What a time to be alive—especially if you play video games. The interactive entertainment medium has never been more exciting, and from blockbuster narrative masterpieces to low-budget experimental gems, the limits of technology and creativity are constantly being pushed. And whether their purpose is to bring about pure fun for hours, or bring us to our knees and have us question whether choice has any meaning, games are one of the many mirrors that tell us something about ourselves: our hopes, fears, desires, expectations and more.
Focusing on the new and alternative is this weekend’s ArtCade Con, presented by La MaMa’s art-and-tech center CultureHub. For one night only, their freshly opened The Downstairs at La MaMa in NYC will host over 15 independent games—many of which are yet to be released—in a digital art gallery-like setting. (ArtCade Con will actually be the first event to take place in the 6500 square foot multi-use space, located underneath the historic Ellen Stewart Theatre in the East Village). Become a space beetle hurtling through a musical speedway in THUMPER, create a music visualizer walking through the unique worlds in Panoramical (which piqued our interest when it launched last month), find “inner peace” assembling IKEA-type furniture in Home Improvisation, play a violent version of hide-and-seek with a friend in BADBLOOD and much more. Some developers will even be on hand to give you a deeper look.
There is sometimes a very fine line between ‘videogame’ and ‘interactive art.’
“Games have grown leaps and bounds in the past years both in terms of accessibility to developers of all walks of life, as well as in ideas explored within them. The public perception of games hasn’t budged, though,” ArtCade Con curator Davis Cox tells CH. “At this point, there is sometimes a very fine line between ‘videogame’ and ‘interactive art.’ ArtCade is a way of both bringing games to an audience who would be interested in them—but might not be introduced to them—as well as a way to revive the idea of the “arcade” in a modern sense.”
Cox is the founder of This Near Future (previously Brooklyn-based, but recently transplanted to Nashville), which hosts events like ArtCade Con to change stereotypes tied to video games. “This Near Future is my attempt at showing the arcade as a place to find new, unfamiliar and experimental games. There is a lot of talk about arcades being ‘revived’ by including old games in bars for example, but to me, those feel like interactive museums rather than a living thing where people can see the latest and greatest,” he says. “For me, arcades were always this amazing place to see something brand new and be surprised by it. While the motivation behind doing this is rooted in some nostalgia, I’d rather use nostalgia as a jumping off point for something new than just dwelling on ‘Hey remember how cool Galaga is?’ Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is boring to me.”
”Previous ArtCades have been pretty small events (usually around 5-6 titles) around a very specific theme—co-op games or sci-fi themed—while [this upcoming] ArtCade Con is taking a broader look at games as a whole, and allowing each group participating to showcase their vision of what games are: NYU Game Center is showing student creations, Sheep’s Meow is presenting two games from a single developer they are big supporters of, and Babycastles is previewing a title from their upcoming installation-based exhibit,” says Cox. Of his own This Near Future showcase, he says, “I suppose I’ve chosen games that toe the line between ‘art object’ and ‘videogame.’”
With over 15 games to showcase (we’re looking forward to playing a mysterious growing hole in Donut County), ArtCade caters to everyone across the spectrum, not just developers and gamers. THUMPER (a collaboration between musician Brian Gibson of band Lightning Bolt and programmer Marc Flury) and Panoramical especially are an awesome example of what happens when creative worlds merge. Cox adds, “The benefit of doing these [events], especially with CultureHub’s great A/V setups, is that most times people enjoy watching others play games as much as playing them.”
ArtCade Con takes place tomorrow, 10 October 2015, from 6PM to midnight, at The Downstairs at La MaMa, NYC. The address is 66 East 4th Street; $15 tickets ($5 for students and artists) are available on Eventbrite.
Screenshots courtesy of respective video games, all other images courtesy of Jose Estrella