House of Games – promotes the international games network in Nuremberg

Written by Peter Budig

Nuremberg has got what it takes to play! This two-edged motto is given even more meaning through the planned development of the "Pellerhaus" into a "House of Games". The German Games Archive Nuremberg that is currently housed there will now be expanded into a globally active "network hub" with many different connecting threads. The new centre is already an important component of the N2025 bid by Nuremberg to become the European Capital of Culture – but the plans will go ahead regardless of the bid’s success. The House of Games will become a place for analogue and digital games, a research centre for games of the future, and a games centre, all at the same time. A permanent venue with international appeal for games professionals (people who, within the widest possible meaning, are involved in games professionally) and for games enthusiasts.

Games are a unique selling point for Nuremberg

The importance of games for the city of Nuremberg is reflected in its history, its present and in many of its plans for the future. "Toys are Nuremberg. Playing is universal", sums up Dr Karin Falkenberg, Director of the Nuremberg Toy Museum. Nuremberg was always a centre for toy production from the late Middle Ages to the present day and, with the Spielwarenmesse®, it is home to the most important trade fair of its kind in the world. The city has the famous Toy Museum and the well-stocked German Games Archive Nuremberg. There is a lively board games scene here made up of passionate gamers that has been growing for years. At the forefront of this is the Ali Baba Spieleclub e.V., which also holds its events in the Pellerhaus.

The Games Archive has grown into an analogue-digital games centre through the new "test games" format. Axel Kaldenhoven, CEO of the Berlin-based games publisher Schmidt Spiele and Chairman of the supervisory board of Spielwarenmesse eG, which has supported the House of Games from the outset, says: "As a cross-generational place for communication and play, the House of Games will provide an important stimulus for Nuremberg and for the surrounding area."

Games – Nuremberg's trump card to become European Capital of Culture 2025

The jury for the European Capital of Culture bid made a note of how valuable an asset the topic is to Nuremberg after the city made it through the first round of eliminations in December 2019. Ulrich Maly referred to this encouragement in what was to be his last opening ceremony for the Spielwarenmesse® in his capacity as mayor (because not standing for re-election in 2020), reading the quote: "… another European topic is gaming and playfulness, toys. The intention is to invest in a European Capital of games and toys, based on the city’s heritage in toy industry." Vienna-based futurologist and designer Johanna Pichlbauer, consultant and curator for the N2025 bid, gives her own perspective looking forward: "We are starting the Toys of Tomorrow project.

In a manner of speaking, we want to bring toys from our imagined future back to the present." For the application round in August, when the next hurdle for the N2025 bid comes around, "play" could have a decisive influence. "Play breaks up the daily routine. It brings people together. It triggers creative processes that start logically and end empathetically," lists Pichlbauer, before immediately pointing out another aspect: a research project.

House of Games creates new research context for games

It is called "EMPAMOS” and it draws on insights from games formats to improve motivation processes for the future of work too. These processes, known as "gamification", which "aim to bring game-like elements into contexts far-removed from play" are the research focus of the economic computer scientist Prof. Dr Thomas Voit (author of the article "How game elements prepare us for the future of work". Such research also finds a place and form in the new House of Games. "For a more effective gamification, we first of all need to build up a deeper understanding of the spectrum of different types and combinations of game elements", explains Professor Voit about the EMPAMOS research project that the Nuremberg Institute of Technology has been carrying out together with the German Game Archive since the end of 2016.

Cultural meeting place for games enthusiasts

The redevelopment of the House of Games is – and Mayor Maly leaves no doubt about this – "secure in any event, regardless of the success of the Capital of Culture bid." It is planned to inaugurate the building in 2025. The project has already been announced on the Nuremberg Municipal Museums website. "The House of Games will become the new cultural and meeting place in the northern heart of Nuremberg’s old town. Through the universal language of play, the Pellerhaus will be brought back to life for residents and visiting games enthusiasts. The concept of the House will include both the analogue and digital world of game, both the entertaining and the educational and serious sides of play."

Ernst Kick, CEO of Spielwarenmesse eG and member of the advisory board of the Games Archive, also believes it is important that games are no longer dismissed as childish pursuits. "Plato, Schiller, Nietzsche and other liberal thinkers gave great recognition to games in the past. At the moment, we are on the verge of society changing its views and discovering the significance of games in different contexts. This opens up to the House of Games new spaces for collaboration and networking with all those who have recognised the value of playing games and are involved in it either professionally or simply as enthusiasts."

Seeing and connecting the world of play in all its facets

Network hub, game worlds, analogue and digital, people and culture – where will it lead? Ulrich Maly, who has always seen the cultural dimension of games as the most important part, is looking forward to the revival of the House. "We’re letting homo ludens move in upstairs," as he formulates it. As long ago as 2010, with the acquisition of the German Games Archive from Dr Bernward Thole from Marburg, the requirement of the sponsor – the Spielwarenmesse – was that the Games Archive would become a public games centre. In geographical union with the Ali Baba Games Club in the Pellerhaus, gaming in Nuremberg has experienced an incredible increase in popularity within only a few years. In the future, it is intended to broaden the offering dealing with the culture of play by various aspects.

Ernst Kick, who himself is creating a global network through the Spielwarenmesse, views the games centre as an incubator. "What belongs together will grow together in the House of Games: playing in all its dimensions. This multi-faceted meeting place has the potential to create trend-setting impulses for the future of games and the toys of tomorrow. Game authors, designers, researchers and the games and toy industry have much to learn from each other and will be able to develop more quickly by doing so."

Dr Gabriele Moritz, Deputy Director of Nuremberg’s Municipal Museums, has described the wealth of possible options in a conceptual document extending to almost 20 pages. The holder of a doctorate in history casts her eye to a distant future: "We are working at the interface between analogue and digital games. We don't want a segregation. We will portray gaming in its entirety: regional, divided up locally, international, sociological, philosophical, artistic..."

Games connect people far beyond the boundaries of language and age

That may sound somewhat highbrow – but the intellectual accompaniment is only part of the concept, according to Moritz. "Over the last two years, we have been organising so-called test games in the Pellerhaus. We try out themes, projects and formats in order to get people enthused and test out what works well. Role-playing, board games evenings, new formats like 'Bits and Boards', also to start getting people on board and involved now during the planning period. Besides this, we also draw inspiration for the redevelopment from these practical experiences." One thing is clear: it’s about everything.

"Everything is in motion – we were pioneers in the N2025 Europe bid with diversity, participation and inclusion beyond the boundaries of language and age. Popular culture side by side with high culture – that is a unique selling point", says Moritz enthusiastically. And she is also taking urban development into account: "We have a super building here, in the heart of the city: a place with a lot of potential."

A gigantic playing field for new games formats emerging

Countless contributors are fighting alongside Moritz for this vision of the future. One of them is the culture and media scientist Sebastian Pfaller from the House of Games project team. He is already dreaming about how the total of 6,000 square metres that the building offers can be put to use. Some rooms resemble low-level, giant garage halls – ideal for the Games Archive, the storage of 30,000 board games from 1945 to the present. Another hall which, with its high ceilings and windows on the sixth floor opens out onto a view over the rooftops of Nuremberg’s old town, is to be gutted completely. "We are planning a huge projection surface on the wall, where it is intended that interactive, playful digital installations will find a home – a giant playing field, for role-plays, interactive games formats...", gushes Pfaller. Reinforcing his optimism with facts, he continues, "We had 21,000 visitors last year – in a building with no official opening times, no events infrastructure. Before the series of test games, it was 3,000."

Test of courage for big ideas

In the last few weeks, the restrictions caused by the coronavirus have paralysed public life and also the games events in the Pellerhaus. At short notice, a digital kids holiday programme was brought into being for the Easter holiday. Similarly when construction begins, the intention is not for gaming to come to a standstill – quite the opposite. The idea is to take it out into the city, the Toy Museum, the neighbourhood cultural spaces – into the world. As Johanna Pichlbauer extracts from the jury notes, the job of the Capital of Culture 2025 is "to make a difference to people in a sustainable way. To create strong memories." In Nuremberg, like so many non-residents, she identified "a tendency to be overly modest". She predicts that "N2025 could be a test of courage: a test of courage for big ideas. Playing has the ability not only to replicate the big world on a small scale. Playing can carry a whole community."

About the Author:

Peter Budig studied Protestant theology, history and political science. He worked as a freelance journalist, headed up the editorial department of a large advertising paper in Nuremberg for ten years and was the editor of Nuremberg’s Abendzeitung newspaper. He has been freelancing again since 2014 as a journalist, book author and copywriter. Storytelling is absolutely his favourite form.

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