Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

A skate through cyberspace: on the edge with the Now Play This festival of experimental video games
Culture Games

A skate through cyberspace: on the edge with the Now Play This festival of experimental video games

For a week or so every year, Somerset House in London becomes home to a mini-festival of experimental video games: last year’s were all on the theme of love. Now Play This has been running for 10 years, and this year’s theme – liminality – is especially well-suited to the medium. Video games are in-between spaces: they are fictional worlds in which real-world relationships are made; they are an art form that exists across and between technology and culture. You could make a case for the inclusion of plenty of games in this selection, and the ones that are here explore the theme from some unexpected angles. There are games here about transition, expansion, life and death, borders, and skateboarding through cyberspace.

The variety of interactive experiences here is, as ever, huge, showing the full range of what games and digital art can be. There are relatively conventional pieces of interactive entertainment here – such as Ed Key and David Kanaga’s Proteus, in which you walk through a procedurally generated dreamscape – and Sad Owl Studios’s Viewfinder, a superb game about perception and photography. And then there’s Labyrinth, a lattice of interconnected ropes that light up bright LED cubes when they touch, and a playable suitcase (Pamela Cuadros’s Moving Memories). In one room a film about journeying to the broken, glitchy edgelands of the game Cyberpunk 2077 plays opposite a game (Crashboard) where you wear 3D glasses, stand on a skateboard and tilt your way through an obstacle course of pixellated imagery from the early days of the internet.

Step into the picture … Viewfinder by Sad Owl Studios.View image in fullscreen

Cis Penance: Transgender Lives in Wait, another sideways approach to the theme, is a series of interactive interviews with transgender and non-binary people about their experiences of the world and the frustrations of accessing gender-affirming care (though it’s worth noting here that for many non-binary people, existing outside the gender binary rather than between its two extremes is rather the point). Pippin Barr’s v r 5, meanwhile, is an exhibition of shadows on an island built inside the game engine Unity.

A trio of games about life and death sit alongside Astro.Log.IO, which invites you to input your birthday, sit in a tent, and listen to the sound of the stars at the time you were born. It’s worth seeking out the interactive comic Artworld Gaiden, which sits in its own bright orange cabinet removed from the rest of the exhibition – it is endearingly silly, in an exhibition where many of the games are quite serious. The magnificently discomfiting Maze Walkthrough is also worth a play: you wander through a never-ending series of corridors that recall the aesthetics of different sci-fi films. It’s like being stuck in a loading screen.

Though this year’s theme has the potential to feel overly introspective – liminality can be an unsettling concept and plenty of the exhibits lean into that – there is also plenty of space for playfulness here. Outside Somerset House, kids play an endlessly reconfigurable take on mini-golf. Inside, there is a room dedicated to crafting, junk-modelling and scribbling. A cute scavenger hunt invites attenders to decode a message to win a sticker. Now Play This is a showcase of gaming’s avant garde, but it’s also a fun day out – and, as ever, it is guaranteed that you will play something here that makes you feel differently about what games can do.

Source: theguardian.com