Games=Art? Games=Play?

I went to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to see the exhibition on digital games & art. The Stedelijk Museum is set in a kind of dockyard floating barge tie-up area near the Centraal Station. My negative sense of direction ultimately delivered me near enough where I saw the preposterously funny mix-and-match of a boat hotel and a chinese restaurant floating barge thing. The Stedelijk Museum is located in a concrete structure that reminded me of an unaccommodating apartment block (co-occupied by Mediamatic, whose personnel were pre-occupied with setting up for an upcoming exhibition).

The entrance consisted of a security gate behind plexiglas, sort of like one might find at a Brooklyn bodega that’s suspicious of all its clientele. A few stories up the dimly lit staircase delivered me to the museum shop, worth browsing for awhile and then onto the actual exhibition through the entrance ramp way thing. 9 euros later, I was in the exhibition.

The exhibition consisted of a number of instances of video game art and attempts at video game art that I found confusing for the lack of cohesion amongst the pieces. Some were sit-and-watch kinds of things — large wall projections of video games with music (not from the games themselves, in one case) where one sits and watches what someone else did in the video game world. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to Rage Against The get the drill. Or Katamari Damacy that you can —— wait for it — play. It all felt rather uncurated. I didn’t quite get it.

The best piece by far was this augmented reality game in which museum goers are able to participate in the exhibition by touching (or punching) at a banner on which was projected live video of other attendees overlaid with some of the canonical video game graphics (scores, flash-bang graphics, twirly pointers). By punching the banner you won points or something by fragging other attendees. I liked this piece because at least it was visceral; which is part of the material of video games; interactive, which is part of the material of video games; playful, which is part of the material of video games; multi-participatory, which is part of the material of video games, and so on. The other pieces? Without a coherent narrative undergirding —why would I be drawn to watch a loop of what someone else did in a video game? Still, in my mind, the canonical piece of this sort — machinema, of a sort, but much more cinematic and authorial, is Eddo Stern’s Shiek Attack, wherein a story is told through a structured visual narrative that uses segments from the artist’s play with the games. Along with a musical track, this piece is truly engaging rather than a gratuitous mash-up of video game technology and a bid at aesthetic substance.