We Laughed, Cried And Danced To Video-Games

We Laughed, Cried And Danced To Video-Games

A blog from Andy Robertson, curator of InterACT … the digital gaming strand at this year’s festival …

This year was the first time Greenbelt (or any major Arts festival in the UK) handed over substantial space to place video-games at the heart of its programme.

This InterACT at Greenbelt was a risk, but from the very first session we had large numbers of adults, children and grandparents gather to play, meditate on and discuss video-games together.

After setting the scene in the first session, presenting video-games as a potentially meaningful experience where adults as well as children can enjoy meaning, narrative and possibly even spirituality, we moved into playing That Dragon, Cancer in two, hour-long sessions.

As the thunder and lightening raged outside the Little Big Top we entered a portion of the game where the family receive their diagnoses and flood waters symbolically rise on the screen. Sitting on the projector screen to stop it blowing over and with the lights flashing on and off, it was as if we’d planned this portion of the game for that exact moment.

As we played on and looked to invite more adults to take a turn playing the game with us it was apparent that many hadn’t come forward not because they were unsure how to play but because the story of the game had them in tears. It was a play-through I’ll never forget. Nor, I imagine, will those that were there. 

As you can see, Rev Nik Stevenson blogged his experience through the InterACT sessions. There a useful insight into what it was like, and his reflections on the experience. InterACT day one, day two, day three.

Ros Peters also movingly vlogged about the game for @TearFundLife afterwards. Discussing the appropriateness of mixing art and faith. What I loved about this was that the fact that it was a video-game at an arts festival never even came up. This was simply an encounter with art for her. 

By Sunday, the clouds had cleared over the festival and the sun was out. We completed the game before taking some time to contemplate what we’d just experienced (sadly, without a sunny conclusion to match the weather) before hearing from the game’s developer and father, Ryan Green.

In the evenings we enjoyed some light relief in the form of two games: Joust and Spaceteam, both played on The Lawn at dusk. Joust is a Greenbelt regular and quickly drew a crowd with its classical music, pulsating coloured controller lights and unusual gameplay (that doesn’t use a screen).

This year we ran a Joust competition with eight or so teams of three competing to be Greenbelt Joust champions. The final went down to the wire with just one player from each side battling to be crowned the winner. Team “Jafar Pancake” finally won the day and proudly held aloft their controllers in the dark.

That left Monday where we broadened the conversation to hear from industry experts and developers. We heard about video-games that helped people through their parent’s divorce, the comfort of video-game music, autobiographical games about the stages of life, and the game about being a single parent and even games’ potential for players to lose themselves. 

We even had a team challenge for who could complete the 10-second game Run Jesus Run. It sounds simple but is actually much harder than you expect. It took us a good 20 minutes to complete it perfectly with all 12 apostles.

At the end of each session we had a wide array of questions and comments ranging from enthusiasm to suspicion or concern. But through it all this was a new conversation about video-games as meaningful experiences.

Games have been keen to be seen as art for a long time, but rarely are they granted the space to prove it. In this way InterACT at Greenbelt was a mini revolution. One particular comment from Kate Botley stuck with me on the way home, so I asked her to expand on it for us.

“My 12 year old son is a passionate gamer, and, while some of the adults in his life might dismiss it as a waste of time, Arthur is immersed in the culture. He doesn’t find friendships easy and identifies as being on the autistic spectrum; gaming gives him ways to communicate with others without the face to face contact he finds tricky.

“At this year’s Greenbelt he (and us, his mum and Dad) were thrilled to see a gaming stream. Arthur went to every session. The first time he has actively gone to anything at Greenbelt, this is his 11th time at the festival.”

“He found his tribe, was given a space to speak and was heard, without judgment or prejudice, as an equal. In his life at school he often gets dismissed as weird and a good day is when he is ignored; a bad day can be much, much worse.”

“How important and significant it is to have him and his passion for gaming taken seriously is difficult to articulate. You helped to make this year’s festival for our family, and especially Arthur.”

If you missed the InterACT sessions at Greenbelt the talks are available from the Greenbelt website. You can contact me on Twitter (@GeekDadGamer) or email me at editor@geekdad.co.uk. I’ve also got a playlist of all the expert and industry contributions available here: