Review: Game Masters, Australian Centre for the Moving Image 0 Comments

Review: Game Masters, Australian Centre for the Moving Image

As I descended the stairs the neon lights dazzled me. A damp jungle smell rose from the depths of the place, the body odour of excited children and adults. This was ACMI’s Game Masters exhibition, a place for gamers to discover the minds behind the reason they didn’t do their homework or get enough vitamin D.

The first room featured the very beginnings of the industry; the playable arcade games. They felt so old and clunky, though it was still thrilling to dodge missiles and collect points. There were the classics: Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Pacman, and the lesser known Tempest. Alongside the arcade games were the consoles and controllers, frankensteinian experiments that had never caught on, including a very creepy glove controller that looked like the love child of something off The Adams Family and Blade Runner.

ACMI had made an interesting choice to order the middle section by game designer. There was Hideo Kojima, the brains behind the Metal Gear series, which I didn’t play myself because my brother owned one of those games and I’d seen him rage at it so many times. There were the usual suspects: Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog (in 3D!), the Sims and Spore. There was World of Warcraft’s Blizzard Entertainment, which I remember as creating other games such as Blackthorn (which is freakin’ awesome) but there was no mention of any of their lesser-known games. Interviews with the creators stood alongside the games, but I don’t think I saw one person stop to listen to these.

And then I saw it. Peter Molyneux’s Dungeon Keeper, the little known God game that lets you conquer underground realms, which is what I spent many hours of my teenage life doing. Oh the satisfaction of setting your minions on a band of heroes and tearing them apart! And in fairly basic graphics too, when I looked at the game beside more recent ones.

The highlight for me was the independent games section, the ‘Indies’. The thing about indie games is they’re often super stylised and crazy unusual, and the music is often very good.

You’d all have recognised Angry Birds, which was featured on a large screen. There was also a Kinect version of Fruit Ninja, where you flail your arms in front of the screen. Other highlights were Journey, a language-less game in which you roam the desert while beautiful music ebbs and flows, and Flow, where you play as an organism that must consume smaller organisms to reach the top of the food chain. There was also a commissioned game that was like Pong but with heaps of lag.

A strange realisation began to creep up. Where was Id Software? That name is burnt into my memory as representing the anticipation of the horror of the Wolfenstein,Quake and Doom series.

Where was Valve and the Half Life series? Counter Strike? Those iconic games that as teenagers we spent hours swearing at. Where was Portal? That iconic game that as adults we spent hours swearing at. But I suppose the exhibition had to be family friendly, which would explain all the cheesy cartoon games.

What wasn’t as family friendly, however, was the gyrating hips of the Dance Central 2 CGI characters. As I was watching someone fling their arms about playing Fruit Ninja, I heard from the other room that song ‘I Like Big Butts’. I wandered out to see two children no older than twelve attempting to body-roll in time to the music while others stood watching the screen. Sure, the Xbox Kinect is an amazing piece of technology. But I didn’t wake up that morning and think, ‘Today I’d really like to watch pre-teens shake their pelvises to Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”’.

If you’re a solitary gamer, it’s a bit embarrassing when you find yourself yelling in a crowded room, ‘You call yourself and multi-celled organism?! EAT THE FOOD PARTICLE!’. This is probably why I didn’t dare play Sing Star or Rock Band there (besides the queue). I had played those games at friends’ houses, but I was shy about playing in front of people I didn’t know. Even my more outgoing companion refused to get up and play any of those games.

You feel like a bit of a fool flailing your arms at nothing, but it seems like the next logical step for games to make you get up and move around, ending the sedentary state they have always encouraged. Just remember that if you play Fruit Ninja for 40 minutes you will ache the next day.

Being able to play the handheld consoles that I would never own was a great experience. I also enjoyed the sculptures of character models and the preliminary artists’ sketches. Each game came with a brief synopsis and helpful written instructions, but it was difficult to really get to know a game that would take hours to complete.

The appeal of this exhibition would be to casual gamers because it’s hard to really experience a game when there are signs telling you that for the courtesy of others you should only play for five minutes. The point of the exhibition, it seems, is to put games in a creative and cultural context, as a constantly expanding and evolving medium for artists and designers.

A word of warning: despite the impressive upkeep of the consoles, there was miscellaneous goo on many of the touch screens.

Game Masters is open at ACMI until Sunday 28 October 2012.


There was a time when Chloe Brien wanted to be a fairy and work magic. Having given up on that dream, she instead wants to work magic with words. Her preferred incantations are fiction and poetry. She has been published in Verge, Voiceworks and elsewhere.

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