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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 31, 2012 @ 12:10 am

    Ripping open pink bears in the name of science

    Laurence Mackin

    Last week, I spent several hours building a video-game monster bear – and this time, the damn thing will work.

    And that’s because I got help from an adult – well, several adults, in the form of staff at Dublin’s Science Gallery and two men from New York, Syed Salahuddin and Kunal Gupta, who are part of the Babycastles collective.

    The monster mash-up was part of a workshop that is building up to the gallery’s next exhibition, Game: The Future of Play, which opens on November 16th. It will look at what happens when the boundaries between the real world and a computer game are pulled down, why we play games, and how you can create a successful game for the future.

    One part of the show will be video-console installations built by Babycastles, with some help from a group of volunteers. Some are coders, some are enthusiastic gamers, and some are people stuck in a video-game time when the Amiga was king, and The Secret of Monkey Island was the only gig in town (that would be me).

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    Among the raw materials we had at our disposal were a few netbooks, lots of tape, scissors and these stuffed animals. Unfortunately they did not remain stuffed for long.

    You wouldn’t hurt us, would you? I’m a journalist. Of course I would

    Babycastles is a DIY gamer collective. The organisation used to have a gaming-arcade-style space in Queens, New York that was part of the Silent Barn performance space. It was home to a rotating selection of independently produced games that will feel familiar to a certain vintage of gamers. The space is now defunct, and the collective now has its games in a number of locations around NYC.

    The organisation has also built a variety of much more complex art-game installations. One featured a scrolling shoot-em-up called R-Type (remember that?) on more than a dozen screens. The screens were scattered throughout a gallery space and as a gamer moved their spaceship from one screen to the next, they would have to run over to the next screen, dealing with real objects in the way, from tunnels and traps, to other gallery users enjoying a glass of wine, and, of course, other gamers trying to beat the high scores.

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    At the same event, Babycastles and Keita Takahash build a giant 3D Pacman game that projected onto the walls, ceiling and floor of an empty space at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. (Takahash is the man who gave the world Katamari Damacy.)

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    Users would have to play the game while craning their necks around the room and sitting at the centre of the projection. Neat, fiendishly difficult to install and programme, and infuriatingly difficult to play.

    As part of this project, Babycastles introduced me to a whole range of gaming I never knew existed (the rest of the team were much more knowledgeable than me), and an array of games designed as much for their artistic statements and philosophy as for any sort of playability or more typical gaming appeal. The collective is currently moving towards becoming a non-profit and it hopes to be able to add to the list of all-ages events it has put on in New York and other cities around the world.

    All of this means that their Science Gallery offering should be something very slick indeed. And for anyone wondering what sick animal would slice and stitch a giant blue mouse and pink dog together to house an arcade game, that would be (partly) me.

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