Interview: In Their Words–Bit Bash and MSI Discuss Bit Bash 2019 Collaboration

To us, Bit Bash and MSI are a natural match. Both the Museum of Science and Industry and Bit Bash are experts at creating fantastic interactive experiences and creating a sense of wonder around their subject matter. So naturally, we were excited to hear that Bit Bash was bringing back their original summer bash at MSI, and expanding it to be bigger and better than ever--and two days long. Bit Bash will be at MSI on both Saturday, August 17th, and Sunday, August 18th. On Saturday, the festival runs from 11 am to 5:30 pm, and tickets get attendees basic access to MSI for the day as well as access to the after hours party, which begins as soon as the museum doors close, is open to all ages, and will run through midnight. On Sunday, the fun begins again at 11 and runs through 4 pm. Here’s what we know about Bit Bash from experience--there will be a ton (always more than the first number we give) of amazing indie games from developers that cover a wide range of genres, tell all kinds of stories, some silly, some quite serious, and showcase a wide array of art styles, from retro throwback to brand new and exciting, with all sorts of controls and controllers. There will also be tons of group fun in a safe, friendly space--whether that’s field games, couch co-op or group interactive experiences.  This year, there’s a lineup of live music that covers everything from chiptunes to vaporwave, VGM, techno and juke, along with a special screening room, tabletop design room, and tactile electronic hardware space. On top of that, Bit Bash has some truly fantastic sponsors, from Jackbox and developer Farcade to the Chicago Foundation for the Interactive Arts  and beverage sponsors Empirical Brewery and Lagunitas, whose wares we hope to see at the party.  We could spend a lot of time on the games, and we will in our review of this year’s event. For now though, we wanted to dig into this fantastic collaboration and talk to the people who made it happen. We asked reps from the Museum of Science and Industry and Bit Bash to talk to us about this year’s event, and put together a little Newlywed Game sort of interview for you (and us) to enjoy ahead of the event. It seems like both the Museum of Science and Industry and the folks at Bit Bash are pumped for this weekend’s festivities, and by the time you’re done reading, we think you will be too. So, let’s jump right in with how it all came to be. For this interview, we spoke with MSI’s Guest Experience Manager Jennifer Scheyer and Bit Bash’s Artistic Director, Rob Lach. As it turns out, MSI has had Bit Bash on its radar since the first bash, so the two organizations sought each other out. For the first portion of the interview, we talked with Rob, asking about the initial planning stages and how it’s all come together, but we saved a few choice questions for both Jennifer and Rob to answer on behalf of MSI and Bit Bash, respectively.   Bit Bash 2017. Photo: Marielle Bokor So, Rob, why MSI? Bit Bash: While traditionally, we’ve held our festival at venues in the west loop, we did too excellent a job of bringing the cool, and the spaces that work for an event of our scale were beyond the resources available to us. When the opportunity to work with MSI came to us, we jumped on the opportunity to execute the next iteration of our vision. The Museum of Science and Industry is such a great fit for Bit Bash. First of all, it’s literally the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, which means it can easily accommodate our growing ambitions, but also, MSI attracts an audience that has a curious eye towards science and technology, for which a festival that exhibits some of the most creative works coming from the forefront of tech is an excellent fit.   Who came up with the idea to have it at MSI? Why, and what was that conversation like? Bit Bash: Bit Bash has been increasingly catching the eye of Chicago’s cultural institutions as these organizations strive to understand video game culture. With our collaborations with the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Adler Planetarium, we’ve established ourselves as being the experts at balancing these two worlds.  When MSI began searching for ways to bring in more video game culture into their space, they first surveyed an eSports event which I assume didn't go so well since they jumped on our invitation for them to visit our Fabricade event we produced at mHub last year. They immediately understood what we're about and how our vision for bringing games into MSI aligned with theirs.   Bit Bash @ Fabricade. Photo: Marielle Bokor What did it change to have Bit Bash at MSI? Is there more of an educational focus than in the past, or more of an exhibit feel? Not much. We warned them we do things in our way. Hopefully they’ll let us come back! The biggest changes come in sprinkling in some of Bit Bash’s magical interactive experiences within the museum space.   What’s the collaboration with MSI been like for you? Nice. What excites you most about this collaboration? Bit Bash: Besides the incredible audience MSI has, and access to some of the most beautiful and unique spaces we’re still trying to figure out how to use properly, the people there are great to work with. It’s truly a partnership.  MSI: We love having the opportunity to provide guests with new and one-of-a-kind experiences. We see Bit Bash as a way to encourage guests to explore how they play with video games and to discover how the creators are thinking differently about games as a medium.   What are some of the shared values between MSI and Bit Bash? Bit Bash: Both Bit Bash and MSI aim to bring inspiring experiences for curious audiences. It's nice having a lot of assumed shared vision. MSI: Here at MSI, our mission is to inspire the inventive genius in everyone. Bit Bash also celebrates the innovative ways people around the world are thinking about video and outdoor games. We’re excited to host this festival because it is an incredible mashup of science, art, and hands-on exploration--which is what we’re known for. What’s your favorite thing we’ll see this weekend? Rob Lach, Bit Bash: My favorite things are two adorable games called The Haunted Island, a Frog Detective Game and Good Morning Drifter. Very chill and full of character. I think most people will love our collection of custom hardware based experiences that you'd only be able to experience at Bit Bash, especially One Night Only, which is a game were the controllers are guitars which get destroyed at the end of the game. Jennifer Scheyer, MSI: I really like the game The Book Ritual which is as much of an interactive art-piece as it is a game.  This game uses real books and asks you to write in them, black things out, and even feed pages through a shredder to advance the game. The creator uses your existing attachment to the book to make the game more emotional.   What do you hope attendees to Bit Bash at MSI will get out of this experience? MSI: We hope guests leave Bit Bash at MSI with newly piqued curiosity in games and how they are made. This festival is centered on providing a welcoming space for programmers and artists to use their own perspectives to create new and exciting gameplay for everyone, and we’re thrilled to provide guests with the opportunity to discover how innovative this field can be. Finally, are there any other plans for collaboration between Bit Bash and MSI in the future? Bit Bash: If they let us MSI: We have a long history of exhibits that focus on tech innovations like Wired to Wear and Robot Revolution, and we’re always looking at new ways to offer guests interactive experiences. To us, it sounds like this weekend will be the start of a beautiful relationship between MSI and Bit Bash. We’re glad we’ll be able to be there to see it, and encourage everyone to come check out all the amazing things Bit Bash at MSI has to offer. For more information and tickets, click here.
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Marielle Bokor