As part of the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House, Nick Murray was commissioned to curate and produce an arcade celebrating cute games, and how cuteness can be used to explore deeper questions.

Curating holistically, Nick designed the froggy cabinets and visual identity for the arcade, designed and installed the tech implementation and curated the suite of games. 

Exhibited works:

Kaichu – Squiddershins
Froggy Pot – Cantusmori
Calico – Peachy Keen Games
Donut County – Ben Esposito
Rainy Season – Inasa Fujio
Monster Girl Maker 2 – Ghoulkiss

Welcome to the cute game arcade, a hub from which to jump into a handful of cosy, colourful and curious worlds. The classic arcade can feel like a place of nostalgic innocence, but it can also be a platform for new viewpoints into how we see the wider world, and cuteness can be the vehicle with which we engage with an unexpected set of surroundings or series of characters. In this area, we present games that investigate and invert the rules of how we typically perceive the notion of ‘cute’. From Kaichu’s larger-than-life characters experiencing the most intimate of emotional exchanges, to Monster Girl Maker 2 in which cuteness becomes something unnerving, this arcade is an invitation to play with what cute can be, and to see how these visionary game-makers have reworked it into something unexpected.

As game-making becomes more accessible, through engines such as Twine or Bitsy, new indie and solo developers have had the opportunity to make games that explore a huge variety of lesser-explored subjects. Games that appeal to particular emotions, provide stress relief, evoke nostalgia, and encourage cooperative social play, are finding their way into the mainstream. The view that videogaming was solely the domain of competitive, action-focused play is being challenged, and the games that shaped a generation of players without receiving the fanfare of other, more celebrated, contemporary titles, are finally being recognised. Such as Barbie Fashion Designer (1996) which outsold Quake and Doom, or Myst (1993), which had a majority fanbase of women. 

For so long, video game history was patched together by hobbyists and influenced by corporations, which means that for decades the overarching idea of games was that they were ‘for boys’, the first-person-shooter remaining a huge industry in contemporary gaming. However, an alternative strand of videogaming has existed since its inception in the 1960s of cute gaming – often conflated with the ‘pink’ market, which was a flattening by advertisers to simplify audiences – in which games explored more subtle and personal aspects of player experience. These games, like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon, integrated classic game tasks with social-led elements like forming friendships with in-game characters and building community bonds. These games also allowed for a wider player-base where, unlike with more violent games, families and friends can play together.

The games in the arcade here reflect the journey that this alternative strand of gaming history has taken, and illustrates how the contemporary landscape of games has been shaped by these often subversive aesthetics. Each game in the arcade has been developed by a small and independent team, as we aim to champion the artistry of smaller, lesser known game-makers, and show that innovative game design is accessible to all.