Who says videogames aren't art? Certainly not The Museum of Modern Art in New York City! Last night, MoMA held an exhibition called PopRally Presents: Arcade, presented by Kill Screen, where various games were set up around multiple floors of the building for people to try out. The line to get in was long, and thankfully the lines to play games were shorter, but they could still be quite annoying as well. There was wine and beer served to the throngs of hipsters to keep them happy. I just enjoyed the eye candy (some of those hipster boys were awful cute!). Oh, and I enjoyed some games as well!
There were some expected titles on display, like Limbo, Bit.Trip Beat and Echochrome, but then there were some more experimental games. For instance, B.U.T.T.O.N., by Copenhagen Game Collective, which had four giant buttons (made out of what looked like upside down plastic buckets with buttons on top) set in front of a TV. Four at a time, the players would press their button, and then follow the instructions on the screen. Usually it would have them take a certain number of steps back from the buttons, then perform some unusual action like spinning around or having a thumb war with the person next to you, then you had to race back to your button and press it in accordance to the final instructions, hitting it a specific number of times or holding it down for a certain amount of time. It was kind of like a giant version of Mario Party or something, and everyone playing it was having an absolute blast.
Pxl Pushr was a very interesting game from Matt Boch and Ryan Challinor, who both work for Harmonix. It had very retro Atari 2600 graphics with giant pixels, and combined both a Kinect and iPad. One player stood in front of the sensor to control the pixelated version of themselves on screen, touching the red dots to turn them green. The dots appeared wherever the person on the iPad wanted to place them, which naturally meant people were sending their friends into the most hilariously contorted positions they could think of. Unfortunately, as much fun as this was, there's really no way to replicate the control scheme with any of the current home consoles. You'd need a WiiU/Kinect hybrid of some kind to pull it off. Which is a shame, because experiment or not, this would make a great party game!
There were a few games I didn't have a chance to try, but simply watched others play. Canabalt was a very basic platformer that stripped away all the normal elements and just put you in the shoes of one nameless guy racing along rooftops as fast he could, jumping from building to building while the world shook around you. It seemed to be some kind of invasion, but for the purposes of this game, it wasn't important. You're just meant to hit the jump button as much as possible and get as far as you can, turning the platformer into a purely visceral experience. QWOP was probably the funniest game I saw in the exhibit, where you try to control the two legs of a runner independently on an iPad screen. It's meant to be insanely difficult, and mostly impossible, but hilariously so. Honestly, I could've stood there and watched people try all night, sending the track star tumbling backwards and forwards flat on his butt or face. And even though some people would become determined to figure out the control scheme and get it to work, when they couldn't, they weren't angry or frustrated, but still amused. Pac N' Jump was another iPad game that obviously combines Pac-Man with Doodle Jump. You tilt the iPad to send Pac Man careening up the platforms that are designed to mirror the walls from the original mazes. There are power pellets to eat and ghosts to avoid/eat on the way up. It was an interesting look at how two popular games can be combined and still work.
The last game I tried before I left was called Starry Heavens, which wasn't even a videogame at all. It was an actual physical activity! Set up in the outdoor garden, there were various circles in white, grey and black set up orbiting around a center platform with lines connecting them. The ruler stands in the center and pulls down the string on a giant balloon over their head, calling out colors for each turn marked on the string. The players step onto the circle of that color nearest to them, as long as it's connected by a white line. The trick is that if two people can connect to you, they can "banish" you from the board. After banishing two people from the game, you are free to approach the ruler and try to eliminate them by getting close enough to touch them. The trick is that after a certain number of turns, the ruler reaches a small flag on the balloon's string and can banish everyone standing on a specific color of their choice. It was all very complicated, and honestly, explaining this to you now, I'm still not 100% sure I got the rules right. This experience was kind of fascinating to me because it made me realize just how we play by the rules of a game. With videogames, there's really no way (aside from hacking or cheat codes) to get around the rules. Playing this as a multiplayer online videogame would be a very different experience, because no one could bend the rules. But in real life, while it's fun to play with actual people who are in the same physical space as you, there's also the feeling that the rules aren't always being followed. I know I experienced a couple moments where I felt the people around me weren't playing it right (although as I said, I might have been the one misunderstanding the rules), but it occurs to me that when the playing space is this large, you can't be sure that people on the other side of the board are obeying the rules either. In a videogame, you know they have to, but in real life, not so much.
I'm pretty sure that wasn't the intent of the exhibit, but that's what it got me thinking about. And isn't that what art is supposed to do? Get you thinking? Like I said at the start, who says games aren't art?