The British Games Institute (BGI) has taken its next stop forward by being recognised by the government as a charity. The BGI’s charitable goals will be to “educate the public about the art, science, history and technology of digital games through its museum, educational facilities and research.”
A part of that is the launch of the National Videogames Museum’s second Season, Summer of Buttons, next week. The season features a range of new exhibitions that are launching in time for the summer holidays, showcasing how the simplest of control mechanics – the humble button – can be utilised by games designers to unlock a wide range of different gameplay.
The BGI was set up back in late 2016, with broad industry support and last year merged with the National Videogame Foundation and the now National Videogame Museum. Before setting out on a year-long process to become recognised a charity.
To achieve its goals as a charity the BGI will now will run four programmes: games culture (the National Videogame Museum, its Collection, festivals and research); skills (school visits, clubs and vocational training); diversity (such as helping diverse young people into games careers); and sustainability (helping games companies upskill and prepare for investment).
Claire Boissiere, Vice Chair of the BGI tells MCV: “It’s a great pleasure to announce that the BGI has officially become a charity. The BGI has an amazingly exciting future. We will explore what games mean to our society, promote the skills required to develop games, find new ways to increase diversity and inclusion in games and help studios become more stable and sustainable.
“We believe passionately in bringing people together, be it developers, educators, museums or other organisations inside and outside the games industry and I look forward to being able to announce many more initiatives over the coming months and years,” she continued.
A key ongoing aim of the organisation is to win public funding, which charitable status is another big step towards, explains CEO Rick Gibson:
“We’ve wanted to launch this charity since we started campaigning for the BGI in 2017, because a charity opens doors to funding sources that could increase the amount of public funding for games, boost both our programmes and our partners and increase our collective impact on the public and the sector. While we win that public funding, we’re hugely grateful for the support from some key industry figures and companies which has kept us going. We are thanking them very publicly in the galleries.”
PLAYING FOR POSTERITY
The NVM’s galleries remain the cornerstone of the organisation, one that has done well since its relocation late last year, Gibson explains: “The NVM is the largest initiative in the BGI’s culture programme and has thrived since it relaunched in Sheffield. It’s the only museum dedicated to videogames in the UK and features a range of games made by UK studios including State of Play, Boneloaf, Sumo, Micro Machines and many others.
“The NVM has been supported by 30 individuals including some of the founders of the games sector in the UK, and some of our pivotal games companies. Being a patron of the NVM means a lot to its supporters, who see it as a national asset and the industry’s only dedicated museum.”
Industry veteran and NVM parton Andy Payne OBE talks about the work that was done to relocate the museum: “I’ve worked with the NVM since January 2017 when it was based in Nottingham. It’s been a long hard road to relocate to Sheffield given the lack of any public funding, but the industry came together like never before and raised awareness and funds to make it happen. As someone who has worked in games since school, seeing the NVM become our very own museum is hugely inspiring. To take my place alongside fellow patrons is humbling and I would encourage more patrons to come forward and join the NVM family.”
Another such patron is Katherine Bidwell, co-founder of developer State of Play: “Since the NVM opened in Sheffield last year, it has showcased a range of creative and diverse game talent to the delight of thousands of visitors. At State of Play we are hugely proud to be a patron of this important institute, and delighted to see it thrive each month. To also have our game Inks there to play in the form of a pinball table is a huge honour and it’s great to hear positive feedback from all who enjoy it.
The museum now features over 90 playable titles spanning nearly 40 years of gaming, on numerous platforms – including arcade cabinets, console, mobile and bespoke installations. And while it features games from across the world, there’s a special focus on British-made games.
“Since the NVM opened in Sheffield last year, it has showcased a range of creative and diverse game talent to the delight of thousands of visitors.”
Jas Purewal, partner at Purewal and Partners and NVM patron tell us: “The UK has a proud history of making video games with global appeal – we should preserve it for its own sake but also to benefit the next generation of interactive entertainment professionals. We all grew up with games and technology, which our kids should be able to enjoy too. Also we should do more for the study of video games and how they contribute to the wider arts. For all these reasons we need a national videogame museum, we had to be patrons and we urge others to do so too.”
And as part of next week’s Summer of Buttons, the NVM is also working with Special Effect to launch accessible games in its galleries this summer, and to make all its galleries accessible for everyone. That will enable the NVM to host a range of Special Educational Needs (SEN) visitors.
Professor James Newman, professor and senior lecturer at Bath Spa University, is a member of the curatorial group for the NVM and tells us more about the Summer of Buttons, which will include “specially curated selections of button-based games such as four-player Pac-man, versions of Forza and FIFA designed with 2 buttons for accessible gameplay in collaboration with Special Effect, button-making workshops where visitors can design their own controller button then control a console with it. Press to play at the NVM this Summer!”
Looking beyond that Newman tells us: “At the NVM we’ve recently launched Season 002, in which you’ll find collections of games that tell different stories about gameplay. We call them ‘bundles’ and they talk about themes like ‘gravity’ (4 games with gameplay using gravity in different ways), ‘bonus levels’ (cut straight to those precious hidden levels in iconic games) and ‘brutal design’ (games which are deliberately ultra-difficult to play). You’ll also see Platform 14, that invites visitors to play fourteen different versions of the same game, a fascinating exploration of the differences in hardware platforms. Perhaps more traditionally, ‘Playthings’ is our new display that unpacks some of the materials from our collection that showcase the history of games (such as the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home console from 1972). There’s some fascinating stuff in there!”
“National galleries, museums, concert halls – all other major art forms have their own dedicated cultural centres. Videogames deserve theirs. That’s what we’re building here at the NVM,” Newman expands.
“At the NVM we collect, preserve and exhibit videogame culture for everybody. That means we’re trying to do a lot more than just give people access to games to play. The NVM is an ambitious project to explore, preserve and explain what games are and what they mean to people – including the people that create them.”
Those people include the Oliver Twins, patrons of the NVM who have always thought that such an institute was inevitable: “When we started making games in the 80’s we believed games would become significantly more popular so we kept everything we created, neatly archiving our games for the day when people would want to learn about the roots of the sector.
“We’ve been proud supporters of the BGI since it launched and are delighted to have donated some of our archive to the National Videogame Museum’s Collection, so the public can learn more about the UK’s cultural heritage in video games and its impact on what’s become the world’s most significant form of entertainment,” the Olivers continued.
Newman concludes: “Our curatorial team works closely with our advisory board, drawn from leading international museums and galleries, to create the best possible experience for our visitors and build a comprehensive collection for the future. We’re working with other museums and institutions around the world on the collecting and preserving of video games, and are keen to talk to any and all developers who want to explore working with us to collect their work.”
Gibson tells us that “the heart of the charity’s remit is education which features in everything BGI does.” Before adding: “The NVM hosts school visits by thousands of schoolchildren each year, running Key Stage learning workshops that link core STEAM subjects into games. Working with Learn Sheffield, which represents all the city’s schools and their 60,000 pupils, on its Pixelheads programme, which uses games, games design and games technology to unlock core curriculum subjects.”
Joel Moulton, from the Sharrow School in Sheffield tells MCV: “We were really happy to be involved as part of the educational programme for the National Video Games Museum. The Pixelheads sessions created a real buzz in the classroom. The children (and teachers) were curious and engaged throughout, and have not stopped asking about the next time they can take part in Pixelheads.”
To further its educational aims, the BGI has just released a new course – How to Start Your Career in Games Development – working with online learning platform FutureLearn. At present nearly 2,000 people are following five young developers’ stories of how they kickstarted their games careers with expert advice from senior producers and recruiters on interviews and applications. The course was designed by BGI with help from developers and features videos, tools and learning materials – plus it’s designed to encourage more diverse candidates to apply for games jobs.
The BGI also gathered many games educators and studios in Sheffield back in April for the Games Education Summit to discuss the state of games education. Following the inaugural event, the BGI is hosting a number of working groups to tackle subjects raised at the summit.
Gibson tells us that: “The BGI’s just getting going, and has a lot of new programmes to come. It is on the hunt for more support from industry. The BGI runs everything without any core public funding, relying instead on the public, visitors to the NVM and donations from the sector. It hopes to build on its charitable status to access more funding to extend its programmes and collaborate with more partners.”
Ian Livingstone CBE, Chair of the BGI adds to that: “The NVM is sincerely grateful to games industry individuals and companies who have generously supported the museum with their patronage. But more help is needed!
“We hope that those who have achieved success in this wonderful industry might consider supporting its future via the UK’s only dedicated games museum. Help us preserve the UK’s games heritage, celebrate our sector’s work, educate young people about our wonderful medium, and reach hundreds of thousands more people with positive messaging about the cultural impact of games in UK society.”