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Part 2. New Business!!!

September 2, 2013

As i said in my previous post, I moved to Montreal a month ago in anticipation of starting my PhD at Concordia University, with my course work beginning in a week.  I’m pretty excited to get going, even though I still technically have to finish my MA, defending my thesis 3 weeks from today. I’m in Concordia’s INDI (Individualized) Program in the Humanities, which is an interdisciplinary program for students who are more self directed. Think of it as a “choose your own PhD”. Basically I get to choose any course from any faculty at Concordia (and other institutions if I like) that fits into my research. Right now, I’ve got game studies courses, media history courses, and an English Lit course lined up for my first year.  I have to admit, that it’s liberating being in a program with absolutely zero required courses. I’m excited about getting to chart my own direction through my PhD rather than following the more prescribed routes of a single discipline.

I have to admit that the support I’ve already received is pretty amazing, given that I technically haven’t even started yet. I’m now a researcher at the TAG (Technoculture, Art & Games) research centre, which is a research/creation lab. The community in TAG is pretty stellar, all of the students that I met are passionate, and brilliant people, as are the associated faculty. It’s the primary reason I chose to come here, knowing that I would be involved in a community of such great peers.  I’ve gotta admit, it feels kind of strange to be welcomed as much as I have.  Normally I use this blog to talk about what I’m doing, but don’t generally talk about how I’m feeling about it.  Over the last half decade or so, I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard to make a go of my curatorial/ art practice, and for me, returning to school is just a component of that work. I suppose I’ve kind of got a reputation now (for good or ill, depending on who you talk to :P), and sometimes it seems to proceed me these days. Which is SUPER strange to me.  All I really want to do is to do good work, and to be able to sustain it. But when I have met people here and I hear that they’re excited to meet me and that they’ve heard a lot about me and my work, I’m a little taken a back.  I mean I know that this is a good thing, but after having spent almost 2 decades working creatively, to finally see some major breakthroughs in my “creative career”, well, it’s still something I’m coming to terms with. But in the best possible way. If that makes sense.

Within the first week of moving to MTL, I was invited out for lunch by Darren Werschler, who’s a member of my PhD Supervisory committee, and we had a great lunch. We talked a lot about my research, and he asked me to be a member of his research lab, the Ampersand (AMP) lab.  I’l be on a few research projects with the lab, but those details are still forthcoming, so there’s not much I can say about it right now. Although Darren has me blogging once a week on the AMPlab site, a sort of weekly summation of what I’m reading/ thinking about academically, so if you’re into such things, check it out. Also check out my profile, which has the wackiest headshot I’ve ever submitted to anything….

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I also was lucky in terms of my timing when moving here, due to it coinciding with the annual Toy Company chipmusic festival.  I was asked to VJ for a few sets, and had an amazing time! I got to meet some of my favorite chipmusic artists and VJs. I got to mix live video for scene Veteran Trash80, and DJ Cutman, which was a great deal of fun. I got to hang out at the VJ station with nocarrier, whose work I’ve always admired. After the festival, the folks who run Toy Company (pocaille and xc3n) asked me to VJ for their halloween show in October where I’ll be Vjing for Dr. Von Pnok!!! I have to admit, it’s been a while since I’ve done a lot of VJing, but Toy Company has sort of got me bitten by the VJ bug again. That, plus the amazing PS1 arcade panel I found at a local pawn shop. You can see the pic below, I’ve softmodded it to use as a VJ controller, along with a small akai midi controller. I haven’t played out live with it yet, but I am ITCHING to!!!

1175480_10153135954470594_1326479546_nOther than that, I’m kind of feeling what a friend of mine called “new city syndrome”, that kind of strange feeling being in a new place, not knowing many people, and feeling like everything is sort of strange and wonderful.  I’ve gone through this a great deal in the past number of years; moving from Ontario to Winnipeg 7 years ago, coming back to Toronto for my MA 2 years ago, and now landing in Montreal. I’m starting to get to the know the city a bit more, and am meeting some pretty neat people in the city’s various creative communities.  I’ve been taking random trips on the Metro, to explore the incredible retro future designs of the stations. It like walking through architecture that was conceived to be futuristic in the 1960s.  It’s like looking at the past and the future all at once. I think of a lot of 60s and 70s sci fi movies when I’m on the Metro. For some reason they remind me a lot of early Cronenberg and Jewison film sets. Maybe because the colour scheme is the same one that dominates the original Rollerball.

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Here’s a couple of pics that I instagrammed (yes, it’s also a verb now!), of a few of the stations. I love the geometrical balls that hover interconnected in Namur station. Probably my favorite thing I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

I’ve also managed to see some pretty interesting art exhibitions. DHC Art has a Cory Arcangel retrospective on right now. The show is a two site multi-floor exhibition that sees some of Cory’s game art, glitch and video work, and even a sculpture or two. He’s even given a talk/ performance on the 26th of Sept, which I’ve already grabbed a ticket to. Seeing as his work is seminal in terms of game art, I’m really glad I to see the show.

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At the MAC (Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal) There was an interesting exhibition on the history of abstract art, with a focus on contributions by French Canadians. Also there was Michel deBroin’s work. Which appropriates all kind of objects to create new works. One piece was an operational hottub made from a small dumpster, another was a piece which incorporated 3 metal beams, attached to each one was an electromagnet on a timer. when the timer runs out, the magnet’s deactivate, thus ‘ending’ the art.  Perhaps my favorite (which I didn’t take a picture of ) was a power drill on a low white plynth. The drill was plugged in, and water was being pumped through it like a small fountain. To me it felt like a comment on the preciousness of the art object and museum culture’s tendency towards a “look but don’t touch” philisophy in displaying works. In this case, touching the art will actually do you harm. It adds an element of danger to it, that I found really wonderful.

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So far my final gallery trip was to the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which I discovered is right around my house. Their current exhibition Archaeology of the Digital, Curated by architect Greg Lynn, is an exploration of early examples of the use of CAD (computer assited design) in the practices of four architects: Peter Eisenmann, Frank Gehry, Chuck Hoberman and Shoei Yeh. The show is an interesting discussion of how they early digital tools limited or enabled certain aspects of architectural practice. I really enjoyed the show, it’s a mix of concept drawings, CAD models, notes, maquettes, and writing by the architects.  One of the key aspects of the show that I have a little bit of a problem with though is the following statement by Lynn:

“The digital is no longer a black box, a magic thing that’s going to fulfill a vision of the future, rather it is a concrete thing with characters and limits and influences. Today, it’s time to start to write a history and a theory of digital technology. Archaeology of the Digtal is about saying: in the past, digital technology did this…”

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While I agree with the first sentence, I have trouble with the rest of the statement, and here’s why. I don’t know if Lynn is bound to his disciplinary perspective so much that he is unaware of the field of platform studies.  While it’s not a mainstream field and it’s body of literature is small at this point (I just wrote my MA thesis on platform studies, so I know a great deal about it), it does contain a methodology for the study of digital technologies that Lynn seems to be calling for.  While I think that the application of that method has been problematic (which I’m sure I’ll blog about at some point), I think the method is a useful tool for analyising digital tech. In fact, the founders of the field (Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort) have been explicit that platform studies is essentially about examining the ways in which a particular platform enable or constrain creative computational practices.

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The other highlight of my visit to the CCA was a piece by Douglas Coupland called Brick Wall, which was a wall full of individual brick elements from a myriad of building toys. It made me oddly nostalgic for the building toys of my past, while exploring others I had never seen before. It made me think of my relationship to building toys of the past, and my fascination with architecture. While I’m far from being an expert in anyway, I am definitely an enthusiast. I’m pretty excited about integrating archtectural theory into my practice and scholarship during my PhD.  Which is why I’m so glad that CCA has a bookstore! Probably one of my favorite bookstores I’ve ever visited. I came home with the catalogue for Archaeology of the Digital, and a book by Peter Zumpthor, called Thinking Architecture, which is a great book for anyone who loves architecture but doesn’t know where to start in terms of reading. It’s a great introduction to the field and issues within it.

So that’s my time in Montreal so far! I’ve also got a lot on the horizon. Recently I was invited to bring Ghost Arcade to this years’s Canzine in October in Toronto. I’ll also be leading a grant writing workshop at the Canzine Symposium the day before! In Sept, I’m on a panel with Alex Myers and Cameron Kunzelman at a Digital Humanities conference in Detroit on the game art/ art game movement.  Though I won’t be there in person because I cannot get my passport issued in time, so I’ll be doing my presentation from home via skype or google hang out or something.  Not ideal, but it’ll have to do.  I’ve also been asked by a friend who teaches at a CEGEP (sort of a cross between highschool and junior college in Quebec) to give a lecture on the politics of digital games post 9-11. I’m pretty excited about this, as I’ll be sharing a lot of art and mods and well as discussing mainstream games.

Then there’s the prep for Vector 2014, which has begun in earnest with my fellow members of Team Vector. But more about that later when things develop. Also, I was recently asked by the lovely folk who run the Cluster; New Music + Integrated Arts Festival, in Winnipeg, to be a guest curator for the 2015 edition of their festival in the spring of 2015! Pretty exciting stuff!

OH! and I’ve also gotten back into MAKING art!! Something that has fallen by the wayside as school and curating had taken over. I’ve started a new blog to document some of the process of the things that I’m working on. Right now I’ve been dabbling with circuit bending and glitching video games. The blog’s called Ghost Process, and I hope you’ll check it out or follow it (it’s a tumblr).

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Otherwise that’s it for now, thanks for reading friends! It’s been a helluva few months, and looks like things are going to keep on rolling. I honestly feel very privileged to be able to keep up my work. I’m grateful for the support that I’ve received thus far, and am humbled by all of the amazing people around me.

And we’re back. Part 1- Catching Up.

September 2, 2013

It’s been a while friends, and I’ve been a busy ghosty.

In the past 3 months, I’ve written a Master’s thesis (titled Abandonware, Commercial Expatriation, and Post Consumer Fan Practices: A Study of the Sega Dreamcast). It’s a bit wordy, but for a 100+ page treatise on the examination of digital technologies once they’ve been relegated to obsolesence, well, it should be a bit wordy.  It’s a weird feeling now having written this thing, the thing I’ve spent about 6 months of my life working on. I’m not out of the woods with it quite yet, as I have to do an oral examination (see: defense) of my thesis on Sept 23rd. THEN if all goes well, I will be done.

Anyone who’s gone through the process can recount the tales of stress, frustration, and anxiety that emerges when working on a project this large. When I started, I thought I would be different, I wouldn’t succumb to such feelings, I would just power through and get this done.  Yup, I was wrong. But now, on the other side of it, I feel like the work was immensely rewarding (even prior to be DONE done). I’ve accomplished something that several years ago I never thought I would do, I took something I was deeply interested in, researched the hell out of it, thought about critically, then wrote like half a book about it.  And while I’m sure in a few years I’ll look back at it and be like “wow, that was shit”, right now I’m sort of admiring my work with a little bit of pride. Until of course a panel of 4 academics senior to me put me in a room, and drill me on it for 2 hours. I imagine that might take a little of the shine away. Heh, I kid.

So, it has been a terribly (and by terribly I mean amazing) busy summer for me; I curated two exhibitions, gave a couple of guest lectures, presented at several conferences, wrote my thesis, an article or two, AND a month ago I move to Montreal).

In May, I gave a presentation at the Canadian Pop Culture Studies Association’s conference in Niagara Falls, Ont. Titled Gotta Hack ‘Em All, this presentation was a survey of subcultures engaged in hacking Pokemon Games.  I’m currently polishing the paper in hopes of future publication. In June, I travelled to Victoria to give two presentations at the Canadian Game Studies Association conference at the Congress of the Humanities at the University of Victoria (a sort of humanities uber-conference). There, I presented a paper on situationist practices and the legacy of the traditions of psychogeography in the 1977 Atari game Adventure (again, polishing the paper for the future). Also I co-presented a presentation with fellow Team Vector member Christine Kim, where we gave a brief summary of the Vector Game + Art Convergence Festival that we ran, along with other Team Vector members Clint Enns and Katie Micak.

Also, through out the course of the summer, I was invited to give a couple of guest lectures to students in different classes at OCADu. The first was in May, for a game studies course taught by the lovely and amazing Emma Westacott. My lecture  highlighted the relationship between art practice and digital games. I discussed the popular debate and moral panic surrounding the acceptance of emerging media’s role in art making. I discussing hacking, modding, machinima, and art games. It was the first time I had a room full of students for 3hrs. It was a great experience! Many of them really engaged with my lecture and the conversation/ discussion was lively and interesting.

In July, I lectured for Martin Zeilinger’s Digital Texts course at OCADu, discussing game hacking and modding in relation to art practice.  This lecture was more of a historical lecture, tracing the origins of hacking and modding in contemporary art. I discussed the work of JODI, talked about Ars Doom and Museum Meltdown mods, Cory Arcangel’s work, as well as many current examples. An interesting discussion formed around a student’s belief that it is the role of the curator to contribute to the canonization of art.  While I think that curation does contribute to historicizing artworks, I don’t believe my role is to canonize works.  Needless to say the discussion was lively, at times even a little heated. Which is something I very much appreciated. All too often getting students to engage in discussion is far too much work, so it was nice to see people coming out of the gate and disagreeing with my stance on the matter.

what these two lectures did do though, is show me how much I love the process of lecturing’/discussing/ teaching/ engaging with students.  I’ve done my fair share of conference presenations at this point, but frankly those haven’t been nearly as rewarding as the two lectures. I’m looking forward to doing this more in the future. Hopefully, a lot more!

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At the end of June in London, Ontario, I held the first edition of my Ghost Arcade exhibition series. While I did post about it the last time I was on here, that was 3 months ago, so humour me a bit while I recap the project.  Ghost Arcade is a project I undertook to document the margins of gaming culture; in this case, hacks, mods, bootlegs, knockoffs and myths.  Why? well, after encountering countless texts about the history of gaming, one thing became clear. The history of the culture is really simply the history of the industry. With blockbuster gaming exhibitions popping up around the world celebrating the history of the industry, so much gets left out of the conversation because of its ephemeral nature.

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^^ Random fanart left behind by an unknown visitor to Ghost Arcade ^^

Anything outside of the sanctioned history of gaming culture is left undocumented in “official” historical accounts, and framed as aberrations. And yet, gaming culture is rife with urban myths and legends, stories of notable hacks and bootlegs, and chocked full of bootlegs, rip offs and knockoffs. Why do these works get pushed to the margins? Where are the histories about these “ghost makers”? Ghost Arcade is my way of showcasing these works both through a series of roaming exhibitions, and a blog which charts the stories of these games.

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So the first edition of Ghost Arcade took place over 4 days in June on the 3rd floor of City Lights Books in London, and it was a great success.  The kind folks at City LIghts Cleared out the 3rd floor of the store of all the junk that was stored there, and turned it into a great, raw exhibition space, perfect for the show.  Much of the work was shown at Ghost Arcade was shown on hacked handheld gaming consoles, in mini foam core arcade cabinets I had built for the show.  All the shelving/ display warez for the show came from the space itself, something I’ve decided will become part of the traveling exhibitions aesthetic. Future iterations of the Ghost Arcade will use whatever I find in the spaces I exhibit in.

The show was written about on a local arts site in London called London Fuse, and you can read that article here. I’ve posted a few updates on the Ghost Arcade site and all of the photos documenting the show can be found on my flickr page.

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Just a month later, myself and the other members of Team Vector, co-curated Queer Arcade, a two day special exhibition at VideoFag in Toronto.  Featuring works by notable Queer game makers, as well as works gleaned through an open call, the show was a survey of the queer game making scene. Team Vector was on hand to talk about the works shown which included game mods, interactive text adventures, mazes shooters, a board game and a trivia game about queer history. You can find write ups for all the works on the Queer Arcade site, which we’re leaving up as an online catalogue of the show.

Two days after we uninstalled Queer Arcade, I packed up everything I owned and moved to Montreal, in anticipation of beginning my PhD, which i will talk about in my next post.

A long absence from the ghostynet (an update). Lots to do. Lots to do.

May 31, 2013

I’m currently embroiled in finishing my Master’s thesis, which has been taking up the bulk of my time and energy. Being so preoccupied with this and other activities, I haven’t been writing here.  But for those of your interested in what I’m up to, figured I would write a short list of all of the things I’m up to, with links and things.  I think some of this might be of interest who follow this blog, so why not point you to all the goodness that’s happening in my life right now.  So friends, enjoy these short descriptors and I will get back to this blog right proper like in a couple of months once I’m through the gauntlet.

* As I mentioned, I’m shoulders deep in working on completing my MA thesis. As of yet it is untitled. The thesis centers around the history of piracy and game hacking practices on the Sega Dreamcast, as a means of investigating the creative, cultural and consumer conditions of ‘obsolete’ digital hardware technologies, also known as abandonware.

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** Something else that I have not mentioned, is that in the spring, I was accepted into Concordia University’s INDI Program in the Humanities, and will begin my PhD studies in Montreal in the fall!!!! The INDI (or Individualized) Program is an interdisciplinary sort of “choose your own PhD” program where I had to chart the entire trajectory of my PhD studies in my proposal/ application. I get to choose any courses from any faculty that I think work with my research project.  Also I’ll be a member of Concordia’s Technoculture, Art and Gaming (TAG) lab, doing research/ creation projects. It’s all very exciting!!!

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*** Tomorrow I leave for Victoria for 6 days and am going there to participate in the Canadian Game Studies Association Conference.  I am presenting twice at that conference, with one paper about Psychogeography and the Situationist legacy in the 1978 Atari game Adventure. The other presentation will be co-presented with fellow Team Vector member Christine Kim, where we’ll be discussing our work on the Vector Game Art Festival‘s inaugural edition, which happened in February 2013.

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**** I’ve undertaken a new curatorial project, which is both a blog and a travelling exhibition. It’s called the Ghost Arcade. It’s a catalog of notable hacks, bootlegs, mods and urban myth in gaming culture.  The first exhibition is from June 20-23rd in London Ontario, on the 3rd floor of City Lights Bookshop.  I plan on touring this exhibition over the next year or two to galleries and alternative exhibition spaces as opportunities arise.

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***** Another exhibition, this one co-curated by VideoFag and Team Vector is coming in July.  The Queer Arcade is a 2 day exhibition/ arcade at VideoFag on July 27&28. This exhibition will highlight notable works in the Queer game scene as well as works that incorporate the theme of queerness in gaming cultures. Image

Then after all of these things, I move to Montreal August 1st.  I am also having a moving sale and shedding much of my game and graphic novel collection. It will be for locals (Toronto) only. It happens on June 15th. a list of all the items I’m selling will be posted here next week.

So yeah, lots to do, lots to do. See you soon friends!

ghostynet returns… some thoughts on gaming, gender and community.

March 18, 2013

In my recent absence from posting on this blog, I was busy running Vector: Game and Art Convergence, A multi-venue, 5 day festival and symposium centred on the intersections of gaming and contemporary art practices.  I am pleased to say that festival went off better than I possibly could have imagined.  Between the artists, curators, and academics who participated, I consider them all to be new friends and allies, who helped us raise the bar in terms of critical conversations around gaming, and game art.   Since the festival, I’ve been working hard on getting all the documentation done with my colleagues in Team Vector. And will write more about that soon.

What I am about to share with you are some thoughts over something that I have been thinking about for quite some time.  Something that I felt I needed to articulate, but needed the time to do so.  With all the recent troubling messages around rape apologists, and a general permissiveness of a rampant culture of misogyny, I wanted to speak directly to what’s been happening in gaming culture, talk about the problems, and offer my perspective on how members of the community are working towards change… so, dear friends, read on….
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I’ve been thinking about Anita Sarkeesian’s work on raising funds for her webseries Tropes Vs. Women,the subsequent release of its first episode, and the venomous backlash gaming culture directed at her. Threats of violence, death, rape, hacking of her email accounts, trolling at its worst across all of her digital presence online. All for pointing out the troubling history gaming has had with its representations of women.

I see all of this toxic, closed minded behaviour and I’m disgusted, disgusted by a culture that I partake in, disgusted because others like me (and by like me, I mean generally white men and young white men), are either the perpetrators of these terrible activities, or are least in some way permissive of it. If games are the medium of our time, and contained within this media are the ideological messages of our hegemonic regime, then I’m doubly concerned. The games, their makers and their consumers and the media that covers them, en masse are subscribing to and re-broadcasting these problematic messages. I recently came across old episodes of G4’s Icons, a show about the “greats” in video gaming history, which only ever showed women as the proverbial “women behind the great men”, save for a single episode highlighting women’s contributions to gaming’s larger history. Let me say this again, one SINGLE episode over FOUR seasons.

I see all of this, and I think to myself that I’ve done something wrong. I think that I’m somehow culpable for these acts. Not because I’ve actively participated in anything so disrespectful, but because I’ve spent my life playing these games, and for some time, had never considered the implications of the underlying ideological messages of what I was consuming. Now I realize that being a white male in this culture doesn’t do much for my concerned position in some ways. Try as I might, I can reasonably say that I can never truly empathize with those who’ve been oppressed or marginalized because of race, gender or ability. I don’t say this to be dismissive, I say this to mean that while I think it’s deplorable, that I can never really feel the brunt effect of these behaviours, omissions and messages. I say this to mean that I feel incredibly inadequate and unqualified to address these concerns with the same first hand knowledge that others possess. I say this to mean that I come from a privileged position in this culture and that I (for years as the prime demographic for these games) feel incredibly guilty for consuming it’s messages in my younger years. I also say this because I feel that what may sound like an apology is something I also believe to be horribly inadequate given the vitriol that has sought to marginalize and silence the discussion of representations in gaming.

In spite of what seems to be the bleak picture I’m painting here. I can also say to you that I’ve been very hopeful about the future of the medium and it’s culture. Being in Toronto in the past several years, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the rise of a community committed to gender parity in both making games and creating more positive messaging in the medium. Shortly after I moved to Toronto to begin my Master’s Degree (centred around the intersections between gaming, hacking and artistic practice) I had the pleasure of meeting Cecily Carver and Zoe Quinn, and Jennie Faber who co-founded an initiative called Dames Making Games (DMG for short). Their commitment to a greater inclusion of women in gaming was borne of their shared experiences at an incubator run by Toronto’s Hand Eye Society called the Difference Engine, which was designed to get first time female game makers on their way.

DMG picked up where the Difference Engine left off. And picked up they did. In a little over a year, DMG has found a permanent home at Toronto’s collaborative web/ game workspace, Bento Miso, has held a large number of workshops, jams and socials, all designed to keep an inclusive conversation moving centred around women in games. With their first year under their belt, and their ranks constantly growing with new members, DMG has a bright future moving forward. I am honoured to be an ally of this organization and have done what I can to support them, whether it’s through attending their events or showcasing their works at events I’ve programmed. It’s not enough anymore to claim to be an ally of such initiatives, it’s important to proactively show them support and encouragement.

Since DMG’s launch in Toronto, A similar group called Pixelles has emerged in Montreal, which is where I will be moving for my PhD studies next year. Additionally, other groups are popping up globally, as if to tell the gaming industry and it’s culture: “you’re not doing enough, so we’re going to do it ourselves.” And for those who know me, I keep that spirit of DIY very close to my heart. Collectively and collaboratively, these groups are actively participating as catalysts for change in a culture reticent to do so.

Another group in Toronto doing this work is the Feminist in Games Initiative (FIG), a research group comprised of academics and artists who are actively working to stem the flow of misogynistic discourse embedded in gaming culture. Through a conference, lectures and workshops FIG is also out there working towards change. And while all of these groups do great work, I fear it won’t be enough. Again, I’m not being dismissive, but my point here is a simple one. They need allies, of all genders; to step out from behind their controllers and add their voices to the conversation, to collectively stand up and say that these actions and messages are unacceptable, and that we all demand these changes.

Then I think about Mike Hoye, and Mike Mika and their hacking of Popular Nintendo IPs to be more inclusive of gender. Who did so, because of the lack of strong female protagonists and positive representations of women in gaming culture. Who did so, so that their daughters could have a more inclusive experience when gaming. I wonder though, why did these fathers become the subjects of our collective attention? Likely because these kinds of acts are still rather new to us, and are in some way, rather novel. Hopefully though, their actions act as a catalyst for others to get involved and add their own work to the dialogue. If we’re discussing these issues, then we’re on our way. Then (to paraphrase something a friend of mine recently stated) maybe the story won’t be about the father of young girl hacking a game in the name of inclusiveness, it will be that young girl hacking her own games. With an increasing number of modding tools available, it is only a matter of time before others pick up this practice.

Lastly, I want to address how I feel I’ve contributed to this dialogue, not to placate you, nor to bolster my image in some problematic form of online identity politics, but to tell you, that I’m an ally, and that I’ll do what I can to help this along. In February of 2013, I was the Co-Director of Vector: Game + Art Convergence, a 5 Day game art festival and symposium, programmed by Team Vector (a collective of 4 curators/artists/scholars). When we began planning the festival in August of 2012, it took some time for our collective programming vision to emerge. But when it did so, we found that we had a program rich with discussions on the troubling nature of representations in gaming — A film screening dedicated to gender and indentity in online spaces, an evening of performance dedicated to discussions of gender, feminism and representation in games, a large amount of works by local and international female artists, as well as a panel on feminist practices in games + game art, which featured members of several of the organizations that I’ve written about in this post.

As a group, Team Vector felt that while these discussions were indeed going on outside of the festival, that it was vastly important to include them within as well. As curators, we need to be mindful of all perspectives within the intersecting worlds of gaming and art that we were charting. We also feel that our work in this regard has just begun, and a primary focus of our future curatorial endeavors will seek to address issues of inclusivity (or its lack) whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Talking about these issues is the first step towards change, actively working to change the landscape follows, and that work has already begun. Which is something I am very happy to see. However, even though I feel I can only ever call myself an ally in this struggle, I am still very much proud to do so. Collectively we cannot be silent on these issues, to do so is an act of complicitness, an unspoken statement that the status quo is satisfactory. And it is certainly not that. While I won’t pretend to have any definitive answers on how to effect these changes on a larger scale, I feel that the work that myself and my peers in Team Vector have done as allies of this movement is a positive step.

But it’s just a beginning, it’s a long road ahead, and I wish the people at the forefront of these initiatives stay the course, and I will do what I can to support them. And so should you. Because it really is only through a communal effort that the kinds of changes that are needed can occur.

So you think E.T. is the worst game of all time? I wholly disagree.

January 10, 2013

reclaiming crapware copy

A while ago, I was sitting down with Bento Miso owner/operator/ amazing community supporter Henry Faber, having a meeting planning out a number of things including Vector (this week we announced our programming for the festival!).  During this conversation we were talking about the Miso Game Salon series, which is a series of events that discusses various issues in relation to video games and popular culture.  The first of the series was about the relationship between heavy metal and video games.  At some point in our chat, Henry and I decided that I would lead the second panel in the MGS series.

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For years now, I’ve heard people discuss Howard Scott Warshaw’s infamous E.T. Atari video game as the “worst game of all time”.  It was even blamed for causing the videogame console market crash in 1983.   While this is obviously essentializing a problem that was far more nuanced, E.T. became emblematic for the hubris of the video game industry in the early 1980s.  All sorts of clones, liscensed titles and otherwise bad games began to flood the market, creating a new classification: CRAPWARE.  Consumers lost confidence in the industry because they didn’t want to risk paying money for an increasingly number of bad games.   E.T was at the front of this, and has remained a target for all kinds of popular criticism.  It’s been 30 years, and I say it’s time to re-examine this game.   And it’s for this reason that I formed the panel for MGS2: Reclaiming Crapware.

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It’s time to talk about these games and once more put them under scrutiny, but this time let’s discuss how some of these games (such as E.T.) were actually far more innovative and forward looking than the industry (and its players) could acknowledge in those early days.   As games have evolved, we’ve seen how CrapWare never really went away.  While some liscenced properties are simply obvious cashgrabs, there are other games that have been critically panned that deserve another look.  Sometimes they were simply failed experiments due to the lack of an audience to embrace them.   And these days with more and more Indies experimenting with the medium, we need to look back as we move forward, and we need to recuperate some of this history.

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So after talking to Henry about all of this, MGS2: Reclaiming Crapware was born.   I have curated a panel, 2 of us study games academically, and 2 who are local indie game developers.  I asked everyone to pick a game from any era that could be thematically linked to the concept of Crapware, rather than simply talk about the pre-crash era in the 80s.   The Panelists of Reclaiming Crapware will be giving 10 minute presentations on why the game they’ve chosen deserves re-examination. Rather than talking about these as ‘crappy games’, they will have to convince the audience of the unique innovations and design features that make these games great!

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PANELISTS:

JIM MCGINLEY (Big Pants Games/TOJam): will be talking about Power Shovel (Taito, 2000) for the PS1.

RYAN CREIGHTON (Untold Ent.):M.C Kids (Virgin Interactive, 1992) for the NES.

DAVID MURPHY (PhD Candidate, Communications & Culture at Ryerson/York): Night Trap (Digital Pictures, 1992) for the SEGA-CD.

SKOT DEEMING (mrghosty/ ME!!!): E.T. (Howard Scott Warshaw,Atari, 1982) for the Atari VCS (2600).

Hopefully they will. Maybe they won’t. Either way it is going to be a lively conversation about games, design, and culture.

*** just as a post-script here, many people have been saying that I’ve got my work cut out for me. However, I firmly believe that I’ll be able to convince the entire audience of E.T.’s innovative greatness!!!   You’ll have to come out and see for yourself!

Here’s a link to the facebook event page with all the info!

Interlude. Holiday Thrifting and Weird peripherals.

December 31, 2012

These days, I’m spending the bulk of my time sequestered in my house working either on my MA thesis (which thankfully requires playing lots of fan hacked video games), or working on Vector: Game + Art Convergence.   With Vector quickly approaching, there has been some great news on that front.  Team Vector received a New Media Projects Grant from the Ontario Arts Council, which means that with this funding, we are well on our way to throwing a landmark art festival.   It’s very exciting times right now for Vector, our programming is more or less locked in, and our schedule and ticketing structure has been sorted out.   If you check the Vector website in the upcoming days and weeks,  I will be updating all of our programming information, I think it’s really worth checking out.

So, what does a busy fella, who’s tucked away from the world working on all this stuff do for fun.  Well, I get out an walk.  And usually on these walks find thrift stores (some might argue that that’s where I was heading anyway), and look for bits and pieces of gaming history.  Before I was studying games, I was a collector.  Actually, I still very much am a collector, the difference being is that now I call these objects of research, even if they do just sit on shelves for the time being.   Gaming culture is kind of huge, there’s lots to account for historically, so when I see weird, ephemera, or things I’ve never seen before (particularly if they’re cheap), I bring them home.

While taking a break from work the other day, I headed out to a nearby Goodwill with a friend of mine and found some interesting objects.   It’s a pretty rare thing to happen upon old manuals and catalogues for games at thrift stores these days, but I found two the other day that I thought were pretty interesting.

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The first was a big old fashioned gatefold poster/ catalogue from Sega for the Game Gear.  It was a pretty interesting system.  First colour handheld gaming device, weighed a ton and sucked batteries dry pretty quickly (unless you got the batter pack thing, pictures above).   I love the old analog tv tuner as well.  This was also the era of those Sony Watchman portable TVs, which used a built in receiver not unlike the one for the Game Gear.

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The other was this Sega clothing catalog.   T-shirts, hats, even a sleeveless Denim jacket with the Sonic & Knuckles logo adorning the back of it.  I was going to scan it, but I have to get back to other work and wanted to get to the other piece I found, which I think it far more interesting than these.

Anyone who knows their game history knows that REZ (for Dreamcast or PS2) was a notable game in the history of rhythm based games.   Players flew about a digital landscape as a human like avatar, shooting strange creatures and objects to the beat of the electronic soundtrack.  Moreso, their actions modified the soundtrack, adding richer layers to the music.  The rumble enabled controllers would also pulse to the beat.  But to further the synaesthetic experience, the REZ entrancer was introduced.  Four vibrating sensor/ motors that you could strap to your arms and legs to feel the beat in your body while you played.    I thought that this was the only example of this kind of body-centered ‘rumble’ interface for games, and then I found this:

IMG_1794Made by “TopWay” for the PS1, the space vest is essentially a vibrating vest with two large rumblr motors on each side of the front of the vest.  The control box for the vest acts as a sort of intermediary device between the PS1 and the controller, with the rumble signal being sent to the vest via an 1/8″ jack and cable.

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While I haven’t dug out the PS1 to give this a try yet, I’m kind of eager to.  Also going to try it with a PS2 version of RES to see if I’ve got some kind of knock off device that will work like the entrancer does.   Also I kind of want to just plug it in, because in addition to being a rumble vest, it has a non gaming application:  massage mode.

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Although I can’t see the value in having your upper abdomen massaged with this device, maybe if it was worn in reverse so that the rumble motors massaged the back… that’s something I can see as being useful.

I bought the Space Vest though, because of it’s ephemeral status more than the possibility of it being useful to me while I play games.  Often gaming history focuses on the big names and institutions in accounting for the history of the culture, and many devices such as the Space Vest end up being forgotten.   In the same way that people remember the games and hardware by gaming companies, they forget to examine all the paratextual elements (such as these Sega catalogs) that influence player buying practices, and therefor modify the player experience in some way.

It’s my hope that over time that we can create more documented accounts of these lesser known aspects in the history of gaming culture.

And with that, I have to get back to work … remember to stay out of hot, humid places and direct sunlight when you play, that’s good advice anytime.

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Coming in February 2013. Vector: Game + Art Convergence.

November 15, 2012

With the completion of this year’s DPAD series at Interaccess, I am free and clear to start talking about the next major exhibition/ project/ thing I’m working on.    In late summer of 2012, I banded together a group of artists, programmers, and curators to join me in planning Canada’s first Game Art Festival + Symposium.   Called Vector (for the myriad of directions Game Art is already moving in), it’s happening in Toronto Canada from Feb 22nd-24th.    Over these four days, Vector will feature 3 exhibitions, 4 screenings, 3 evenings of performance, workshops and panels all situating games as the tools and inspirations for contemporary art making.

One of the key aspects of Vector that makes it so unique are the galleries/ venues that have come on board to support Vector by becomming programming partners and making their spaces available for the duration of the event.  Interaccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, Propeller Center for the Visual Arts and Bento Miso have all signed on to house Vector and its various activities.  All located within short walking distance from one another, this configuration allows us to have concurrent and staggered events that visitors and audiences members can move between, effectively turning vector into a 4 day ad hoc game art crawl.

As part of our mandate to show works by artists from all levels of experience, we have issued an open call for works, with a deadline of December 10th 2012. We’re looking for works in all media that critically address games and game art, as well as their orbiting cultures.  One of the features of the festival that I’m very excited about is the Vector Annual.    Part Catalogue, Part Journal, the Vector Annual will be a print companion featuring curatorial and artist statements, printed works as well as essays and articles.  It will also be available as a free and open access digital download shortly after the festival.

In the next few weeks, Team Vector will be making some early programming announcements for some of the work we have already chosen to be a part of Vector.  In addition we will be hosting a preview night at Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts in Toronto’s Queen West District on December 14th.  More info will be made available on the Vector Website in the next few days.

Needless to say as a curator and event programmer, I have never been as excited about any project I’ve undertaken as this.

For more updates you can follow Vector on twitter @vectorgameart

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