‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ at Napa Valley Museum

June 30, 2016
Napa Valley Register

New Technology High School

Napa Valley Museum invites visitors to a modern-day “Alice in Wonderland” adventure this summer.

“Down the Rabbit Hole: Innovative Independent Video Games,” a new, interactive exhibition at the museum, invites visitors into the world of independently produced video games that are about more than just “play.”

The exhibit kicks off with a daylong celebration on Friday, July 15, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with kid-friendly refreshments and a day full of exploration and learning. The show, which will be on view Wednesdays through Sundays from July 15 to Jan. 8, includes interviews with developers, developmental artwork and video, and fully playable versions of 10 games.

Keeping with the themes of innovation and challenging established thinking, the museum employed a novel approach to the overall design of the exhibit. Forty-five students from Napa’s New Technology High School worked alongside museum staff in a semester-long, project-based learning effort to develop core exhibit content.

Teacher Lisa Gottfried’s “Game Design and Visual Effects” classes played a significant role in the exhibition’s development, which includes student-developed learning stations where visitors explore 3-D modeling, the importance of music in video games, and game mechanics.

Co-creating a museum exhibition was a challenge that enabled New Tech students to learn life skills, build their résumés and explore potential job paths in the field of digital art. Gottfried said, “This has been the most successful collaborative project that we’ve done with the community yet. The match seems to have been made in heaven as the students are extremely invested in the outcome. I hope that all our future projects go as well as this one.”

The gaming stations feature both well-known and fringe indie games including “Braid,” “Lumino City,” “Antichamber,” “Gravity Ghost” and “Passage.” Visitors will learn about the innovative approaches indie developers take to crafting games that challenge narrative tropes, upend traditional game mechanics and question the limits of the definition of a game.

Empathy is explored within narrative games like “That Dragon,” “Cancer” and “Coming Out Simulator,” and the worlds of “Mountain” and “Hohokum” are discovered without worrying about fighting off enemies.

A full schedule of public programs includes retro gaming marathons, family fun days, character development workshops for budding game-designers, and free movie nights.

An exhibit that explores the art and design of digital media is new ground for the venerable art and history museum. When asked, “Why an exhibit about video games?” curator Meagan Doud explained, “Our goal with this exhibition is to elevate the under-appreciated artistry and creativity of independent game developers, support the genre’s development, provoke audiences to reconsider the merits of gaming, relate with the vast numbers of people who game, and reveal an unexpected world of possibility for visitors.”

Video game designers are, at their cores, artists, she noted — talented, tech-savvy artists who share their creative vision through the power of computer programming. The independent gaming movement is avant-garde and outside the mainstream. “Driven by small teams of talented developers, the games are conceptual, innovative, experimental and emotionally engaging. Their games offer a journey of discovery, possibility and adventure. The rules of gravity, linear time and logic are questioned, bent and broken, allowing the player to remove themselves from the anticipation and predictability of daily life and acquire a new frame of reference and a new perspective.”

The Napa Valley Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 55 Presidents Circle, Yountville. Admission is $7 for adults, $3.50 for seniors and $2.50 for youth.

Admission is free for Yountville Veterans Home residents and active military.

For the latest information on upcoming events, programs and other exhibits, visit the museum’s website at NapaValleyMuseum.org.