Art

Hey! Play! Games in Modern Culture Celebrates the Art of Play

Parachute Game. Photo by Marielle Shaw

It’s Chicago Design Week, and the members of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, or AIGA, are embarking on week celebrating all things design. We were there Friday night as they kicked off the festivities with the opening of a special new exhibit on games and how they affect us at the Chicago Design Museum. Hey! Play! Games in Modern Culture was created as the centerpiece for this design week by Brian Schrank, Chair of Game Design and Associate Professor at DePaul University, and Leanne Wagner, Partner at Adjust Creative and Professional Lecturer at DePaul University, and chaired by Lance Curran. It’s an exhibit designed to alleviate the stress and tension caused by external forces in our lives, such as the social and political climate, and get people thinking more critically about games as relevant, useful and artistic parts of our everyday lives.

Hey! Play! is about games and how they are inherent to the human condition. We make believe as children and express these fantasies through play. As adults, we might forget what it’s like to be child-like and inhibition free- but we still have a tendency to play games. The different ways these games manifest is what Hey! Play! is all about. More than just an art exhibit, it is an interactive game showcase with multiple ways to engage in games – both digitally and in a more analog, directly human way. Visitors on opening night could play classic parachute games, engage in the tense but silly Slapsie, explore deconstructed games and more in what curator Brian Schrank described as a “tasting of games” and an “eclectic mix” that is meant to reconnect us with what it’s like to play.

TempleOS, while not exactly a game, was meant by programmer Terry Davis to be a line of communication to God- an operating system built for God’s third temple. It is a retro, strange and confusing – an interesting piece of art by a schizophrenic outsider who believes he is fulfilling a divine purpose. In development for over 10 years solely by Terry Davis, it is a fascinating look at one man’s relationship with God that forces us to think about our own beliefs. TempleOS is open source and available here.

Untitled Game in action. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

Untitled Game by art collective Jodi uses first-person shooter Quake as a canvas for their deconstruction and subversion of what you would expect a game to be. It provides a more technical, glitchy perspective of what a game is while laying bare some underlying game elements – an effect that was achieved by essentially breaking the game by removing and manipulating parts of its code. You can check out Untitled Game here.

A game of Videoball. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

Videoball by Tim Rogers is an amalgamation of different sports distilled into a two versus two arcade game – probably making it the most conventional game on display at Hey! Play!. Videoball is easy for anyone to pick up and play but its aim it to have a high skill ceiling to not get boring. A true combination of sports, Videoball blends terminology and rules with abandon in pursuit of the perfect game to sit on your couch and compete against your friends. More information can be found here.

Slapsies in action. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

“Slapsies” and “Parachute Game” are two games that eschew technology altogether and rely on nothing but people’s tendency towards their playful selves. Created by Bernie DeKoven for the “New Games” movement they reflect the movement’s emphasis on friendliness and fun. See more of DeKoven’s work here.

Playing Emotica. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

Game designer and educator Anna Anthropy had on display three games that emphasized game creation as much as game play. “DIY Surgery” is a game that challenges its players to basically design their own levels by placing stickers that must be navigated to. Give Me Space! allows players to design their own game controllers to control a rocket ship . Emotica is a colorful game that utilizes emoji to make up a world that can be remade and redrawn as you like. You can check out more of Anna Anthropy’s stuff here.

Photo by Marielle Shaw

SuperBetter is an app that gamifies life in the pursuit of personal betterment. Receive “quests” that are designed with health and mental well-being in mind. Using the idea of incrementalism to start small and gradually work your way up to bigger tasks, it parallels what many games do to keep players hooked and playing – but for your health. See more information and get the app here.

Perhaps best capturing the essence of Hey! Play! Is Spacebox – a game that taps into childhood imagination to invoke that feeling of fantasy and childhood wonder. Sit in a cardboard box that is both your vehicle and your controller- sway side to side to turn, squeeze the front to fire lasers, and raise the flaps to bring up your shields. Spacebox is an intuitive full-body experience that emulates what it’s like to play as a child.

An example visualization in SoundSelf. Photo courtesy of Robin Arnott

Made as a meditative aid, SoundSelf is a game that allows players to sing and hum to produce psychedelic visuals. Created by Robin Arnott for Burning Man, it was meant as an introspective tool that allows players to get lost in the changing colors. Designed as a virtual reality experience for the Oculus Rift, a VR headset is not strictly required to experience SoundSelf. You can check it out for yourself.

Game art itself wasn’t what was primarily on display – what was on display was how games as an art form interacts with our lives. Hey! Play! Games in Modern Culture was extremely effective at what it sought out to do – to make us think about games and the different ways we play. Reinvigorate your sense of play and discover how games are an inherent part of our daily lives with Hey! Play! Games in Modern Culture as it runs through February 2018. There is no admission fee, but donations are accepted. It is located in the Chicago Design Museum located in Block 37 – click here for details.

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