Play a cat trying to please its human, uncover pickup artists’ dark arts or find out how being pregnant feels at Now Play This in London, designed to make us look at video games differently
Outside Somerset House this week, you might notice that two lampposts are blinking at each other. Unless you are fluent in Morse code, however, you probably won’t clock that they are performing Act II, Scene II of Romeo and Juliet. The installation by Geraint Edwards welcomes you to Now Play This, an experimental games festival, where you could also play a game about getting over a breakup by wielding a sword while riding a motorbike through a neon city, or listen to artist Laurence Young give a talk about getting his mother into the fantasy video game Elden Ring. Inside, attendees lounge around a digital fire, browsing books of love poetry.
Now Play This – now in its ninth year at Somerset House – can be relied upon to bring people together in unexpected ways. It has hosted everything from giant ball mazes to outdoor playground games and a game about chucking fascists out of your garden. But this year’s theme, love, has created an especially open, even intimate atmosphere. On a giant arcade cabinet in the largest exhibition room, you can play Breakup Squad, a game about keeping your friend away from their toxic ex at a party; outside, you can play Triangulate, a puzzle game where three players are given random instructions (“point at someone with one leg; rotate slowly; hold hands with a different person”) and have to negotiate how to use their bodies to find a solution that works for everyone.
Now Play This is at Somerset House, London, until 9 April