Videogame Night in the Museum: Kill Screen at MoMA
It's surreal and perhaps a bit jarring to see the products of a resurgent independent videogames culture – one that's until now taken residence inside rough-around-the-edges DIY music venues.
It's surreal and perhaps a bit jarring to see the products of a resurgent independent videogames culture – one that's until now taken residence inside rough-around-the-edges DIY music venues – find their way to the pristine halls of one of New York City's most renowned museums. Nevertheless, the Museum of Modern Art was the spot for the latest indie game gathering, put together in coordination with PopRally by the tastemakers at upstart videogame zine/website Kill Screen.
For those who hadn't already been to similar events like those at Babycastles (which, judging by the large crowds of up-dressed museum-goers, was nearly everyone) the one-night exhibition was like a who's-who of indie games. A solid roster of titles that have made a mainstream splash in the past 5 years like Gaijin Games' Bit.Trip Beat and Adam Atomic's Canabalt might seem like old news to those in the know. But seeing countless others experiencing them for the first time yields a certain sense of satisfaction in remembering why these games won us over in the first place.
Downstairs, an open bar heals wounds inflicted by the sold-out event's predictably steep entry fee as a projector displays the M.C. Escher-inspired spatial puzzle game Echochrome on the museum's plain white walls. Next to it, Copenhagen Game Collective's rowdy partygame favorite B.U.T.T.O.N has players participating in all sorts of crazy antics before compelling a mad dash toward four life-sized buttons designed specially for the event. Near the entrance, PlayDead's creepy platformer Limbo jumps to life in all its black-and-white glory, although a major part of the game's atmosphere – its chilling ambient soundtrack – is lost in the clamor of after-hours museum chatter.
Upstairs was a new and different sight: a brand new game from Matt Boch of Guitar Hero creators Harmonix. The game, called Pixl Pushr, is a two player competitive movement game that uses the Xbox's Kinect motion camera along with software running on an iPad. A sequencer-like interface on the iPad allows one player to activate sections of the screen that the Kinect player must occupy with his or her body.
Spreading them out far enough forces your opponent into some ridiculous poses, sort of like a high-tech game of video-Twister. But if they manage to survive a couple of rounds, the game has a built-in "kill screen" that flashes sheets of scrambled pixels victoriously. (In traditional arcade games of 80's, a kill screen signified an end-of-memory when the player progressed beyond what the programmer had written. This one was created intentionally.)
Outside in MoMA's courtyard area, massive, low-hanging inflated balloons are tied down by a connecting series of colored plates: It's NYC designer Eric Zimmerman's life-size board game, Starry Heavens. Players stand on the plates and progress toward the center in accordance with commands issued by the "ruler" in the center of the board, who also has the power to "banish" players who are standing on the wrong circles. Starry Heavens is one of Zimmerman's many physical space games. Another, Sixteen Tons, is on display at the NYU Game Center.