end to end. However, one of the major changes in how we play games is the huge transition from loud, hot and crowded arcade, where people perform and watch as much as they play, to a mostly private experience, at home PCs or consoles. Of course, there are still elements of viewing and performance that persist, in Let’s Plays, online multiplayer, occasionally even in-person multiplayer, but in general, private, focused contemplation is how we engage with videogames today.