During the Fall 2010, I had the pleasure of having Ted Levine as a student at the California College of the Arts in my Game On class. A photographer, a philosopher, an explorer, Ted wrote about the role of games and gaming - digital or not - in his family. It's a fascinating read:
"In my childhood, I discovered and played a multitude of different games. It started when I learned that the computers at my afterschool program had a few installed, and even though most of them were extraordinarily simple, all the other kids thought they were cool, so I gave it a shot. There were three games in particular that I vividly remember playing: Solitaire, Breakout (which I called brick buster since I never knew what the game was called until relatively recently), and finally, SimCity 2000. It was the latter that got me interested in gaming for more than a few minutes a day, as it was the first time in my life that I had to think about a computer game like I was playing chess. SimCity required me to think not just several moves ahead, but also to develop an ability to adapt to how the computer treated my actions.
I wasn't quite addicted to computer games as much as some of the other students were. One of them somehow beat SimCity after playing it for three years. It was an accomplishment that I frankly did not care about. SimCity was the first game I had found in which winning was both practically impossible and completely unimportant. For me, winning it would be like the game had given up on me. Thankfully, I never developed the desire or ability to finish the game, instead leaving it like a rubik's cube that would never be solved. It was the meditation I had while playing, nothing more. Time passed as I built little towns in the middle of nowhere, and the many months I had invested my life being in after school were made far less boring.
While the joyous entertainment of my misspent life could be a simple moral to the story of my gaming experiences, in hindsight, I have found something quite different. It turns out that every game I have ever played up until a few months ago was a single player closed-circuit (i.e. not Internet-connected) point-and-click game.
At home, the single player aspect certainly had an effect on my relationship with my brother in my childhood. My parents didn’t understand the interest children had with games, and for that reason my brother and I had nothing but a Checkers set to pass the time. After countless days of whining about wanting to get a computer game, my parents finally decided to get one. That game was the 1995 gem, Rayman. It ran amazingly well on the family PC, a Pentium 2 processor with as much RAM and disk space as a cheap cell phone has now. My brother and I would play Rayman during every free moment we had. But since it was a PC game, we had to take turns playing it, and since my brother was older than me, he often had a forceful advantage when it came to deciding who could play that night. I didn't mind not playing it, actually. In fact, it was with Rayman that I developed an interest in watching someone else play, a sort of reality show turned gaming strategy guide. My brother became quite good at the game, while I remained a beginner even after the hours playing it, which would often cause the PC to overheat and shut down mid-game. My brother and I would never talk too much during the game, and if we did it would be about the game. Some of the common sayings we had when playing could be summed up with Careful, Nice, and JUMP!
The interest my brother and I had for Rayman slowly decreased over a few years, and soon I was given much more homework than usual after graduating to middle school. I'm not quite sure what eventually happened to the game, but I remember that one day it disappeared off the computer; something I'd noticed months after I had forgotten it still existed.
Not all gaming joy was lost, however. Another much more unique game sprouted up when my brother was given a gaming computer by a family friend of ours. It was given to my brother to help him do his homework, but at least 50% of the time I could hear him clicking away at the most awesome game of my childhood – which the previous owner accidently forgot to delete – Unreal Tournament 2004: Game of The Year Edition. I had never seen so much violence present on the screen at one time, and I couldn't get enough of it. My brother was incredibly good at the game, even though its artificial intelligence was programmed to be inhumanly fast and accurate with their guns. I would watch on as he got kill after kill, causing the game’s announcer to loudly bellow from the back of his throat, “HEADSHOT.” There were several other sounds in the game, all of which I can remember clearly in my head, even though it has been several years since I have played it.
Whenever my brother wasn’t around, I would jump onto the computer and have my shot at the game. It was really, really hard, even in easy mode. I slowly developed skills to keep my character alive for more than three minutes at a time, but that was after I had found out about the existence of an extraordinarily powerful workaround: cheat codes. I have a feeling I spent at least 1/5 of my middle school life playing the game with “god mode” turned on, in which no other character could shoot me, and I could fly around the massive environments, through walls and into the sky. Once I learned of this code I don't think I ever used the game in the way it was made to be played. I did not care for the game play, honestly, because as I traversed the environments, I found that I was much more interested in the experience of flying around in a virtual world. I was immersed by the glowing lights in caverns and the low grumble of distant machines echoing through the spaces. Not only did my experiences – which I think could be considered life-altering – guide me towards becoming an artist, but more specifically working in the area of experiential constructions. All of the games that I have truly enjoyed playing since Unreal Tournament have continued with the emphasis of experience over functionality.
That’s where my family comes in – each of us games differently, to the extent in which it would be easy to understand each of us simply by the approach we have to our games. While I become engrossed in the experiences of game environments, my brother plays a first person shooter like Call of Duty in the other room, with the direct mission to win the level. On the opposite end of the house is my mother, playing a short and simple game on her iPhone, laying comfortably propped up by pillows on her bed. A floor below, my father drifts in and out of consciousness at our dimly lit dinner table, occasionally adding words to his newspaper’s crossword puzzle. In addition to our differing game approaches, the medium through which we play also differs. I stick to my keyboard and mouse, mainly because I grew up with it, but also because I could never understand how to use a console controller. My brother, on the other hand, only plays his games through a controller connected to an aging XBOX. Even while his giant iMac stares at him from across the room, my brother sticks to his controller. After only half a year, my mother has quickly learned the touch interface of her new iPhone I got her. Most of the games are very simple, and even though I suggested she could find free flash versions of them on her computer, she prefers her little 99c apps. Finally, my Dad is the most resilient of us, sticking to basic pen on newspaper for gaming entertainment. If I could classify newspaper crossword puzzles as gaming, then my Dad wins the award for the most hardcore gamer in the family – there are stacks upon stacks of completed crosswords littering the dinner table and his office.
This sort of separation regarding approach and medium defines the dynamic of my family – we stick together through love, yet each of us differs completely when it comes to immersive entertainment. We accept each other’s differences, and thus: I become more entranced by my game; my brother gets more kills and completes a level; my mother matches all of the paired mystery cards together; and my father either passes out or leaves his crossword for another night. Gaming certainly helps define my practice in art, but to a much greater extent, it is able to adapt to my family’s differing modes of play, in terms of a dynamic interface as well as control over invested playing time. And while other mediums possess the ability to adapt to some things, like audience-specific content on television, only gaming can fit with all of my family’s approaches." (Ted Levine)
Link: Game On @ CCA
All images courtesy of the artist
Submitted by Matteo Bittanti