Karen and I, along with daughters Simona and Betsy, and Betsy's b/f Brett, went to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens today to take in their exhibit on Real Virtuality, which runs through June 12th.
The proximate cause of our visit was to see The Night Journey, the game (if it be such) on which our friend Tracy Fullerton is collaborating with renowned video artist Bill Viola, and of course to see Tracy, in town for the opening.
The Night Journey runs on a PC, but is played with a controller; right stick controls viewpoint, left controls motion, and "X" (it's a PS2 controller) allows you to "reflect" -- not as in "invert the imagery," but as in "ponder." The imagery is a distorted and grainy greyscale landscape, and at various points are locations where, if you reflect, the imagery shifts to display some remembrance, distortion, or visual related to what you see in the main view. As you find reflection points and 'score' them (there is no numerical score), you can move faster, and learn to fly; in other words, you gain capabilities in the 'game' by locating important points within it. Over time, you may traverse three environments (forest, desert, and ocean), and some reflections produce brief, full-color video clips which you 'collect,' with the ability to view all later in the game. It is also possible to 'die,' represented by darkness closing in, which requires you to restart.
There is not, to be sure, anything like a win condition, or even a "quantified outcome" in Salen & Zimmerman's sense; hence, it's hard to categorize this as a game. It is intended to be a form of interactive video art, and both the nature sounds encountered during play and the grainy but affective imagery reinforces the sense of interacting with a piece of art. (There's also a passage in which people whisper to you, but at the museum, with the noises made by others, this was difficult to discern.) And given that most "video art" is wholly linear, the interactive nature of the product, and its borrowings from game design in terms of a sense of progression, make it interesting. For me, the glacial pace, and the apparent attempt at Zen-like serenity and acceptance mostly made me twitch and want to play something violent, but that probably says more about my cynical and depressive nature than anything about any lack in the work itself.
Other works on display include:
Realtime Unreal from Workspace Unlimited, an interesting work in which one person at a time enters a marked-off space in front of a projection screen. On the screen is projected a 3D digital environment not dissimilar to (but different from) the environment of the museum itself; by physically moving about the space, the person interacting with it changes the viewpoint displayed on the screen, creating a sense of being present in a 3D space that is partly real and partly virtual. 3D glasses (provided by the museum) are needed to experience it.
Into the Forest, from The OpenEnded Group appears at first glance to be an oddly-distorted 3D movie (glasses required) looking a lot like a moving-picture version of a lenticular, in which humanoid shapes move through a forested landscape. It is not, however, a movie as such; rather, some 400 clips are combined and displayed on the circular screen according to some algorithmic scheme. Accompanying text says that one person standing under a spotlight has his or her image captured at times and inserted in the scene, but if this is true, I was unable to discern any evidence of it in practice.
Augmented Sculpture, from Pablo Valbuena, is a stark white model of a cityscape onto which light -- sometimes lines or polygons, sometimes spots that cause shadows in the planes of the cityscale -- is projected. Although the physical object of the cityscape is unchanging, the changing nature of the projected light creates a sensation of motion and change.
RMB City, from Cao Fei, is actually a set of connected works. One is an area of Second Life which she purchased and has built up as a work of interactive art, and which may be explored by the audience in a large projection screen, with the motion of a character controlled by a Wiimote. Another is a sort of surfing game, with an actual surfboard controller, in which text messages from the artist appear during play; the actual game itself is dull, though the imagery out of the norm. Three smaller screens display visual loops, one of them an interview with the artist performed in the Second Life environment itself.
Finally, Cathedral from Marco Brambilla is a wholly non-interactive work of video art displayed on a large screen, consisting of video shot by the artist at the Toronto Eaton Centre megamall, then edited and rotoscoped by him into a kaleidoscope-like display.
If you are or plan to be in the area during the exhibit's run, it's worth checking out, at least partly to see how the video art community is responding to concepts of interaction fostered by the videogame revolution.