Museum stories: How the National Videogame Museum are reimagining the future


Over the next few weeks we’re sharing stories from some of those museums we’ve already been able to help with our emergency funding.

Today Iain Simons, director of the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield, tells us how they’ve been tackling the challenges of 2020 and reimagining the museum beyond its building. Earlier this year the museum received funding from Art Fund to support a new online gallery dedicated to the visual arts in videogames: the National Videogame Gallery.

By donating to #TogetherForMuseums, you’re helping many more museums across the UK make projects like these a reality. Thank you.

National Videogame Museum © Samathy Barrett

"We are a really tactile museum. Much of our visitor experience is predicated on touch; you can touch the objects and you can play the games, so we were particularly worried at the beginning of the pandemic. Colleagues at other museums were talking about taking interactives out of their spaces, but all we have are interactives.

We were worried about how we might recreate an experience that was still meaningful, but also, like everybody else, we were just worried we weren’t going to make it. We’ve had a pretty tough journey so far; we’re an independent museum and we don’t have any core funding, so people coming through the door is vital for us.

We were already beginning to think about how to create a non-physical-site experience of the museum. It’s tempting just to say ‘online’ and that be some kind of catch-all phrase for putting things on a website. We wanted to address more meaningfully what a whole museum experience is.

Underpinning all the stories we tell at the museum is the fact that videogames are richly complex. They aren’t just code; they are also animation, music, words, visual art. Breaking them into different forms gives audiences a way in.

Another really important thing about the stories we tell is that games are made by people. It sounds an obvious and simple thing to say, but it’s really not apparent if you pick up a game in a store or download it to your phone. Gaming is different from other creative industries or art forms in that the presence of people in the making of it tends to be obfuscated. You know who wrote your favourite novel; you probably don’t know the names of the people involved in making your game.

There is the opportunity with the National Videogame Gallery to unpack a particular skillset, in this case illustration, and also to tell the stories of the artists who create the work. Understanding who makes videogames could begin to inspire other people to see themselves in that place.

It’s also important for parents to understand that games are made by people. It helps them see that it’s actually a pretty robust industry. Of all the industries within the Covid pandemic, games have come out better than most. Parents and kids might find a place where they feel encouraged to be part of that.

National Videogame Museum © Samathy Barrett

"When we first reopened in the summer, we just didn’t know if anyone was going to come. For us, it was good – we were operating at half capacity and selling out a lot of sessions. I was surprised that the appetite was there, and that was really encouraging for us. Our audience is families, and I think we were a haven for parents who had been indoors for four months. But I know for other people it’s been very different.

I don’t think anyone can go back [to how things were before]. There’s a working practice now that we’re focusing on, which can continue more gracefully if we ever can’t open our doors again. When everything stopped, we quickly did some great – award-winning, in fact – educational workshops as a response to the situation. Other than that, we didn’t really have a life outside of the building. I don’t think we can be like that now. This thing can happen where no one can leave their house – who would have imagined it?"

Explore the National Videogame Museum.

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Your support will help museums respond to the challenges of Covid-19, and reimagine a brighter future.

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