The three-day games festival Now Play This returns to Somerset House for its fifth edition this April, as part of the city-wide London Games Festival, supported by Games London, with a host of hands-on gameplay for all ages.
The popular weekender runs from 6–8 April 2018 at Somerset House and brings the best of experimental game design from around the globe, from the 1990s to the present day. From screens to tabletops, solo to multiplayer, simple to complex, players can experience dozens of diverse games – many of which premiere at Now Play This – across multiple dedicated spaces. This year’s focus is on the idea of place, demonstrating how games and play help us understand the world around us in new and creative ways. Through varied, purposeful play, festival goers can explore different countries and cultures, and critical issues specific to these places ranging from international borders to identity.
Opportunities for players to create their own games and contribute towards the making of others will be plentiful, with interactive, participatory installations, and even the communal creation of a ‘flatgame’ all about Now Play This.
As well as hands-on opportunities to play and take part in drop-in workshops throughout the festival, specific games give direct insight into the patterns, processes and particularities of game making. Additionally, visitors with a Weekend Pass receive special access to The Makers’ Corner. This space gives access to extra games and delves even deeper into the process of making games through a series of workshops, archive interview footage, and activities such as building custom controllers, trying out prototype board games, and even designing an escape room. The space allows for game industry networking, access to a library of ‘zines’ and books, and opportunities to have in-depth discussion with many of the designers and makers taking part in the festival.
Also at Somerset House:
Werkflow: Sovereign coincides with Now Play This and continues throughout April. Somerset House Studios residents Werkflow will exhibit a free playable demo of new video game Sovereign in the New Wing. Players inhabit the body of a boy in his mid-teens, living between two worlds – a wartorn ‘game world’ and a real-life suburban landscape linked to his inner imagination. Created in collaboration with young people at Somerset House, Sovereign explores the power dynamics of British culture, as teenagers attempt to navigate questions about their position of assumed sovereignty and state of mind.
• The Loss Levels, by BAFTA-winning artist and creative technologist Dan Hett, premieres at Now Play This. The game draws on Hett’s experiences after his brother Martyn was killed in the Manchester Arena bombing last May. Players must complete a series of short tasks with a controller, which relate to the situations that arose in the aftermath.
• Roadmap to Peace by Yara El-Sherbini (whose game Operation Brexit at last year’s Now Play This was the most shared on social media across 2017’s London Games Festival) can be played for the first time at Now Play This and features two roads of Scalextric that run parallel and intersect, accurately depicting roads in Israel and Palestine.
• Visitors can contribute towards a Flatgame all about Now Play This; the public are invited to hand draw their own designs, which will become digitised and incorporated by professional designers into this special game over the course of the weekend. Other Flatgames also feature, including Overground by Rosa Carbo-Mascarell, one of the creators of CorbynRun. The game is based on sketches she made of people on her daily two-hour commute from East to West London, so festival goers may even be able to spot themselves in the game.
• Kevan Davis has created a special version of his Wikipedia: The Text Adventure for Now Play This. The game draws live from Wikipedia and invites participants to embark on a journey in the style of a traditional text adventure, asking to “go north”, for example. Players start at London landmarks and can explore at will, or try to find Somerset House, encountering unexpected corners of the city. Players embark on their journey, unbound by time, discovering past, present and future places and spaces across the world.
• Videogamo’s Dobotone gets four players to compete at a seemingly traditional console game, while a fifth person takes on the role of the powerful ‘Game Remixer’ on a control box with switches and dials. The ‘Game Remixer’ alters the rules of play in real time, from speed and threats, to the shape of the digital space, and the players’ aim.
• v r 3, created by Pippin Bar, is a museum of digital designs of water, showcasing different types of water that games designers can buy and use in their own games. Each type is exhibited in a small plinth with its creator, date and price, inviting players to ponder the innumerable tiny choices that make up a finished game.
• Ruohong Wu’s Chinese Games takes Ping Pong and Tai Chi and transforms them into intricate, reinterpreted diagrams, each one highlighting a different aspect and allowing visitors to consider the different ways of looking at the experience of play.
Two outdoors games take place on site for 2018, open to all visitors of Somerset House. Staged on the River Terrace, and produced especially for Now Play This, the first is Musical Trip by Sabrina Shirazi. Textured paths are laid on the ground, and as players roll suitcases over them, different sounds emerge based on the number of participants, their speed, direction, and even the contents of the suitcase.
The second game, a new work by David Helbich also takes players on a musical journey. Visitors randomly select different cards in the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court where a number of musicians are playing in different locations. Cards instruct players to listen from a particular point or even join in using instruments and objects in the space. Equally the cards can instruct the musicians to, for example, speed up their playing, or follow the player for a brief period. This enables players to transform the performance through their participation.
Dates: 6 – 8 April 2018
Opening Hours: Friday 6 April: 11.00-20.00; Saturday 7 + Sunday 8 April: 10.00-18.00; times of outdoor games vary
Address: Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA
Admission: £8/£6.50 concession/£35 Weekend Pass
Visit somersethouse.org.uk for tickets