TIGForums on Flywrench at The New Museum

by Art Fag City on March 23, 2009 · 20 comments Newswire

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Commenters over at TIGforum aren’t buying New York Times reporter Carol Vogel’s take on Flywrench, a video game made by Mark Essen. The youngest exhibitor in the New Museum’s emerging artist triennial, Younger Than Jesus, Essen’s game is about “getting to the square”. The first comment in a priceless thread responding to Vogel’s piece.

I really like Flywrench and I like Mark Essen, but somehow I find this a little ridiculous:

The images in Flywrench are reminiscent of the grid-based canvases that brought the painter Peter Halley to attention in the 1980s.

Come on? Really?

Notably, had the Times linked to Peter Halley’s paintings I doubt this comment would exist.  At least a few of his early works unarguably share a formal relationship with game.  That said, flywrench likely took its aesthetic queues from NetHack, an ascii generated video game first released in 1987.   Speaking to this concern other commenters respond;

fish: ….im all for the new arcade.
but displaying a game in a gallery dosent make it make it incredible art. couldnt it be displayed for its design qualities? for the sake of making new types of games for people to play together in public places? that’s what’s cool about what essen does. using colors and shapes in his game dosent make him the new mondrian.

toastie: I think the problem that I have with these kind of things is that, in spite of the vague and uninformed accolades lavished upon what seems to be an arbitrarily chosen (no offense to Mark Essen’s hustling skills) specimen of “video games”, there is always a tinge of condescension present towards the medium itself. That, as Phil pointed out, the game’s virtues are purely aesthetical and it might as well have been someone’s motion graphics project.

I’m inclined to agree on this point.  To really understand video games you have to talk about engagement and interactivity.  Vogel’s failure to do so underscores the reality that those are still dirty words amongst the more traditional art community.

Update: The above statement was poorly considered and is retracted for that reason.  Toastie thinks this video game is average and doesn’t deserve the praise, while Fish complains that the art praise doesn’t contextualize the game properly (he clearly defines art as implicitly valuable).  Both commentors make good points, though certainly the graphic aesthetic has more merit than either seem to think.

More discussion on how the game is actually played would be beneficial on the message board and Vogel’s piece.   A user has to accept a very simple game structure to appreciate its merits.  Surprisingly, I’ve found that task harder than I would have thought; I am more distrustful of nostalgia than I knew.

  • http://rhizome.org/discuss/view/42062 Brian

    The commenters on TIG forum aren’t talking about engagement and interactivity either. They’re talking about design, and their understanding of how a game fits in the context of art is at least as shallow as Vogel’s.
    I haven’t played Flywrench, but based on the other Essen games I’ve played I’d say the art happens in the player’s frustration with the system, which is less like the frustration that comes from playing a really hard video game and more like the frustration you encounter in an installation like Bruce Nauman’s Performance Corridor, or in any of Jodi’s web sites. It’s about struggling with an interface that doesn’t behave anything like you’ve seen before and deliberately upsets expectations. Things that produce that sensation have to be classified as art because there’s no place in mass culture where a creator can be so nasty to the public.
    At least that’s how I understand it. This isn’t a field I know a lot about, and would have a hard time qualifying what distinguishes an art game from an indie game. I hope some better informed people will join this discussion.

  • http://rhizome.org/discuss/view/42062 Brian

    The commenters on TIG forum aren’t talking about engagement and interactivity either. They’re talking about design, and their understanding of how a game fits in the context of art is at least as shallow as Vogel’s.
    I haven’t played Flywrench, but based on the other Essen games I’ve played I’d say the art happens in the player’s frustration with the system, which is less like the frustration that comes from playing a really hard video game and more like the frustration you encounter in an installation like Bruce Nauman’s Performance Corridor, or in any of Jodi’s web sites. It’s about struggling with an interface that doesn’t behave anything like you’ve seen before and deliberately upsets expectations. Things that produce that sensation have to be classified as art because there’s no place in mass culture where a creator can be so nasty to the public.
    At least that’s how I understand it. This isn’t a field I know a lot about, and would have a hard time qualifying what distinguishes an art game from an indie game. I hope some better informed people will join this discussion.

  • Jill

    Sounds like Flywrench is expanding on Intellevision’s game of “Snafu” – meaning it’s flat out not new – and the computer always wins. Vogel’s comparison to Peter Halley was actually a favor to Essen since his work is easy to pan: it does not come across as interesting…even when compared to other digital game apps. that are currently central to mass culture. It doesn’t look like these kinds of programs are going to be part of a next wave since users don’t have time for technological complications and viewers don’t see anything but a screen that reminds them of the low-grade graphics seen in the Atari-Nintendo-Intellevision trifecta of the early 80s.

  • Jill

    Sounds like Flywrench is expanding on Intellevision’s game of “Snafu” – meaning it’s flat out not new – and the computer always wins. Vogel’s comparison to Peter Halley was actually a favor to Essen since his work is easy to pan: it does not come across as interesting…even when compared to other digital game apps. that are currently central to mass culture. It doesn’t look like these kinds of programs are going to be part of a next wave since users don’t have time for technological complications and viewers don’t see anything but a screen that reminds them of the low-grade graphics seen in the Atari-Nintendo-Intellevision trifecta of the early 80s.

  • Art Fag City

    Brian: I’m updating my last point, since you’re right — it’s not accurate. Actually, it’s embarrassingly off point. With that said, I don’t think we can really have a conversation about this until you’ve played the video game. The game is pretty fun, but it’s fairly standard play in my mind.

  • Art Fag City

    Brian: I’m updating my last point, since you’re right — it’s not accurate. Actually, it’s embarrassingly off point. With that said, I don’t think we can really have a conversation about this until you’ve played the video game. The game is pretty fun, but it’s fairly standard play in my mind.

  • ed

    Jill’s not correct in her assessment of Flywrench: the computer does not always win–it just defeats you most of the time, and forces you to learn a new way to interact with the controller.

    I played Snafu back in the day and I don’t see the relationship to Flywrench’s gameplay (others can read a description of its gameplay here http://www.mobygames.com/game/snafu ) Are you saying that “it’s not new at all” because it uses colorful lines? Or maybe there’s some other point you’re making that I’m not getting.

    For me the success of Flywrench isn’t in just the gameplay, or the design, or the music (by Jordan Stone, which is great), but in all these elements coming together as an experience. I don’t think a game with innovative or interesting gameplay but boring design would merit inclusion in an art show either. But I agree with Jill that there’s a danger that casual gallery-goers will just see the visuals and leave their assessment at that.

    Another thing to remember is the context of this show: it’s supposed to represent art of the under-33 generation. I assume the curators saw Essen’s inclusion as a kind of statement–in a sense, he’s standing in for indie gaming or game culture as a whole, pointing to it as an emergent art form that needs to be noticed and recognized as valid. And like any emergent art form, the terms of its evaluation are still being hammered out and debated.

  • ed

    Jill’s not correct in her assessment of Flywrench: the computer does not always win–it just defeats you most of the time, and forces you to learn a new way to interact with the controller.

    I played Snafu back in the day and I don’t see the relationship to Flywrench’s gameplay (others can read a description of its gameplay here http://www.mobygames.com/game/snafu ) Are you saying that “it’s not new at all” because it uses colorful lines? Or maybe there’s some other point you’re making that I’m not getting.

    For me the success of Flywrench isn’t in just the gameplay, or the design, or the music (by Jordan Stone, which is great), but in all these elements coming together as an experience. I don’t think a game with innovative or interesting gameplay but boring design would merit inclusion in an art show either. But I agree with Jill that there’s a danger that casual gallery-goers will just see the visuals and leave their assessment at that.

    Another thing to remember is the context of this show: it’s supposed to represent art of the under-33 generation. I assume the curators saw Essen’s inclusion as a kind of statement–in a sense, he’s standing in for indie gaming or game culture as a whole, pointing to it as an emergent art form that needs to be noticed and recognized as valid. And like any emergent art form, the terms of its evaluation are still being hammered out and debated.

  • Art Fag City

    @ed. But don’t most games defeat you most of the time until you learn how to work the controller? I feel like that’s exactly how this game works. You pass through various barriers as you learn how to change the flywrench color.

  • Art Fag City

    @ed. But don’t most games defeat you most of the time until you learn how to work the controller? I feel like that’s exactly how this game works. You pass through various barriers as you learn how to change the flywrench color.

  • ed

    AFC: yes, I guess that’s true when you think of it that way. I was just trying to clarify that it’s not a game that you are always destined to lose. There are other “art games” that make a point of being ultimately un-winnable, as a kind of commentary or concept, but Flywrench isn’t one of them.

  • ed

    AFC: yes, I guess that’s true when you think of it that way. I was just trying to clarify that it’s not a game that you are always destined to lose. There are other “art games” that make a point of being ultimately un-winnable, as a kind of commentary or concept, but Flywrench isn’t one of them.

  • http://artsjournal.com/anotherbb regina hackett

    I love the way you engage with the comments. If only life were like this. Regina

  • http://artsjournal.com/anotherbb regina hackett

    I love the way you engage with the comments. If only life were like this. Regina

  • http://artsjournal.com/anotherbb regina hackett

    I love the way you engage with the comments. If only life were like this. Regina

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Paddy, I don’t understand why you crossed out your text. It’s perfectly true–Vogel does mention Halley (!) first, before she sketchily describes the game play. Then she makes no connection between the two. It doesn’t matter what the TIG commenters were saying (although I think “lack of attention to interactivity” was implicit in their rants), that’s not who your criticism was addressed to.

    Please reinstate the text and retract your retraction!

    A game with a lack of rules that sounds really interesting to me is one Travis Hallenbeck told me about called LSD:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LSD_(video_game)

    “There is no action or experience points, nor is there any clear goal. The idea is simply to walk around and enjoy things in a dream environment.”

    Ahhhh….

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Paddy, I don’t understand why you crossed out your text. It’s perfectly true–Vogel does mention Halley (!) first, before she sketchily describes the game play. Then she makes no connection between the two. It doesn’t matter what the TIG commenters were saying (although I think “lack of attention to interactivity” was implicit in their rants), that’s not who your criticism was addressed to.

    Please reinstate the text and retract your retraction!

    A game with a lack of rules that sounds really interesting to me is one Travis Hallenbeck told me about called LSD:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LSD_(video_game)

    “There is no action or experience points, nor is there any clear goal. The idea is simply to walk around and enjoy things in a dream environment.”

    Ahhhh….

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Paddy, I don’t understand why you crossed out your text. It’s perfectly true–Vogel does mention Halley (!) first, before she sketchily describes the game play. Then she makes no connection between the two. It doesn’t matter what the TIG commenters were saying (although I think “lack of attention to interactivity” was implicit in their rants), that’s not who your criticism was addressed to.

    Please reinstate the text and retract your retraction!

    A game with a lack of rules that sounds really interesting to me is one Travis Hallenbeck told me about called LSD:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LSD_(video_game)

    “There is no action or experience points, nor is there any clear goal. The idea is simply to walk around and enjoy things in a dream environment.”

    Ahhhh….

  • Travis

    a “game” haha jk

  • Travis

    a “game” haha jk

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