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Posts tagged ‘video games’

MoMA’s Uneasy Foray into Video Game Collection and Display

As some already know, MoMA’s design department has recently gotten into the role of acquiring video games as part of their permanent collection, a move that was of great interest to me as a gamer and someone who devotes much of a lot of my scholarship to video games. It so happens that last semester my girlfriend interned in MoMA’s architecture and design department and, as a perk, she was able to bring me along for an intimate, after-hours tour that included the exhibit of the recently acquired video games—a tour made particularly unique[1] because it was led by the senior curators themselves. In the exhibit, the 14 games are displayed with very minimal fanfare (aside from one wall covered in screenshots from Sim City 2000) and even the consoles are hidden behind a blank wall so that just the screens appear with a shelf underneath that holds a set of headphones, and, depending on the game, a controller.  About half of the games are playable while the other half run recorded demos of the games.  I had already read about the exhibit in the NYTimes and had gone to see it for myself, so now I was really excited to get to meet and talk to Paola Antonelli, a Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, who appears to have been the driving force behind the effort to start a video games collection.[2]

From my perspective, MoMA’s decision to begin acquiring and displaying games is another instance of the gatekeepers to high culture slowly aligning themselves with the increasingly accepted notion that video games should be talked about in the same category as other major forms of popular art. This should be a good thing.  For me, gaming still remains a guilty pleasure—a “guilt” that implies this layer of judgment projected on to those around me who still associate gaming with a juvenile pleasure for young males. Maybe it’s for this reason that my own avowed love video games actually makes me more self-conscious about justifying a scholarly engagement—it makes me feel like I have found a way to rationalize remaining a 13-year-old boy well into adulthood.  When MoMA or the Smithsonian starts including games in their collections I feel a little less judgment coming my way (and maybe my mom will be a little less embarrassed to tell her friends what I write scholarly articles about).  Yet, even as I am excited about MoMA’s and Ms. Antonelli’s efforts, I am also skeptical of the two main functions going on here: first, the idea of acquiring games into a permanent collection ostensibly for recognition and preservation and, second, the manner that these games are displayed.  Read more

Towards a Minor-Key Cinema: Phil Solomon at Melwood

As a child I would listen to oldies radio stations, and certain songs would draw me in. Songs by girl groups were often hard to tell apart: bright instrumentation, sunny harmonies, always about love. But some girl group songs added something indelibly sad to that sound that I couldn’t place. The way the background singers would turn their notes downward in the chorus of “Be My Baby” just before the main vocal came in and the melodic line in “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” made the songs rich and full of longing. Some years later, taking music lessons, I surmised that these and other songs that had made me feel the same way (like “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”) used minor-mode variations: minor chords, changes, and keys that flattened the third and gained a romantic depth borne of some prelinguistic pain. The recent work of Phil Solomon, screened at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room on April 4th, seems to be after something of a piece with these episodes in popular music, looking for a combination of image and sound that will overpower with epic, aching beauty. (Given his acknowledged debts to 60s artists like the Beach Boys and the Beatles, who learned a great deal from Spectorized pop, this is hardly surprising.) Solomon’s Grand Theft Auto Works and his Corcoran-commissioned American Falls, though widely divergent in subject matter, share this basic sensibility. They feel too familiar to seem properly avant-garde. This isn’t because he deals with popular materials, but because he recalls and continues familiar experiences with popular culture. Taking the cinematic qualities of Grand Theft Auto to their logical (yet unexpectedly moving) conclusions and boiling American iconography into a liquid monument of loss are as roughly familiar to New Sincerity as they are to the experimental film tradition. (And both carry on the concerns of Romanticism, albeit in different ways.) Read more

The Conversation: Mark Grimshaw

I first stumbled onto Mark’s work while searching for video game scholarship on “visemes,” the design term for a visual analog of a phoneme. Being somewhat familiar with Michel Chion’s work on audio-visual synchronization, I was curious what video game scholars were making of comparable (if more complex?) sound and synchronization issues in video game design. I was to delighted to discover Mark’s co-written essay “Uncanny Speech,” on just this subject, in his edited volume Game Sound Technology and Player Interaction (2011), and even more pleased to find that Mark had published what appears to be the first book-length study of game sound, The Acoustic Ecology of the First-Person Shooter (2008), a text that will no doubt become indispensable to sound studies, and is already making its way onto film, new media, and video game studies syllabi.

JAVIER O’NEIL-ORTIZ: With a background in sound engineering and degrees in music and music technology, what led you to work on game sound, specifically? How has your industry experience informed your approach to the study of game sound? Read more