Big Box Gaming

I loved 1980’s and 1990’s big box PC games so much.Not just the games of course, which gave me a door through which I could visit other times and strange worlds; but I loved the boxes themselves.

Article by Bhaal_Spawn

Of course, most packaging aimed at children and adults tries to invoke mystery and wonder with clever use of happy imagery, hyperbole and promises. But as a reader of computer game review magazines, I already knew exactly what I wanted when walking into a computer game store. The magic had already been sown before I ever picked up a game to read the list of features on the back, so I didn't look at game boxes like that. The boxes for the games I owned took on different meanings.

They were treasurer chests, full of the promise of adventure, carrying maps and weighty tomes to digest in the back of mum’s car. Opening them was a ritual of discovery - from the breaking of the shrink wrap seal, the shake to hear what was inside, to the creak as you lifted the lid.

Some I saw as works of art, with their stylised imagery showing not what the game looked like (they didn’t even try) but as my imagination had told me the game would look like. Many even took inspiration from movie posters or fantasy novels and were so beautiful I felt they should be put on display in a gallery.

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For example, some computer game boxes used bold contrasts or compliments of colour to hold your attention, like the rich greens and oranges of Dark Forces, the bright reds of Ultimate Doom or the deep purples of TIE Fighter. Some of these I thought were so pretty I affixed them to my wall with blu tack (alongside some drawings of my celebrity crushes, which I will never admit to). They were too nice to simply be squirrelled away!

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Fantasy games like Eye of the Beholder worked for me too because they used art work which reminded me of classical paintings; they were so detailed they somehow seemed to have been inspired by real events, as if the artist had themselves been stood on a blackened and rain swept moor, painting the wizardry and nightmarish creatures first hand.

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In others, it was the symbolism of the design which was important. Ultima 7’s box was famously a simple black monolith, meaning the game box itself echoed the antagonist’s chief weapon in the game, the Black Gate. It didn't look classically beautiful or rich in detail. Yet gazing at this featureless slab evoked feelings of emptiness and foreboding – exactly the same as the creeping sense of dread the game instils in you as you uncover a plot of murder and religious fundamentalism. There is plenty of beauty in that.

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During the 80'a and early 90's I was a budding artist (meaning as a pre-teen I loved to draw as much as fighting digital space ships), and would always draw a wide variety of things which I loved and which inspired me. Transformers comics, my mum’s cats or scenes from my favourite movies. I was a mini production line of fan-art, and chief among all this was my computer game fandom. I would use pastels and pencils to create box art and turn it into posters. Or small pictures to frame.

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 (TIE Fighter, drawn in pastels 1998)
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(XCOM, drawn in pencil 1998)]

The games I loved the most have always inspired me to create and they still do. Although, as a fine artist I still only really draw what I see, they creativity they inspire in my allow me to use my love of games and art together. I still produce fan art from games I love to this day, in pencil, crayon and biro, although if I could still have the space to put my old PC game boxes up on the wall or in glass cases, I would!

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 (Skyrim, drawn in biro 2017)
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(Doom, drawn in 5B pencil 2018)]
Bhall Spawn
Bhaal_Spawn - Self portrait illustration
Matilda's art can be found here: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/YavinPaints
Follow her on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Bhaal_Spawn
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