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Opening Day – National Videogame Arcade

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Saturday saw the opening of the long desired offshoot of GameCity, and our guest blogger, Lynda Clark, was there and sent us this report:

Lynda ClarkThe National Videogame Arcade (NVA) opened its doors to the public on Saturday. For those who’ve attended GameCity before, it’s their unique blend of exhibition and gaming space made permanent. For those who haven’t, it’s a vibrant interactive museum dedicated to games, their history and their creation.

Many of the national press articles I’ve read regarding the NVA ask ‘Why Nottingham?’ Let’s ignore the fact that what they’re really asking is ‘Why bother doing anything outside of London, you provincial hicks?’ and give the question greater consideration than it deserves. Well, Nottingham has a greater gaming history than many might realise. Nottingham was home to Free Radical Design, which spawned Crytek UK, which became Deep Silver’s UK base of operations. These are the studios that created or contributed to critically acclaimed games such as Time Splitters, Crysis 2 and Homefront. Nottingham University, Trent and Confetti college all offer a range of game and computing-related courses, meaning Nottingham is an excellent source for new games industry talent. But one of the main answers is ‘Because GameCity.’ GameCity already has an experienced team with a track record of delivering exceptional, accessible gaming events. More on the awesomeness of the GameCity team later.

Due to attending the Writing East Midlands Conference earlier in the day, I was unable to make it to the full NVA launch, instead attending the now weekly NVA social. It’s the experience in miniature with the main exhibit closed off in favour of the downstairs gaming lounge and upstairs main bar and gallery. While it was a shame to miss the flagship ‘Jump’ display (a history of jumping in games), as ever, the GameCity team delivered a fun, unique experience.

The downstairs bar was stuffed with consoles of the ages, from a rather clunky Amiga to the almost modern PlayStation One. My husband confessed a love for the maligned Atari Jaguar, and the GameCity crew promptly disappeared into their store rooms to retrieve one for him to play. I wish I could say this was down to my game industry connections, but the truth is, this is one of the joys of GameCity and by default the NVA. Nothing is too much trouble. The pursuit of fun, of inclusivity, of removing barriers to play and creation are at the heart of everything they do.

Front of National Videogame ArcadeUpstairs, the gallery alongside the Toast Bar (which looks like something out of a videogame itself with its proliferation of low-hanging light bulbs) was open for exploration. As well as old arcade favourites Ms Pacman and Track and Field, there were incredible bespoke games to play too. My personal favourite was Room Racers, which invited players to construct real world tracks for virtual cars. Skipping ropes, cuddly toys and other miscellaneous items strewn around the floor could be incorporated into bends and obstacles for the player-controlled cars to navigate. It was like playing Micro Machines for real, but with the ability to sabotage your fellow players by throwing a pair of sunglasses in their path.

Because GameCity are as much about social interaction as they are about interactive, there was also a lively Street Fighter tournament in the downstairs bar. This transcended the format of two buttonbashers duking it out thanks to hilarious commentary from an audience member, forced into the role when NVA co-director Iain Simons asked him if he knew anything about Street Fighter and then thrust the microphone into his hands. He rose to the challenge magnificently, switching between informative description of the strategies and techniques being employed and impassioned cries of “DO ‘IM! GO ON, DO HIM RYU!”

At £8.50 for adult daytime entry (the social event I attended was a more palatable £4.00) it is a little on the expensive side, particularly for a family, but as a holiday treat and a unique experience, it’s well worth a visit. The time I spent there absolutely flew by, and that was with only a fraction of what the NVA has to offer on show. You could quite easily while away the day there and really get your money’s worth. Also, under fives go free, and there are group discounts available, so it may turn out cheaper than imagined.

Lynda writes about games, popular culture and writing across her various blogs. She also writes fiction which has been published in books and on websites and is soon to be podcast (podcasted?) too. She can be found on Twitter pretending to be @Notagoth. The GameCity logo at the top is from their Facebook page.