Vanitas, for all.

For various reasons, up til now Vanitas was not downloadable by users of the 1st generation iPod Touch. At first, because we didn’t get a chance to test it on this older hardware. Then after we did, when we tried to update to allow for it, Apple had suddenly, inexplicably, changed their policy on how to specify hardware restrictions. This left many developers scratching their heads how to allow or restrict what hardware their apps can run on. Apple had to fix our AppStore listing by hand to get things straight. Needless to say we are happy to now announce that Vanitas will run on any version of the iThings! iPod or iPhone, regardless of age.

So, 1st gen iPod Touch users, you can now play too!


Also, a few helpful tips for things that may not have been so obvious.

– Use multitouch to levitate up to 3 objects at once.
– Find the authors of the quotes by clicking the url at the top of the info screen.
– It is easier to get a gold star at lower levels so, try your luck with the reset button on the 3rd info screen.


If Doom is Rock and Roll, then The Path is…

In the wake of The Art History of Games symposium, Tracy V. Wilson’s question as to whether art games are (still) games made me realize that Frank Lantz’s observation that Doom is like rock and roll may hold even more water than I originally assumed.

Maybe we can think of rock and roll as a kind of “hyper” version of traditional folk music that was made possible through technology (electronically amplified instruments and vinyl records). Much like videogames could be seen as a “hyper” version of traditional games enabled by the technology of computers (both as creative tool and distribution platform). Like videogames, rock and roll added a certain vitality and emotional depth to an ancient tradition that totally absorbed a new generation. *

This analogy gets really interesting for me when we start thinking of more extreme or experimental forms of rock music. In the beginning, rock and roll, like videogames, was relatively straightforward and all about fun. But then some people started experimenting and things like The Doors and Velvet Underground happened, followed soon by Sex Pistols, Crass and Dead Kennedys. **

One could argue that the music of Sonic Youth, Psychic TV or Einstürzende Neubauten is as much removed from the “fun” of rock and roll as the games by Jason Rohrer, Daniel Benmergui and yours truly are from the “fun” of videogames. Interestingly, it seems that it is exactly in the deviation that this type of rock (or videogames) starts claiming artistic value. Not only by virtue of not being fun, but also by introducing “alien” elements to the form like noise, unusual structures or narrative content previously deemed unsuitable.

Pollock, Rohrer, Rotten
The hairline may be only one of many things that Jason Rohrer shares more with Johny Rotten than with Jackson Pollock.

So rather than thinking of people who experiment with videogames as new Jackon Pollocks or Kiki Smiths, maybe we should think of them as new Nick Caves or Siouxsie Siouxs. They are taking a new technological incarnation of an old analog form and are introducing elements to it that seem to contradict the form’s original merits. And by doing so, they get closer to what is commonly perceived of as artistic.

Next to the more rock-oriented deviations, we may soon be seeing the videogames equivalents of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman and perhaps even Stockhausen or Górecki, as some developers may reject not only the “hyper” version of the form (rock and roll/videogame) but also its non-electronic predecessor (folk music/game).

All this time, of course, rock and roll, as videogames, continues to exist. Once in a while it is influenced by the more artistic experiments. But often it is not. And the two co-exist, appealing often to different audiences, but equally often not without significant overlaps. Sometimes we like playing Mario. Sometimes we immerse ourselves in The Void. Much like sometimes we dance to Abba while other times we need a dose of Cocteau Twins.

* Oddly, there’s a similarity between the two on a social level too. Both traditional games and folk music are often group activities that are mostly about interacting with other humans and having a fun time together. Rock and roll and videogames add a much more explicit notion of authorship to the form and introduce a more severe separation between author and audience, up to the point where enjoying the music or the game could become a solitary activity, thanks to reproduction and distribution technologies.

** Punk is an interesting case because it started as anti-rock and roll but was quickly reintroduced into the mainstream via bands like The Ramones and The Clash who made it fun again.

Presenting in Madrid

On Thursday, February 18th, we’ll be presenting our working at the ARCO art fair in Madrid. We were invited by Domenico Quaranta to talk about our work at a symposium entitled EXPANDING THE FIELD. Or, 8 good reasons to talk about new media (in an art fair)”. Other guests are Hans Bernhard and lizvlx of UBERMORGEN.COM, Marius Watz, Trevor Paglen, Oron Catts and Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky).

Something is happening in the field of art. Postmodernism seems to have been replaced, but nobody is really able to say by what. Art critics such as Nicolas Bourriaud and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev explained this change looking backwards to Modernism, but Modernism itself is many things, and it’s still not clear if this new modern, or Altermodern, is rooted in a new utopianism, as argued by Christov-Bakargiev, or in creolisation, globalisation and travelling, as suggested by Bourriaud.

What is clear to both is that new technologies, in the broader meaning of the term, are having a central role in this change. Starting from here, and appropriating Ippolito and Blais’ idea that the change will come from artists operating “at the edge of art” – Expanding the Field will involve artists and researchers that address, with different approaches, various new technologies – from the Internet to videogames and biotechnology – and issues and practices of the digital culture, from media hacking to data mining and surveillance.

Should be fun! 😉
And we’ll have an entire day to spend at the Prado!

ARCO Art Fair, Forum Auditorium 2, Hall 6.
February 18, 2010, from 12.30 to 2.30 p.m. and from 4 to 8 p.m.
(we’re scheduled at 6)

Vanitas. analog.

So we took The Very Broken iPhone. (It was broken when we received it. a gift. made sure it was *really* broken myself, with a very big hammer.)

there was made an octagonal table. Michael spent quite some time making the matching octagonal radiation on the floor.

We created within a physical representation of the contents of the game. A little bird skull, dice, a tarot card, a twig from a tree, a key, dead leaves, a tooth, a shell, etc., and lots and lots of ladybugs. All under glass.

added 4 iPods. and then came the people.

see the whole set here

For all our nervousness it all went quite well. Surprisingly so. I think it created a nice environment for people to view Vanitas. It was exciting and fun to be able to watch so many people interact!

Thanks to:
* Wolfgang Wozniak for the Very Broken iPhone.
* E.K. Huckaby for his kind, indispensable assistance.
* Lord Whimsy for his good advice.
* whoever made the table, we give thanks.

This and all the other games made for The Art History of Games exhibition at Kai Lin Art in Atlanta, GA will be up and playable until March 2nd.

Photo post: Towards an Art History of Games

Various photos of presentations at the symposium. This is a flickr slideshow, if you fullscreen it and choose ‘Show Info’ (top right) you can read context and commentary on each image.

a few personal highlights of the symposium:
* listening to John Romero describe the design choices which lead to the invention of ASWD camera navigation.
* Brenda Brathwaite’s moving confessions of her design process, all that she puts into it and the way game design effects and expresses life.
* And playing her game, Train, at the gallery.
* Jason Rohrer describing how he came to the design of his game “Sleep is Death” and how it grew from a desire to communicate stories that defied telling through words alone.
* Hearing Christiane Paul talk about net artists in the context of art game history.

And finally, yes, there exists a photo of us standing next to John Romero. Amazing!
(yes, we know, we look silly. should have smiled. it was a pretty fun evening though. :))

Art History of Games presentation online

We have posted the text and slides of our presentation at the Art History of Games symposium last Saturday in Atlanta.

Over Games

Videogames are stuck. Despite of the ongoing technical evolution and the continuous calls for a new medium, videogames have stopped evolving. They have found their comfort zone. Videogames are happy. Happy being exactly what they are. Fun activities that nurture our inner child.

While our inner grown-up is starving!

We need a new medium that can help us cope with the complexity of our post-historic universe. The interactive, non-linear and generative capacity of computer technology offers such a medium. There is no need however to limit what we create with this technology to the format of games. The possibilities are endless.

There’s a lot of work to do.

Videogames have taken computer technology hostage. It is time to liberate the medium and start feeding our starving hearts and minds. We need to stop making games and look further, go farther, step into a new world. Create interactive entertainment for all instead of squeezing people into oppressive sets of rules and goals. We have the technology. We have the desire. So let’s get to work!


Vanitas is out!

You can get Vanitas from the App Store now!

Vanitas is a memento mori in your iPhone. A meditative app without rules or rewards with Zoë Keating on solo cello.

“Despite using contemporary technology, we are artistically inspired mostly by pre-modern art,” admit creators Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn. “In the 16th and 17th centuries, many Dutch and Flemish painters created still lives with symbols that referred to man’s mortality. They were named after a famous quotation from the Bible by Ecclesiastes: “Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas”. Or “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”, implying that everything we do in life is without meaning. Creating a “Vanitas” painting for the iPhone felt like the appropriate response to the commission by Ian Bogost and John Sharp.”

Vanitas was commissioned for the Art History of Games symposium and exhibition by the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Georgia Institute of Technology Program in Digital Media. The symposium opens tonight.