I just found a conference I gave in 2003 at Transmediale in Berlin.


Players to State of Emergency, Playtime, Villette Numerique 2002

Players to State of Emergency, Playtime, Villette Numerique 2002

It was first created as a lighter option within the larger exhibition dedicated to new media, which was to be a much bigger exhibition. Playtime eventually became an exhibition exploring new media and video games, and seeing as Villette Numerique was reduced to 4 days and 2 nights, the games room was also to become a user friendly space open to the public during the night-time events.

The inspiration for the construction of the games room

I was very inspired by Let’s Entertain exhibition curated by Philippe Vergne at the WAC as well as the pieces written for the exhibition’s website. I was particularly interested in the revaluation experienced by American museums vis a vis the expansion of malls and amusements parks, what are the elements that attract people to such leisure spaces? How does one combine art and leisure without reducing artistic content?

I then met Michael Stora, psychoanalyst and specialist in questions regarding video game culture. I was able to find my own angle of approach to the question with reference to the following phrase by Stora «Playtime is fun time. A time for players to take revenge on the image and by immersion in the image permitting the game; we can dominate it just as it dominated us earlier. The tyranny of images in the world has forced ideals on us which do not correspond to our reality. Playing is a symbolic manner for humans to get the word back»

I also read a number of conference texts from conferences held on sites such as gamasutra.com and gamesstudies.com. It was through a discussion with Eric Zimmerman that I realised that the world of video games required a forum for critical thought as well as a necessity to elevate game design as its own art form.

What brought me to the conception of the games room.

I discovered digital imagery through techno and at raves. I was a political sciences student and had decided to write my masters on virtuality. I went to Imagina in 1993 where I discovered the multimedia world. I was already very implicated in the dance-music environment, and always dreamed of bringing dance-music and digital art together.

As a great believer of the cultural democracy, I have always had faith in digital art, as it seems to me that such art forms are the most accessible as they are interactive. Thus giving it a broader accessibility to wider audiences. However, how to inspire a great number of spectators to attend an event dedicated to new media, which as I have already said are very little known in France. The games room, was for me a tactical approach, as it enabled me to attract a playing public who don’t often visit exhibitions?

The games room staying open during the night time events was also important as it attracted once again a public unfamiliar with digital art.

The mixing of different publics is important to me, as is the mixing of different genres and disciplines. The installation of a games room within a festival dedicated to digital creation could seem strange, but I would argue that video games are an excellent means of introduction to digital creation. In effect, although computers have become a workstation for multi-media creativity, it is games that are recognised as the number one recreation form on computers. Further more, the pixel aesthetic in games is still a primary part of the artistic production linked to new media.

Creating a video game retrospective enabled me to help discover the technological evolution through the last thirty years, through changes in both graphics and sound. The idea was that the public could experience this evolution through play. This was also an opportunity for me to pay tribute to those passionate about computers and computer programmers from the very beginning.

Placing a games room in the centre of an exhibition dedicated to digital art results in a desire to change the status of the video game. Giving it a new rank as a creative entity. This is also why I chose Lens Flare 02 by Onedotzero, cinematic extracts of video games to feature in the programme of the Digital Cinema Festival, as the game exerts take another dimension when projected onto a cinema screen. This also introduces the question about the frontier between video games and cinema.

Finally, I wanted to create a confrontation between high tech and low-tech aesthetics as a means to approach the subject of digital culture, as I’m not interested in all digital culture but in the mixing of different mediums.

The scenery and free entrance:

If there had been further financial support, the scenery would have been based on game playing by players at home or in arcades. The idea was to be able to play lying down on mattresses or cushions or sitting down like in games rooms, or even standing up and dancing like in arcades. This was more or less the case but funds were lacking in order to take the idea to its full potential.

The games room was constructed as a labyrinth, more or less open to the outside of the grande Halle. In order to create a more intimate atmosphere certain areas were more social than others. The lighting came from the computers and the sides of the labyrinth were translucent, through which the different games could be identified. The games room was visually interesting at night, so it was a good thing that the doors opened to the public in the evening.

Finally, Parc de la Villette made the access to the exhibition in the Grande Halle free; the public only had to pay for the nighttime performances. I must say I was very pleased that this was possible as this supported the idea of being open to a wide public. I must also add that attracting players from arcades was easier when free entry was mentioned, rather than passes at 20 euros a day.

The reasoning behind the choice of artists

The Internet and games room installation section wasn’t only made up of video game deviation work by the artists. It also included media deviation (Natalie Bookchin, Honylove et Heavy) and simple, fun, or interactive applications. My choice was geared to work known by most of you, but which I consider to be accessible to a novice public, and approachable in an instinctive way. The selection in the Netart gallery also came from the desire to show what artistic creation on the Internet with its relation to cinema, gaming, music and animation consist of to the widest public.

Article 30 anecdote
The presence of this installation is very significant to me as the virtualists represent my introduction into the world of digital culture, with my first experience being the visioconference at Imagina, and also because we recognised each other 7 years after I used article 30. I also wanted to pay homage to the first French artists. Finally article 30 enabled a few subversive topics such as war and the war against terrorism to enter into the Grande Halle.

I also wanted to present Moral Combat a creation by XX but the budget was too small. This was a shame, as I would have loved to show such an anarchic work, which mocks interactivity by making the public believe that it is the two joysticks, which are enabling the two human sized robots to fight each other.

These two installations have something in common, an interactive perception which interests me as it is essential, in effect if people use their joysticks in article 30, they are party to war against terrorism. However, if they don’t shoot they are considered as playing a part in the resistance to the war against terrorism.

Why violent games? Because this is an exhibition created for the public, and in order to attract this public we have to give them what they like and not only what they should play or what the specialists in the field like but wouldn’t appeal to an exhibition created on players and for players. (I found out through video game players what they like to play). Incidentally GTA 3 was the game most played in 2002, and the graphics are interesting as is its sound track)

The final result

The games room and the ‘Nuits Electroniques’ served as a lead-in for the public and press which was quick to react. The stir caused by the press was so effective that it really created the event. Thirty six thousand people attended the first edition of this festival, something that is very encouraging and shows that there is a great demand in France not only for new media forms but also for electronic music.

Conclusion on curating new media in a games room:

If it was said that the games room was too small and that the retrospective wasn’t thorough enough, (1000m2), in comparison with for example the excellent exhibition Game On in England. The public’s participation, their receptivity and their pleasure in playing and re-playing, or indeed discovering the works, are however very encouraging, especially in relation to the reception reserved to the artistic part of Playtime.

The artistic part of the games room hasn’t ended, there was great interest in the sites by Eric Zimmerman from GNN Networks and the interactive installation, as well as for the sites in the netart gallery with a game sound theme. It could be said that a games room is a good means to help discover new media to an uninitiated public.

It is also an exhibition where subversive ideas could be introduced within the institution (with sites such as h) The virtaulists were very happy with the work on subversion introduced through their installation Article 30, which was extremely popular with the public. On the other hand, Granular Synthesis was very disappointed, even with a large budget allocated their 360 installation/performance, they couldn’t attain the work on subversion hoped for. They wanted to push the 360° sound to the maximum on the last night to make everything explode in order to question the institution. The Villette technical team didn’t let them do this; Granular Synthesis didn’t therefore finish their piece.

The public was an unusual and mixed representation of the usual exhibition going public: children, teenagers, youngsters from the outskirts of Paris who were very surprised to be able to enter an exhibition like this one for free, players from both online gaming networks and arcades.

The dancers from Dance Revolution, one of the most popular games in arcades today, are also an interesting case. I went to meet them in arcades and in Japanimation festivals and asked them to do demonstrations. Their participation in the festival was excellent, they invested a lot of time and energy and there was a real relationship with the public, which was something completely new to them. They were delighted to be there and to discover an environment that they had never seen before. And, I think the game also interested people who never go to arcades.

Many young women turned up, young mothers for example. I think it’s important that mothers get to understand the games played by their children. Also if girls start to take an interest in games and their creation, it may create a need for games which are more geared toward women rather than the usual shoot-them-up games which dominate the market.

During ‘Les Nuits Electroniques’ (the nighttime events), the games room was a success with the public. Party goers found that Villette Numerique reminded them of the big Raves of the early 90’s, with emphasis on a complete festive experience, importance being allocated to décor, performance, scenery and lighting. One of the positive signs was that there wasn’t one single case of theft or vandalism in the games room that had a total 20000 people passing through it. It has to be said that this exhibition was also very popular with the security team for La Villette, which could explain this.

During the online performance by Miltos Manetas from midnight to 4am (Paris local time), the public watched and listened rather than actually participating. I must say that even for me it’s a little difficult to discuss art, concept and philosophy surrounded by ten thousand partying people. However the public also had the opportunity to discover what could be described as an online exhibition of flash artwork. We have to hope that the message got through to a few people. The mix of clubbers and computer specialists was quite fun to experience.

The games room experience is only the first step for introduction of different public and artistic disciplines. This introduction may not have been a success for everyone (specialists, who ask themselves whether video games have a place in an exhibition dedicated to digital creation, and youngsters who didn’t see anything else but the video games). Also this mixing was fortuitous as the public was a medley of specialised sectors (players, new media enthusiasts, clubbers) rather than a real wide public.

I think there is all the more reason to create such encounters and increase events outside of their original context, in public spaces or outside, and increase the mix of different disciplines (cinema, music, games, interactivity, still keeping a pedagogic function based on pleasure. To use the terms of Freud «learning isn’t truly effective without hedonistic experiences»

XXX I would like to think that in the near future I wont be the only person to have discover digital art through electronic music and that these types of experiences will increase