Gas Zappin'

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The often-hilarious artist Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung's newest game is no laughing matter. Ok, actually it is... but it's still what many in the gaming world now call a "serious game," in that it addresses the important issue of global warming. The piece lets viewers step inside of an animated world marked by the same crazy, satirical visual style for which he's gathered attention in previous works like Because Washington is Hollywood for Ugly People and Residential Erection. These projects manage to comment on the absurdity of aestheticizing politics while doing just that, appropriating and remixing material scoured from the web to comment on the relationship between media spectacles and political spectacles. His game, Gas Zappers, similarly recycles pop imagery to cut through the haze of information surrounding the impacts of pollution. The narrative of the game criticizes quick-fix attempts and suggests real strategies for cutting down on carbon emissions. The project manages to be entertaining and educational, at the same time--a balance which is its own art. The game can be played online and is also on view at the Berkeley Art Museum from October 22 through February 8. - Marisa Olson

Image: Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, Gas Zappers, 2008 (Still)

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THIS WEEKEND -- Two Rhizome Events!

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Yes, it's true! Two great Rhizome events this weekend. Please join us.


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Image: Mark Essen, Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist, 2008


Next Level: New Independent Gaming
Friday, October 10th, 7:30pm
the New Museum, New York, NY
$6 Members/$8 General Public

Bringing together prominent game designers, artists and critics, Next Level takes a look at the recent rise of indie gaming: a vibrant new culture of individually made and self-distributed video games that blur the line between digital art and creative entertainment.

Featuring artist and game designers Mark Essen, Jason Rohrer and Greg Costikyan. Moderated by Rhizome staff writer Ed Halter, an author, critic, and curator whose book From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games was published in 2006.

Part of Rhizome's New Silent Series at the New Museum.

[ BUY TICKETS HERE ]




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Image: Lee Walton, Watching TV, from the "Remote Instructions" series, 2008


Rhizome Commissions '08
Saturday, October 11th, 3:00pm
the New Museum, New York, NY
$6 Members/$8 General Public

The last in a three-part series that features presentations by artists awarded grants through Rhizome's Commissions Program. Founded in 2001 to support artists working with technology, the Rhizome Commissions Program has awarded fifty-four commissions to date. Projects realized through the Program represent some of the most forward-thinking and innovative works of media and Internet-based art.

In this evening's program, the artists will discuss their commissioned projects and larger bodies of work. This event features Will Pappenheimer, John Craig Freeman, Annie Abrahams, Nadia Anderson and Fritz Donnelly, Lee Walton, Marek Walczak, and Martin Wattenberg.

Part of Rhizome's New Silent Series at the New Museum.

[ BUY TICKETS HERE ]

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The Shape of Things to Come

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Video: Superstruct: the Final Threat

"We are living in interesting times," science fiction author Charles Stross observed on his blog last week. "In fact, they're so interesting that it is not currently possible to write near-future SF." The makers of Superstruct, a new project created by the Institute for the Future, would disagree. The IFTF has launched what they're calling "the world's first massively multiplayer forecasting game;" in it, players are asked to imagine themselves ten years from now, then flesh out the details of that near-future world through posts to a wiki, discussion forums, Facebook, Superstruct's own site, and elsewhere. But players won't be creating this collective vision of tomorrow from scratch: the game provides a core set of hot-button issues that need to be addressed in 2019 -- couched as reports from the Global Extinction Awareness System -- which include a growing pandemic, the immanent collapse of the world's food supplies, power struggles over energy sources, and the "diaspora of diasporas" of displaced masses. Using a speculative fiction to ask thousands of users to cobble together potentially useful solutions to very real problems, Superstruct can be seen as an online variant of alternative reality gaming, juiced up with elements of crowdsourcing, prediction markets and the collaborative authorship of expanded universes. The very premise of this new mutation in science fiction writing says a great deal about what we think about our own life now in these interesting times: the future is not so much a brave new world to be explored, but a complex problem to be solved. - Ed Halter

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Worlds of Wonder

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The Tokyo Game Show, Japan's massive video game expo, traditionally serves as a major convention for the commercial gaming industry, but this year launches a sidebar delicately named Sense of Wonder Night, which embraces work created from the international indie gaming world. Inspired by the Experimental Gameplay Sessions, which began at the Game Developers' Conference six years ago, Sense of Wonder Night focuses on innovative games that, in the words of the organizers, evoke "a feeling that something will change in their world and make them gasp at the moment they lay eyes on the games or hear the game concepts." For those who can't be in Japan on October 10th for the presentation, many of the finalists' games can be downloaded or have trailers posted online. Among them are Depict, by Jesús Cuauhtémoc Moreno Ramos, which promises to be a shape-recognition game played with phone cameras; Daniel Benmergui's Moon Stories, a love story with multiple narrative outcomes and an ingenious Polaroid-snapshot gameplay structure; an optical-illusion 3D shooter called The Unfinished Swan by Ian Dallas; and Mark Essen's druggy hypercolor trip Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist. Opening stateside concurrent with Sense of Wonder Night is the Bellevue, Washington edition of IndieCade, which will include a preview of fl0wer, the new title from the makers of indie success story fl0w, and an exhibit of thirteen indie games including Eddo Stern's sensory-deprivation experiment Darkgame, Jason Rohrer's gently allegorical Gravitation, and Faith Denham's Block H, which takes on the history of political conflict in Northern Ireland. Both positioned on the overlap of art and industry, these two showcases are testament to the wide variety of endeavors that currently fall under the "indie" label, which includes everything from browser-based games to politically-minded gallery installations to (possibly) next year ...

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Assassination Adventure (1988)<br> - Mark Allen

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This piece, created in 1988 with an Apple IIgs, imagines "a cheesy video game based on the assassination of John F. Kennedy"

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Let's Get Physical

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Los Angeles-based artist Xtine Hanson calls her Mechanical Olympics "an alternative media spectacle to the Olympic games." Indeed, the project humorously turns the otherwise tightly-regulated machinery of both web commerce and international sports competition on their heads. Launching simultaneously with the Beijing games, on August 8th, The Mechanical Olympics invite the public to compete in sports previously restricted to people of specific genders and nationalities. The artist has enlisted participants via Amazon's Mechanical Turk site in which users receive paid commissions for completing tasks almost but not quite so simple a machine could complete them, thus joining the ranks of participatory projects like AddArt, Sheep Market, and Ten Thousand Cents, which also employed this service. Hanson likens this playful outsourcing of labor to working with artificial intelligence. Nonetheless, it's clear that her worker bees are bringing a hefty dose of personal creativity to this web-based role-playing game. A perusal of the videos thus far uploaded to The Mechanical Olympics' YouTube channel features Starbucks baristas working overtime to put their own spin on the classic sport of Hockey, and the woman who represents South Africa in the Freestyle Swimming event could win a gold medal in charm for her combined use of a spray bottle and trippy arm movements. When accepting one of the project's Human Intelligence Tasks (or HITs), the athletes agree to wear a pre-designed sign indicating their sport, gender, and country (they get to pick their own number) and to be paid between $1-3 dollars upon emailing Hanson a URL to their 30-60 second video. The footage will be posted daily, during the Olympics, and voted upon by blog readers. Rather than medals, the winning artificial Olympians receive bonus commissions, much like their more famous counterparts whose accomplishments score them lucrative endorsement deals. - Marisa Olson ...

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Fruit Brut

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Indie gaming has been the hot topic in the videogame world in 2008, but even the most erudite and well-informed game bloggers have smashed into an impenetrable wall of critical stupefaction when attempting to grapple with the strange and unheralded wonder that is Fruit Mystery, a ultra-low-fi flash challenger created by something named Brett Graham. TIGSource proves speechless, Play This Thing! attempts an intelligent exegesis of its procedural rhetoric, but ends up saying it's a kind of game that "should be put in the dumpster and ignored after use, like disposable diapers," and a commentator at Rock Paper Shotgun simply asks, "What the utter fuck did I just play?" Set to the incisively irritating rhythms of the 80s' worst song, the garishly-colored Fruit Mystery enjoins you to feed a variety of badly-drawn edibles to zoo animals, represented by a marquee procession of stock photographs; each food-plus-animal combination elicits a unique edugame-style tidbit of rude, poorly-spelled nonsense. At the end of this cross-species gastronomic adventure, (spoiler alert!) you are assaulted by Zookeeper Steve. Thanks to his huge resume, which is posted to his site, one would be led to believe that Mr. Graham lives in Australia, where he works as a web designer. He also provides free advice for dog owners, does not like white rice, and may still live with his mum and dad. - Ed Halter


Image: Fruit Mystery (screengrab)

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Pixel Pop

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Weaving Shades of Binary Grey

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A number of artists have started using textiles and needlework to explore the relationship between computer culture and craft. Here on Rhizome, we've recently covered Ben Fino-Radin, Sabrina Gschwandtner, Cat Mazza, and Cody Trepte, among others employing "traditional media" in the service of a technological critique. Not to be left out of this group is Christy Matson, a Chicago-based artist who takes this investigation to even more self-reflexive heights. Matson's work may not look high tech, but it responds directly to media culture and is often made using a Jacquard Loom, a mechanical device that is important in the proto-history of computing. Many of the artist's projects involve building feedback loops between the sonic experiences of making and viewing her work. Recordings of the weaving process are algorithmically translated into binary yes/no, on/off, or true/false patterns and translated into images in the form of thread color choice, needle behavior, and other factors. The artist includes copper wires in these weavings to act as amplifiers or antennae for further sonic transmissions. See, for example, Movements, in which the viewer's hand is meant to rove as a sort of playhead on what is posited as a 4-channel audio installation. The same questions are raised in her work, Digital Synesthesia, which looks at similarities in the abilities (one might even say tendencies) of both the human brain and the computer to conflate sound and image. To her credit as a dedicated artist, these are issues Matson works to flesh out again and again, even exploiting the repetition of the line-by-line weaving process as an ironic take on the re-spinning of these narratives. When she explored synaesthesia in Soundw(e)ave (a piece whose title conveys her obvious love of word play), she wrote that "This transmutability ...

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Another Fine Mess

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A queasy blend of Phillip K. Dick and Paul Sharits, Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist is the latest from art-game designer Mark Essen, a.k.a Messhof. Filled with strobing rainbow colors, overblown psychedelic explosions, giant bouncing baby-heads and a skull-pounding soundtrack of electronic noise beats, Randy Balma's audio-visual complexity reflects Messhof's experimental media background (a recent Bard grad, he studied filmmaking under the likes of Peggy Ahwesh and Les Leveque). But it also continues a strain of sadistically difficult yet tantalizingly ingenious game mechanics that has already made Essen's work notorious in indie gaming circles. For example, one level requires the player to drive a truck from one end of a straight-line highway to another. Easy, except for the fact that Balma is supposed to be "drugged up on drugs," thus the screen is constantly rotating and the games left-right controllers keep switching valences without warning. The more visually-minimal titles in the Messhof back catalog are even thornier. The abstracted Flywrench necessitates navigating a mere flapping line through neon-piped geometric environments using a maddeningly arbitrary array of button-combo protocols, while Punishment and its sequel Punishment: The Punishing are two seemingly simple platforms that become very difficult, very quickly. In his work, Essen combines the essence of old 2D arcade games-- misleadingly cute single-player titles that did everything they could to make you choke on that twenty-five cents-- with the viewer-challenging puzzle-logic of avant-garde cinema. He's currently working on a suite of new works that include a western-themed side-scroller, a bow-and-arrow shooter, and a stenography simulator, tentatively titled Stenography Hero. - Ed Halter


Image: Mark Essen/Messhof, Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist, 2008

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