A few days back, we briefly mentioned the Cybersalon Artful Gaming event over at the Dana Centre. Unfortunately, given the sheer number of other sci-tech events last week, we didn't really do it justice. Step forward Lisa Devaney, who really, really makes us wish we'd gone...
This week London debuted its first ever games festival with panels, workshops and a few industry schmooze events tossed in for those employed by the gaming world. Some attention was given to the alternative fringe elements of gaming, with a look at independent game developers and artists' creations.
Over at The Science Museum’s Dana Centre, an Artful Gaming exhibition and forum, sponsored by Cybersalon and SelectParks, showed us a few works that are not your usual shoot-em-ups. In fact, there was no blood or gore to be seen, as the artists had altered existing video games, erasing the conflict elements and replacing horror with a lovely stroll in the woods (a piece called Summerbranch by Igloo) and a day in the park, chatting with friends (Toshi Endo’s Chit Chat National Park). We enjoyed the joyful, cheery approach and total transformation of these two games, which used the software of the Unreal video game, a very bloody console affair, to create entirely new experiences. In Summerbranch, the joystick becomes your control guide to navigate part of Engalnd’s New Forest, which the artists captured on film and reproduced in 3D, for a surprisingly relaxing ramble, complete with headphones piping in the forest sounds. Up to 16 people can engage each other in Chit Chat National Park, which is a bit like being inside of the land of the Teletubbies. You can hold a conversation with one of the adorable blobs, blow a kiss, send a hug or go exploring with each other; even swim to the bottom of the sea.
It was amusing to see artist Myfanwy Ashmore ‘hack’ into the world of Mario, and delete all the irritating bombs and blasts that usually destroy the hapless plumber as he tries to have a nice walk. She leaves Mario strolling in a world of peace, her own artistic and political statement perhaps toward his Nintendo creators. We enjoyed EdgeBomber by Susigames, which allows you to manipulate your own game play environment by arranging strips of sticky tape on a screen. This was the only piece on exhibit with the opportunity to blast things or die trying. One of the threat elements was big wiener sausages; clearly its German-based creators have a sense of humour about their wienersnitzel. Also on view was The Sancho Plan, an instantly fun and addictive chance to thump away on drum pads that trigger animated characters to produce images and sounds. And Ghosts by squidsoup, a presentation allowing you to type in a word, a poem or a novel, if you like, that is fed into a 3D geometric image.
Thursday’s forum had the artists sharing their tricks and ranting a bit about the general opinion that the commercial gaming industry has changed little in 15 years, and is still married to the button pushing controller or joystick and shoot-em-up games. Desiring more interactive challenges or simply entertaining or relaxing digital experiences, is what compels some to spend free time making their own programmes. The popularity of Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, and the soon-to-debut We console are giving the games industry a new spark of innovative hope, many agreed, but it might take a risky, suicidal tendency artistic type to produce something for non-profit purposes and accidentally come up with the next big thing. Forum chair Lewis Sykes, of Cybersalon, said much of what artists create with games can be compared to what the indie film producers face – the challenge of creating their own work without commercial support, doing it just for the love, but with the possibility that it might just strike a nerve and be hugely successful with the mainstream.
There are still some events to catch with the London Games Festival: Game On, a touring exhibition exploring the history, technology and culture of computer games, to be on view at the Science Museum from 21 October – 25 February. More details here.