31 October 2018

Videogames: (Sketch) / Design / Play / Disrupt

I took a trip to London recently to do some gallery lurking, and was fortunate enough to get a ticket into the V&A's latest digital inspired offering, Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt. As a designer within the industry this show is exploring, when I saw the curtain lifted on how games are made (a brainstorm wall, a spreadsheet of narrative forks, how sprints work, etc.) it began to feel like I'd come in on a Saturday to do some paid overtime – with me doing the paying.

But then something happened. I saw a kid, a girl. About ten years old, taking notes and sketching. And then a boy, he looked about 12, discussing with his dad all the inner machinations on display. Looking around, amongst a varied ragtag bunch of punters, I realised a large contingent were kids with parents. When the next generation of makers are getting inspired before your very eyes, you quickly start seeing things differently. The day-to-day in front you instead morphs into dreams. That spreadsheet, a dry but necessitous tool of organisation, becomes a truly beautiful, rational weapon of brilliant logic slaying the demons of disorganisation. My love for a spreadsheets and Gantt charts became crystallised as I saw afresh their pedagogical powers. And as I moved along this work-away-from-work, observing the hours, days, weeks, months and years of design, development and production unfold as art, I found the big one. The holy grail. A single artefact carefully secured, sheltered by dimmed light and protected by glass. A sketchbook. And it got me thinking.

I began thinking about thinking. I thought about the thoughts written down and how they got turned into something real. I wondered if that designer ever wondered what would become of their sketchbook. Did they see it as a workaday means to an end? A breadcrumb trail of thought? Or some other thing; proof of their part in something much bigger? Could they ever have imagined that a small part of their creative process would become worthy enough to be considered curate-able in the same room that showed the life work of David Bowie, currently next to an exhibition on Frida Kahlo in a museum space shared with epochs of diverse human antiquities, art and endeavours ranging from Tipu's Tiger, to Constable, to a 3D printed gun? My guess is not. I imagine they thought it would just sit on top of another sketchbook, in a long line of sketchbooks, gathering damp or dust or whatever it is you find at the bottom of a box in an attic. Until now.

Now it’s firing the imaginations of kids and showing that what we do, what makers do, is no different to what they do. Dreaming, sketching, making. And very often just doodling. (But doodling’s fine, kids. It frees the brain.)

I clearly remember as a kid myself, sketching on my 'William' custom headed notepaper my brother James got made for my birthday when he worked at Prontaprint. I looked up to him being a Graphic Designer and one day hoped I could do the same and somehow combine with that my massive love of The Beano, and turn my cottage industry of imitation comics and home t-shirt printing into something like a job. Funnily enough, something like that did happen. I did become a graphic designer. I did end up working with The Beano, helping make a couple of games. And the constant throughout this journey? Keeping sketchbooks.

It’s impossible not to. It’s one place where a constant thread of thought can be scrawled, traced and relinked in a tangible space. Quickly and easily navigated by thumb and forefinger, amended simply with a pen. Looking back through my current sketchbook, I can see an analogue time machine of projects and thought process, and even a few bits of those aforementioned Beano games scratched out. In the spirit of Design/Play/Disrupt, here are some of those sketches from two recent releases I worked on at Jollywise for Beano Studios: Return to Lender and Sausages and Chips.

We all know Da Vinci kept sketchbooks. Artists throughout time have done the same. As have designers. In one magical display, the V&A has helped solidify the importance of the medium for whatever field you work in, and turned the almost impossible games-as-art debate into a beautifully winnable argument. If you get a chance, take a look. And take a sketchbook.


Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt

On now at V&A until Sunday, 24 February 2019


This post was first published on the Jollywise blog