Game and Reality – (T)ERROR – what a funny game

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Date/Time: 03/08/2004 12:00 am

Game and Reality
(T)ERROR – what a funny game
Whom would you like to play to get the world back into right shape? George W. Bush, Osama Bin Laden, or rather Tony Blair? Starting the computer game (T)ERROR, the player is spoilt for choice. A camera tracks the player‚s movements and a projector throws the players outlines in original size on a white wall in front of him, all in realtime.
When the player kicks, his shadow will kick. When the player ducks or jumps to avoid bumping into an enemy jet, his shadowy avatar will do exactly the same in real time.
The empty silhouette of the player gets filled out – and this is the players choice ˆ with the face of George W. Bush, the flag of a state which supported the Iraq war, or the body of Osama Bin Laden.
For gaining a good game score, you will have to fight evilly.
Being slipped into this stereotype role, you have to avoid tanks, submarines and fighter planes, you have to collect oil pumps and dollar notes, and you have to kick civilians begging for help. If you succeed in all these matters, you are the lucky winner and rise to the next game level.
1. (T)ERROR criticizes the Iraq war
?Art is the cry of distress uttered by those who experience at first hand the fate of mankind.„ (Holtzman/Schönberg, 1994)
This interactive video installation is my reaction on the Afghanistan campaign and the following Iraq war. It is a political persiflage on world politics, a mixed-reality game, which playfully tempts – through the whole body interaction – to participate, but at the same time the not very playful content of (T)ERROR wants to provoke reflection and self-reflection.
This play with the aspects of fun and seriousness or game and reality forms the basis of my work and media analysis.
Laughter lures the visitors, and not only an elitist gallery audience, but also the people from the street, who do not know too much about contemporary art. Fun, games and interaction cause motion, it is then much easier to get involved in the game, and so the change from laughter to sadness is more powerful and obvious. At this stage I would like to mention the Italian film „La vita è bella‰ with Roberto Benigni, which works with the same principles.
2. (T)ERROR criticizes the young „gaming culture‰
To transform this combination of laughing and crying into the world of computer games, and so into the world of our children, was my main aim.
„Fifty percent of all Americans age six and older play computer and video games.‰ (http://www.theesa.com/pressroom.html, 20.4.04)
?In 1998, over one in four American youngsters reported playing games between seven and 30 hours a week. More than one in four homes has a game console.‰ (Nideffer, Robert F., Shift-ctrl)
This is one of the reasons why I like to show my installation at parties and clubs.
This year at the beginning of april, for example, (T)ERROR was exhibited in Berlin, in the „Club zur Möbelfabrik‰. The young audience of this venue participated with enthusiasm. The reflection hit them a couple of minutes later, when the youngsters squatted down besides the installation, tired after the exhausting movements.
„I just played Osama Bin Laden in the game. I was killing people. Was that fun?‰
And this is what makes the artistic examination of computer games so precious and powerful:
The sudden liberation, which is triggered by the dramaturgy of computer games, the role games par excellence. Nowhere else it is as simple and as easy to slip into the role of authorities, to play with the overthrow of established social systems and experience the dynamism of action and reaction without any danger.
At the same time, (T)ERROR provides its players with a strange closeness and directness:
It‚s not a joystick that helps our avatars to jump hundred metres high, but everyone is actively playing him/herself.
(T)ERROR is an attempt to dismantle the gaming industry and the stereotype roles and behaviour patterns taught by it. All these are the semiotics our children are confronted with since birth. We need to analyze them to get to know our children‚s world.
The simple, pixel graphics of my game was developed following early, famous computer games like for example Space Invaders or Defender.
(T)ERROR creates a managable (art) space, a system of signs and symbols, which are well known by the followers of computer games, who always associate these sign systems with fun and leisure time.
Society codes and conventions which everyone takes for granted, can now be seen from a different perspective and open up new possibilities for dialogue and debate.
3. (T)ERROR criticizes the media society
Our contemporary life and society consist out of brainwashing media flashes, consumption and pseudo-happiness paired with a upcoming depression. My work uses the same media and the same mechanisms the goal is the deconstruction of this failed system and a reflection of this media junked fake.
Just the unbroken popularity and fascination of computer games speaks for an artistic analysis. There is a whole „culture of external activities that has developed around these games ˆ from trading of customized game patches to demands that the manufacturer provide more levels, to whole web sites devoted to one‚s avatars (Gemstone‚s home page lists close to 200 such player-run sites)‰ (La Farge 2000, p10)
In consequence of her examination, Antoinette La Farge stresses that in the near future, computer games will be as important in the modern cultural landscape as art, music or film.
4. (T)ERROR criticizes the abuse of computer games through military and economy
Another important point of criticism shown in (T)ERROR lies in the close connection of computer games with military and economy.
?It‚s now fairly common knowledge that Operation Desert Storm was prepped for by doing simulation strategy exercises down in Florida, and that the US military is currently pumping large amounts of capital into figuring out how to appropriate gaming principles for battle training in massively mulituser SimNet environments.‰ (Nideffer, Robert F., Shift-ctrl)
This list of strange simultaneities and surprising cooperations could go on and on and on.
„According to the Interactive Digital Software Association‚s 1999 sales information, over 6.1 billion dollars in U.S. entertainment software sales in 1999 went to games.‰ (Nideffer, Robert F., Shift-ctrl)
In a time where professional computer games have more production budgets as Hollywood films, you must question this media, analyse it artistically and bring it up in a topic. A whole generation grows up with games, mostly just having one goal: „You achieve your aims with violence.‰
Artists and creative must click in at this point, dismantle these games, rearrange them with new ideas and reflect the media itsself. The transformation and modification of games are also interesting in the historical context, if you consider that military institutions have taken a great part in the development of this gaming technology.
With the second version of a modified 3D Shooter the American Army is at the present time hunting for new recruits; let‚s hope that this shot was off target.