Photo by Keila MacPherson
There’s only one way to describe the Sadleir House Centre for Pixel Culture: “Dedicated to the preservation, collection, study, and appreciation of video games and related ephemera as important cultural texts.”
Alright, so that’s not the only way to describe it, but that’s what the Centre’s Facebook page says, and it does accurately describe the intentions.
Established three years ago, the Centre for Pixel Culture is the brain-child of Trent cultural studies graduates Dwayne Collins and James Kerr.
Collins has worked at Sadleir House since 2005, and is currently the Sadleir House steward. “My background is in library and information studies,” he said. “In particular I’ve always been interested in video game studies as well. Some of my course work in grad school revolved around video games.”
He described himself as “someone who’s concerned about information in video games, in particular coming up with a way of having a collection that people can access.”
Kerr, the program director at Trent Radio referred to himself as an “enthusiastic amateur,” saying that he is “approaching more from a video game street cred perspective.”
“James and I had always talked about wanting to come up with some sort of way […] for people to get together and actually play and talk about video games in a way that was more than just ‘oh those graphics are really neat,’” said Collins, explaining the intentions behind the Centre.
“We wanted a place to preserve the video games themselves as important cultural texts. We wanted a way to discuss video games in an academic or pseudo-academic way that would then enhance people’s enjoyment of the games,” added Kerr.
The two noted that the goal isn’t “just high-level discourse” but rather encouraging people “regardless of their academic experience or knowledge of the subject to be able to come and actually just share a serious interest.”
The sharing of serious interests takes place through what the duo call critical play seminars, which generally take place on the first Thursday of each month.
“Typically the sessions are divided up into lecture and play,” said Kerr. The first portion involves a discussion or presentation about a certain aspect of gaming, followed by a play session where attendees then have the opportunity to experience games, hopefully with a new level of insight.
“One thing I would stress is that I think some people worry that it’s going to be boring or it’s going to be a lot of talk or far too serious,” said Collins. “Really it is a pretty casual and genuinely I think people are just pretty keen to share their insights on video games and be able to talk about it with other people who are interested.”
“People can really geek out on these things too,” said Kerr, explaining that one of his critical play seminars on connections between Pokemon and totemic animism received great critical reception.
Other critical play seminars have been on gender roles in video games, repetition and narrative in video games and more.
Kerr and Collins encourage anyone who is interested in video games to attend the seminars, regardless of their experience with the medium.
They also encourage those interested in presenting a topic to coordinate with the Centre to do so. “People think you have to have this super academic paper, but we really are interested in all levels of discussion,” said Collins.
The next couple critical play seminars are scheduled for Thursday, December 11, and then Thursday, January 15 in the new year. The seminars will take place at Sadleir House beginning at 7pm. December’s topic is “Pixels in a Half-Shell: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Early Cross-Platform Media in Video Games.”
More information on upcoming events can be found on the Centre’s Facebook page, which is found by searching for Sadleir House Centre for Pixel Culture on Facebook.
In addition to running the critical play seminars, the Centre for Pixel Culture is now looking to establish a lending library as well.
When it first began, the Centre for Pixel Culture received donations from various individuals with extended video game collections. “Almost all of the Centre for Pixel Culture collection is on semi-permanent loan from private collections,” said Collins.
The quantity of donations was so high that it took two years to catalogue everything.
Currently, the collection contains systems such as an Atari 2600, a ColecoVision, A Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo and several other systems, along with more than 350 games.
Due to the nature of the acquisitions, the collection is mainly comprised of older generations of systems.
For those interested in the game inventory, a catalogue can be found through the Centre for Pixel Culture website, pixels.sadleirhouse.ca.
“The idea is that if you wanted to play one of the systems you could book time through the Centre of Pixel Culture,” said Collins. “We have been talking about putting in place a borrowing policy as well so you could actually sign out the games.”
He noted though that the systems will not be available to be borrowed due to the fragile nature of the older devices.
The borrowing policy is on track to be in place for January.