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Instead of the widely used "video game" term, Lynn Hugues, co-founder of TAG (Technoculture, Art and Games) and associate dean for research in the fine art department of Concordia University in Montréal, Canada, prefers "digital games", a phrase that enables her to widen her field of interpretation and creation by developing both a more experimental and global approach (technological, social, artistic…). Interview.
Coud you tell us about your background?
I have two undergraduate degrees -in literature and art- and a graduate degree in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (with a concentration in the history of mathematics). I first became well known as a young, very controversial painter and was hired to teach painting at the university (even though at art school I had never taken a painting course!). But it became clear to me after a while that painting is a kind of a pratique pittoresque that is essentially self referential and cut off from a broader public. This conviction, and my background in history of technology, pointed me towards a new historical/cultural and technical language that seemed more connected to contemporary life. As a result, for the last 15 years I have been thinking about and producing interactive digital works. At the same time, I also felt compelled to contribute to creating major “contexts” for other people around me to create within and around digital culture. I was a key player in structuring, and finding the financing for, the Hexagram Institute for Media Art and Technology which is the biggest, and most active, hub for digital art / design and performance in Canada. Hexagram is a very large beast and so, within Hexagram, I co-founded a more intimate research group, Interstices which produced and/or co-produced 20 digital works over about 10 years. Within Interstices my own work was large-scale (full-body) interactive environments and I soon began to think about these as games. This led, more recently, to my co-founding a new group TAG (Technoculture, Art and Games) focused explicitly on games. TAG brings together researchers and students from many different disciplines, as well as independent designers and organisms, and interested individuals from industry, to talk about games, look at player culture and make and play games. I moved into digital culture and into games to be broadly connected not to be part of an elite.
How would you define your work in the field of video games?
I make experimental games but I also see my role as helping to build a context that enables all kinds of different people to work together around games. It is to provoke conversations about what games are and might be; as well as making games that interest me, and that contribute to that conversation.
As far as you are concerned, does the video game constitute a (new) art practice?
First of all, I use the term "digital games" rather than "video games" because the word "video" suggests an experience focused principally on the screen, and that doesn’t correspond to what I do, or to the breadth of current developments in the more experimental games sector. In the contemporary art world, even in the new media sector, digital games are often still caricatured as "mere" entertainment; somehow essentially superficial. They are considered at best a minor mode or a trendy margin. But I am interested in games because I think they are absolutely central — formally, technologically, socially and artistically. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that, in the way that cinema was the central cultural form of the 20th century, games are the central form of our time. This is not to downplay the persistence or importance of other inherited or current forms of art, it simply describes the contemporary, cultural state of affairs.
According to you, what is the very essence of a game in the digital era…?
I would characterize the centrality of games in two ways. The first is formal: current post-cinematic culture is the culture of the computer rather than the camera and, by implication, of active rather than passive relationships between audience and cultural product. Computer and network-enabled interactive media imply a designed relationship between a closed, authorial shape (typical of, for example, painting, photo or cinema) and a more open, participative space. The participative space is still a designed one but is open, to one degree or another, to user choices or paths and may have emergent qualities - whether deliberate or unanticipated. While this is generally true of interactive media, digital games articulate this relationship in a particularly explicit and clear way so that we can see them as the definitive form of interactive (digital) media. A, perhaps more compelling, description of games puts the emphasis on the notion of exploring a system. Playing a game leads us to discover an underlying, constructed / designed system with its affordances and assumptions. In a nutshell, games stem from, and point to, the world as increasingly systematized and they ultimately suggest that we need to be both aware and critical of the implicit, constructed and systemic nature of our realties. Here again games can articulate in complex, critical and compelling aesthetic ways, key contemporary preoccupations and situations.
How could digital games escape the kind of ostracism they have been trapped in and acquire some recognition, particularly when it comes to the art world …?
Beyond these formal arguments, it seems essential to point out that people who dismiss games, or rather don't see them, almost always have little or no playing experience. Perhaps even more importantly, they have little idea of what the field of games looks like, even at this relatively early point in its development, in terms of breadth, depth and variety. To a significant extent this is simply because of the pace of development. Games have really developed over about the last forty years and the acceleration of development after 2000 was matched only by the revolution in approach and audience in the last two or three years. Most art critics and curators are over forty and so it is not surprising that they don't understand games. To them, games are the violent blockbusters that all look about the same, along with, perhaps, the recent addition of lightweight family entertainment for newer controllers like the Wii, Move and Kinect. A few curators are becoming aware that there is an art fringe to the game community. But art games or game art are just a margin of what is already a very rich, varied, artistically and socially exciting arena. It is already clear that the field of games will soon look very much like cinema in that it will include everything from blockbuster pure entertainment (like Hollywood, much of it repetitive and uninventive but occasionally something both commercial and good) through games d'auteur, to low budget independent and experimental genres.
Consoles, pads, applications, geolocation, sensors… according to you, what are the new trends ?
I have been working with sensor based interactive environments for about 15 years. My interest has been in making games that focus on full body interaction. I was already producing this kind of game (supported by a small team) based on custom programming and interfaces, prior to the appearance of the Wii, and now the Move and the Kinect. My current focus is on designing games that require people to interact with each other rather than mainly with a machine. I feel very connected to game designers like Douglas Wilson (B.U.T.T.O.N., J.S. Joust...) who are looking at digital games not as a way to design tightly controlled digital experiences where one’s success or failure is also measured digitally, but rather as digital excuses to improvise in wild and sometimes unpredictable ways. This means designing game mechanics that are really good scaffolds for other people (especially players) to add to, and play with and within. Because I have a rich background in the visual arts, I also increasingly see ways in which I could bring this experience to bear on making sophisticated games in term of both aesthetic sensibility and content.
Could you describe your activity at the Concordia University, in Montréal ?
I have just finished a term as Associate Dean for Research in the Fine Arts Faculty at Concordia (we are the leading anglophone university in Canada for art and especially for digital art/design and performance). Doing this job was a way to help anchor digital art cultureat Concordia, and an opportunity to insist on its importance to the usually conservative decision makers in the university. At the same time, I co-founded TAG with a colleague (Bart Simon, a sociologist of game culture) in order to make games as visible as possible, especially for students. We have been extremely busy connecting TAG to researchers and game communities across Canada and internationally. And I have not stopped producing games. Bart and I are developing Propinquity a full body sensor-based game together at the moment. But TAG supports many different activities: game design and production by students and faculty (often with independent designers on the teams) regular game nights where people play games from our extensive game library, invited speakers and workshops etc. This summer we ran the first Montreal Games Incubator with four teams paid to focus on bootstrapping their games, supported by a host of enthusiastic industry mentors. This October we are hosting the colloque Récit(s) et jeux numériques (Entretiens Jacques Cartier) with a roster of international speakers and a half day dedicated to independent and student designers receiving feedback from the high-profile game theorists and industry designers.
Interview by Anne-Cécile Worms
On the occasion of the launch of the special issue of MCD#64 — Game over Culture, La Culture des jeux vidéo — Digitalarti and the MCD magazine invite you to discover until November 13th, at the Gaîté Lyrique, a carte blanche given to Kokoromi and TAG focused on the new wave of independent and alternative games, praised by critics and repeatedly rewarded.
Amongst the games selected for the carte blanche to kokoromi and TAG are: FRACT by Richard E. Flanagan (Phosfied Systems), Trauma by Krystian Majewski and Child of Eden (pub. Ubisoft), the new brainchild of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, of Rez fame.
For the opening on October, 7th other games will be showcased, including, superHYPERCUBE a stereoscopic game for kinect by kokoromi; Johann Sebastian Joust, the new digital folk game sensation with the designers of the Copenhagen Game Collective, as well as cocktail challenges with the new and mysterious DareDroid (Modern Nomads).
This Carte blanche has been initiated by MCD and produced in partnership with La Gaîté Lyrique and the “spéciale Québec numérique” program of the Némo Festival (Arcadi) – sponsored by the Government of Québec.
The quarterly magazine MCD#64 Game over Culture can be purchased from newsagents and bookstores or directly from the website : www.digitalmcd.com
Kokoromi: www.kokoromi.org — TAG: www.tag.hexagram.ca — Gaîté Lyrique: www.gaite-lyrique.net
Published in the Digitalarti Mag #7.
Digitalarti Mag, the international digital art and innovation magazine.
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