Located in the heart of Nottingham, the National Videogame Arcade (NVA) was founded in 2015 and is the UK’s first permanent cultural centre for gamers. Developed by the independent organisation ‘GameCity’ who bestow the ‘GameCity Prize’, run the regular ‘GameCity Festival’ and work to bring video games to the public attention as a serious art form. This is not to say that the Videogame Arcade is a museum focused on recording the history of the medium and sealing exhibits behind glass cases. Quite the opposite in fact, as the site serves as a functional arcade drawing from the length and breadth of the medium.
Consisting of three floors (five in total, with a ground floor reception and event space above), the NVA starts with a relatively open-plan reception area on its ground floor where friendly staff will take your money in exchange for a day-pass that allows you free entry in and out of the upper levels at your whim. This is important because there’s a lot to play here, and though the NVA includes a ‘toast bar’ café, players may want to take a break from the overall pace and energy of the environment before diving back in. Music plays throughout the experience and some rooms are darkened to better focus on the machines on display, though none of the grime or heat that traditionally came with a vintage arcade is present.
Splitting floors one and two off into a series of smaller rooms linked by larger exhibits immediately leads visitors through a series of gaming staples. Arcade machines pepper the larger areas whilst replica living rooms house modern and retro consoles. Each and every one of these proudly displayed games that had come to define that system, confirmed with small plaques with descriptive text and a simple ‘how to play’ for those unfamiliar with the game a hand. One room confidently displayed a Wii U running ‘Super Mario Maker’ next to a SNES playing ‘Mario Paint’ drawing a clever and immediate parallel between the way these two games operated. A ‘Track and Field’ cabinet sat happily on one level whilst ‘Star Wars Trilogy Arcade’ was available above. All of these games are free to play, with cabinets worked to no longer require coins. The second floor incorporates additional mediums such as desktop gaming, with a full version of ‘Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis’ taxing the more thoughtful players. Boardgames and a regular gaming club called ‘Chimera’ are encouraged and in some cases provided for in the licensed café.
Museum specific attractions included a large centrepiece on the first floor that allowed for two players to go head to head over a simple ‘asteroids’ style score attack game while their efforts are broadcast over a large screen and a member of staff commentates on events for onlookers. A slice of fun controlled by the controller of an N64, which many younger children were unaccustomed to using. Other content included a virtual reality experience on the second floor (for which you are given a time slot to avoid missing out) and an interactive game played across multiple screens and switches lining a whole wall.
The third floor aims for the more cerebral content, with displays outlining some elements of computer game theory and design as well as exhibits for display. The original master disc for ‘Doom II’, signed by its development team stood out as a highlight, as did a room solely reserved for early access titles where visitors could take a peek into the near-future.
A focus on arcade style gaming experiences for visitors to pick up and play for short sessions left little room for longer narrative driven experiences such as examples of RPGs, and though consoles and cabinets were on full form a lack of handhelds was on display, but these are minor gripes when compared to the overall quality of the venue and its presentation. Those looking for a more historical example of the medium may be underwhelmed, and consoles are arranged with no thought for chronological release or company, leading to a scattering of periods with little linking theme, but the choice to allow visitors to experience games through play is the strength of the NVA. Games are, above all, a tactile medium after all.
Overall the National Videogame Arcade is one of the best and most powerful examples of the rise of the Video Game as a serious form of media. The environment is charged with a positive excitement and energy that is second to none and staff are genuinely invested in the attractions around them. With lifts and baby changing facilities for those with small children or disabilities, the environment is constructed with care and forethought. We highly recommend that readers pay the National Videogame Arcade a visit.