Orange T-shirts, culture and Pac-Man: What it’s like volunteering for London Games Festival

During London Games Festival, we asked members of the public to volunteer and help us out with our slate of events. This year, one such volunteer was Sam Dudley, who has kindly written a bit about his experience assisting the 2017 London Games Festival.

As a life-long appreciator-turned-musical contributor to the world of video games, the announcement early last year of the return of London Games Festival meant I spent the first two weeks of April 2016 with a constant digital buzz.

Video games were stealing the cultural limelight in the capital! London was putting games on the map, quite literally, with the brilliant Monopoly board of UK games history at Trafalgar Square. I remember being there on the last day and noticing volunteers chatting enthusiastically with curious and confused members of the public. I had to get involved. So this year I returned to London Games Festival as a volunteer ready to give a little back to an industry that’s given me a lot of joy.

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Being a member of the volunteer team was interesting and full of surprises from the get-go. Our first meet up at the headquarters of Moshi Monster makers Mind Candy had barely finished before someone was trying on an enormous Moshi Monster costume and we had to evacuate the building because of a fire alarm. Team leaders take note: these are both great ice breakers.

This set the tone for the next ten days, during which I got to know a diverse team of people – some involved in the industry; others students – all of whom were passionate about games and – most importantly – all willing to sacrifice their dignity and dress up as Pac-Man (we’ll get back to that later).

For the most part, we showed up to the events clothed in very stylish bright orange T-shirts to dish out programs, helpful information and microphones during the conference Q&A segments.

You couldn’t ask for a more efficient bunch of Day-Glo super-ambassadors.

Once things were underway it was a case of taking a seat and enjoying the show. We pondered how games could reach out into wider society during the Culture Summit, we (politely) interrogated a suspicious AI with Westworld’s Talulah Riley at the AI Summit, and during a day of talks on Mixed Reality we oooo’d and aaaah’d over Cooperative Innovation’s ‘Raiders of Erda’ multiplayer VR demo, following some sage wisdom on AR and VR sectors from John Hanke, the CEO of Pokémon Go studio Niantic.

However, as a composer it will come as no surprise that one of the Festival’s high points for me was the very special live play-through and score performance of Dear Esther. As volunteers, we were given comp tickets (perk #107) and with my ambassadorial hat on, I invited my games-as-art-skeptic dad, who actually ended up not hating it and almost definitely had a ‘passable time’ – a significant victory.

Still, what I’ll probably remember most from this year’s London Games Festival is that awesomely hot Saturday at Paternoster Square where cosplayers assembled in colourful crowds for the Games Character Parade. Oh, and I got to hold Pac-Man’s hand. This might sound like an easy job, but when Pac-Man’s main source of inflation is an in-suit fan that sounds like an industrial sized hair dryer, and you need to communicate very clearly so he doesn’t accidentally bulldoze small children, things suddenly become challenging.

That’s on top of making sure he’s not being chased by those damn ghosts.

But in the end, it all worked out. Pac-Man and his Moshi companions were a hit, as was the cosplay catwalk, hosted by drag queen game developer Kitty Powers. And you couldn’t help but smile watching kid’s beaming faces as they got to take snaps with their video game heroes.

The atmosphere that afternoon really summed up this year’s London Games Festival for me. As everyone who had dressed up gathered for possibly the most imaginative group photo ever taken on the steps of St Paul’s, it reminded me of the strength of community we have in the UK games industry. And from the crowds of people who turned up to see the show it looks like the community is growing all the time.

No doubt this community will only grow in time as future London Games Festivals continue to show off just how exciting and creative this industry really is.

Note: Thanks to everyone who made London Games Festival 2017 possible and a shout out to Tracey McGarrigan who was always looking after us, liaising with the speakers and generally keeping everything going sans catastrophe.

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