Interfaces of Imagination

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Interfaces of Imagination


Since its inception, the video game has been preoccupied with presenting the world how players would like the world. From the arcade games of the 1980's to the societal metaphors of contemporary gaming, video games have remained an agent of fantasy and imagination. Often video games allow users to play along as characters they could never actually be (Indiana Jones or Harry Potter) or to interact within digital landscapes that are of this world (Hogwarts or Star Wars' Planet Hoth). Many video games feel intrinsically hedonistic. They mock situations, characters, storylines or actions that a user might want to participate with but cannot. These games fulfil and satisfy. They substitute contrived cyber experiences for the 'real thing'.

This exhibit titled Interfaces of Imagination examines artwork on the artbase that explore the way in the video game can be used as an artistic medium to manifest fantasy. Throughout the works, the featured artists try to reconcile what human imagination wants and desires within virtual interactions that satisfy these cravings. Some of the artists see the video game as an agent of revisionist history, a way of interacting with an imagined reality that is somehow preferred to the way 'true' history played out. Other artists see the video game hs a way of narrating their own life and growth alongside the development of gaming technology. For the artists featured in this exhibit reality can be totally re-informed by the virtual world of the video game. Instead of seeing the constraints of gameplay, setting, player characterization, and gaming narrative, these new media artists understand the video game to be a medium of manifesting fantasy. Their works, by extension, re-define the conventions of video gaming.

Everything I Do is Art, But Nothing I Do Makes Any Difference

By chris reilly

Chris Reilly's "Everything I do is art, but nothing makes any difference" could be considered a digital remix. Pat Rios, a close friend and colleague of the artist, commissioned the work to serve as a closing performance at a gallery installation of Rios' work in Chicago. The gallery had been filled with objects and furniture that suggested Rios' artistic mantra that 'everything he does is art.' Chris Reilly's vision was to replicate the gallery space in a three-dimensional, first person shooter environment. He did this by manipulating the architecture of Half Life 2 to recreate the gallery and its art in a digital landscape. But Reilly's artwork is not the digital reproduction alone. Instead, the work is primarily a performance, wherein Reilly manipulates the first person character to "interact" with the space. This interaction takes on an almost juvenile disregard for Pat Rios' artwork. Shooting up the room, blowing up the installation, and even writing "CHRIS" on the wall with a machine gun, seems to spawn directly from the behavior of male adolescents within gaming environments. Reilly is not only paying homage to these impulses, but also reacting to Rios' artistic vision. Rios claims in his artwork that everything he does is art. As Reilly has said about the artwork, "After all, if everything you do is art, that's kind of like saying nothing you do is art; everything's on the same level." At the end of the performance, having graffitied his name into the wall with machinegun fire, Reilly detonates on grenade on himself and dies. There is no other way out of Reilly's Half Life landscape- having destroyed the virtual artwork of the gallery, the virtual artist must too be destroyed.

Everything I do is Art, But nothing I Do Makes any different

The persistence of hyperbole

By Erik Loyer

"The Persistence of Hyperbole" is a work that examines the fabric of the human narrative as compared to the progression of video games. In particular, "Persistence" parallels the growth and development of the artist alongside the development of the Wolfenstein video game franchise. Interaction with the work allows a user to click though a chronological documentation of Wolfenstein's development and the artist's own growth. Text from the artist is placed below or alongside stills, advertisements, or reviews of Wolfenstein. The work is placed in chronological order by the artist's age. Time therefore becomes agent of the artist. By placing his own narrative alongside that Wolfenstein, Loyer suggests that the game itself is almost human in its growth. There is a clear progression of technology that follows the progression of time. But Loyer also seems preoccupied with what role Wolfenstein has had on his own life. It takes a role within Loyer's narrative that makes it almost a best friend. Wolfenstein also becomes a way of understanding Loyer and his art. By selecting the video game as a benchmark for human life, Loyer presents the idea that the sophistication of fantasy follows human development. At least in Loyer's documented experience, Wolfenstein develops at a rate to continually fulfill his increasing need of imagination.

The Persistence of Hyperbole

RUNNERS: Wolfenstein

By Eddo Stern

Revisionist history lies at the heart of Eddo Stern's RUNNERS: Wolfenstein. Manipulating the classic video game Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Stern creates an alternate reality wherein Israeli soldiers directly attack Nazi Germans. The work becomes an interface of vengeance of alternate reality. The creation of RUNNERS: Wolfenstein suggests a reality and a course of history that did not take place. It is the realm of fantasy. And yet, Stern's choice to portray this revisionist history suggests that it is something he and other Israelis would like to interact with. The work becomes a manifestation of inborn fantasies and desires. It is a creation of the artist for the entertainment of the artist. Like a concept from a Sci-Fi novel, the works leaves players and game watchers with the knowledge that it is possible to create alternate realities for one's life or cultural heritage. In the digital age, through the medium of the video game, everything can be re-narrated.

RUNNERS: Wolfenstein


By Eddo Stern

"Tekken Torture Tournament" is a work that tries to further blur the line between virtual gaming and real life. By shocking players via armbands when their characters receive damage, "Tekken Torture Tournament" tries to 'make real' the pain of the game's avatars. Players, therefore, are more likely to identify with their virtual characters. Blurring the line between reality and virtual reality has always been an area of great interest for new media artists. Stern in particular seems almost obsessed with how video games can re-inform our understanding of history, human emotions, and with "Tekken Torture Tournament," human pain. Fighting games like Tekken have always challenged how human civilization understands itself. Even as technology develops, human blood-lust and the desire to fight remains un-impacted. In many ways, "Tekken Torture Tournament" is a critique of mankind's foul appreciation for violence and carnage. By connecting the pain that is inflicted on virtual agents, Stern criticizes the use of technology for satisfying intrinsic violent energies. In documentation of the tournament, a single human player is shown playing frequently without his shirt and relishing the pain. This is exactly what Stern is criticizing. As technology develops new ways of releasing human emotion, why can't humans stop being barbaric?

Tekken Torture Tournament


By Dan Young

Dan Young's "Lumberjacked" is a tongue in cheek critique of the entire video gaming culture. Its tagline is simple: using an advanced tree controller designed exclusively for the game, users can play against trees in a virtual environment. The idea that a user would play against a tree is a satirical notion. Video gaming conventions maintain that users must play against enemies who fight back or at least challenge the player. A tree, even one plugged into the gaming landscape, will never fight back. As an agent of fantasy "Lumberjacked" suggests a world where all sorts of objects can be modeled and controlled. No longer is the video game reserved simply for human users and artificially intelligent 'bots'. Instead, in Young's suggestion, even trees can be brought into the gaming world and given control over tree avatars. Young's work is not really a functional video game. Instead, it operates a conceptual piece, suggesting the artist's vision with mocked gameplay stills (of Atari-like pixilation) and extensive textual explanations. Most satirically, Young creates a tree controller for the piece with features fake ivy (the suggested tree sensors), a flower pot for housing the controller's electronics, and a I/O port for hooking the controller up to a computer or gaming console. This interface creates the tree's way of interacting with the virtual world. Like Stern's "Tekken Torture Tournament" or Reilly's "Everything I do is art but nothing makes any difference", "Lumberjacked" blurs the line between reality and fantasy.



This text reproduces the text and artwork curated on as part of the site's member curated exhibits. It is however, to be preferred over the original because it contains updated information and re-editted text. The original text, unfortunately, had a number of compositional errors that needed to be corrected.


The study of games and gameplay from the Latin Ludus for game. A developing field of academic study.

Wikipedia's Ludology page

Excellent article on Ludology that officially began the field

Jesper Juul Half-Real : Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds <book> The MIT Press ISBN 0262101106

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