Managing Director Peter Tscherne and Project Manager Benjaminn Rostalski of the Stiftung Digitale Spielekultur (or Foundation for Digital Games Culture) kicked off our visit to the first computer game museum on the planet, otherwise known as the Computerspielemuseum.
The two year-old Foundation is a joint initiative of the German federal government’s commissioner for culture and the media with the two associations of the computer games industry, the German Trade Association of Interactive Entertainment Software (BIU) and the German Games Industry Association (G.A.M.E.) It's largest initiative is the German Computer GameAwards or the “Deutscher Computerspielpreis” which the foundation took over when they were formed. However they do much more. According to Peter they want to...
- Advance both acceptance and relevance of games in society
- Initiate, support and encourage projects in highlighting different aspects of Gaming culture.
- Be a dedicated and enthusiastic yet critical promoter of gaming culture.
Both Peter and Benjaminn had just been to the 20th anniversary party of the USK, the German game ratings bureau much like our own ESRB. Unlike the ESRB, and like the foundation, the USK is a partnership between industry and government in Germany.
Benjaminn knows the USK well. Its game reviewers are students and he worked there while pursuing his studies. Benjamin tested GTA4 for 107 hours, almost his whole Christmas of 2000.
They both pointed to things that have been raising the profile of games in German society in addition to the annual prizes including
The foundation itself has done a variety of innovative things to tie video games closer to mainstream politics and culture in Germany. They have members of Parliment who are active in the Foundation's events and act as spokes people for games. They've even held two LAN parties in Parliment. Since the Deutscher Computerspielpreis is a joint public/private venture its also another opportunity to educate the politicians on games. It predates the Foundation as this was its sixth year. It was created in response to a media firestorm ignited by school shootings in 2003, 2007 and 2008 that were (surprise) blamed on video games.
They participate in Gamefest at the Computerspiellemuseum, with a competition called "Long Night of the retold games.” In this "spoken word/storytelling/poetry-slam" style event performers tell the audience about their favorite game or level. The audience votes on the best ones and the winners go to an annual, extremely high-profile literature festival with Nobel Laureate writers. Also at this festival they had gamers introduce famous writers to video games and had the authors on a panel presenting their literary critiques of the games.
They are also looking to build the "largest video game archive in the world." The plan is to combine, in some way, the USK's archive with the 20000 Computerspielemuseum's and that of the Digital Games Research Archive in Potsdam.
Other things the foundation does includes...
- Taking a booth at an annual youth fair to promote careers in the industry
- Attending conferences and running sessions at gamescom
- Creating a News Games hackathon in cologne.
- Running Gamescamp 2012, Bar Camp style event on games with media educators for youth ages 14-21
After the presentation the students got to ask a couple of questions. One, on the challenges of digital preservation, led to Peter, Benjaminn, Andreas, Jorg and myself all chiming in on various efforts and methods and we all learned from each other.
Another question was on the Foundation's take on Diversity in the industry. Peter said that the Foundation does not specifically address diversity as a goal but does talk about it as a component of the overall industry/player picture. Benjaminn said that he felt that the trolling/Anti Women culture of gamers seems to be much larger in in the US than in Europe.
Then Andreas led us through the Computerspielemuseum, which began as a semi-formal collection in 1997 and is up to over 50,000video games and related ephemera in their collection. The museum is broken down into three main sections; Roots/Homo ludens which is about games first and technology second, Milestones/history which covers the timelines of computing in general and the games industry in specific and a final section that breaks games down in to their artistic and cultural aspects. There's also a space foe rotating/temporary exhibits.
Andreas pointed out that exhibitions are a medium on their own. He said "Our subject is primarily on the screen, it much less a physical one. Much of it can be downloaded so we need to attract our visitors with unique experiences."
And they do a great job of it with a small arcade cabinet section (Germany didn't really have much of an arcade culture, like the US did) and showing a lot of indie games, art games and installations that are very cool, including everyone's favorite, the Pain Station :-)
I'd like to see The Strong National Museum of Play and ICHEG do more in these latter categories of the industry as well.