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Tunnels of strobe lights, laser mazes, and full-body virtual reality descend upon Los Angeles this month as IndieCade, the world's largest standalone independent games festival, kicks off its annual showcase of interactive art and design. Dubbed the "Sundance of videogames" by the L.A. Times, the juried festival attracts thousands of people every year to multiple venues in downtown Culver City. Think of IndieCade as an intervention for the commercial games industry. Southern Californiais fast becoming as important for gaming as it is for movies and TV. It's home to the world's biggest video games company (Activision Blizzard), the nation's largest game tradeshow (E3), and the makers of one of the world's most popular online games (Riot Games). IndieCade functions as a friendly wake up call that games are an art form too.
In a recently published manifesto, game designer and NYU professor Eric Zimmerman forcefully argued for the increasing importance of game design as an artistic medium. As media and culture become more and more systemic, modular, customizable, and participatory, he predicts that game-like experiences will replace linear media as a dominant form of expression. If the 20th century was defined by the moving image, he argues, this century will come to be defined by games.
To prove the point, Zimmerman and a host other of leading interactive artists and designers from around the world are coming to Los Angeles to show off their recent work. IndieCade features hands-on games on every conceivable games platform, not to mention touchscreen participatory art, large-scale art installations, multiplayer outdoor gaming and a carnival of avant-garde night games.
Here's a preview of what to expect.
Belgian studio Tale of Tales was founded in 2003 by Auriea Harvey &MichaëlSamyn with the intention of exploring video games technology as an artistic medium. Luxuria Superbia is a game for iPads and other platforms that asks players to evaluate their relationship to the gestural controls of touchscreens in the context of human sexuality. On screen you interact not with humans but with abstract flowers who respond to your touch with explosions of color and music. The game explores the ways touching, pinching, and stroking our screens personifies our devices . . . for mutual benefit.
The Hearst Collection
This is a live-action laser maze art heist game from San Francisco's Gabe Smedresman. Individual players make their way through laser tripwires to steal a masterpiece and make it back without triggering the alarm. Players are asked to physically bend, twist and crouch their way through the difficult laser maze. While it may remind players of the Catherine Zeta-Jones film "Entrapment," it's a wry commentary on how easily (or not) art comes to be valued in our culture.
The Irvine-based Oculus Rift is catching a huge amount of buzz as it gets set to launch a new era of consumer-facing Virtual Reality technology. The Oculus is a head-mounted display that visually immerses players in interactive 3D environments. Project Holodeck, an L.A.-based startup is one of several companies who are using the Oculus Rift as a stepping stone to even deeper immersion. By adding full-body motion detection and hand controls to the Oculus, the company is demoing one of the most extraordinarily immersive 3D experience you'll ever have. Strap on the kit and the real world drops away. Look around and you can see other players standing next you. As you move your real arms and feet, your virtual limbs move in kind. You'll need them for grabbing 3D objects and moving around in an endless array of virtual worlds.
Money Making Workshop
On the non-digital side, there's Money Making Workshop, a tabletop role-playing game for two to four players created by Eddo Stern, the Los Angeles-based artist and game designer. One person plays the Genius and the rest play Pistons. Pistons have to decide whether they'll work individually or collaboratively to beat the Genius and must use physical sewing kits and gold ingot molds and stamps to be productive. Players who are removed from the game sit under the table until the game is over. At the end of each round the Genius says "Resources. Rigor. Rewards" and all respond in unison "It is what it is." One of the things at play here is a satirical nod to the role of collaboration, ownership and commercialism when it comes to game production.
This large-scale physical installation is a collaboration between architect Nathalie Pozzi and Eric Zimmerman at Track 16 Gallery in Culver City. Interference is a strategic social game where you win by stealing from other players. It's being presented by LACE in partnership with IndieCade and USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative. Five thin steel walls suspended from the ceiling function as vertical game boards for teams of players who must steal pieces from the boards of other players to win the game. The installation plays with the boundaries between physical and social space as players scheme, negotiate and argue their way to victory.
IndieCade, the International Festival of Independent Games, takes place from October 4-7 2013, in downtown Culver City. For information on how to see these and over 100 other games or to attend the conference, the Night Games or the Big Games Festival, please go to www.indiecade.com.
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