Level & Games of the Exhibition

»zkm_gameplay. the next level« invites you – reading and playing – to gain insights into the history and present of computer games.

Video games are one of the most important entertainment media and one of the most interesting art forms of our time. Soon 50 years will have passed since the introduction of the first video game console and much has changed. This can be seen in its use: the computer game has become a phenomenon of mass culture. Over 40 percent of all Germans play regularly or occasionally. But there has also been a change in the design of games: For years, the medium has attracted numerous talented artists who develop unusual, aesthetically sophisticated games. By combining traditional art forms – graphics, film, animation, music, sculpture, and literature – computer games offer artists an unprecedented opportunity to communicate with the audience and inspire them.

Here you will find an overview and a selection of the presented artworks:

level 1: retro

The history of computer games goes back to the middle of the twentieth century. The first experimental computer games were created in the 1950s by academics at various universities and research institutions in the USA. At the beginning of the 1970s, commercialization of the medium began: Amusement arcades with slot machines where you had to insert a coin before each game, became popular meeting places, especially in the USA. In Germany, arcade machines were also installed in many pubs and supermarkets. At this time, video game consoles also appeared on the market which allowed video games to be played in the home. In the 1980s, an entire generation discovered the world of computer games. Home computers came on the market which were affordable for average households, as well as small, portable game consoles, such as the Game Boy (1989), which thrilled gamers all over the world. Today, historic games, such as »Pong« (1972), »Pac-Man« (1980), »Super Mario Bros.« (1983), and »Tetris« (1989), are part of our visual culture.

The development of game consoles since 1972

The »retrospective« section shows the technical development of game consoles since 1972.

Atari / Lyle Rains / Ed Logg – 1979

At the end of the 1970s, »Asteroids« (1979) was one of the most successful computer games. It was the beginning of the golden era of arcade machines.

Namco, LTD., Tōru Iwatani – 1980

Experience the most famous game in video game history on an original arcade machine. It is one of the oldest preserved »Pac-Man« arcades in the world!

VEB Halbleiterwerk Frankfurt (Oder) – 1980–1984

»Bildschirmspiel 01 (BSS 01)« was the only game console manufactured in the former GDR.

Nintendo / Shigeru Miyamoto – 1982

When »Donkey Kong« appeared in 1981, the game took arcades by storm and established Nintendo as a leading computer game company.

VEB Polytechnik Karl-Marx-Stadt – 1986

»Poly-Play« was the only game console manufactured in the former GDR.

Frank den Oudsten, Friedemann Schindler – 1996

The »Ahnengalerie« tells the story of computer games with the aid of six game consoles and home computers.

Jakks Pacific – 2002

The »Atari TV Plug & Play« presents ten milestones of the historic game console Atari VCS/2600.

Poelen – 2015

»Pacapong« is a mashup of the arcade classics »Pong«, »Space Invaders«, »Donkey Kong« and »Pac Man«.

Peter Schönwandt – 2020

The work »Blue Guy« by Peter Schönwandt consists of 4,339 keyboard keys and depicts the computer game character Inky - one of the four ghosts from the famous computer game »Pac-Man«.

level 2: modern narratives

Whether literature, film, or radio play – well told stories take us into fascinating worlds that make us forget everyday life. Today, computer games are a narrative medium that combines techniques from literature, film, and acoustic art. To begin with, the story was told mainly using texts. Over the years, however, the game developers also oriented their approach on cinema films. Simple, preproduced video clips and voice recordings were added to the games. Today, the characters and their environment react to the players’ decisions. They can immerse themselves in the world of the game and are no longer merely readers, viewers, or listeners, but active storytellers.

Bill Viola, USC Game Innovation Lab – 2007–2018

»The Night Journey« is one of the first experimental art games. It was created as a joint project between the video artist Bill Viola and the Game Innovation Lab of the University of South California.

Feng Mengbo – 2008

»Long March: Restart« is a sarcastic allusion to the Long March of the Red Army under Mao Zedong in 1934/35.

Davey Wreden, Galactic Cafe – 2011 / 2013

Stanley wakes up in his office. All co-workers vanished and a male narrator describes his future actions.

Thatgamecompany, Jenova Chen – 2012

On the way to the top of a mountain, the players travel in »Journey« through a desert and along artifacts of a lost and long vanished culture.

Andy Kelly – 2013–2018

The video series »Other Places« focuses on the architecture, the design and the inner life of several game worlds in the absence of the player.

Jerry Bellich – 2014

The »Choosatron« follows the tradition of gamebooks, as well as the video game genre of text adventures.

Campo Santo – 2016

Henry, the protagonist of »Firewatch«, throws himself into an adventure of mystery, loneliness and escapism in a US national park.



David O'Reilly – 2017

»Everything« is a philosophical journey that gives players the opportunity to see and connect the universe from very different perspectives.

The Space Backyard – 2017

The interactive short story »Like Roots in the Soil« uses two parallel story lines, which can be discovered by the players.

Giant Sparrow, Ian Dallas – 2017

The family tragedy in »What Remains of Edith Finch« is told through a variety of impressive interaction techniques.

level 3: creative & aesthetic games

Over the years, many conventions have been established in the game world, which are varied slightly over and over again. However, there are a number of small, independent companies – so-called indie studios – that develop new approaches with spectacular graphics and new game mechanics. The works presented here show how unusual ideas expand the possibilities of the medium, for example, by connecting virtual and physical space or by using novel interfaces.

Wolfgang Münch, Kiyoshi Furukawa – 2000

With their shadows, the players can explode soap bubbles and create soft sounds.

Susigames – 2003–2012

In the arcade version of »EdgeBomber« players can play their created levels again.

Susigames – 2006

In this platform game, the players create their own levels with tape on a wall.

Adam Saltsman – 2009

»Canabalt« is the first endless runner game. Chased by an invisible menace, the character continuously runs and jumps over the roofs of a city.

Valve – 2011

Protagonist Chell wakes up in a destroyed experimental laboratory and has to solve spatial, physical and skill puzzles with two portals.


With virtual toy cars, up to four players can drive on a carpet with real toys.

Mario von Rickenbach – 2012

Up to five players control the thrusters of a rocket with foot pedals.

Etter Studio – 2013

In this collaborative puzzle game, players from all over the world can stack geometric objects into a tower.

Hello Games, 65daysofstatic – 2016

In »No Man's Sky«, players explore an infinitely large science fiction universe.

HouseHouse – 2016

In »Push Me Pull You« the players share a single worm-like body while wrestling against each other for control of the ball.

Urban Inventions – 2016

Similar to Sissyphos, who was punished for all eternity, the players roll a stone up a mountain with a special exercise ball interface.

Robin Baumgarten – 2017

The unique interface made of springs and LED circles invites solo players or groups to an unusual gaming experience.

Plastic Studios – 2017

The players discover the abstract dream world of »Bound« with the sensitive movements, inspired by contemporary ballet, of the faceless princess.

Studio MDHR – 2017

»Cuphead« combines classical run & gun mechanics with jazz and hand drawn graphics inspired by cartoons of the 1930s.

Ustwo games – 2017

»Monument Valley 2« is a surreal mother-child story through fantastic architecture and impossible geometry.

Darjeeling – 2018

»Homo Machina« creates a playful adventure from the avant-garde and industrial body representations of the scientist Fritz Kahn.

Everbyte Studio – 2018

»Sound of Magic« is a fantasy adventure with a special twist. The game deliberately does without a graphical representation.

level 4: political games

Today, computer games are the most influential cultural mass medium, and in the meantime they address every topic imaginable. In recent years, game developers have increasingly dealt with political topics and tested computer games as a medium for criticism and raising awareness. Here, however, conveying information does not impinge on the entertainment value of games or the joy of gaming. Political processes become more easily comprehensible, and adventures provide new insights into the lives of individuals and social groups about which we hardly know anything at all. In this context, the exhibition also features games created at game jams organized by the Goethe-Institut all over the world.

Anna Anthropy – 2012

Game designer Anna Anthropy uses the computer game as an autobiographical medium.

Lea Schönfelder, Peter Lu – 2014

»Perfect Woman« is a sarcastic antithesis to the stereotypical role models and social expectations with which one is confronted on a daily basis.

11 Bit Studios – 2014

The topic of war is usually presented in computer games from a military perspective as a shooter or strategy game. In »This War of Mine« the players experience a change of perspective.

Adam J. Scarborough, Alasdair Robertson – 2015/2018

Scarborough's »The Democracy Machine!« requires players to take a stand on a topic and discuss it.

Vitor Santana, Wellington Fattori, Roberto Romao, Isabelle Linhare – 2017

Four game figures are chained together and want to escape from a cave with numerous obstacles.

Petrushkov Mikhail, Grigoriev Konstantin, Kalmykova Ekaterina, Avdeev Oleg, Yustovich Ksenia – 2017

»Choo-Choose« forces the players to make an ethical decision. This decision is determined solely by the values of the player.

Nerial – 2017

Political interests and inquiries are answered like in a Dating App with a swipe and decide in »Reigns: Her Majesty« about the chances of survival of a queen.

Leonard Menchiari – 2017

»RIOT: Civil Unrest« takes up real events of recent political history as a strategy game.

Saranpat Sereewiwattana, Charlie Sitthisakuldech, Thanapat Tassanavijitwong, Chanatip Buranawarodomkul, Swit Khomapat – 2018

»Make It Rain« accuses corruption by asking its players to act corruptly themselves.

Total Refusal – Digital Disarmament Movement – 2018

The video documents the peaceful encounter of two enemy armies within a strategy game themed on World War II »Sudden Strike 4«).

Paintbucket Games – 2020

»Through the Darkest of Times« puts players in control of a resistance group fighting against the Nazi regime.

level 5: in the spotlight:
Eco Games

curated by Dominik Rinnhofer

In 1972, the same year that Atari brought the arcade version of the computer game »PONG« to the bars and shopping malls of the USA, the Club of Rome published its widely acclaimed study »The Limits to Growth,« thus laying the foundation for the modern ecology movement. So-called »Eco Games« are set in environments where the destruction or preservation of nature is addressed and the gameplay requires sustainability-oriented actions. Game developers hope that the immersive and interactive character of the medium computer game will raise players' awareness of ecological issues and ultimately bring about long-term changes in behavior. With the genre of dystopian and posthuman games, scenarios can be experienced that show the effects of human-made catastrophes and address their prevention. In the spirit of »Play it – before you (have to) live it.«

Chris Crawford – 1990

This simulation game is about manipulating various parameters of politics and finance to keep our planet alive.

Sierra On-Line / Gano Haine, Jane Jensen – 1992

»EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus« is one of the first digital games to focus on nature conservation.

Paolo Pedercini – 2011

In four mini-games, individual production aspects of a smartphone were critically reflected.

Causa Creations / Tilmann Hars – 2014

Where do our electrical appliances end up when we throw them away? »Burn the Boards« gets to the bottom of it.

USC Game Innovation Lab / Tracy Fullerton – 2017

The game makes Henry David Thoreau's experiences as a hermit in nature tangible. Players can immerse themselves in his world (of thought) and experience his philosophy.

Strange Loop Games / John Krajewski – 2018

Use the available natural resources to create a civilisation that is able to stop the meteorite without destroying the planet first.

ustwo games – 2020

Join eleven-year-old Alba on her rambles across a beautiful island and start a movement with your friends to protect the environment!

ZKM AppArtAward

From 2011 to 2017, the ZKM awarded the AppArtAward annually to the best artistic developments in the field of applications for smartphones and tablets.

A selection of the award winners - 2011 to 2017

The artistic design of apps constantly shows new tendencies. The AppArtAward wants to present the latest aesthetic and technical ones and award the best apps of the competition.


zkm_gameplay. the next level
The ZKM gaming platform.