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Thursday, 1 November 2012

Griff says; Jeux Sans Frontières

Regular readers will by now have cottoned on to the fact that I occasionally like to write about gaming. I must admit I'm not really much of a gamer myself but I do find the interface between the gaming and art worlds particularly fascinating. Gaming, after all, is a very new art form, and is one which is often characterised as trivial or juvenile. The obvious parallels can be drawn with the establishment reaction to the new-fangled fad of pop music in the 1950s or the early 20th century theatre owners dismissal of early film as a mere gimmick. For this reason, we are in an especially privileged position in that we belong to a generation, or generations, who can watch first-hand as gaming develops a remit which extends beyond entertainment into something more profound. And it will do that. Indeed, it already is doing that as my previous blogs on gaming (see 'here') have sought to make clear.

So, tonight, I wanted to introduce you to the wonderful world of Pippin Barr - author, blogger, artist, lecturer, thesis supervisor and game designer. Dr. Pippin Barr previously taught the experimental interaction and programming for game designers courses at IT University of Copenhagen in Denmark and his Ph.D. was about video game values, while his M.Sc. was about user-interface metaphors. This background is obvious in his games designing, which he began at the start of 2011,as he continually pushes at the boundaries of game-play. In particular, stretching the limits of simple narratives by the inherent mechanics contained within the game-play choices. If none of that last sentence makes any sense then I direct you to my previous blog on the experimental, minimalistic 'notgames' of Jordan Magnuson 'here'. Pippin Barr's short flashgames are reminiscent of Magnuson's work but with an added element of subversive black humour.

I first came across Barr due to his most famous creation, the game 'The Artist Is Present'. Astute Streetlamp readers, who tend to be familiar with the world of avant-garde art, will recognise the title as belonging to the monumental performance piece delivered by the divine Marina Abramovic at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 2010. If you have no idea who Marina Abramovic is or why this particular piece of performance art is so famous and well-loved have a look at this very good documentary 'here'. Anyway, Barr has taken the full 'The Artist Is Present' experience, including the interminable queuing and the multiple dashed hopes of finally being able to sit opposite Marina (yes, the Streetlamp team have been thoroughly seduced by the sublime Serbian ) and turned it into an 8-bit game experience. Does that make sense? Perhaps not, maybe its best to tell you that you can play the game 'here'. I loved it, but then I love Marina (sigh) so perhaps I'm biased.

Barr has many more extremely interesting games on his site. For my money, the best of these are the slyly satirical 'War Game', which takes an early arcade-style shooting game and turns it into a commentary on war and the military mind-set worthy of Catch-22. 'You Say Jump I Say How High' is another totally addictive game, particularly if, like me, you are a bit of a physics geek. You see, this game allows you, in fact requires you, to adjust the physical parameters of the world in which your little ghost character collects coins and moves through the levels. Imagine Super Mario as imagined by David Bohm.
Barr's game play ideas are continually surprising and inventive. Check out his conversion of the famous philosophical thought experiment The Trolley Problem into a game. Play for yourself and marvel at how fun philosophy can be (and how empty of any value utilitarianism is).
Then there are Barr's thirty-six separate versions of the grand-daddy of arcade video games Pong. Barr's versions include Blind Pong, Epilepsy Pong, Schizo Pong and Shrink Pong amongst others. You will be literally amazed at the sheer breadth of invention Barr can bring to such an ostensibly unsophisticated set-up.

I'll finish up by pointing out that Barr is also a visual artist and that the illustrations used throughout this piece are all his own work. More of this can be seen at his website.


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