Tech Talk: Can Gaming Be Art? New ArtScience Museum Show Gives A Playful "Yes!"
Contemporary art can be a little baffling sometimes.
I'm talking about artwork that comes with detailed intellectual explanations about the exploration of the human psyche and different aspects of the human condition - and it's just scribbles on a piece of paper that looks like the scrap paper in the stationery section of Popular bookstore for you to test the pens.
I’ve got to admit – most times at an art gallery, you’ll find me staring blankly at a piece of contemporary art, trying to will my brain to magically understand the deep symbolism behind it. (If you're like me, read our piece on "Don't Be Afraid Of Contemporary Art: Just Observe It And Feel".)
Anyway, this is why my excitement was palpable when I learnt that a new exhibition entitled "Virtual Realms: Videogames Transformed" would be making its world premiere at the ArtScience Museum on 12 Jun. Wait, what? What! Video games? Something I could actually relate to?!
The premise of "Virtual Realms" seemed quite top-level and cheem initially, but I realised it was for good reason.
If you really think about it, a video game is an interactive art form. Instead of a canvas, developers bring to life characters, stories, illustrations, and music within a digital space. And we, the players, are able to experience what the developers envision. Now I’m the one sounding cheem, but think about the most memorable video games you’ve played before and you'll see what I mean.
With an open mind, this gamer went to the exhibition and ended up having way more fun than he expected. Just like playing video games, you’ll be able to interact with the exhibits. Who knew the worlds of contemporary art and video games could blend so well together?
Gaming + physical activity + brain work + thought-provoking concepts + big "wow" factor. Now, this is a show that has certainly levelled up.
Here, we give you a sampler of the six sections you'll encounter in "Virtual Realms: Videogames Transformed":
1. Synesthesia – Rezonance, 2021
Inspired by Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s "Rez Infinite"
You might be familiar with the word “Synesthesia” if you’ve played the psychedelic music rail shooting game "Rez Infinite".
This first section feels like a music composer’s dream game. You walk about holding these white balls that vibrate and produce sound and music from "Rez Infinte". With three other visitors, you move about the space, co-creating pitches, tempos and rhythms that are controlled as you lift or lower the ball.
The music gets stronger as you come together. And that’s only the first part of the "game" in this section – later on, you can use the balls to interact with light projections on the floor and create more soundscapes.
It's a feast for the eyes and the ears (and you get to release your inner dancer).
2. Unity – Together, the distance between (us), 2021
Inspired by thatgamecompany’s "Sky: Children of the Light"
As with "Sky: Children of the Light" (a great game to play with friends), you need to go multiplayer to really enjoy this space.
Your movement in the room will trigger the lights from the circular rings above as well as sounds and music from the game. Stand together in a ring with the other visitors close to the middle and watch the magic happen.
"Sky: Children of the Light" was built on the premise of a “social adventure” with loved ones and this interactive experience certainly pays homage to that.
3. Connection – WALL, 2021
Inspired by Kojima Productions’ "Death Stranding"
"WALL" is definitely the section most gamers will be looking forward to, especially because of the "Kojima Productions" name.
Once you arrive, a wall with two sides beckons you. One side has cells on it and the other shows galactic particles. You can move and manipulate the cells and particles by hovering your hand just above the wall a la Tom Cruise in "Minority Report".
The coolest part though, is that you can see the silhouette of visitors on the other side of wall interacting with the panel. This reminds me of the indirect communication in "Death Stranding" – you’ll never see another player, but you might find things that others left behind which could help you in the game.
4. Play – Dream Shaping (2021)
Created in Media Molecule’s "Dreams" (2020, PlayStation 4)
I had the most fun at Play. You’ll be wearing tracking helmets and holding onto giant soft shapes (that reminded me of a PlayStation controller) as you “play” through three different stages.
No scores are recorded, but you might work up a sweat moving all around the room aiming your shapes to the screen. I can foresee this being popular with the younger crowd too.
5. Narrative – Book of Sand, 2021
Inspired by Tequila Works’ "RiME"
This is the only part of the exhibition that has a “story” element in it, and it's based on "RiME". Another multiplayer “game”, you and the other visitors move the story along by stepping on circular spots of light when they appear on the floor. This makes things happen on the near 360-degree screen in front of you.
My only gripe is that sometimes, the spot of light doesn't register your movement, so you’ll need to step out of it and back again. How the story unfolds will change depending on how everyone works together, so I am curious to give this another go.
6. Everything - Eye, 2021
Inspired by David OReilly’s "Everything" (2017)
Here, you and two others have control over a moving kaleidoscopic formation of random things (we got seashells).
One controller is able to scale the moving items, another can adjust the flow, and the last person can warp the movements, as music recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra plays in the background.
Or just like Twitch, there are seats available for you to watch what others have concocted. It is very interesting and cool to see the mesmerising results on the screen as you play around with the controls. And because a great multitude of "things" were created for this artwork, you might never see the same object again even with multiple visits.
Some tips on how best to enjoy this exhibition
Before #Phase2HA two per group restrictions are lifted on 14 Jun, I highly recommend you visit with your bae or BFF so you’ll get to enjoy the entire experience freely without a crowd. Still, stay safe, practice social distancing, and use the hand sanitisers available when you move from exhibition to exhibition.
I would also recommend the guided tour, which gives you an extra insight into each art installation. Those happen on 2 and 16 Jul (4-5pm), and 9 and 30 Jul (6-7pm). There’s also a special guided tour happening on 23 Jul with ArtScience Museum’s Assistant Manager for Programmes, Dina Abdul Razak. Each tour is limited to 10 people. Check with ArtScience Musuem for booking enquires.