In acquiring a selection of games for their permanent collection, 2012 was the year that MoMA finally sheepishly admitted that, “yes, videogames are indeed art.” Thankfully media consumers and inventors throughout the world hadn’t bothered to wait around for official recognition and indie and experimental gaming has enjoyed a full-on renaissance for almost a decade. Now, an upstart festival based in Toronto aspires to dive headlong into this milieu and take a pass at broadly framing vital areas of work in and around gaming that fall well off the beaten path associated with the more conventional side of the medium. Vector, a self-described “game+art convergence” touches down in Toronto later this week with a program of screenings, performances, panel discussions and exhibitions. CAN tracked down Skot Deeming of Vector’s curatorial team (pictured above, to the right of Clint Enns, Katie Micak and Christine Kim) to get the lowdown on the first edition of the festival.
Luis Hernandez, Void One
CAN: First off, how did Vector come about? What is exactly a ‘game+art’ convergence and what is to be gained by opening up a broader discussion about gaming and culture?
Skot Deeming: Vector was borne in part due to my history of curating game based artworks, in part due to my studies as an MA student studying the creative practices of fan and hacking cultures and in part due to the myriad of popular debates that keep emerging centered on the medium as an ‘artform’. Game + Art convergence, at least for Team Vector, is the point at which the medium intersects with contemporary art practice. Often popular discourse engages in a binary games are / are not art conversation and what we hope to do is add some nuance to the discussion. Not whether or not they are or are not, but rather what is the context by which we can consider a game to be art.
By discussing the context, I think we can see that all medium’s have the potential to be works of contemporary art. But it’s not up to the medium to decide this, it’s up to the artists. For Team Vector, curating works around the central theme of game art offers us a categorical means of discussing a spectrum of interpretation on the medium’s expressive potential as an art form.
Well, please talk our readers through this ‘spectrum of interpretation’ – what are the broad themes running through the programming?
Like any medium, games are capable of communicating any number of experiences, perspectives or ideologies to its players. For this year’s Vector, we tried to create a programme which incorporates a wide variety of perspectives as a means of illustrating this spectrum. Everything from issues of gender and representation, to commercialism, to death, to positing the medium as a tool for the creation of photography, poetry, and even textile works.
One of the pieces you are screening within your “Awaiting the End of the Beginning” program is Jon Rafman’s Codes of Honour which is a meditation on the obsolescence of the arcade. To what degree do you think festivals like Vector and events like Game Jams resurrect (or update) these vibrant social spaces?
I think that these kinds of event do a great deal to both resurrect and update these spaces. On the one hand you have what Montreal’s Kokoromi collective called the “New Arcade”, pop up spaces where people come together to be social and share digital gaming experiences. Whether that’s in a pub or in a gallery, or some other alternate space, they are transient spaces, and fleeting compared to the permanent structures of the old arcade. On the other hand game jams become social spaces on the creation side of gaming, rather than consumptive.
I think in some way both of these types of events illustrate how the culture (and its technologies) have grown. It’s not a select few creating works for consumption by the masses; it’s a vastly participatory experience. It’s a very democratizing feeling, knowing that we can come together, create events and even games and turn these into social events. It’s makes a lot of sense that this is happening, given how many of us doing this kind of work used to meet our friends at lunch and after school at the local arcade in our youth.
To what degree is Vector emerging from Toronto’s indie game development scene?
A little bit. I had begun curating game based artworks before moving here from Winnipeg in 2011 to start my Master’s degree. I would definitely say that the community welcomed me and has been very supportive of the work I’ve done since coming back to Toronto. They’ve also been very supportive of this project. Hubs for indie development such as Bento Miso have been crucial in planning and developing the festival, groups like the Hand Eye Society (an indie game advocacy group in Toronto) have been helping us get the word out, and we have works by a number of Toronto indie dev’s whose work sits at the cusp of the convergence between game making and art making.
Anna Anthropy, Dys41a (2012)
You recently announced that the the Feminists in Games (FiG) research group has signed on as a sponsor at Vector and their organizational support makes sense given the festival’s programming. What does gaming, as a medium, offer as an arena for exploring questions of gender and identity?
Well this is a tricky question, because I think that we can see how troubling the representations of women have been in games historically, and how conservative gamers and their communities have been. At large, they’ve been closed to inclusivity at the best of times, and abusive at the worst of times. I remember reading of the reticence of gamer’s over the inclusion of the possibility of same sex relationships in Mass Effect and Skyrim. While the industry may not be providing us with all inclusive engendered experiences, it’s clear that they’re listening to those who are. But a lot of work still needs to be done. I think that as a medium, games can speak to any experience and communicate it. Many of the works in Vector 2013 work to communicate these experiences.
Anna Anthropy, who’s a champion of DIY game culture, and someone who encourages all to try making games, has done some great work in this regard. Her game Dys4ia (featured at our net.works exhibition) tries to communicate the frustration and emotional exhaustion of the transgendered experience, specifically transitioning from male to female. It’s probably one of the most moving games I have ever played.
I think there’s a way that ludic experiences leave us feeling more invested than in other forms of media. Due to the ways in which we interact with games, we feel more connected to them because we are explicit partners in the shaping of these experiences. I think that games as a long way to go in terms of parity when it comes to representing gender, but I think that work is being done.
Other works in the festival such as Sandra Danilovic’s film Second Bodies, discuss how online gaming can liberate people from their day to day gender roles, by creating new roles through digital avatars. In these environments, people are free to explore their gender in ways that are a little less risky than in their ‘real’ lives.
Vector Festival | Feb 20-24, Toronto
Posted on: 18/02/2013
Posted in: Events