Sophia George is an award winning game designer who has been appointed as the first ever V&A Game Designer in Residence.
Sophia won a 2012 BAFTA Ones to Watch Award for Tick Tock Toys, a family-friendly puzzle game for iPhone and iPad, which had 100, 000 downloads in its first week. She was also included as one of the BAFTA Breakthrough Brits 2013.
During Sophia’s six month residency at the V&A she will research and re-interpret the Britain 1500-1900 galleries in order to create a game to be released in the summer of 2014. The move signals a recognition by the V&A of the increasing influence of the game industry in our culture, as well as game design as a creative medium.
A key objective of the residency will be to encourage visitor participation, in particular amongst girls who are currently under-represented in the games industry. With this in mind one third of the residency is dedicated to public engagement through events and activities at the V&A.
Blooloop caught up with Sophia to find out more about this innovative move by the V&A, and asked her how she is getting along creating an engaging game for “the world’s greatest museum of art and design.”
What does your role as the V&A's first Games Designer in Residence entail?
My residency came from a partnership between the V&A, V&A at Dundee and the University of Abertay Dundee, and organised in collaboration with The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE). These great organisations have come together to show that games are an emerging and creative industry in the UK.
For this residency, I am designing a game based on the British 1500-1900 Galleries in the V&A. The six months at the V&A acts as my research and design period, and I will then spend a few months at Abertay University developing my ideas. So far, I've been very inspired by the work of William Morris and the arts and crafts movement. I have created a small game inspired by the 'Strawberry Thief' furnishing fabric, where you take control of a bird and collect strawberries.
Another big part of my residency is engaging with the public, by running workshops and events. We recently ran a game jam where people of all different skills and backgrounds created a game based on the Medieval and Renaissance gallery in just 2 days.
What has the reaction been like in the game design community and the museum to your appointment?
It's been a mostly positive reaction from the games industry, as many of us want games to be taken seriously as a form of art and design. The museum staff have been supportive too, giving me great ideas for events and lots of help with my research.
What is the process for creating an engaging game around the V&A’s collections?
Games can be very immersive, especially with young people. My goal is to use elements of design found in the galleries to make a great game and to then inspire the player to think about its origins and any stories behind the piece. When I played games as a child, I was always interested in finding out everything I could about the characters and settings, so I'm hoping my game will inspire similar curiosities.
What kind of elements are you including in the games?
I want the game to appeal to the museum's visitors. So I think it will need to be something simple and accessible, but still fun. I’m also keen for the game to have very strong visuals.
How can games make museums more fun?
At the moment in the V&A, there is an amazing digital interactive installation called ‘Digital Dragons’ where children can play inside a giant Chinese painting. It’s made from projectors and software which uses the Xbox Kinect. I think these kinds of interactive elements can inspire children to think more about the original artwork and designs. When I was very young, I found museums to be a bit boring, but I can imagine that I would have found it more interesting if games and interactive elements were a part of the exhibits.
Some children learn more efficiently from doing something, rather than reading or watching something, so games are a good way to engage these kinds of children.
Smart phones, tablets and other digital devices are now a part of everyday life for a lot of people. So it makes sense that museums and galleries will want to take advantage of this technology.
How are you looking to engage the public with your work – studio drop ins/events?
Very frequently I have 'Open Studios' where anyone can walk into my studio and talk with me about my work. This is also beneficial for me, as it gives me a chance to see what people think of my game ideas so far. I'm also planning to have open studios in the British Galleries and the V&A Museum of Childhood.
I've also been involved with workshops, a games jam and game themed life drawing events (see right Heroes & Villains: V&A Creative Life Drawing Workshop).
I understand that you're particularly looking to encourage girls to join the games industry. How are you doing this?
So far, I've spoken to girls schools, and have been involved with BAFTA's girls into gaming working group. I think an important part of getting girls into male dominated industries is to give them role models. So, I've tried to make myself accessible through blogging and social media.
What's the significance for game design that such a well-known museum is embracing the medium?
I think it shows that the V&A are serious about being involved with digital art and design, as well as mass produced products. Also, the games industry has become huge over the years and difficult to ignore!
- Strawberry Thief by William Morris and Image of Sophia George – Kind courtesy the V&A.
- Screen shot of Tick Tock Toys and original drawings for Strawberry Thief game – Kind courtesy Sophia George.
- Themed Life Drawing: Kind courtesy London Drawing. More images here.