DIY Media 2010: Video and Gaming Culture (Part One)

This is the fifth in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following is the curator's statement from Matteo Bittanti, a Social Science Research Associate at Stanford Humanities Lab.
I have always been fascinated by the tension between different forms of cultural productions, by the ongoing diatribe between the artistic nature of gaming, which to me has much more to do with the notion of gaming as a set of practices rather than gaming as a specific set of artifacts. That is: I am more interested in understanding the broad range of gaming performances by different social players than defining/defending a canon. A key assumption is that there is nothing intrinsically artistic about the medium of the videogame - or any medium/artform for that matter, although one could argue that "interactivity" is the special ingredient that does the magic for digital games. Whatever. It all comes down to rhetoric. As for art, well, it is simply a label, a socially constructed definition that serves a political, ideological, and economic agenda.

My selection for the DIY festival juxtaposed two forms of game-related productions that are simultaneously close - in terms of aesthetics - and distant - in relation to their cultural positioning. There are several fan-made productions -e.g. the LittleBigPlanet music videos - that have limited "artistic" appeal, that is, are extremely popular and well received among gamers but ignored/dismissed in the "official" artworld - that is, the marketplace that values sharks in formaldehyde and museum sit-ins performances. And there are a few "artistic" productions that are highly regarded among art practitioners, but unknown/dismissed or even derided by "gamers". There are two set of mutually exclusive forms of capital at play in two different factions/subculture: the "gaming capital" of gamers celebrating skill-based performances (e.g. speedruns, stunts, replays, machinima that expand/reflect upon/joke about the narrative world of the games they are based on, and so on) and the "cultural capital" of the artworld - that rewards marketable ideas and intents (e.g. illustrating, via a specific installation to be installed in a specific context - an art gallery - the 'essence of the gaming medium', 'its effects on human psyche', 'the commodification of leisure', 'the game of identity', 'the blurring between the so-called real and the so-called 'virtual'', 'hacking/modding as a political subversion' etc. etc.).

While they both use digital games a platform/canvas//raw material for creative expression, their nature as fan-art objects or artistic artifacts is not specifically defined by technical craft, but by a dispositif/apparatus that is both cultural (thus social =>human-based) and technical (machine-based). A network that comprises both human beings in various contexts (intellectual production/criticism/consumption) and automated delivery systems (e.g. Youtube, vimeo, flickr etc). Just to clarify: I am not suggesting that a speedrun is not artistic. The matter to me is almost irrelevant. I am just saying that until an influential art critic demonstrates that a speedrun is "artistic" by placing it in a socially recognized artistic context (e.g. a museum, an art gallery, a prestigious film festival), a speedrun will remain confined to a fan-only context. The context is everything. If I can have my speedrun on display at the Gagosian, Saatchi, or at the MoMa, I can sell it in the market place for $$$ - if that's my goal. Clearly, in order to sell my speedrun for $$$, I need the aforementioned influential art critic(s) that will justify the market value of my piece with a convincing critical assessment that will explain/justify/make up its cultural relevance to a broader public, a public unfamiliar with - and likely uninterested in - the conventions/language/aesthetics of the medium.

This also applies to those videogame-based artworks that have acquired weight (= market value) in the "official" artworld - I'm thinking about works by artists such as Cory Arcangel, Miltos Manetas, Joseph Delappe, Feng Mengbo and more (but not many more). For instance, I consider Miltos Manetas the first machinima-maker not because he was the first one to make machinima - today being "first" only matters if you're writing comments online, and especially if you are a troll - but because he was the first one to have his game-based videos recognized as a significant, groundbreaking artistic achievements by a critic who matters (Nicolas Bourriaud), in a NY gallery that matters, in the mid-Nineties, while the Ill Clan was creating the first Quake movies. Obviously, if one's goal is to gain reputation, admiration and status within the gaming community by being the greatest player in the world, the most skilled performer, the greatest e-athlete, the funniest commentator, then she/he will not give a toss about "Art". Or pretend not to: dismissing the artworld as "irrelevant" in today's society is instrumental in acquiring/increasing/solidifying street cred in other contexts.

This eclectic selection features a variety of video-game videos ranging from gameplay footage to game music videos. The main criterion behind this extravagant assortment is the urgent need to redefine the very notion of machinima in order to include the most enthralling audiovisual experiments produced, shared, and discussed by and within the game community. It also represents an explicit criticism toward the narrative-based machinima: the vast majority of the videos included steer clear of a traditional, conventional, linear form of narration. The success of DIY/Sandbox games like Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet and the proliferation of movie editing tools have spawned a new generation of creators that transcend the confines of game culture. This is a small sample is by no means an adequate reflection of the ginormous (sic) production of game videos currently floating in the seven seas of the electronets. Nonetheless, I hope you'll find them interesting. Expect the unexpected.

Street Fighter Deconstructed

Dylan Hayes (US)


genre: gameplay videos

keywords: abstract, deconstructionism; glitch art

Dylan Hayes is literally tearing down Capcom's Street Fighter to its constituent parts in order to bring in the foreground the true essence of this seminal beat'em up game. The result is a series of mesmerizing experiments in ludic abstractionism and glitch art that nostalgically evoke an 8-bit past that never was. We begin with "Palette Change Test" (described by the author as "palette change tests on SFII. almost 8-bit, i kinda dig it"), we continue with "Shapes" only to end with "Block Test 01", where the original game is so deconstructed that it becomes almost unrecognizable.

Palette Change Test from Dylan Hayes on Vimeo.

Shapes 02 from Dylan Hayes on Vimeo.

Block Tests 01 from Dylan Hayes on Vimeo.

DM Spectrum

Matthew Bradley (UK)


genre: gameplay video and teaser of a computer mod

keywords: teaser, gameplay video, music, abstract

DM-Spectrum is a custom UT3 deathmatch level developed by Matthew Bradley. The video selection includes a teaser and a gameplay video.

DM-Spectrum from Matthew Bradley on Vimeo.

DM_Spectrum Gameplay from Matthew Bradley on Vimeo.

Matteo Bittanti is an Adjunct Professor in the Visual Studies Program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland. He writes about technology, film, games, and popular culture for various publications (WIRED, Rolling Stone, LINK, Duellanti). His online projects include GameScenes, a blog about game-based art.