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Games and art - an interview with Zach Gage

09.05.2013 12:05 | Autor: Iga Ewa Smoleńska,

Zach Gage talks about video games, their design, new media and art.
Zach Gage is a contemporary artist, programmer, and game designer from New York. His art explores the aspect of communication in new media and how it shapes the modern society and culture. Gage is the author of such games and applications as Spell Tower, Halycon, Sonic Wire Sculptor, Bit Pilot, Unify, SynthPond and the co-author of the new and highly acclaimed Ridiculous Fishing. Recently he also designed a classical board game Guts of Glory, which you can view on its official Kickstarter backing page.

In his art Gage often acknowledges the medium of games. It can be clearly seen in projects such as Lose/Lose - a take on a classic shoot‘em up, which deletes a file from the player's hard drive of the player every time they kill an enemy; or Killing Spree - a game based on Wolfenstein 3D graphics, the player may or may not shoot the approaching characters, whose faces are taken from photos of people visiting the gallery.


Iga Ewa Smoleńska: Ok, so to begin with – could you tell me how you got into video games in the first place? When and where was it? And what did you like about them in particular?

Zach Gage: According to my mom I always loved games, long before I discovered video games. I forwarded this question to her since I was too young to really remember. Here's part of what she wrote back to me:

You were always attracted to games and would make elaborate setups with blocks and Legos and design games to play with the characters before you saw a computer game. The characters always had challenges or obstacles -- maybe that came from books or cartoons or ninja turtles. And then when you saw an electronic game, you just went, YES. But I am not sure when that was.

I know we got our first computer in kindergarten, and I remember making drawings in Kid Pix that I explained as games, much like the blocks and legos. I'm not sure if I played a videogame before then. Apparently there was a computer in my classroom at school, so I may have played games on that.

I know one of my first videogames was super mario bros. on nintendo at a friends house. I also remember that Prince of Persia was on of my first real serious gaming loves.

Thats about all i remember about that. Too young.


Iga Ewa Smoleńska: As both an educated artist and a game designer how would you say that your artistic background had shaped your view on game design? Also: how had video games influenced your art?

Zach Gage: Man, this is a massive question. I think the biggest thing that came from art is the respect for curiosity and thinking. To me, the most important thing that can come out of any work that I've done is that the user/player/viewer/explorer comes back from their experience with new things to think and talk about. Whether that's an altered understanding about a particular moment in their daily life, or a set of thoughts that drive their curiosity about what to do and how to discover something new in a game, I want to make sure the work evokes tangible investigations.

From games, I think i've really noticed how important feel is in driving play and curiosity. To me one of the major differences between games and interactive art is how games tend to privilege feel above all else, while interactive art often has more side-goals. A good reference point for myself on this is Fortune, the art project I most recently worked on. It's a physical fortune teller based around Twitter (HERE IT IS). At least half the piece is this physical expression of pressing a button and receiving a gift. Theres an inherent joy to that activity that I think games are hyper-aware of. That joy really feeds into the piece and gives weight to the fortunes you receive. If you look at some of my older works, while they certainly are playful, the physical feeling of interaction is downplayed.

Iga Ewa Smoleńska: You mentioned that "feel" is an aspect of video games that they value above anything else. Could you say something more about that?

Zach Gage: I think the easiest way to understand that statement, is to first understand that video games are an art form primarily about interaction. Just like seeing and hearing are the primary function of cinema, playing is the primary function of games. And playing, means interacting.

Theres a lot more that goes into play of course, but at its root, the basis of play is a celebration of the back and forth between people and other things (objects, people).

So when you play games, they need to feel correct. This doesn't mean they have to feel good or fun, but they need to feel the right way for the message they're trying to convey, the questions they're trying to ask, or the emotions they're trying to resonate with.

Interaction is important to all forms of art/media, but I primarily find that in games the interaction is central to the work.

I should add that of course there is interactive art that has a primary focus on the feel of the work, just as games can focus on their broader conceptual discourse. But I find these types of exploration haven't generally been the norm of interactive art or games thus far.
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