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Round Up — Reset: Post-Consumer Gamer Culture.

July 17, 2012

^^Image of Ian Bogost’s A Slow Year installation.^^

On June 21st, in Winnipeg,  I curated an exhibition for the Platform Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts in Winnipeg. This exhibition (Reset: Post Consumer Gamer Culture) is part of a themed programming year at Platform, centered around the concept of the palimsest.   The term comes from a practice from ancient times when scrolls where used to record written information.  In Rome, the scrolls had a wax like quality, where the writing could be scrapped away and the scroll could be used anew.   As a metaphor for Platform’s programming year, the palimsest becomes old or so-called ‘obsolete’ technologies which contemporary artists use in the creation of new contemporary works.  In this regard, the  palimsest is actually the perfect metaphor to open up a discussion of work by those who create by hacking, modding and manipulating game technologies and their aesthetics.

In my curatorial essay for the exhibition, I posit the artists in the show as members of what I term a ‘post-consumer gamer culture’, one which takes the previous cultural definitions of the platforms, aesthetics and game mechanics of ‘vintage’ game technologies and re-inscribes new meanings onto them by playing with the medium in order to create new works.  However, this phenomenon is not simply relegated to gaming and digital creative technologies from the past, but also our present.   Artists, hackers, modders, fans, makers and tinkerers all engage in a creative practice that in some manner re-inscribes new meanings upon even contemporary signifiers in gaming cultures.  It is their creative works and social practices that continually contribute to the writing and rewriting of video game cultures.   Thus they all in some way are scraping off the old text from the scroll and writing new texts and meanings in their place.   Although of course, sometimes the old text can be seen ghostlike behind the new, creating collisions between new and old discourses on the nature of gaming, its cultures and technologies.

^^ Track + Feel II installation by PartyTime! Hexcellent!^^

Reset: Post-Consumer Gamer Cultures is the beginning of my exploration of digital gaming platforms, and creative practices that exist outside industrial/ corporate models of above ground (see: mainstream) video game cultures.   As I write this I am beginning the work on my Master’s Thesis on the subject, which will be an exploration of these practices one a single platform: the Sony Playstation Portable.    Using the PSP ( the most hacked/ modded handheld console of all time) as a case study, I am planning on investigating how it is that these creative and social practices create a shift in the cultural definitions of a platform.   If all goes according to plan, this is will be done by April/ May of 2013.  Until then however, I will be curating and programming other events that deal with DIY/fan/art cultures which orbit mainstream video game culture.

Below I have included the short curatorial essay from the exhibition to provide a deep context for what I’m talking about here.  I would love to hear feedback on this from any one who is interested.   An expanded version of this essay as well as professional photo documentation will be available in a print catalogue of all of the exhibitions from the 2012 (palimsest themed) programming year at Platform, with an expected release sometime in 2013.

You can also read about the exhibition in this week’s MacLean’s Magazine (in print only at this point), and the exhibition runs until July 28th.

^^ Clint Enns’ Rotterdam Tower (right) and Gameboy Empire (left) 2 examples of machinima ^^

Reset: Post Consumer Gaming Culture, Curatorial Essay.

To undertake any practice that investigates video gaming and its cultures is to continually be taking aim at a moving target. Gaming culture is in a constant state of redefinition, due to continually evolution of generations – in the form of platforms, their contents, and their players. For a little over a decade, the academy has been turning its investigative lens towards video game culture. With many angles of approach having been undertaken, definitions of gamer culture writ large have largely focused on the players of games: who they are (identity), what they play (consumable content), and how they play (interactions). These areas of study exist on a spectrum born from game culture as consumer culture: products created and distributed by various companies that work within the structure of an industrial model of cultural production, the end result of which is the player’s experience.

As our technology has evolved and individuals outside of this model become literate in code, hardware and design, new classifications emerge within gaming culture’s orbits. Indie Games, Game Art, Art Games, and other classifications exist as a sub-stratum of gaming culture defined not by their consumptive and gaming practices, but with a wide range of creative practices revolving around the culture and technologies of video games. Artists, modders, hackers, fans and makers who use the software, hardware, platforms and aesthetics of video game culture to create new works which exist outside of this model of production, distribution and consumption.

 These creators represent a shift from the standard definitions of play represented by the consumer players who play games, to players who play with the interfaces, design, and technology of games; in short, a Post-Consumer play practice. The work of the artists in this exhibition is emblematic of this practice. This work recapitulates the culture of games as a creative culture, one that makes use of various gaming platforms and imagery to explore the nature of games and digital play itself.

^^Myfanwy Ashmore talking about her DS poems (.exe, dear sirs and 10watts) at the opening of the exhibition ^^

 Ian Bogost’s A Slow Year and Myfawny Ashmore’s DS Poems (played on the Atari 2600 or the Nintendo DS respectively), play with the form of the video game by stripping away the enemies, the power-ups and playable characters; reconstituting the video game as interactive digital poetry. Clint Enns’ Rotterdam Tower and Gameboy Empire posit that games can be tools for digital filmmaking, either through machinima (the practice of taking video game footage and creating films) or the creation of non-interactive game based media that are ‘played back’ rather than ‘played’. Party Time! Hexcellent’s Track + Feel II is a process-oriented work that integrates the use peripheral game controllers with graphical process glitches in the Nintendo Entertainment System to create live generative visual compositions. Whereas artists in the exhibition, Max Capacity and HaydiRocket, use appropriated images from 8 bit games in order to create stills and short animated gifs.

 While the final products of these artists are varied, they share commonalities. Each artist is playing with the nature of medium itself. By creating works of interactive poetry, digital film, generative art, stills or short animations, each artist invites a conversation that expands our understanding of video games as an art form. While the devices that these works are created with, for, and exhibited on create assumptions as to the nature of play on a specific gaming platform (ones generally defined by the companies responsible for the manufacture and marketing of the platform), the artists in Reset challenge these assumptions by engaging us with new and unconventional forms of content and interaction not originally conceived to be exhibited on these platforms.

^^ Max Capacity’s 8 bit Cityscapes ^^

 It is worth noting here how fitting it is that this exhibition is occurring at a gallery named Platform. The post-consumer player is a creator with intimate knowledge of the digital Platforms they are playing with and creating for. In much the same way a photographer must have intimate knowledge of her craft, so too do these artists in theirs. To understand a platform in this sense is to understand how both the hardware and software operations work in unison in order to display graphics, play back sound, react to various input devices and more. Those choosing to work in the fields of creative computational practices spent a great deal of time educating themselves on these operations in order to understand how to create works specific to the Platform they’ve chosen to create on/for. For example, Myfawny’s DS poems, which are viewed on a Nintendo DS, make use of the touch screen on the lower half of the console; as we tap, swipe, and draw on the touch screen, we witness a the unfolding of an auto-biographical poem on the screen on the top half of the device. Similarly, Party Time! Hexcellent!’s Track + Feel II makes use of the NES’ unique graphical tile arrangement system to in order to create graphical glitches using the console’s unique hardware configurations. These works demanded a high set of skill in order to create them, one that comes from a deep understanding of the technological nature of the platform. It is through this understanding, articulated in these artworks that enable the post-consumer player (artist) to contribute to the redefinition of the platform and how it is situated in our culture.

 This is in part what can be understood as the moving target; the defining characteristics of gaming cultures and platforms shift over time, not simply due to market driven technological progression, where the next platform replaces in the old in linear succession. Rather, the cultures and platforms of video games shift their definitions by and large through the play practices of both the consumer gamer and the post-consumer player. Where one group helps define the platform through the terms of the economic model previously mentioned, the other is responsible for creating new states and redefinitions of the cultural spaces a platform interacts with.

^^Haydi Rocket’s 8 bit animated gifs^^

 The artist’s works in this exhibition re-contextualize gaming cultures and their devices through their appropriation and creation of new works from / on old platforms. While these works draw from a lineage of hacking, modding, and coding play practices, they also situate themselves as works of new media art, challenging our cultural assumptions and engaging in a dialog with the medium itself. These artists highlight our digital devices, not as objects of technological fetishism, but as cultural platforms, ones which enable new forms of communication and interaction as the spaces they inhabit shift over time.

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