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V&A/RCA History of Design (MA)

William Seung

Born in Hong Kong and now based in London, William Seung is currently working at the Somerset House as assistant curator. He attained his master’s degree in History of Design, co-offered by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art in 2023. His research interest lies in popular visual culture with an East Asian focus. He was an assistant curator / curatorial assistant of design and architecture at M+, a new visual culture museum in Hong Kong, before coming to London, and he was heavily involved in various exhibitions, including Shifting Objectives: M+ Design Collection (2016),In Search of Southeast Asia through the M+ Collections (2018), and Things, Spaces, Interactions (2021); public programmes, including Rethinking Pei: A Centenary Symposium (2017), Hong Kong Architecture Oral History Project (2017–onwards), and M+ International x Mori Art Museum (2019); commissions, including M+ Donor Wall (2021) and Eason Tsang’s Sky Garden series (2016–2022). He also co-curated Queer They Are (2022) at the Royal College of Art during his study. Before joining M+, he worked at the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

Top banner: A collage consists of 7 images related to my 3 research projects throughout the programme. From left to right: Okumura Toshinobu's portraiture for actor Yamashita Kinsaku I as Tora Gozen, Chinese ceramic cat pillow, Martin Deschambault's concept art for Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Takabatake Kasho's Shisei, cover of Takemia Keiko's The Song of Wind and Wood vol. 1, cover of Tagame Gengoroh's The Judo Master, and concept art of Watch Dogs: Legion

William Seung cataloguing posters at the V&A Museum.

My dearest colleagues at M+ were my first proper encounters with design historians, and two of them graduated from this programme. Working with them introduced me to a new way of seeing and thinking about the city, lived experience, and visual culture. They are my role models, and it is with this goal in mind that I relocated to London for intense training as a prospective design historian / curator.

During these 15 months, I wrote a historiographic essay about the research landscape of Japanese homoerotic graphic production, an artefact analysis of a ceramic cat pillow, and my dissertation on the design of virtual London in two AAA video games. This journey has reinforced my belief that design history is an excellent platform for providing originalinsights into our understanding and imagination of visual culture, facilitating cross-disciplinary discourses, and opening up possibilities for new scholarship.

I will use this learning experience to further my professional development as a curator, telling stories of / through design and navigating the challenging times in an ever-changing world that is nuanced and complicated.

From Victorian to Near-future: a Study of London’s Representation in Blockbuster Video Games through the Lens of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015) and Watch Dogs: Legion (2020)

Video game consumption has been increasing for a long time, and the Covid-19 pandemic has hastened this trend in the UK. The country’s capital, coincidentally, is also a frequent video game location. The pervasiveness of video games in our modern lives, along with the relatively unexplored topic of London's portrayal in video games, has prompted the question of what makes London popular as a video game location. 

This dissertation seeks to shed light on what elements of London were chosen to be omitted or heightened in the virtual world through analysing two blockbuster titles, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015) and Watch Dogs: Legion (2020), both situated in London but in distinct time periods, the former in Victorian-era and the latter in near-future. Using a design historian perspective, this dissertation not only references to the video game but also examines materials that offer insight on the development process, such as accompanying publications, gaming reviews and news stories, and oral interviews. Finally, this study uncovers at least three characteristics—a relevant metropolitan, an embodiment of historicity and modernity, and a multicultural hub—that distinguish London as a distinctive site for video game makers and players to continue consuming.

Collage of 2 images showing video game characters navigating London's cityscape
Analysing how players, including myself, navigate the virtual cityscape is crucial for my research. Captured (top) from Amados World, Assassin's Creed Syndicate - 4K Free Roam Parkour Gameplay with Jacob Frye <> and (bottom) Centerstrain01, Flying Around London | Watch Dogs: Legion | Exclusive Gameplay <>
Video recording of V&A / RCA History of Design Symposium on 21 February 2023, where I presented a succinct summary of my dissertation and some reflections of the whole process. My presentation is from 01:19:06.

Queer They Are

In the summer of 2022, I co-curated an exhibition titled Queer They Are with Grace Santry and Rowan Everard, looking at the history of queer spaces for women in London and beyond. The concept of queer spaces is often dominated by the gay male club-centric narrative which leans on sites of pleasure. While gay men have traditionally congregated in these, queer women tend to be community-oriented rather than function-specific in their creation of place. Where there are queer women, there are queer spaces. Through the display of news clippings, pamphlets, photographs, and video clips, we prompted visitors to think about and re-imagine queer spaces as we know them.

Gallery space filled with visitors during the exhibition opening night.
Installation view of the exhibition showing a video clip and some photographic documentation.

Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize 2022