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Festival for digital games in Essen

Next Level 2021: 11th level unlocked

Finally, game enthusiasts and culture lovers can get together again physically to play virtually. After last year's pandemic break, the Next Level Festival is back at Zollverein! Together with various partner institutions, the festival team has curated an exciting selection of participatory games in VR, AR and other media on the themes of community, isolation and climate change. Accompanied by performances and a symposium, contemporary game culture will be examined from several perspectives. In 2010, Next Level premiered as a conference in Cologne. In the following years, it first took place at the Dortmunder U, then at the NRW Forum in Düsseldorf, and developed into an interdisciplinary festival for young and old. Now the NLF is happening for the second time at the UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein, this year even in six rooms.
This year's symposium revolves around the topic of arts and digitality: digital dramaturgy, digital music cultures, encounters in digital space and digital perspectives for the future. An entire panel is dedicated to the New Arts Ruhr. On 28 November at 3 p.m., the panel will discuss how the funding programme is changing the digital art landscape in NRW.

The five performances deal with themes such as algorithmic power structures and isolation. They negotiate the space between reality and virtuality with the help of different media and allow visitors to influence the course of the stories. The Ernst Busch University of Applied Sciences and Hellerau - European Centre for the Arts are cooperation partners.

Another partner is the London festival for experimental game design "Now Play This". This year, it dealt with the relationship between games and the climate crisis, but exclusively online due to the pandemic. In November, it is sending five selected games to Essen, where they will be shown for the first time in a physical space. One of them is "Even in Arcadia", set in a dystopian future where society discards planets and buys new ones every year. Players explore the newest planet, Arcadia, and experience recurring cycles of human conflict.

The games course, consisting of six stations, encourages players to think about community from different perspectives. They are given positions of power from which they have to make decisions. They are given the task of providing for their community in abundance. They have to identify wrongdoers and find their way through order and chaos. The selection focuses on indie and arthouse games. They all pose questions whose urgency increases with the corona pandemic.

Many programme items are also offered online. If you want to play on site, tickets are available here from five euros. On the festival grounds, the 2G rule applies to over-18s. From 13 to 18 years, 3G applies.

Next Level is funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and is part of the "Neue Künste Ruhr" initiative.