∏Play is not something that gives pleasure, on the contrary, it expresses a shift in reality, an unaccustomed mobility∑
Paul Verillio

In an art world characterized by new technologies, distributed environments and simulation, the conditions and motivations that inspire art practice have been forever altered. What was once known simply as media art has now branched into myriad other art forms each with its own discrete communities, lingo, technical and social preoccupations that are irreversibly dismantling traditional rituals for making and experiencing art. Video and computer gaming have had a lot to do with it.

Since the early 1960s, when the idea for building a ∏game box∑ out of the black box of the novel TV set, came about, the computer game has evolved to become an art form in its own right that is enjoying a history, aesthetic vocabulary, theoretical discourse, followers and, needless to say, industry of its own. Who would have thought in those early days that the fascination with games such as Spacewar! or the arrival of the Television Gaming Apparatus, would subsequently play such an influential part on the development of what it will become know as interactive media. Or that would advance a new type of connective behaviour that would challenge traditional definition of individual intelligence, by emphasising the power of group intelligence experienced through networked communication and interaction. Or that computer games would become a worldwide phenomenon.

If you happen not to know life without computers, mobile phones and the Internet to you playing videogames is highly likely to be as second nature as holding a pen. And if you happen to be an artist the creative processes you undertake will inevitably involve games. What it is fascinating about games as an art form is that they can borrow from any of the established art forms drawing, painting, architecture, design, film and literature, yet its is neither of them for they use real-time game play within a navigatable onscreen space, often require hand-eye coordination skills or an awareness of multiplayer presence. It is that ∏unaccustomed mobility∑, the shift between the realities of physical space and cyberspace, which Paul Verillio has observed, that has set video gaming apart from the established arts.

When discussing the nature of games and process of creating game art, cyborg anthropologist and gaming designer, Anne-Marie Schleiner, whose recent project Velvet-Strike , an activist remake of the commercial game Counter-Strike, goes as far as proposing that the artists of the future may not even know that they are artists. ∏ If the Internet, she says, continues to expand, collaborative and modular art practices will also grow. Many net users, gamers, musicians and programmers will produce cultural artefacts, [which also include] software, digital accessories, game-ware, and music-ware that they share with each other.∑ In doing so, there is a greater freedom for us to be not merely an ∏audience∑ but to be involved in a creative process as artists, readers, writers, creative catalysts, critics, information filters and gleaners.

reActivate! is a unique collaboration between Australian and French curators and artists with an obsession about games. It is an exhibition that investigates the ways in which artists//filter-feeders/collaborators/(h)activists/players have used game art as a pro-active tool for addressing political issues of migration and cultural ghetto-ism, have brought a fresher perpective on established art forms and re-freshing our relationship with digital technology.

France has had a long and influential tradition in the film industry, which has been continued in recent years by significant achievements in interactive media with outstanding productions being showcased at MILIA, the premier French entertainment software trade fair. The French do not see the game industry as an isolated activity but rather as an integral part of French culture. It was the French who first declared that after the classical arts and the new arts of cinema, commix and television, videogames are the latest art form worthy of being an object of philosophical enquiry. In France the relationship between video games and cinema, (and recently digital cinema, video clips and the Internet) is always discussed within the greater context of art history, while French artists refer to video games not only as a social phenomenon but as the essential next step in redefining our relationship with the moving image. While in Australia games have been developed for more then two decades, Australia∂s first educational institution to offer Diploma in Games Development and Design, the Academy of Interactive Entertainment, was founded in 1996. And only in the past few years the theory and art practice of games are beginning to be taken seriously by academia.

In the reActivate! exhibition, artists and designers from diverse practices investigate the use of the computer game as a primary creative tool. reActivate! investigates game∂s influence on re-configuring established art forms such as film and literature through stories and documentary narratives presented as interactive spaces; the development of demos and the subversion of commercial game engines as a form of pro-active critic of shoot-em-up scenarios or form of dealing with real-life social issues; the hacking of rules and systems range as part of a creative process; the appropriation of games for the development of Internet art, among others.

Because of the immediacy and a sense of control involved in playing games, the art form is seen by (h)activist artists as particularly well suited for socially engaging projects. In Borderland, based on popular video game duels such as ∏Tekken∑ or ∏Mortal Kombat∑, the fighting protagonists are replaced by ordinary people: old ladies, workmen, street kids, teenagers, business people who live in the desolate no-man∂s land of Paris∂s outer suburbs and, just as in real life, have a bone to pick with one another. While Escape from Womerra, a role-play game, which the artists claim to be based on actual events, invites us to assume a character in the game and ‘live’ through the experiences of a today∂s refugee by taking a virtual walk through one of the most controversial places on the Australian political landscape, the Womerra Detention Centre. Unlike Borderland or Escape from Womerra, which expressly reference real life situations, in Seeker the artists have created a series of games exploring issues of migration, border protection and asylum by using a highly minimalist and abstract approach in the visual and game play design making the game universally relevant and appealing. Stylistically the work is much closer to the traditional board games or the early, hugely popular tennis videogame of Pong.

In the commercial world of game development, (driven by international mass-market appeal and off-shore agendas), there is little room for making games with local flavour. Two true Aussie stories Bush Mechanics-The Game and TY the Tasmanian Tiger takes us for an adventure ride through the remote Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory and a treasure hunting expedition deep into the Australian Outback, while the town and people of Glen Rowan take us into the last hours of an Australian legend in the Ned Kelly game.

The re-combination of real-time 3D game engine and special effects with the cinematic technique of real-time editing of camera angles, panning and tracking traditionally associated with film, together with the possibility to record the game play has given rise to the increasingly popular art form of machinima . Safe Society is a machinima produced for a formal screening. Traditionally, however, machinima films are created for viewing within the game engines that created them and intended to be shared with other players/coders. Feedback is also a part of the aesthetic of Seeker, which is designed as a portal where players can record their own histories of migration, and Radio Days and The Modern Compendium of Miniature Automata, which encourage players to appropriate the already published works and thus create their own interpretations of what is given.

The works featured in reActivate! are a testament to art∂s role as the defiant of culture that is inherent to all art forms including games. At the same time our intention was also focused on also broadening the debate on the differences between the art forms. ∏Those who fear games often compare them to television. – comments games researcher Sherry Turkle.- Game players almost never make this comparison, she says. When they try to describe the game in terms of other things, the comparison is more likely to be with sports, sex, or mediation. Television is something you watch. Video games are something you do, something that is in your head, a world that you enter, and to a certain extend, they are something you ∏become∑ Sˇ

Become involved!

Antoanetta Ivanova // Isabelle Arvers
Melbourne // Paris

Games of Love and Chance, Games of Architecture. Architecture and Design