The title GameWorld invokes three interrelated but distinct worlds. First is the designed world within a videogame, which includes both its perceptual attributes and the system of rules, behaviors and properties that provide its form. Second is the creative ecology composed of industry and academia that is emerging around videogames. The third world is the realm of contemporary culture, and the extent to which it is colored by videogames and their offshoot, virtual worlds. We hope to show the many points of intersection between videogames, art and culture through the presentation of work from over forty artists and game designers, and, in spite of their status as diversion, reveal games to be an expressive enterprise worthy of attention and study. Whether you play them or not, videogames matter.
For those who think that showcasing videogames within the corridors of a museum is out of the ordinary, it’s not true. Museums have been examining the cultural and technical signifi cance of videogames since the late 1980s, starting with “Hot Circuits: A Video Arcade,” a historical exhibition of video arcade games mounted by the Museum of the Moving Image (New York), my place of employ, in 1989. The exhibition was inspired by the then radical notion that videogames are an increasingly vital part of the entertainment industry, alongside movies, television and music. It also drew attention to the contribution of videogames to computation technologies, in part because they are often the public’s first exposure to edge technologies. Today these notions are well accepted.
Another misconception that had to be addressed was that videogames are primarily a form of children’s media. The MIT scholar Henry Jenkins effectively turns this critique on its head by focusing on the meanings of games, not just their effects. Rather than talk about what videogames are doing to our children, Jenkins urges, we should talk about what our children are doing with videogames. While it is important to address the question of violence in games, it should be done while recognizing that game audiences young and old are active interpreters, not just receptacles, of media experiences.
Since the late 1980s, the entertainment business has moved to adapt to the rhythm and flow of digitally networked culture, in large part because of the industry’s production of popular, commercial videogames, which may be considered the fi rst native digital medium. Just as film subsumed the presentational characteristics of theater, and television did the same with radio, videogames subsume the media that came before them within their increasingly rich, all-encompassing simulated worlds. Videogames are a driving force behind networked virtual worlds technologies, which themselves are increasingly integrated into mainstream entertainment and education. In this way, virtual worlds are in the process of subsuming games; as a result, games function as emergent activities within virtual worlds, while virtual worlds acquire a life of their own independent of games.
The expressive potential of videogames becomes even more apparent once you look outside the realm of commercial games. There is now an expanding ecology around the robust commercial center of the fi eld that also includes fine artists, independent producers, academics, researchers, and game designers who have earned enough clout, or money, to work with complete creative freedom. There are also alternative production and distribution models now emerging that bring alternative games to niche audiences over the Internet. These factors all contribute to an expanding discourse about videogames and what they are allowed to be. The interplay of these different spheres of activity contributes to a fertile creative environment which promises to evolve gaming in unexpected, compelling directions. But for that to happen to its fullest, we must fi rst acknowledge that videogames have the potential to express the same diversity of approaches and authorial intentions that we expect, and receive, from other forms of expression.
GameWorld hints as this kind of flowering, and advances are underway on a variety of fronts. With GameWorld, we hope to offer an alternate perspective on videogames that places them solidly at the center of our culture. Rather than follow the linear format associated with most museum exhibitions, GameWorld is made up of clusters of works meant to be accessed in a nonlinear fashion. In the set of cards accompanying this catalog, these clusters are indicated with one of six terms printed on each card:
The first cluster, the “Digital Game Canon,” is an inaugural selection of ten historical milestones in game design innovation, chosen by a panel of five game design and history experts and announced on March 8, 2007 at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California. A second cluster, “Games Recoded,” presents artist work that reframes, transforms or radically alters historical videogames, or utilizes them as raw material for a new work. The next group, referred to either as “Experimental Gameplay,” “Games Research,” or “Serious Games,” presents three different ways in which videogames as a form are being taken into new, potentially hostile (though promising) territory. The last cluster, “World/Game,” ponders our daily experience when seen through videogame gauze – when simulation and network technologies defi ne, perhaps even generate, the environment we live in.
The first impression we had of virtual reality in the 1990s – that of an entirely synthetic realm into which you escape, leaving the real world behind – seems quaint. Instead, we are enmeshed in a sophisticated mix of physical and virtual, as evidenced by mobile gaming, networked online virtual worlds, and architectural spaces that are designed using some of the same simulation technologies behind the games we play. It becomes increasingly difficult to draw a clear line distinguishing between the “virtual” and the “real.” In this way, the three worlds invoked by the title GameWorld – the world within the game, the games within our world, and the network of practitioners and organizations guiding their development – collapse into one another, becoming a single, hybrid conceptual space. Welcome to GameWorld.
DEPUTY DIRECTOR AND DIRECTOR OF DIGITAL MEDIA, MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE, NEW YORK
@ LABORAL CENTRO DE ARTE Y CREACION INDUSTRIAL
March 30 – September 20, 2007
Associate Curator and Project Manager:
Advisors, Digital Game Canon Panel:
Henry Lowood, comisario/ Profesor, Stanford University, Palo Alto
Matteo Bittanti, Investigador, University of California, Berkeley, San Francisco
Christopher Grant, Editor, joystiq.com, Filadelfia
Steven Meretzky, diseñador senior, Blue Fang, Whaltam
Warren Spector, Presidente, Junction Point Studios, Austin