If you build it, they will play
LAST WEEK, I spent several hours building a video-game monster bear – and this time, the damn thing will work.
That’s because I got help from adults, in the form of staff at Dublin’s Science Gallery and Syed Salahuddin and Kunal Gupta, who are part of the Babycastles collective in New York.
The monster mash-up was part of a workshop for the gallery’s next exhibition, Game: The Future of Play. 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). Among the raw materials we had at our disposal were a few netbooks, lots of tape, scissors and some large stuffed animals that unfortunately are no longer stuffed.
Babycastles is a DIY gamer collective. The organisation had a gaming-arcade-style space in Queens, New York that was part of the Silent Barn not-for-profit 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 has installed its games in a number of locations around NYC (see babycastles.tumblr.comfor a list of these locations).
The organisation has also built a variety of much more complex art-game installations. At the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, Babycastles installed a game based on scrolling shoot-em-up R-Type. The trick was the game scrolled across more than a dozen screens, which were scattered throughout the gallery space. As a gamer moved their spaceship from one screen to the next, they would have to run over to the next screen while negotiating real obstacles, such as tunnels, traps and other gallery users and gamers.
At the same event, Babycastles and Keita Takahash – the man who gave the world cult game Katamari Damacy – build a giant 3D Pacman game that projected onto the walls, ceiling and floor of an empty space. Users played the game while craning their necks around the room and sitting at the centre of the projection. It was neat, fiendishly difficult to install and programme, and infuriatingly difficult to play.
The forthcoming Science Gallery exhibition will feature games that are designed as much for their artistic philosophy as for any sort of playability, which reflects Babycastles’ ethos. The collective is currently moving towards becoming a non-profit and it hopes to be able to add to the many all-ages events it has put on in New York and other cities.
And for anyone wondering what sick person would slice and stitch a giant blue mouse and pink dog together to house an arcade game, that would be (partly) me.
Game: The Future of Play is at Dublin’s Science Gallery from November 16th