Now Play This started with an idea – could we make space for all the interesting stuff that was happening around the fringes of game making? Games-literate people were bending the form in innovative ways to comment on culture, to explore ideas and find new ways to joyfully bring people together. However, games are not necessarily a welcoming medium if you haven’t continued to engage with them as an adult. There’s a cost to entry and a learning curve to engaging with this form of culture, and that meant that these interesting developments were only being seen by a few people, and rarely reaching beyond a small, self-selecting world.
Meanwhile our wider culture was getting more and more digital and systems-driven in ways that are opaque to the old forms of understanding. Games are one of the best mediums we have for making systems legible, but the general public conversation was struggling to get beyond ‘games are polluting our teenagers’, and ‘blockbuster games are making more money than blockbuster movies’. New ideas were finding it hard to break through.
Since 2015 we’ve been working to shine a spotlight on these new ways of using and thinking about games, in an effort to inspire positive change and see more use of games and play in a nuanced way in cultural work. It’s not just been showing games in an exhibition context at Somerset House, though that will always be hugely important to us, (and in doing so we’ve developed a whole bunch of strategies to make games legible to newcomers). It’s also been bringing together people from all kinds of fields who are interested in using games and play in their work – artists and interaction designers and composers and campaigners have all come together to learn from each other and make their work better. It’s been commissioning new work that brings together people to work on urgent and interesting subjects. It’s been helping people find their place and audience as they put together careers using games and play to explore ideas, and exploring with funders where games can make a difference in their work.
Getting back to a real life festival at Somerset House in 2022 felt like a good time to reflect on why we do what we do, and what the festival is for. We started by interviewing our artists and the public about what they value about the festival, and that has developed into this Activity and Impact Report, which looks at what we’ve achieved over the last seven years and where we’d like to go from here. That original mission feels just as urgent as ever, and using games and play to engage with ideas and culture continues to be a successful strategy. We’re looking forward to making new partnerships and bringing this outpouring of creativity to an even wider audience, and doing more of this kind of reflection and reporting in the future.