Thoughts on the @NVA_nottingham National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham

I’ve been exceptionally excited since the announcement of the National Videogame Arcade (NVA) in Nottingham. I’m a HUGE admirer of Iain Simons and I’m flabbergasted that between Screenplay, his writing, GameCity and now the NVA that he hasn’t been honoured in some way for his contribution to games culture and to the city of Nottingham.

So, one Saturday morning I bribed my 9yo daughter with the promise of Minecraft and junk food and boarded a train headed south.

The NVA is a short walk from the station, or an even shorter metro ride into the centre and easy to find. I was a little disappointed with the exterior of the building. I’ve been there to visit GameCity events, but as the NVA façade it feels a little stifled. It doesn’t shout fun. It doesn’t shout games. I stood in the window and watched numerous people, a good proportion of which were children, wandering past without even glancing into the window. One of the fantastic things about Games Britannia Live! in 2014 that I dearly wanted was the ability to invade the corridors of the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield. This enabled us to get into the faces (for want of a better phrase) with people that otherwise would not have turned into one of the galleries under their own steam, to engage with them, and to drop things like 10-player Chompy Chomp Compy and Gang Beast into their path. I think the NVA is missing an opportunity to do this, to project itself out into the narrow street and shout about what it is, blatantly to passers by. Which child could ignore a huge statue of Minecraft’s Steve, or a statue of Sonic or in our case Snake from Metal Gear – something that deflects their progress to McDonalds? Even something interactive in the window that can detect passers by … something …

Inside is sparse, some interesting things including a great 4-player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade machine on which my daughter proceeded to beat me. We were greeted by a very enthusiastic young lady who was brilliant with my daughter, spot on for the kind of staff that are required to engage with that specific age group. We milled around a little then wandered upstairs.

On the first floor is the entrance to the gallery, with a smattering of consoles, a couple more brilliant arcade machines and a fantastic physical/digital cross-over game of speed and dexterity from indie developer Alistair Aitcheson expanding on his latest experiments in big stage party games.

Once inside the paid area of the arcade we found a couple more consoles and arcade machines and then a rather awkward first “exhibit”. The task is to design sprites and assets that then appear in a projected game. It is very much reminiscent of a similar exhibit at Eureka! in Halifax where children can quickly colour a butterfly, press a button and then watch as their creation flies off into a virtual garden. It just didn’t’ work for me, and the whole big Tardis-esque plastic stand felt a little dated for some reason, rather like the very bad exhibits of this scale as you get in all these kinds of attractions – The Deep for example also has something similar.

The rest of the floors had a smattering of consoles and a few arcade machines here and there. There were a few interesting indie titles, one great game where you could move physical objects around on the floor to create walls of a race track and the odd pre-release indie title within some of the rooms. Jump! the platformer exhibit was spread across some rooms and took a very adult approach to showing specific jump mechanics in various games. Unfortunately what would have been nice would have been offering some interactivity to kids, to be able to program and change jumps within some of the games.

I was also a little disappointed that British games weren’t celebrated more. It would be great if the NVA could offer David Crookes a permanent space for his VIdeogame Nation exhibition. A home for British videogames outside of London. Think of that as an inspiration to all those kids attending the NVA’s educational activities.

All in all, I think it’s very much WIP. I’m not sure that it would be value for money to return until a new featured exhibit which is a shame. There’s just not enough to do – not quite enough new machines, not enough old machines and not enough arcade machines. I do understand that it’s crucial for the NVA to discuss and demonstrate games in a very adult context, but they also need to find that balance with appealing to children and the inner child in all of us.

Kudos to Iain for starting the story though. Having the NVA is a monumental leap for games in Britain and I’m sure over time with him at the helm it will go onto be massively successful as Screenplay did all those years ago.

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