Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Take ecstasy with me": a manifesto for Gay VR


Before I explain what the heck I mean by "Gay VR", let's review why Gay VR would be necessary. I gave a MVR talk on this topic at A/D/O a few weeks ago, and someone tweeted my slide above and it went mildly viral. A quick explanation:
  • "failsons" (failure + son), coined by popular "dirtbag left" podcast Chapo Trap House, are a particular type of 20-30-something men who have failed to fit into capitalism for whatever reason -- they don't have promising jobs, or careers, or relationships, or futures -- and they definitely feel the shame of it. When they hit rock bottom like this, do they blame capitalism and start listening to Chapo Trap House, or do they blame women + people of color and they join some Reddit hate mobs?
  • But when they buy video games, the right-wing failson finally fits into capitalism in some small way, and so they stake their self-worth on it. Instead of philosopher-kings, they are consumer-kings, who think they're so good at consuming video games that they can impose their radical conservative racist misogynist politics on the rest of gamer culture...
  • ... and they basically succeeded, thanks to tacit support from the game industry. It's now way too late to reverse this deeply unhealthy attitude toward art and media, and gamer culture is never going to get "better." These toxic conservatives have basically shit the bed, and now that shit will stay there forever.
To save a newly emerging VR culture from this poisoned gamer culture, I believe that we must act now, to fortify and insulate pockets of VR culture from the inferno. Ideally, we all pursue many different strategies in tandem, and here's a tactic that I'm working on, it's two short sweet words: Gay. VR.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Bleeding between alternate realities in Metal Gear Solid 5 and other open world games


I was playing the open world stealth game Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain (2015) and I kept failing Mission 33 ("Subsistence: C2W")... The "Subsistence" label means it's a remix of a past mission, but this time you have to complete the mission without any starting loadout, and rely purely on whatever equipment you find after you begin the mission.

The goal of C2W is to destroy some buildings, but "Subsistence" means you don't begin with any explosives -- and once you start attacking the base, they call-in an enemy helicopter that will kill you very quickly. So your two options are (a) sneaking around and clearing out the base quietly so you can destroy the buildings in peace, or (b) finding some heavy weapons (conveniently, some nearby guards carry rocket launchers) and quickly blowing everything up and escaping before the helicopter kills you.

I kept failing with either strategy, so I decided to look up some tips. The online guide suggested a rather dishonorable trick... (1) destroy the nearby anti-air radar station while in "free roam" mode, outside of the mission; (2) then, finally start the mission, set your own helicopter deploy point right on top of your mission objective; (3) and basically kill everyone with the helicopter's giant overpowered chain gun, easily earning the top S-Rank rating for your performance.

My (wrong) assumption was that changing the world in "free roam" mode would not change the world in "mission" mode. In most cases, this was still true... except in this one instance, the radar station was leaked between alternate realities.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Theorizing local games cultures in a post-TIGSource era

Colin Northway tweeted this about a week ago:

As Colin implies, I suspect there is actually no real equivalent of a central "cultural nexus" like TIGSource today. In fact, I've been in on the ground floor of several attempts to make new TIGSource-likes, such as Super Friendship Club and Makega.me, and both of them eventually petered-out in the end for one reason or another. I'm still not sure why, but maybe it's possible that internet forums are a poor fit for what we need these days?

The indie games moment arrived, and has now stabilized into a satellite commercial industry of the game industry. We don't need a central place like TIGSource to imagine it or to advocate for indies to exist. Commercially indie showcase events like Day of the Devs, The MIX, and Indie Megabooth have been been running for a while and will probably keep running.

Today, what would be a public game organization's "mission" now? Everyone has so many different needs and concerns. It's kind of absurd that we even imagined one global "public" that TIGSource was supposed to serve? Local games community problems here in New York City are very different from local problems in, say, Pittsburgh or Capetown or Teheran or Shanghai. One single internet place cannot hope to address all of that.

Many local communities and friend groups have Slacks and chatrooms, but most of these are private and unlisted -- they don't have the "public" face that TIGSource provides / provided. What, are you going to invite Colin Northway to your Slack now? Even if he accepted the invitation, he likely wouldn't stay very long, because Slack requires constant (hourly? minute-by-minute?) engagement and labor to function as a community -- and it'd still be difficult for Colin to understand the tone of your Slack, or what it's really about.

To me, a public games culture should serve two functions: (1) help a local community cohere together, and (2) articulate that community's voice(s) and concerns to the rest of the world.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The melancholy of screen space in "Universal History of Light" by Stephen Lavelle


WARNING: This post somewhat "spoils" the 2014 game Universal History of Light.

Stephen "increpare" Lavelle's "Universal History of Light" is a highly symbolic "adventure" game released back in February 2014. Reviews at the time hinged on describing it as an "insane dog simulator" game, which doesn't really capture what the game does, so this is me trying to offer a more robust interpretation and understanding.

Universal History of Light begins with a short lecture about the dangers of using laser pointers with dogs. Because a small red laser dot is incorporeal and intangible, a dog can never actually "catch" it -- and they will never understand their inability to catch their "prey", which will supposedly haunt them and cause psychological damage for the rest of their lives.

You then play as the lecturer at the front of the lecture hall, and you point your laser pointer at a student's assistance dog / seeing-eye dog, thus inflicting catastrophic hallucinations upon the dog. The dog now enters the brilliant burst pictured above; what awaits the dog in a new dimension of pure light and knowledge?

Turns out, it is a world of monochrome trauma. In the distance, we see countless planes, searchlights, and anti-aircraft flak illuminate the night sky. As the dog, we are basically wandering the outskirts of London during the Blitz.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

"Queer Utopian VR" for MVR 2.2 in Brooklyn, 7 March 2017


Next week I'm participating in MVR, an arts-technology presentation series by Pioneer Works and Nancy Nowacek. This particular installment, MVR 2.2, is hosted in conjunction with A/D/O in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, as part of their "Utopia vs Dystopia" series. (Wow so many event series!)

I'll be doing some standard artist talk stuff for an audience largely unfamiliar with my work, but I'll also be trying to speak to the theme a little -- "virtual reality" as a historically utopian project that is quickly descending into dystopia on all fronts. I will connect this to José Esteban Muñoz's idea of queerness as a utopia itself, where we can perhaps use the "horizon" of queer performance to preserve / salvage pockets of utopia in VR.

The other presenters are Jacob Gaboury, Laura Juo-Hsin Chen, and Rachel White, also presenting on their particular practices with art and technology... Jacob Gaboury does cool research with the history of computer graphics and queer computing. Laura Juo-Hsin Chen does playful VR that engages with materiality, like "toilet VR" and physical VR masks. Rachel White explores the fuzzy intersection between internet bots and an internet of cuteness.

It should be a fun night. See you there.

Free / open to public, RSVP requested
Tuesday, March 7, 2017 @ 7 PM
at: A/D/O
29 Norman Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(subway: G at Nassau)