The shutdown imperiled the museum’s future and its precarious financial situation. Like any bricks-and-mortar business, the NVM depends heavily on visitors to stay in the black. But for museums, there’s also the matter of being recognised as a significant cultural service in order to receive further support. In many ways, established institutions like the V&A, the British Museum, the Barbican, or even the Design Museum don’t need to spell out exactly why a public lockdown is a threat to their existence – it is generally accepted that these places are vital pillars of the UK’s history and cultural identity.
On the other hand, the National Videogame Museum is young – its first incarnation, the National Videogame Arcade, was only established in 2015; it was the self-described “world’s first cultural center” committed to video games. The NVM is also dedicated to an artform still grappling with its own identity – are games art as we understand it, or something entirely different?
For starters, in the museum world, things are a little more challenging when you’re still ironing out the bureaucratic details to access crucial arts funding. Simons reports that the NVM’s governing charity, the British Games Institute, had just received its first annual account just 24 hours before speaking to us.
“There’s a kind of ‘legacy’ thing that the funders often need,” he says. “But the biggest challenge that we’ve had has been that we’re on the pathway to accreditation. So, that means we’re a museum that is just over the first hurdle of the process to become an accredited museum, which is a kind of arts council quality mark that allows you, then, to access funding specifically for museum activities.”
And so began the NVM’s quest to save itself on JustGiving, asking for a modest £80,000 to keep the lights on in the face of permanent closure. The NVM’s campaign, an earnest plea to help the UK’s only museum for video games, ended up raising a whopping 251% of the original target: £201,156.
The funds, it explained, would be to push its educational programming online for the benefit of disadvantaged children, as well as to continue its work and preserve its current collections of games, consoles, and other gaming ephemera. This is, after all, the ‘new normal’ – a post-coronavirus world where physical interaction and touch can’t be taken for granted, and where the arts are bound to suffer as public health and economic priorities take over.
“We didn’t know what to expect when we started the fundraising campaign at all,” Simons says. “The response was completely positive as far as I’m aware, everyone was incredibly quick to rally.”
Industry heavyweights like Sumo and Rocksteady stepped up to contribute. But it was the regular patrons’ contributions that showed the NVM just how valuable their presence was in the community.
“That was really encouraging and quite moving to be honest, that people cared about this thing that you made, to the extent that they want to keep it alive [in a pandemic],” says Simons.