Video game as art form, an undercurrent in the new aesthetic regime

“Video game not only entered the visual milieu of 21st century, it is also significantly changing the way we visualise and conceptualise our living experience and imagination.”

Yang Jing 

writer, curator and researcher interested in the ways of play in art and social settings. She is the chief editor of game channel “Game On” in Initium Media, producer of experimental podcast “Upper Caveman” sponsored by DSL collection. She has curated multiple exhibitions and workshops around the theme of game and play in China.

1917

The recent Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee 1917 surprised many for its highly “addictive” viewing experience. The experience of highly engaged and immersed into the storyline left a sweeping impression on its audience.The Verge got it right, “It’s the visual language of video games… you will become involved. That is not something a film can offer.”

The right question now should be “whether the invention of video games has not transformed the entire character of art”.

Mathias Jansson

Regardless of what they tell you, the fact is video game not only entered the visual milieu of 21st century, it is also significantly changing the way we visualise and conceptualise our living experience and imagination. Comparing to other media, video game has a relatively short history. Nevertheless, ever since its inception back in 1940s, the medium has always surfed at the cultural and technological front.

“Bertie the Brain”, early arcade game

In North America, Europe, Asia and everywhere else, the development of video game always entangled with the most avant-garde thought experiment and scientific/social transformation. More and more have come to realise that the right question now should be “whether the invention of video games has not transformed the entire character of art” (Mathias Jansson). 

How to make art, distribute art, experience art, collect art and exhibit art in the age of video game? These are the new questions everyone will need to answer soon or later. The art world is not entirely neglecting this emerging trend. I summarised at least four ways game world and art world overlap with one another in today’s aesthetic settings.

Museums exhibiting commercial video games as every objects and design products.

In late 1980s, the US had already witnessed a couple of exhibitions displaying video games. For instance, Museum of the Moving Image’s “Hot Circuits: A Video Arcade” exhibited video arcade games as ready made cultural product and traced its lineage and connections with films. Over the years, in Tokyo, Berlin, Helsinki, there are professionally curated museums wholly devoted to video game, and welcome thousands of visitors annually. The international video game tour Game On started at Barbican Centre in 2002 have sold 200 million tickets along the years and traveled all over the world. 

Game on Touring exhibition

A great many artist from photography, painting, sculpture, net-art, performance, new media, etc. have tapped their creativity into video game either as the subject or the medium, sometimes both.

New media artists as well as video game designers have for decades exploring the artistic potential of video game.

For instance, Greek multimedia artist Miltos Manetas, the author of “Manifesto of Art After Videogames”, calls video game “EVR” (extended version of reality), and made a series of game-based artworks. California-based artist and developer Eddo Stern has been for years working on his massive work Vietnam Romance, an avant-garde game that reflects upon Americans’ consumption of media repression of Vietnam War. New York Times defines the game as “art you can play or watch”. In China, Lu Yang created “The Great Adventure of Material World ”, in which players transform into knights to  explore the Universe and experience a unique life circle. Alan Kwan’s “Bad Trip” used game space as a palace to stock his entire memory via audio-visual documents and open it to the those players who figure out how to walk in the memory maze.

Lu Yang, “The Great Adventure of Material World”, Shanghai Biennale

Game, being the most interactive medium, naturally becomes the option. To play in the museum, to play with art, is the new hot issue for major museums today.

To vitalised the exhibition space, art museums and other art spaces are trying to set up interactive and immersive devices and mechanism for attracting more visitors.

Tate Modern’s recent “Pick up and Play” invite family visitors to discover playful ideas and ways of looking at art together. V & commissioned three leading international independent designers to each create a short experimental game as part of their exhibition “Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt”. Under curatorial mentor Li Zhenhua’s guide, I also had the opportunity to curate a video game exhibition where visitors could play in dorm/net-cafe settings in Shenzhen.

“Octopad: One & Eight”, device art & play, Patrick Lemieux 
in Video Game Cohabitant, Shenzhen

The last approach to merge contemporary art and video game is a new project Alan Kwan and I take together with DSL Collection. It will be a complete video game available on gaming platforms as well as exhibition setting. We will use the artworks as playable objects in the game which gamers could pick up, examine, relocate or even sell. Moreover, these artworks would also function as living witness of the history of Chinese contemporary art. This is an unprecedented project: a video game made of and for art and beyond. We aim to use video game’s advantage in interactivity and immersion to build an alternative exhibition platform: the game space, where museums could upload their collections and players could experience them in a game in virtual or real settings.

Alan Kwan, “Bad dream: navigating my mind”

Artists and collectors after video games don’t just relate to video games but share their visions with the public through games and play. 

Miltos Manetas

To quote Miltos Manetas: “artists after videogames don’t play videogames but relate to them”; better yet, artists and collectors after videotapes don’t just relate to video games but share their visions with the public through video games and play. 

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