A big part of playing videogames is doing so collaboratively. We like to talk about and share our experiences. Before now, arcades were the place to go for this, where you could gather around arcade cabinets, watching your peers smashing high-scores and giving commentary as you wait for your chance to play. But now it’s mostly online, with livestreaming services letting thousands of people gather around a single game-playing session, all shouting into the chat.
Seizing on this kind of behavior—albeit hoping to foster more thoughtful discussion—and coming hot on the heels of film festivals like Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto, is the Milano Games Festival. It’s a new event that will stretch over five evenings in September, and aims to give people a space to play, appreciate, and discuss unique games with a like-minded crowd.
“We wanted to find a place for games that do not display well or otherwise fit in traditional game events,” said Pietro Righi Riva, one of the organizers of the festival “‘Arcade’-like settings are not suited to more immersive, longer-term games that require concentration. On top of that we wanted a space that provided an opportunity to share an experience and discuss it (like in a film festival) and for that to happen in games it was necessary that all participants play the same game.”
It’s not a new idea, but it’s a long way from the traditional methods that current events and venues often use to showcase games. A typical evening at the Milano games festival will start with guests having 30 minutes to sit down and play with the as-yet-unannounced game shorts that will be at the event. After that allotted time, there will be a brief presentation to introduce the main game of the evening and explain how to control the game and how it will play. Then the game will start across all 30 stations, each equipped with one controller and two sets of headphones, with each attendee free to bring a guest.
If attendees get stuck or have any questions, they can raise their hand and get assistance from the event staff. When they’ve finished the game, or after two hours, guests will head upstairs for a Q&A and drinks. There will be two sessions an evening, and for each evening there will be a different game. The five games this year are ABZÛ, Gorogoa, Night in the Woods, Future Unfolding, and The Town of Light. Righi Riva said the games were chosen to fit a specific format: easy to play, no previous “gaming” experience required, two to three hours in length, and with a heavy focus on narrative and/or exploration.
“[What’s exciting to me] is that it’s never been tried before,” Righi Riva said, “it has the potential to attract people that are not normally interested in games. Particularly, people that think that games cannot contribute to culture, or do not fit in their taste for culture.”
The Milano Game Festival will run as part of the XXI Triennale. Screenings run every night from 6-9 and 9-12 between 8-12 September at via Carlo Bo 7 in Milan. See the website for more details.