Unplay: Action, Affect, Attention

Online Exhibition Mon 24 Oct 2016 Open participation; please participate with the links below.
"Play, radically broken from a confined ludic time and space, must invade the whole of life."

- Internationale Situationniste, Contribution to a Situationist Definition of Play (1958)

Today, capital's totalizing tendency to encroach on social time can be felt in virtually all realms of life. The very idea of "free time" has become an illusive figment of the bourgeois imaginary, a euphemism for unpaid labor time. Rather than being free, time is always bound and overdetermined by the imperatives of capitalism. And yet, the notion of play continues to animate our desires, reorganize our attention, and incite our imagination. In the age of multi-million dollar e-game competitions, however, the fateful commoditization of play is all but unmistakable. Unplay: Action, Affect, Attention brings together eight artworks whose interpretation of play effectively calls into question the meaning of play in the face of capitalist appropriation. Each work offers a unique take on the contemporary politics of play as a moment of pause and reflection in a world where our attention, emotions, and pleasures are increasingly quantified as likes, and financialized as ad revenue.

Part of the series "Mobility in Post Democracy," organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, Unplay was the first installment in the panel titled "Right of Refusal" which took place on October 24, 2016 at The New School.

Curated by Lucas G. Pinheiro.

With special thanks to Rhizome for hosting and archiving Queers in Love by Anna Anthropy and Bomb Iraq by Cory Arcangel.

Organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics as part of the focus theme Post Democracy. Mobility in Post Democracy is a Vera List Center public seminar series, supported by the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility.


Queers in Love at the End of the World (2013)

"WHEN WE HAVE EACH OTHER WE HAVE EVERYTHING" reads the afterword to Anna Anthropy's Queers in Love at the End of the World. This quote, taken from an image the artist found on tumblr, gestures to the affective and libidinal economies of the work, which stages a romantic encounter between the viewer and a lover. Queers in Love is a ten-second hypertext game, built on the open-source web tool Twine, that invites players to become agents in Anthropy's queer love story, navigating the text from frame to frame through hyperlinks. In the first excerpt, players are prompted to make a choice: "Kiss," "Hold," "Take," or "Tell." From there on, the linearity of both conventional story-telling and heteronormative relationships are deliberately questioned as players explore different paths that, at the end of the ten-second loop, lead to the same place: a black screen where "everything is wiped away."

Play this work.


Bomb Iraq (2005)

In 1993, Apple launched the Macintosh TV: a hybrid of the personal computer and the television set. After its production was discontinued in 1994, the Macintosh TV soon became a rare and prized ephemera among tech-world aficionados. Over a decade later and by a stroke of luck, Cory Arcangel happened upon a Mac TV at a Salvation Army store in Buffalo, NY. In it, Arcangel discovered an array of files: notes, school assignments, and--amusingly--a homemade game, likely designed by the computer's previous owner, titled "Bomb Iraq." Arcangel's eponymous piece was first shown as an early-Web readymade at Pace Wildenstein. However, as time wore on, the contents in the hard disk became increasingly inaccessible. It wasn't until 2014 that Bomb Iraq was given new life by Rhizome's Digital Conservator, Dragan Espenschied, who, by using the latest emulation technology, was able to restore the 1993 Macintosh TV in its entirety. Today, thanks to Rhizome, Espenschied, and bwFLA's "Emulation as a Service," Bomb Iraq is available to internet users writ large, who are now free to play the game, browse the files in the hard disk, and experience the original setting in which the game was first built and played: Apple's "Classic" operating system in a 1993 Macintosh TV.

Play, browse, and learn more about this work.


Launch a Banker (2016)

Until 2014, only one top Wall Street Executive had been arrested in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. In Launch a Banker, Grayson Earle playfully imagines an alternative future where ordinary citizens take it upon themselves to bring the financial elite to justice. At the intersection of critique and satire--Occupy Wall Street meets Bernie Sanders' Dank Meme Stash--the piece gamifies what is likely a popular unspoken fantasy underlying the chant, "we are the 99%": to launch a banker into the ether. After being launched, the game's anti-hero tycoon free falls into a bottomless abyss set against a bright blue sky. As the banker continues to dive, money dripping from his pockets, players use the arrow keys on their keyboard to steer him into a cell.

Play this work.


Loneliness (2010)

Is loneliness a feeling or a state of being? Is it a performance, a fact, or a quality? Can it be simulated? These are some of the meditations Jordan Magnuson's Loneliness invokes. Built using the FlashPunk ActionScript 3 library, Loneliness is a 2D browser-based Flash game where players control a black square with the arrow keys. Players may direct the square in all directions across the screen as groups of identical black squares come to view on the surface, moving downwards in neatly arranged, synchronized, and orderly packs of two or more squares. The sudden appearance of other squares introduces the possibility of interaction, which, if entertained, causes the groups to disperse and move away. Thus, the performance of loneliness comes forth in the particular way each player may react to learning that they are repellent. Will you persist in trying to interact with others, or will you steer clear and trod your own lonesome path through the screen?

Play this work.

Additional Resource: Mechanics as Metaphor.

EVA & FRANCO MATTES AKA 0100101110101101.ORG

Freedom (2010)

Freedom is the video documentation of a nine-minute long, real-time online performance by Eva and Franco Mattes that takes place in the multiplayer, first-person shooter computer game Counter-Strike (CS). The duo join a public online CS server where they find gamers playing against each other in opposite teams: terrorists and counter-terrorists. Rather than playing the game, as scripted by the rules and unspoken conventions of CS, Eva and Franco's character stand still. "Don't kill me," they write to their puzzled teammates, "this is an art performance." Despite their humane pleas for mercy, Eva and Franco are killed every round. Part net performance, part trolling, part cultural ethnography, Freedom is an experiential archive of the politics, social relations, and community of web-based first-person shooter games. At one point, Eva and Franco ask, "what are we fighting for?" To which an adversary replies, just moments before killing Eva and Franco, "freedom!"

View Work.


Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2009)

Molleindustria is an artist collective formed in 2003 whose self-proclaimed focus is the creation and propagation of radical online games. Welcome to the Desert of the Real stands apart from their other works in light of its formal, conceptual, and aesthetic subtlety and sophistication. Rather than an inhouse game, the piece appropriates the computer graphics of an existing game as the ground for a real-time cinematic performance, or "machinima" (a portmanteau made from machine and cinema). The piece was shot entirely with graphics from America's Army, the platform used by the US army to develop first-person shooter games that simulate the experiences of infantry soldiers. While these games are mainly used for recruiting young civilians into the armed forces, Molleindustria's remake adds to the game's realism by complementing the simulation of physical experiences, such as shooting and walking, with a simulation of the psycho-social trauma associated with modern warfare. Excerpts from the post-traumatic stress disorder checklist are sporadically weaved into the work, alongside shots of a soldier walking alone across the desert.

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Additional Resource: Molleindustria manifesto.


Between (2008)

Despite being a two-player game, Jason Rohrer's Between offers a unique game-play experience that is neither competitive nor cooperative. Indeed, game designer and media theorist Ian Bogost has described this experience as a "disjunctive play," a liminal and ambiguous sense experience that circumvents the competition-cooperation binary of multiplayer gaming. In Between, players navigate alternate dream worlds void of pre-established or intelligible language. In Rohrer's words, "Between erects an almost impenetrable barrier between the two players and then still demands that they somehow communicate through that barrier, at least minimally, in order to progress in the game."

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Additional Resource: Interview with Rohrer on Between by Patrick Jagoda.


Beautiful Frog (2015)

A hypertext piece built on Twine, Porpentine's Beautiful Frog offers viewers a unique experience of interspecies rearing. The beautiful frog has a distinct name (Honko, Roopet, etc.) and a future that depends largely on the choices the player makes throughout the narrative. Once you have fed the frog, after it has sung and hopped, it ages and grows, leaving your tutelage altogether to enter the real world. At this moment, players become spectators watching their frogs as they procure jobs, enter leaping contests, catch ladybugs, and, invariably, die. Importantly, Porpentine escapes the narrative convention of assigning protagonists gendered pronouns, that a player's beautiful frog is only addressed in the text either by their proper name or as "your frog" elicits an identity politics of fluidity as much for gender as for species membership.

Play this work.