Children aged between eight and 14 developed two game concepts over a year-long initiative with Stand & Be Counted Theatre (SBC), the UK’s first theatre company of sanctuary, Sheffield’s National Videogame Museum and BIOME Collective.
‘Playing with Power’ charts the process of their innovative work, from drawing initial concepts, characters and missions on paper to designing video sequences and soundtracks online.
The exhibition launches at the videogame museum in Sheffield city centre next week (October 7).
Smart Banda, Digital Director at SBC, said the impact of the work on the refugees and asylum seekers who embraced it was profound.
“For many of the young people, it was life-changing," he said.
“The confidence and focus it brought out in them was incredible.
“The key was giving them access to a different world and facilitating a place where the kids can be their best selves. For the first time, they realised they could become a video game designer if they wanted to.
“It was also fascinating how quickly they picked things up.
“By the end of the project, they were teaching us!”
The children in the project are part of the charity’s Sheffield-based Youth Theatre of Sanctuary, the first of its kind in the UK.
It is a pioneering creative group that uses genuine co-creation - collaborating in a way that allows participants equality as artists as they lead every element of a project - to produce both live and digital arts productions.
The idea of creating video games originated from young people, as the group encourages children to create work based on what they love and dream big.
The first video game children made is called Horror Disco, in which the mission was to defeat monsters by out-dancing them.
Big Mac Impact Apocalypse featured burger-eating zombies, flying cutlery and the challenge of defending your friends.
Both games were team-based and in stark contrast to many popular solo-player video games on the market.
Rosie MacPherson, artistic director and joint CEO at campaign-led SBC, said: “It is interesting that the games young people came up with are so different from Call of Duty and other war-based games.
“That was a conversation we had at the start, that there is too much glorification of war in video games.
“When you work with people whose families have escaped war, what do they want from a video game?
“They wanted more dancing, more burgers and more joy.”
One of the young people who worked on the project was Dilbreen, aged 13.
The budding game designer embraced coming up with characters for the games.
He said: “It was exciting and working with people was the best part.
“When I joined the theatre group, I did not think we’d be able to make games with a video game company so it was a surprise, but a good surprise.
“It’s very fun to come here and see all the things that I could do.”
Stand & Be Counted Theatre uses the arts as a catalyst for activism.
Its team also worked with experts at Glasgow creative studio BIOME Collective on the video game project to teach the group about game development and the National Videogame Museum.
‘Playing with Power’ is a project commissioned by the National Videogame Museum, working with resident artists BIOME Collective, and Stand & Be Counted Theatre.
The project has been funded by the Museums Association through a grant from their Digital Innovation and Engagement Fund, supported by URKI (UK Research and Innovation) and the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council.)
Stacey Jubb, project manager of Playing with Power at the museum, said: "This project has been an example of collaboration at its best.
“All three organisations have demonstrated the utmost respect and appreciation of industry knowledge and skills, resulting in great synergy, passion and enthusiasm.
“It has been an empowering student-led approach showcasing their ideas, artwork and stories through the development of video games.
“All of the students were eager to share their stories with our community through a museum exhibit and are keen to explore future cultural opportunities for theatre and video game collaboration.”
The exhibition will be on show from Saturday, October 7 in the National Videogame Museum, at Castle House on Angel Street, until January 2024.