Technologies: data projector, graphics card, joystick, PC, Unreal Tournament 2003
Keywords: feminist, game, narrative
Mary Flanagan is one of many New Media artists who work with computer games both as a medium and as a subject of investigation. domestic is a computer game based on a commercially-produced game engine called Unreal Tournament, a popular "first person shooter" in which players enter an immersive three-dimensional environment and blast away enemies as they explore a labyrinthine warren of rooms. domestic could be called a détournement of Unreal Tournament, a redirection of the popular game for artistic purposes. Whereas Unreal Tournament conveys a narrative of violent conquest typical of many popular games, Flanagan uses the game engine to create a home-like environment for the exploration of childhood memories and feelings. Flanagan populates domestic with photographic images and fragments of text that suggest internal turmoil rather than outward aggression, replacing psysical battles and demons with psychological ones.
According to Flanagan, domestic does not directly critique violent shooter-style games or the interaction players have within them. Instead, it seeks to make games political, and to question the assumptions we bring to games. Flanagan asks, "Can 'high tech' game spaces, often violent, cold, or impersonal, be subverted to create the inverse experience: an affective game that personalizes the space and therefore politicizes it? Can navigation in a 3D game operate as a means of challenging or 'un-playing' the conventional workings of shooter games?"
domestic is based on an event that took place when the artist was seven years old, in her home town in rural Wisconsin. As she walked down a wooded path on her way home from church, she noticed smoke billowing from the house's windows and began to run frantically towards her destination, knowing her father was inside. Flanagan re-creates this traumatic early memory in the architecture of the game space and the images and texts that cover its walls. The task of the game is to enter the house and put out the fire in the burning rooms.
domestic functions as an installation within the virtual environment of the game engine; Flanagan appropriates Unreal Tournament much as a conventional installation artist might approach the space of a gallery and transform it into a three-dimensional environment-as-art work. In the case of domestic, Flanagan covers the walls of the cavernous space with images of woods, the family house, and photographs culled from family photo albums.
Like much of Flanagan's work, domestic has a distinct feminist logic. In her work as a multi-media producer and educator, she developed one of the first interactive Web games for girls, The Adventures of Josie True, and worked on a collaborative educational project that helped teach young girls how to program computers via a networked game environment. In domestic, Flanagan replaces a narrative of external, physical conflict with one of internal, emotional exploration, suggesting that video games aren't just for boys (and girls) who want to play war, but also for girls (and boys) who want to play house.