2017 marks the year of animator David OReilly’s return to to the medium of videogames, following up on his strange and serene digital-art-toy-screensaver-thing Mountain (2014). His new game, Everything, released on PS4 on March 21st, and releases on Windows, Mac and Linux this Friday.
The game’s title, Everything, is also the game’s premise: It is a game about everything. Specifically, it is a game in which players can be everything, switching at will from trees to koalas to rocks to quarks and back. I haven’t had a chance to sit down with it yet—I suspect I’ll make time for it once it’s out for PC—but I did want to take the advent of its multi-platform release as an opportunity to muse on this premise’s history in gaming.
Everything may be the first game that explicitly promises to allow us to be everything, but games have previously offered the ability for us to step into the role of quite a lot of things, including a surprising range of inanimate objects. “The child plays at being not only a shopkeeper or teacher,” wrote Walter Benjamin, “but also a windmill and a train.”[i] Games have proved to be a continuing outlet for this childhood animist fantasy—why, in just a couple weeks’ time, we’re going to be able to play as a coffee mug!
Join me, won’t you, in a breezy tour of some of the stranger things games have let us be.
I have taught André Bazin’s essay “Ontology of the Photographic Image” in two very different contexts: once in the “Image” portion of the University of Chicago’s Media Aesthetics sequence in their Humanities Core, and once in a writing seminar at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago entitled “Moving Images and Arguments,” on cinematic rhetoric. Surprisingly, both times I taught it, large portions of my lesson remained the same: the main difference was that I spent more time discussing the philosophical groundings of Bazin’s piece in Media Aesthetics, whereas I used the extended course time in “Moving Images and Arguments” to show and discuss a wider variety of things.
Both times I taught this, I used Timothy Barnard’s translation, from the Canadian Caboose edition of What Is Cinema?. When that translation first came out, it got a lot of buzz, although its hallowed status might have had a lot to do with it just being notoriously difficult to get your hands on across the border in the US. I’m not going to take an official stand on the volume’s alleged superiority, although I will say that there’s at least one turn of phrase that Barnard gets right that Gray doesn’t, and that alone is enough to tip the scales in Barnard’s favor.
The following is the spoken presentation version of my talk from DiGRA’s 2014 conference in Snowbird, UT. The full paper, as drafted up for the conference’s proceedings, is available here. You can follow along with the visual presentation for this spoken version here.
Today, I’d like to address a cluster of game user interface design options that I have lumped together under the category of synesthetic interfaces. By this, I’m referring to interfaces that perform a sensory substitution, translating the information normally associated with one sense modality into the phenomenal forms normally associated with another. This is part of a larger interest of mine of examining approaches within game UI design in terms of the epistemic strategies they enact when establishing the relation of players to their avatars, and avatars to their worlds.