thoughts, notes, and examples about strange games

The other day, in a chat with several someones, I stated, “Artists are not interested in games.” As with any blanket statement it cannot be entirely true. Upon reconsideration I think it’s more accurate to say “Artists are not interested in the games industry.” For that is something that will drive all but the most iron-stomached away. I do think many artists can see video games as a worthwhile medium… just not many of them do.

Someone mentioned to me last week, as an example of an artist made game, this work by Mel Chin called KNOWMAD in which one must navigate roads contrived from patterns found in Turkish carpets. I believe the ultimate prize is to find a promegranate.

He says in an interview with ART 21

ART:21: How did “KNOWMAD” evolve?

CHIN: I was interested in the maps that are not written down but created in the mind. And where do they occur? In contemporary culture, they occur with eleven year-olds, ten year-olds, playing video games and winning or getting the prizes or whatever they do, slashing or slaying the beast. And they memorize their path because that’s the one way—it’s the start of memory—and that intrigued me. How can we create this kind of mapping? I’ve been interested in arcade games and in all these things, not necessarily as a player, and not necessarily as one who participates in that, but as it has a profound effect on culture. How do ideas survive in culture? Not necessarily my ideas or anybody’s ideas, but how do ideas stay around long enough to have a conversation? From a conceptual standpoint, I’m interested in that. And knowing that video games probably equal or better Hollywood in their volume of intake of money shows you how much influence it have in the world. And then where is the art? Where is the cultural aspect involved with it?

Interactive video installation with Playstation, vintage carpets and fabric tent, dimensions variable

Last week, when we were asked in a room full of people if there were any progenitors to what we are doing, we didn’t have an answer. I believe we simply shook our heads and said sheepishly “No, there is no one doing what we are doing… There has never been anyone doing what we are doing.” Well, not in the way we are doing it. Put over-simply, some sort of art and video game hybrid with more emphasis on the art than the game.
Again, not _exactly right. Difficult being put on the spot on a subject like that.

We were taken aside after the talk by a performance artist/gamer who told us we need to know about Kenji Eno and his WARP development studio. Apparently we also needed to have a look at D, Enemy Zero, and D2. Sega Saturn and Dreamcast games… youtube will have to do.

A little search yields this fascinating interview

Kenji Eno: I want to go back a little bit and explain a little. Originally, I was an observer more than a game creator, like someone who was looking at the game industry from the outside. That’s why I had all of these different, crazy ideas — like creating a game without visuals. I had all of these kinds of ideas because I was seeing the game industry from the outside. But around the time of D2, I felt like I was getting too close to the inside; I felt like I was turning into a normal game creator. Before, I was more like a producer, trying to look at everything from the outside, you know, like, “This might be fun, this might be interesting, and it might make an impact on people.” And I didn’t like going to any game-related gatherings or anything like that because I was trying to distance myself from it. D2 was a fun game, and the story was crazy and all that, but I still think that it’s a normal game, and I was noticing that it was a normal game. So I wanted to distance myself again so I could be the person outside of game industry so I would be able to create fresh games again. So the reason I stopped creating games was because I wanted to create games again from the outside.

and this history lesson from GameSetWatch. Hard to tell from video, of course, but in every case, cutscenes seem to dominate them. Maybe it was just how things were done then. Enemy Zero looks particularly promising, a game wher eyou must fight/avaoid an en enemy you cannot see, only hear. Aside from all the unfortunate first-person shooteriness there is a soundtrack by Michael Nyman(!) and animations by *gasp* Fumito Ueda.

To recap some things which need to be kept clear (as possible)
* “Doesn’t matter if it is a game or not so long as you enjoy it.” Tattoo it on your inner eyelids kids.
* Interactive art and games have plenty of overlapping concerns.
* Video games differentiate themselves from traditional games (chess, go, hide & seek etc.) by virtue of what they can offer that traditional games cannot. immersion, interaction with a virtual system, networks, realtime/alt-time/non-time (non-linearity etc.), multimedia.

11 thoughts on “thoughts, notes, and examples about strange games”

  1. How strange to see Eno mentioned here. I admire him and his work very much. D was a changing point for horror adventure games: the game took place in real time while the narrative was fragmented into pieces in the shape of memory flashbacks. He also adopted the use of virtual actors that would play roles in different games of his, namely the main character Laura. Such concepts were unusual and visionary in their time.

    He also designed a sound novel named RealSound – exclusive to Japan – that had absolutely no graphics. He did so because he had contacted with some blind people around that time and learned how games were beyond them. Real Sound contained a message printed in braille and a packet with seeds for the player to plant. I took some snapshots of this for a blog post months ago:

    To this day I can’t believe I actually exchanged about half a hundred e-mails with the man and interviewed him. I used to see his face in strange photos during the credits of his games and think he was menacing. He is a great guy.

    And by the way, this is the Young Ueda from the credits in Enemy Zero:

  2. thank you dieubussy for writing all that. it summarizes why this person wanted us to look up Eno, i think. Nice to know the industry has always had its avant-guard. There are a few other games, like LSD, that I think deserve to be revived for today’s audiences. Funny that all of these games and game designers I admire are Japanese. Where was the western avant-guard?… was it just less sensual, so I cannot see it.

    The interview with Eno on 1up was pretty enlightening. Is the one you made online anywhere? Wish it were possible to play RealSound today.

    oh! warpfumito.jpg <3

  3. Funny that all of these games and game designers I admire are Japanese.

    Agreed. There are some European and North-American masterpieces within the realm of “strange games” (google for Mel Croucher) but Japan is the only place where some of those games would actually find an interested audience.

    The interview with Eno is available here:

    I started doing it before 1Up, in fact, but they have editors and I don’t so I ended up taking a while longer to publish it. Also, they were there to meet him in person.

    LSD Dream Emulator, now there’s another one! I featured it in my “Videogames and Surrrealism” paper last year because it was focused on dreaming and hinted about the use of drugs – or, at least, the natural opium Baudelaire spoke of. Breton, Ernst, Éluard and so many others experimented with drugs in order to free their minds and this game fits very well into that model – the surrealists would have worshiped it. Additionally, it also has something of a video art background with all those eerie movie clips between dreaming days – weren’t you slightly scared with those?

    Coincidentally, the other day we were talking about The Night Journey: Tracy Fullerton once told me that LSD was a mild inspiration to her once I questioned if she had heard about the game. I found some similarities in terms of free and highly subjective roaming.

  4. Wish it were possible to play RealSound today.

    Well, I had this in my hard drive for a while so these circumstances led me to posting it on one of my blogs. Since most has never even seen anything related to the game, it might be educational. The Dreamcast version, as opposed to the Saturn original release, included an optional visual mode where pictures taken by Eno himself would fill the screen. This is my poor video editor’s homage to the game.

  5. Thanks for educating me on Eno — a friend of mine is really into his music, I’ll have to inform him on all this game business. :)

    Eno has apparently returned to the games industry in recent years, heading a company called From Yellow to Orange (fyto). They released a game called You, Me & The Cubes in Japan for WiiWare this year, and is coming to North America soon (presumably Europe as well)..we have some footage (not trying to pimp out the site, it’s just where I often am :)).

    PS. I came across this as I was troubled by an old post of yours that seemed to be dissenting on games as entertainment…I adore both sides of the spectrum, perhaps most when they combine..anyway this part cheered me right up:

    * “Doesn’t matter if it is a game or not so long as you enjoy it.” Tattoo it on your inner eyelids kids.



    Have a nice day.

  6. hey dieubussy
    so that is the audio from the game? i’d read it was an “audio novel” ..hmm, i’d expected more music than words, i guess. Do you know what they are saying? what the story is about?

  7. Not at all. Sound novels refer to audio interpretations of literary novels or interactive scripts (Real Sound’s script having been written by Yuki Sakamoto) that use voice acting, music (in this case by Keiichi Suzuki) and sound effects in order to create a believable soundscape.

    Novels are very common in Japan using just music, sound effects and text – RealSound was exceptional because of the quality voice acting it presented. And this was one year before the release of the highly acclaimed Machi.

    I don’t know enough Japanese to fully understand the game but it seems to me as if this story concerns a series of different characters and substories (perhaps they relate to each other later in the game) set in modern day Japan. The main story is about two young people who meet and fall in love in Tokyo.

    Perhaps what you were thinking RS was is more in the lines of skip’s SoundVoyager? This is a GameBoy Advance Bit Generations title that is meant to be played without looking at the screen (although it has graphics). Here’s a preview.

  8. yes i thought it would be more like SoundVoyager… but i’m actually relieved it is not 😉 (i _would like to play that one again now that you mention it.)

    more intrigued than ever about Real Sound though!

  9. I do appreciate game developers that attempt to approach the concept of “video game” differently from others, but, well….
    I guess I don’t quite understand your and Michaels’ views on more standard games.
    I guess, of course, I should try to explain my own approach to the more artistic side of video games to make myself more clear: To me, things fall into a spectrum of time-consuming monotony to a true, all-consuming emotional experience. Examples of each extreme are boring math equations to when I first saw a Monet. (It was so emotional, I was moved to tears.) Many people around me don’t get when I say, “true happiness,” but I think you’d better understand that heightened sense of emotion.
    As a video game enthusiast, I find myself imposing this idea onto the games I play. Games like World of Warcraft or Oblivion have a sort of cathartic effect while playing, rarely do they really leave a sort of artistic impression on me.
    On the other hand, I have played many conventional games that have left me with a worthwhile feeling.
    The endgame of Metal Gear Solid featured an action sequence that action sequences are supposed to give. You would likely be surprised at this, but I found certain levels of Halo to have such grace and fluidity to the gameplay, along with a sense of atmosphere and grandieur that very few other games have given me. (it should be noted that I was isolated from the haphazard fanbase of the Halo franchaise for six years after I had the game)
    The ending sequence of the original Final Fantasy always makes me cry. The effort you exert to complete game really makes me believe in the fairytale. I mean, I haven’t bought into a story that deeply since I was a little girl, and my mother would read me stories.
    Yes, it has a lot to do with my own personal experiences, and yes, I have gotten more powerful emotional reactions from artistic indie games than typical games. (again, I must omit the original Final Fantasy in this)
    But as much as there is to admire in ingenuity, for me all that matters in an artistic game is achieving that heightened sense of emotion.

    I guess part of why I feel an incentive to say this is because of the comment, “Aside from all the unfortunate first-person shooteriness…”
    Yes, the setting of Eno’s game seems like a combination of Doom and Parasite Eve. Is that what you meant? Or is it the nature of FPSs itself- which seems ultimately a more violent approach of interaction with the environment about physically striking something in the virtual world? At first, I had a defensive reaction to that statement, but with the more thought I put into it, both possible interpretations I’ve arrived at do make sense.

    That having been said, The Endless Forest has always set itself above a generic game grind, and the Path always ignites a level of emotion in me that I’ve rarely ever experienced in art. Specifically a very acute sense of fear and sadness that, as much as I am amazed by the artistic execution, has left me reluctant to replay it.

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