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National Video Game Museum
The National Videogame Museum is new as museums go, having opened in Sheffield in 2018. In our first year, we welcomed 40,000 visitors, school groups and families, drawn to the museum by enthusiastic young people (and even more enthusiastic grown-ups).
We are highly interactive, our galleries are full of controllers, joysticks and buttons, and we encourage our visitors to ‘play the museum’. For the safety of our visitors and staff, we closed prior to the national lockdown in the middle of March. Whilst we couldn’t anticipate the duration of the lockdown, we knew temporary closure would cause huge financial difficulties. We became one of the first museums to launch a crowdfunding campaign, which thankfully gained huge support from our audiences and games industry.
To support the campaign, it was important to somehow continue our learning and engagement offers. A large section of our audience are families, and early in the lockdown there was confusion and concern about how parents could both educate and keep their kids entertained. Our first response to this was quite simple – we shared a list of (good) educational games. Slightly unexpectedly, this content was hugely well received – audiences in our local communities engaged with it, added to it and soon the list had been shared worldwide.
After recognising the desire for similar content, we launched the NVM At Home project. We didn’t want to add to the flood of printable materials (knowing many families do not have a printer). Instead, we worked to develop and run a series of weekly livestreams on YouTube, which would support the digital resources we released. This was a huge challenge, we’re a small team which became even smaller as furlough began. It was doable in part due to luck, our Learning Officer already had access to the streaming-capable PC she needed at home.
Our guiding principle for these resources was to bring a feeling of community to those that might have felt isolated. We understood from responses on social media that many young people were missing time with their teachers, so we wanted to create a safe social space with a familiar face each week to learn something new, ask questions and bring those engaging with the resources together. It was a highlight of the last few months to be shortlisted for a Kids in Museums award for this content (which the museum subsequently won) and to see young people (and their grown-ups) make videogames at home.
During this time the museum continued to engage with creative communities in Sheffield that were adapting in brilliant and constructive ways. One example included creating activities for the Bags of Creativity initiative run in the city by IVE and Create Sheffield, supported by Sheffield City Council. This provided 2,000+ young people with activities designed by Sheffield organisations and freelancers, and all the materials they would need to take part.
While working on reopening plans, we wanted to continue the digital learning and engagement started at the beginning of lockdown with NVM at Home. To do so, we started a virtual Saturday club, called Pixelheads, running throughout the summer, with livestreamed sessions on YouTube. Pixelheads is the museum’s community for young people who want to learn about, talk about and create videogames. It’s taken various forms over time, but through these sessions we wanted to engage young people’s enthusiasm for games; exploring this subject in new and creative ways. Our Pixelheads livestreams shared the aims of the NVM at Home content but with an increased focus on building a regular, safe online community. Our audiences explored common interests and shared ideas, at a time when many people have missed their classmates and community groups. As one family stated, they took part so their ‘children could learn and engage with other young people during lockdown’.
Videogames have been an important part of life for many during lockdown, providing a fun escape, valuable social time with friends and family, and engaging learning opportunities for all ages. While we have always championed the inspirational and educational value of videogames at the museum, it has still been incredible to see the positive impact and responses during this strange time.