Game to play

Christy Dena

Nicholas Clauss, Radio Days

Nicholas Clauss, Radio Days

I must admit I expected reactivate! to be an exhibition of game art, since it is part of a broader event that includes a showcase of Australian games and the symposium GameTime. To my surprise the French-Australian collaboration between curators Isabelle Arvers and Antoanetta Ivanova and has instead exhibited artists working with, or influenced by, games and game culture. Architecture students, filmmakers, digital artists, graphic designers, roboticists, musicians and game developers have pounced on game technology, design, culture and theory to produce interactive films, game art, commercial games, sound art, networked environments and interactive installations.

A popular attraction is Mari Velonaki’s interactive installation Throw (Australia). On a large white wall clear plastic brackets frame projected images of men and women in formal attire staring at us. Soft red balls litter the floor and urge activity, turning the viewer into what Keir Smith calls a “viuser” (“viewer/user” or “Visual Information User”). As figures glide across screen the viuser throws the balls at them triggering a red dot along with a word or numeral beneath the image. The skill of a fun park knockdown game is juxtaposed with the cognitive puzzle of deciphering the (literal) beat poem that emerges.

The audiovisual works move to a beat of another kind. Nicolas Clauss’ Radio Days (France) is an online work resulting from collaboration with musicians and visitors to a website. Layers of photos, scans and animations of brushes skewed into a DNA strand-like dance around the screen to haunting music. Clicking on links (or ‘clinking’) was cleverly designed for optimal meaning. Marc Em’s Audiogame (France) meshes visual presence and sound to represent user activity. For instance, I can bounce a speaker around the screen, sending it underwater with muffled, almost gargling sound effects; or increase the volume and intensity of a track by manipulating an animation of a fist. The 2-channel reaction to my asinine clinking was delightfully empowering.

I dragged myself from Audiogame and turned to Martin Le Chevallier’s Safe Society (France), a short video of 3D animated images from a tongue-in-cheek ideal world where “pollution has disappeared” and “neurosis will be under control.” The work tells of a desire to create an alternative and ‘guilt-free’ world in the digital domain, and in the real world. Likewise Julien Alma and Laurent Hart’s Borderland (France) inverts the bloodless space of computers by offering viusers real world combatants. Of the 55 live action characters I chose a woman in lingerie brandishing a whip to fight a man with a breadstick, and then a housewife in thongs to battle a man in plaid holding a puppy. Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starrs’ Floating Territories (Australia, RT63, pp34-35) “uses a series of screen-based games to explore issues of migration and border protection” (catalogue). Each game is activated by the scanning of a card chosen by the gamer. This allocates him or her a tribe and offers motivation: to defend, wander, escape, converge, colonise or petition. Once a game is successfully completed the gamer can contribute their personal migration history to a world map.

Another example of a work that permits user contribution is Lycette Bros’ The Modern Compendium of Miniature Automata (Australia). The screen space is set out like a book with detailed, da Vinci-like sketches and descriptions of tiny mechanical creatures that travel through blood. Users can read about miniature automota in the collection, like the creature that collects spittle from the corners of mouths, or create their own. Judging by the direct, casual and humorous address, the descriptions have become conversations between users, creating a cycle of communication through the artwork.

Computer mediated interaction in real time is facilitated by the multiplayer games of Jules Moloney’s Palazzo Littorio (Australia/New Zealand) and selectparks’ acmipark (Australia). Palazzo Littorio is a stark space, almost post-apocalyptic with its dark grey, blue and red urban landscape. It is in fact the digital realisation of an architectural design submitted for a competition commissioned by Benedito Mussolini in 1934. The efforts of architecture students, headed by Moloney, virtually manifest an alternate reality where Mussolini is still in power. Alternatively, acmipark models the extant space of Federation Square. Players log on from Experimedia or ACMI (these 2 works are located at both venues), explore the representation of the space they are sitting in or envisioning, and converse with fellow travellers.

Wicked Witch’s Ned Kelly (Australia) permits the exploration of an historical space for a single player. The game tells the tale of Ned Kelly’s famous last stand at Glenrowan. Perspectives can be shifted and you can watch and listen as the story unfolds, or change to ‘explore’ mode and run around the space of your own accord. I was struck by how much the change of perspective affected me. I had to ask myself the question: do I want to take on the first-person perspective of a figure in a situation where I know the outcome? I found this, and Warlpiri Media’s Bush Mechanics—The Game (Australia), excellent examples of games as pedagogical tools. I was reminded of Sherry Turkle’s observations about the power of simulations, and how they can be used to teach students to question the producer of words, messages, intentions and context.

Indeed, the exhibition is an intensive learning environment for all. Practitioners from a variety of arts fields have either learnt programming and interaction design or opened their hearts to games and game culture. There are 22 works in this exhibition, some works-in-progress, others commercial successes. All, however, tread a brave path of original design and content.

reactivate! will tour to the Adelaide Film Festival in February, 2005.

reactivate!, curators Antoanetta Ivanova and Isabelle Arvers, Experimedia, State Library of Victoria, Oct 1-Nov 14

RealTime issue #64 Dec-Jan 2004 pg. 31

© Christy Dena; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2004
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