Image: Jennifer Redding

The Silicon Spa exhibition: displaying the ‘development’ of a community

With displays housing video game consoles that shaped my childhood, the progress of locally published titles, and stories of several developers’ love for the medium, the Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum currently houses something incredibly special.  

This is not only through the eyes of my personal love for gaming – but also as a member of a community which, I have learned, is as entangled with tightknit developer connections as it is gaining evermore worldwide reach. Opened to the public on 27 January and available to visit until 8 May, the featured exhibition at the Gallery and Museum tells several intertwining stories: the evolution of gaming on a wide scale, the first studios of Leamington Spa, and interviews with members of current development teams in the town and beyond. It’s an exhibition of the possibility within, and popularity of, telling stories through this interactive medium that so many have come to know and love, building on the personal passions both past and present of a community that is only growing. 

In the last edition of The Boar, the publication celebrated its 50th anniversary, and our Games section looked at the past 50 years of gaming – a somewhat grand scale upon which to view our history. It therefore seems that the ‘Silicon Spa: Video games in Leamington‘ exhibition is rather perfectly timed. Through it, we can look more closely at the thriving industry at work in a place densely populated by the very students that read The Boar and gain a more socially intimate understanding of what we are locally connected to. I headed up to the Pump Rooms to visit the exhibit on a bright, busy Sunday, moving among crowds of locals on a bustling weekend in the town in which I now live, and love. Students are often seen as merely passing through the areas surrounding the universities that they go to, but that’s both not necessarily true, and certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t grow fond of it. As the exhibition highlights in a section that asks “What’s next?” for the “the second largest” game development hub in the UK, there are many opportunities for students to learn how to become involved. This information is aptly placed by (and all but guides you around to) a children-focused area in which people can easily create their own image-based game, or play other games that visitors and staff have made. As much as it showcases the past, the Silicon Spa exhibition makes sure to highlight the individuals that can help to shape the industry’s future (and potentially includes you on the journey). 

What will the people of Leamington Spa do to shape the future of games?

The question of whether video games even ought to be considered art is a long-standing one, coming to the fore of the entertainment industry every so often as developers push increasingly against the boundaries of what is possible for storytelling. Nestled among a collection of impressive artworks and displays lovingly detailing the history of the Leamington Pump Rooms, you will need to make your way through the rest of the Gallery and Museum to find the Silicon Spa exhibition. But make no mistake in thinking that it is hidden away. In fact, the tone is set for the displays of video games quite wonderfully. I found in the exhibit a pink model of a Nintendo DS Lite that was the very same as my first ever console, the notes and drawings of local independent developer Adam Frost, and so much more. For this type of creativity to be presented with the same kind of reverent displays as other works of art and pieces of history that are more traditionally considered culturally relevant – it’s safe to say that this author (who has had many life-changing gaming experiences since her first pushes of those small, pink DS buttons) was immensely glad to see it. 

During the time that I spent in the Gallery and Museum, I watched people of all ages come in and out of the exhibit: pointing to the consoles on display, reading the information, or children trying their hand at combining technology with their imagination. But most of all, visitors would marvel at the map of Leamington’s developers. Greeting you from the wall opposite the entrance, one can see the locations of the 50 video game developers (at the time of writing) on a map of the area. Its key contains a list of names instantly recognisable, such as SEGA and Ubisoft, as well as those less so but in no way less pleasing to see – and if anything, more exciting to wonder what they’re up to. If you are to walk the streets of Leamington’s town centre, you will be passing right by many of these studios. It’s like being privy to a delightful open secret. Where previously such knowledge might have been for more niche enjoyment by gaming fans or well-known by followers of the tech industry, the exhibition has the Silicon Spa open itself up to be more widely enjoyed by those in the local community. To step into the room of the exhibition is to look up at a modern legacy – and how appreciative I feel to have, when applying to Warwick, unknowingly chosen to live among those who are building it. 

Choose to head down to the Leamington Spa Gallery and Museum and you will find among the aforementioned features some of the first games consoles, detailed information on the games industry as a whole as well as locally, and testimonies of what it is like to be involved in it. I watched these videos through, keen to hear from those who have experienced it first-hand and been so successful. But for me, the key takeaways were highlighted by Nick Harper of Lively Studio and Lucía Vázquez Vaquero of Ubisoft, respectively: when developing, they found that the “thing that drove us was the passion”, and that there’s a magic in how individual developers manage to “touch the lives of loads and loads of people”. After taking you through the journey of Leamington Spa’s games industry, the question of “What’s next?” posed by the exhibition is, for me, a vital one. Give it another 50 years, and what driven passion for games might be on display then? What histories will current and future generations look upon, and be so touched by? What will the people of Leamington Spa do to shape the future of games? I can’t wait to find out. 


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