Q&A with Iain Simons

We speak to a principal lecturer at Nottingham Trent University who is also the director of the GameCity festival and co-director of the National Videogame Arcade

February 26, 2015

Source: Sam Kirby

The thing I remember most about university was being able to take risks, meet people, try things out, make connections between things. Having three years to practise is invaluable

Iain Simons is a principal lecturer in the College of Arts and Science at Nottingham Trent University. Since 2006, he has been director of GameCity, an annual video-game festival organised by NTU. In October, he was announced as co-director of the multimillion-pound National Videogame Arcade, the world’s first cultural centre for gaming.

Where and when were you born?
I was born in Dudley in 1974.

How has this shaped you?
Like many lower-middle class men from the Midlands, I grew up feeling like I didn’t really have any cultural heritage. As soon as I got into music as a teenager, this just started to make me deeply jealous of people from Liverpool or Manchester. I’ve since started to see it as a virtue though – blank pages can offer more potential.

This centre sounds like a young child’s dream, but what is the significance of the centre from an academic perspective?
Well, games aren’t just for young children – it’s actually the dream of a couple of adults in their early forties…From an academic perspective, it makes permanent lots of the ideas we’ve been playing around with in the festival. It’s not just a cultural tourism attraction – it’s a laboratory for public engagement. All of those things are easier to study and improve if you have a home. Video games deserve a home.

How do you define the academic field of video-game culture? What subject umbrellas does it rest under?
Game studies is out of its infancy now, having settled down as an annex of cultural/media studies and to some extent a part of computer science/design.

Is it a major field in the UK?
There are a few notable practitioners, particular the visionary work of James Newman [subject leader for film, media and creative computing at Bath Spa University]. I worked with him on the founding of the National Videogame Archive with the Science Museum and NTU. His work on supersession is helping to bring game studies into the public eye.

Where does the study of video games sit in global academia, and will this new centre help to raise its profile internationally?
We want to be a place that attracts academics to translate their work to the public. We have a long pedigree of bringing over developers from the international community that we’d like to extend to the academic sector, too. It’s all about impact.

What drew you to the subject?
For me, video games represent the perfect starting point to examine any number of areas. They’re a chaotic collection of different disciplines and ideas. It was more that video games led me into academia than the other way round.

What is the greatest video game ever made?
I know the answer, but I couldn’t possibly say.

Do you know of a game where academics play the central role?
Yes! The brilliant Half-Life series casts the player as research scientist Gordon Freeman. He’s dynamic, bespectacled, heroic and never, ever speaks.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
I’m not jealous of anyone, we’re genuinely having the time of our lives here making this place.

Have you had a eureka moment?
Sarah (my wife) claims I had one where I came home drunk one night with a really clear idea for what the GameCity festival was. I don’t recall this.

If you were a prospective student facing £9,000 tuition fees, would you go again?
I think I’d probably go. The thing I remember most about university was being able to take risks, meet people, try things out, make connections between things – I didn’t quite realise at the time how important that was. You get that in work of course too, but having three years to practise is invaluable.

What kind of undergraduate were you?
A nerdy, clumsy, awkward but creative Midlands boy.

What’s your most memorable moment at university?
A show I went to called Taboo by the theatre company Lumiere and Son and performance artist Trevor Stuart. It was like being electrocuted. I vividly remember leaving the theatre with a totally different conception of what performance could be. I got the same sense years later watching early Johnny Vegas shows at Just the Tonic, the Nottingham comedy club.

Nintendo 64 or Sony PlayStation?
Commodore 64!


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