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How to build a National Videogame Foundation

CEO Iain Simons on creating a cultural repository for games in the UK

#1 How the foundation got laid

Last Summer, some people who care about videogames started the National Videogame Foundation. It came about through some difficult circumstances (we can talk about those later), it was a big undertaking, but it was also way overdue. I hope you'll forgive any awkwardness ahead, because this is an introduction. Hello, I'm Iain. I work on the National Videogame Foundation.

As we're starting a National Foundation, it's not unreasonable that you might want to examine our credentials and hear a bit about how we came to do so. We've been running the GameCity Festival for over a decade. That's the festival that got Eric Chahi to work with a chef to design a playable meal, hosted live performances of games like Journey, invited Keita Takahashi to design a kids playground and celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Elite by recreating the lost origami spaceships that were supposed to be pack-ins (and almost got Braben and Bell to have a photo together). We've always tried to do the kinds of things that other festivals don't, an arts festival that happens to be solely about videogames.

In 2008 we helped to establish the first National Videogame Archive with the National Media Museum (latterly, Science Museum). Finally, in 2015, an excess of momentum resulted in the opening of the first National Videogame Arcade, a permanent cultural centre dedicated to videogames. It's a five-storey building in the City Centre of Nottingham that's translating and engaging new people in playing and making games. It's the National Gallery of games. Alton Towers, if it was run by the BBC. Tens of thousands of people a year visit the NVA and we hope you can be one of them soon.

"We've never done any apologising for videogames, or justifying them as a key part of culture...They don't need apologising for

We've never done any apologising for videogames, or justifying them as a key part of culture. We tend to just show and tell. They don't need apologising for, they need to grow in cultural confidence. I've never really had any patience for the 'are games art?' argument either, to be honest. It's pretty much the least interesting question you could ask about a videogame. If you're putting on a videogame festival and doing it right, you can't help but put on an arts festival. Videogames are incontestably interesting and valuable. We've always taken that as our starting assumption and marched on from that point.

After over a decade of this kind of work, interpreting videogames, introducing new audiences to them, putting them in new places - something started to happen. We found increasingly other organisations were starting to ask us about what we did and how we did it. Not only in the UK, but internationally. Some of the interpretation work we did was getting noticed and talked about. We were getting invited to talk about it internationally and swap ideas with other institutions.

All good, but the problem was, the whole enterprise needed something more. All of this effort, all of this work needed gathering up into something. It's all well and good doing lots of things, but they need to be pointing in the same direction. That's what the National Videogame Foundation is, a direction.

Formally it's "a not for profit organisation that works to develop the role of videogames in culture, education and society." That's what it says on the website. In practise, it means we welcome school trips into the NVA to learn about games, their history, how to make them. It means we run groups for parents, helping them get as much as possible out of games in the home and discover new ones. It means we build bridges from videogames to other parts of culture, particularly through our work with the 'Continue' network. Funded by Arts Council England, the aim is to help inform the policy around the funding and support of videogames from the cultural establishment. In practise it means we want to provide a useful centre-of-gravity for videogames in culture.

"There's a wide community of brilliant people actively curating and interpreting games for the public in the UK already, as well as UKIE, TIGA and the newly announced BGI"

Of course, we're not alone. We're part of a scene of organisations who are also invested in this kind of work, and we work closely with partners internationally and in the UK. There's a wide community of brilliant people actively curating and interpreting games for the public in the UK already, as well as UKIE, TIGA and the newly announced BGI. We want to exchange ideas with them, learn from them and compliment what they do.

So, why are we on GamesIndustry.biz? We want you to know about our work, share our adventures and get involved. Simply, we can't do this without you.

How to get the most of your National Videogame Arcade - - Become a patron! Get involved in helping us deliver our work, get your name on the wall of patrons and bask in the warm glow of knowing you're helping a brilliant cause. Lots of your colleagues, including SEGA, Chucklefish, Sumo, Boneloaf, Vlambeer, Us Two Games, HTC Vive, Supermassive and more already have! You can find out more about that here.

  • Support or sponsor our initiatives - we work with lots of different sectors of the public.
  • Hold an event here. We're a great location for YouTubers, non-London press launches, corporate events, weddings...
  • Consumer Sampling. We get tens of thousands of people through here every year and our city-centre location makes us a great space to reach both families and gamers. Our school-holiday periods are especially good for that...
  • Come and visit! Bring your team, bring your family or just bring yourself. Let us know when you're coming and we'll be happy to give you the backstage tour.
  • Get in touch! If you've got an idea of how we can help you, we'd love to hear from you.

We can't do this without you steering us along the right track. We're a Foundation that does things. We want to be a Foundation that's useful, helpful and vital. We want our work to have consequences.

So that's why we're here. I'm hoping you're going to find it interesting to learn about some of our ideas and adventures in this column and help shape our next steps. We've been doing this kind of thing for over a decade, but it feels like we're just getting started.

We're the National Videogame Foundation. Pleased to meet you.

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