Features// Games as Art: The London Games Festival Exhibition

Posted 23 Oct 2012 11:31 by
Companies:
Games: Batman: Arkham City
Dax Ginn, marketing manager at Rocksteady
Dax Ginn, marketing manager at Rocksteady
I?m staring at a picture of Batman. A portrait painting, to be precise - a rather gruesome rendition of Bruce Wayne?s alter-ego, wearing a ghoulish rabbit?s mask. Eyes dripping with green ooze, and a snarl that would put the willies up Ray Winstone.

To anyone strolling by London City Hall?s reception area, this would be a wonderful opportunity to muse about the artistic meaning behind such a twisted representation of a much-loved vigilante, and his dark past.

Perhaps more fascinating to passers-by is the source material for such thought-provoking imagery. Is it from a DC Comic? Inspired by a Christopher Nolan film? Nope. The truth is, this is a canvas of a piece of concept artwork from Rocksteady?s Batman: Arkham City.

And people say that computer games aren?t art.

Just one glance of the vast array of artwork on display here is enough to counter that age-old argument. A free-to-enter exhibition hosted by the Greater London Authority and the Mayor of London, and organised by the London Games Festival in association with UKIE, this week-long event features an impressive range of art styles from multiple sources.

Watercolours, digital paintings, Photoshop pieces and CGI renders pepper the lobby, from games and franchises including Metal Gear Solid, Guild Wars 2, Okabu, Tomb Raider and Fable III to name but a few. For gamers, it?s a wonderfully creative window into the process behind their favourite characters and scenes. For others, an example of the amount of artistic creativity that goes into these products.

Fable III
Fable III
The Batman piece in particular is one of a multitude of never-before-seen canvasses donated by Rocksteady that highlights the creative journey taken to realise last year?s smash hit, Arkham City. Even the game?s original music score has been framed and placed on the wall. Dax Ginn, the marketing manager for the studio, was flummoxed to see his team?s work take pride of place in the London Mayor?s building.

?Our work, in an art gallery, in City Hall? That?s just wild,? he laughed. ?We work in a bunker for so long - it takes us two and a half years to make a game, so laying the concept down is really the beginning of the process for us. It always happens on a screen with a room full of designers, deciding what the gameplay implications are for a particular piece of art.

?So really, even though it is art, our objective with the concepts isn?t to put it on a wall. But to actually see it displayed in the same way as classic art... it works brilliantly well!?

The ?Bunny Batman? piece actually stands as one of the most significant for Rocksteady, alongside other concept pieces that illustrate the Mad Hatter side quest in Arkham City. ?These were scenes that happened [to Batman] psychologically. So we really delved into the mind of Batman. It?s something the comics have done for years, and we wanted to bring that into the interactive space.

Dishonored
Dishonored
?Those ideas of sending Batman through this twisted, alternative world... we had a lot of debate internally about whether or not we should really do it. How it was going to play. It was these concepts that really convinced everyone on the team that it was worth going for. So these pieces evoke emotions of creative hysteria within the team more than anything else! They?re memorable moments for us, because it was a significant risk that we took.?

Kirsty Payne, the Director of the London Games Festival, was overjoyed with the results of the gallery. ?I?m really pleased with how it?s come out, and hopefully this will address the fact that games and interactive entertainment are culturally important and significant in the UK. We?ve got to keep nurturing the talent that we have within the industry and I?m hoping this will showcase that.

?This hasn?t been done before. But everyone who?s looked at it has said that the exhibition is really interesting. They didn?t realise that what they?re looking at on the screen started out with someone being creative and artistic in the studio. When I spoke to City Hall and the Greater London Authority, the cultural department recognised that games are in fact big business, bringing in 3 billion of revenue a year to the UK. Bigger than movies or music.

"But more importantly, it also understood that the industry hasn?t really been recognised enough, culturally and creatively.?

Kirsty Payne, Director London Games Festival
Kirsty Payne, Director London Games Festival
The gallery seems to be doing a good job so far. In the first morning alone, many groups of adults, kids and families of all ages have been admiring the works on display. Kirsty even mentioned that the professional hired to set up the gallery - who also stages Getty exhibitions - was suitably impressed. He brought his grandson with him later in the day and said that the event was ?up there on his professional list.?

This hasn?t been a simple case of grabbing random pieces of artwork and sticking them up on the wall, though. The gallery has been curated in a very particular way, with games covering all kinds of genres, art styles and design approaches. The pieces have also been exclusively signed by development teams and industry legends such as Peter Molyneux.

Some exclusive pieces here have been created specifically for this exhibition. A one-of-a-kind Sonic the Hedgehog pencil sketch, drawn and signed by franchise artist Yuji Uekawa, was created just last week and arrived in London specially for the showcase on Friday. Naturally, I was thinking of ways to pinch it without getting spotted.

Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog
But perhaps I won?t need to resort to such tactics. For in a week?s time, all but one of the art pieces on display will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, in an eBay extravaganza that seeks to raise money for the Special Effect charity. Special Effect has been getting a lot of attention in recent years, for good reason - the organisation builds equipment that allows disabled gamers to enjoy computer games and interactive entertainment. One such device allows a player to control a racing game using eye movement.

It truly is a worthy cause, and Kirsty - who is also the VP of Special Effect - was overwhelmed by the industry?s response to help out. ?I was really, really touched that gamers, people in the industry - developers and publishers - all know enough about this very small, but important, charity to be able to donate all of this artwork. I?m really hoping we raise a lot of money.?

I certainly hope so too. And the existence of this exhibit, with pieces that wouldn?t look out of place in the Tate Gallery, seems to raise the point that perhaps these initial concepts and creative works should be taken more seriously on an artistic level. Dax seems to think so. ?I think it?s definitely relevant, for millions of gamers worldwide, to see interactive artwork - or artwork representing interactive entertainment - showcased in this way.

Okabu
Okabu
?I don?t know about you growing up, but I always found art galleries to be quite boring. If I was 12 years old coming to something like this today, it would be the greatest thing I?d ever seen!

?We take the creation of this work incredibly seriously, because it?s the starting point of the entire creative process at Rocksteady. The game that people end up playing would not be the same unless we went through all these stages of art creation. I can only assume that gamers who have played Batman: Arkham City will come here and feel that this art will be meaningful to them.

?It?s not just a flippant thing - a random picture of Batman. It?s a representation of the core idea that became an interactive experience that they enjoy. So I think people will take it seriously, simply because it?s genuinely meaningful.?

Kirsty agrees, and hopes that more game-related art exhibitions can be hosted in the future. ?I hope that we can do this on a regular basis. Perhaps make it an annual event to showcase the talents that we have in the games industry. I also hope that by putting this on, we tell a good story about the work the industry does. We create skills, we?re creative, we?re very good at what we do. I think, culturally and creatively, it?s important for the country that we highlight that and tell the world that we?re brilliant at this.?

The London Games Festival Art Exhibition will run at Greater London Authority, City Hall, for the remainder of the week. The auction begins next week, and you can follow all the news and track your favourite art piece via the London Games Art website.

More gallery photos below.
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City
LittleBigPlanet
LittleBigPlanet
Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City Original Score
Batman: Arkham City Original Score
Companies:
Games: Batman: Arkham City

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