GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and gallery owners operating in the field of Game Art, as part of our ongoing investigation of the social history of this fascinating artworld. Our goal is to illustrate the genesis and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today. The conversation between Mathias Jansson and Katherine Ibister took place via email in December 2010.
Katherine Isbister researchs and design digital games and other computer-supported experiences, focusing on emotion and social connection--understanding the impact of design choices on these qualities, and figuring out how to get better at making and evaluating digital experiences that have these qualities. Isbister is an associate professor at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, jointly appointed in Digital Media and Computer Science and Engineering. She also maintains an affiliation at the IT University in Copenhagen’s Center for Computer Games Research. At NYU-Poly, she directs the Social Game Lab, is an investigator in the NYU Games for Learning Institute, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the NYU Game Center.
Katherine Isbister @ BabyCastles 2010
GameScenes: When and where did you and Rainey Straus meet? Why did you choose Maxis' The Sims as a platform/canvas/tool for your projects?
Katherine Isbister: Rainey and I met in San Francisco way back in the '90s, when the internet was still shiny and new :) We worked together on a design project, and found our perspectives and interests were very compatible, and became friends, long before we launched our series of Sims artworks. The first piece, "SimGallery", was in response to a call for works for the Yerba Buena show featuring game art in 2004. We used The Sims Online to establish a portal between the real gallery and a virtual one we'd created in the game, and curated a show of works inside the game, that people could visit from within the game, but also, by sitting down at the exhibition in San Francisco. The game was a perfect tool for creating such a window between worlds, and we knew there were already artists working within the game, and an arts community, that we tapped for the show. We did studio visits within the game to curate the exhibition. You can still see documentation and photos here.
The SimGallery project, 2004 (source)
GameScenes: With "SiMBEE" (2004) you mixed Vanessa Beecroft's performances with The Sims. What was the genesis of this project?
Katherine Isbister: Rainey did this work--there's a lot of player-created content and hacking that happens with the Sims, and she found tools online that players had created, that allowed her to take imagery from Beecroft's installations and craft Sims that recreated the look of the models used in that work. We did a lot of this kind of modding/hacking for our "SimVeillance": the San Jose piece as well.
SiMBEE, 2004 (source)
GameScenes: In your Sims-based projects you are exploring the boundaries between reality and virtuality. This quest for authenticity, if you will, seems to be the main theme of such installations as "SimGallery" and "SIMVeillance"?
Katherine Isbister: Games invite our participation and projection--we are actors in these virtual spaces, and they are such plastic, malleable worlds. They are a tremendously powerful venue for exploring issues of representation, of identity, of control of our own image, as well as issues of aesthetics and how our senses are framed by the context in which we experience art. The Sims itself is a world in which these kinds of explorations are happening on a mass scale for everyday consumers, and was a ripe context for conducting such investigations.
Simveillance, 2006 (source)
GameScenes: SIMveillance is very interesting as it explores the ideology of surveillance in both real and virtual worlds...
Katherine Isbister: This piece was actually about how we're monitored in real life--we hooked up surveillance/security cameras outside the San Jose Museum of Art, and used the footage of passers-by to then create Sims in their likeness that we inserted into our recreation of that plaza within the Sims 3 (n.B. this project had a lot of assist from Chelsea Hash, a student of mine at the time who is now a freelance game artist/designer).
"SimVeillance" was giving these traces of those who passed by a peculiar kind of 'life of their own', within the game simulation world. I think this is comparable to your digital traces on the web--how your history in terms of blogging, websites, facebook, twitter, and the like gets 'legs' and can get away from you, can develop its own sort of existence. We were making this very obvious and visual, with what we did, and immediate, in the sense that when you saw the piece inside the San Jose Museum of Art, you might realize "Oh, I was just there! I wonder if I'm in the game now..." It's interesting to realize that we leave traces of ourselves in so many places, that can be used to so many purposes, in this digital age. Definitely this piece was examining/drawing attention to this.
GameScenes: What is your personal relationship to videogames? How do you see art and digital gaming connecting in the future?
Katherine Isbister: Games are the object of my research (here are two examples: one and two), and they are also a passion in the sense that I see them as a potent driver of the future of how we'll engage with tech and with one another. I think artists will use games as a medium and as a subject of investigation for many years to come, as they are such a potent force in the culture now, and also, are at the vanguard of our crafting of mediated experience. I'm sure Rainey would have thoughts about this as well.
In November 2010, Ibister gave a talk @ the Meaningful Play 2010 conference held at Michigan State University. Here it is:
link: Katherine Isbister
Text by Mathias Jansson