[-empyre-] Urban games/Mixed reality Games

opensorcery at opensorcery.net opensorcery at opensorcery.net
Wed Mar 27 20:45:32 EST 2013

To respond to Claudia’s question about mixed reality and urban games just a
bit more before I engage with some other interesting posts this week, my
own game art performance projects with mixed reality started from an
activist thread in my work—which has for some time ran in parallel to a
more game design thread. 

After Velvet-Strike, which was a collaborative set of anti-war digital
graffiti and virtual actions inside online military shooter games (mostly
Counter-Strike) I thought it would be apt to take similar kinds of
counter-gaming and ludic activism from the web back to the actual street
and experiment with mobile projections on different facades/neighborhoods .
As an intervention in the 2004 Republican Convention in New York City, I
organized a project called O.U.T. (Operation Urban Terrain), with a set of
talented collaborators like Chris Birke (former Counter-strike mod
development team) and Pierre Rahola (anti-war player active on French Team
fortress games), and Elke Marhoefer (Berlin based artist I had met at
residency in Germany) and others talented game creators.  

The story of this project, all the participants, the M.O.U.T. military
operational urban tactics style of militainment games that it intervened
in, and footage of the massive street protests at that time in NY, is on a
homemade video documentary I made distributed through the Video Data Bank
(and the performance was produced by Creative Time).  The live street
performance took place at three locations in NY including Harlem (each
matched to a corresponding location/building in Americas Army) where we had
kids spontaneously come and “play dead”  with the projection of the game,
in Midtown where a police car drove up but luckily—unlike many other
activists and artists in NY at that time --we didn’t get arrested, and
finally in Brooklyn where two  enemy game soldiers dancing to Michael
Jackson were projected large screen onto the Manhatten Bridge. 

This was before widespread mobile social media coverage of protests so even
though there were so many people from all over the world protesting in NY
then the mainstream media presented very little coverage of what was a very
intense moment for everybody in post 911 NY.  This was also just before
mobile projectors became available and one of us, of the two women team
consisting of me and Elke, had to truck around a big projector connected to
a kind car battery on her back while the other played the game controls on
a laptop. (and we were wirelessly connected to 5 other players around the

Later I developed another project along similar lines (two woman mobile
game urban intervention) in collaboration with fabric/performance artist
Talice Lee, who designed soft protective “riot gear” clothing for us to
wear while rollerskating, this time with small light projectors on our head
and portable playstations with machinima stories about police violence
against immigrants.   The topic this project took on (Riot Gear for
Rollartista) was the lack of protection and rights for immigrants and
increased police powers since the War on Terror—particularily in Europe—and
was inspired by a group of young Morrocan boys I had seen in a line up in
front of police in a courtyard Barcelona Spain in June 2004 (at that time
the police forced me and my friend to leave but I think something nasty was
about to happen).  Each machinima video of the 3 in Riot Gear for
Rollartista is dedicated to different real life immigrant victim of the
police in Europe or the UK. 
We performed this twice, once on streets of the small city of Castellon
Spain at the occasion of a cyberfeminist exhibit and another time in
Manchester, UK at a show curated by Kathy Rae Huffman then at Cornerhouse
this project although successful in some ways was not so good at
getting its message across—although we did a workshop with some teenagers
in Manchester, out on the street we tended to attract young kids who just
were wowed by the portable game aspect of it..and the blog never seemed to
get much attention. Plus a city wide ban on rollerskating in Manchester 
meant our performances were late night and clandestine, and also the  bumpy
cobblestones got in the way of our tricks we had practiced (I had
practicing in a park in Mexico City with nice smooth sidewalks—why in
Manchester do they bother banning skating when they have cobblestones

So anyway this has been my own experience with urban play and mixed
reality, via a particular performance art and ludic activist thread in my
former art practice. The mixed reality game part was not quite there yet—I
tried to pick settings in the games to project onto buildings that blended
together interestingly and design our look so that we looked sort of like
game characters walking around in real life. The Japanese near future
science fiction series I mentioned in my earlier post,  Dennoi Coil, is
more of proper mixed reality technology, in a way that is very similar to
Nintendo 3ds or Google’s AR googles that superimposes virtual elements onto
a photographic view of the world.  

I always liked the UK group Blast Theory’s games but most recent mixed
reality games are fairly empty experiences even when evaluated as in pure
game terms, more about the wow AR or mixed reality factor, though the
Iphone zombie chase running game app, which I have never played (not an
Iphone person) sounds interesting in in that it may provide a more intense,
immersive experience through audio at least.

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