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The World of 'Minecraft': How the V&A Museum has embraced games

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The World of Minecraft at V&A Friday Lates

© V&A

Posing with a lifesize Steve


On the last Friday of every month, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London hosts an event called Friday Lates, an evening opening with contemporary displays, installations and performances around a specific theme.

For the month of August, it trod new ground and explored the world of Minecraft, which the museum described as not just a game, but a "cultural phenomenon" whose community's imagination far exceeded the ambitions of those who created it.

From using lifesize blocks in the garden to projecting in-game animations in the Grand Entrance and playing music and sounds throughout the existing V&A's exhibitions - for one night only, the museum was transformed with Minecraft pieces and performances.

There were areas of engagement, too, from workshops on 3D printing and paper craft to talks on game design and the use of Minecraft by the UN Human Settlements Programme.

The World of Minecraft at V&A Friday Lates

© V&A

The garden area of the V&A saw life-size 'Minecraft' blocks and trees



How Mojang got involved with the V&A

Developer Mojang was directly involved in the event from its conception, and was offered the idea after senior curator Kieran Long visited the studio's headquarters in Sweden to discuss its partnership with the UN.

"They thought that it was a perfect way to ease into the gaming space, and a very interesting collaboration was to do with the Friday Lates," Mojang's director of fun Lydia Winters told Digital Spy.

"It was a true collaboration, we went back and forth. It was sitting down and going, 'This needs to be a night about Minecraft, art and design, not just playing the game'.

"We wanted to go so far outside of what we've ever done. Completely different from Minecon, different from a gaming convention that someone would go to, it's a true mash-up.

The World of Minecraft at V&A Friday Lates

© V&A

Taking a picture of specially created 'Minecraft' art



The exhibition would act as a great opportunity for the museum, which usually attracts people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, to reach out to a younger audience.

"We wanted to really diversify the programme so it's not just one age group," Winters explained.

"It's not one type of builder, it's not one type of person that will find something in the museum that they'd love. It's a very full experience that anyone can go and see things they would like."

She added: "That was exciting for the museum, being able to bring in a younger audience that may have never come to this museum before and have never interacted [here].

"We felt very strongly about having things around the different galleries, so it's an experience to go walk around and see things in person, and not just get on a computer in a different setting. There's none of that here. It's very targeted."

One of our favourite elements of the event was embedding Minecraft art in amongst the V&A's existing exhibitions, often with its own own tongue-in-cheek spin.

For example, the game's creator Notch adorned a space in the Portrait Miniatures gallery, samurai swords created with Minecraft blocks were perched alongside the real thing, and in another room sat the famous 'Scream' painting, but redrawn to feature a Creeper.

While a lot of what was created will be "exclusive" to this Friday Lates event, the art pieces will most likely go to the Museum of Mojang at Minecon because they're "incredible pieces", Winters explained.

The V&A on a long-running relationship with games

The World of Minecraft event is just the start of a wider exploration of games by the museum.

In May, the V&A announced the hiring of its first ever Game Designer in Residence in partnership with Abertay University.

The World of Minecraft at V&A Friday Lates

© V&A

The World of 'Minecraft' event featured activities including papercraft



Sophia George, a 22-year-old designer who won a BAFTA Ones to Watch Award in 2012 for the prototype of Tick Tock Toys, will begin her six-month residency in October.

George will spend her time in research and public engagement, as well as creating a game inspired by the V&A's collections.

"I'll be working with all their different departments, on workshops, award shows that I'll help out with. I'll be bringing gaming design to that," she explained.

"As well as that, I'll be coming up with my own game design based on the British collection. That will be really exciting; I've never had to do that before with something so historical and different. That will definitely be a challenge."

The World of Minecraft at V&A Friday Lates

© V&A

The Grand Entrance was covered in 'Minecraft' projections



The prototype of the game inspired by the collections could be revealed at Dare ProtoPlay, and Sophia will be posting blog posts on her role at the V&A throughout the duration.

But why now is the V&A embracing games? Head of gallery interpretation, residences and access Morna Hinton said that games have a lot of cross-over with many of the disciplines that the museum offers.

"I think because we're increasingly interested in popular culture and mass-produced design," she explained.

"Video games combine a lot of disciplines that the V&A holds collections in anyway, such as paintings, sculpture, illustration. We also have the performance collection, so we've got music as well, those kind of aspects.

"It's actually a discipline that crosses a lot of our collections. From both a curatorial point of view and a learning programming point of view, that's where we are coming from."



With the recruitment of its first Game Designer in Residence, is the V&A's interest in games for the long term?

"I think it's long term, certainly in terms of what the contemporary team is doing. From what I can see, they see it as a long-term engagement with digital art and design," said Hinton.

"That's something the V&A has been involved in for a while. I guess video games are the newest strand, and it's the most obvious one, I think."

While it's unknown whether there will be more games exhibitions from the V&A in the future, the organisers hoped that those who attended the Minecraft event would come away with a different view of both the game and museum.

"I hope they'd be surprised, intrigued, and maybe think of it with different design elements of video games," said Hinton, "and see that there is a relationship between the wider world of art and design, and instructions like museums are not just dealing in historical and old stuff, but contemporary things."

The World of Minecraft at V&A Friday Lates

© V&A

Talks about Minecraft were also at the event



Mojang's Winters added: "I hope the audience takes away the idea of interacting with your favourite thing in a new way.

"Even beyond just Minecraft, but just in general. You look on Reddit and all these different blogs, and you see these crazy mash-ups. How did someone take food items from a country and make a flag out of them, and put them online?

"These incredible art pieces when you get a passion for something. I hope that Minecraft fans will go home and say, 'I really like playing sculptures. I don't mind creating something in Minecraft that doesn't look like the game', pulling themselves outside of that."

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