GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and gallery owners operating in the field of Game Art, as part of an 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.
In October 2011, Mathias Jansson talked to Marieke Verbiesen via email.
Marieke Verbiesen is a Dutch artist based in Norway working on electronic arts and interactive design projects since 2003. Her projects revolve around creative work with digital games, music, film and video based on hardware, movies and popular culture.
Marieke Verbiesen, Pole Position,single-player game installation, 2010
GameScenes: Your artworks showcase a peculiar retro aesthetics and vintage style. What is the rationale behind such iconography? What kind of games have inspired your artistic practices?
Marieke Verbiesen: Growing up in the 1980s, I played lots of games on the Atari ST & Commodore Amiga. I am still amazed about how imaginative and inventive game designers had to be working with restricted graphics simulating humans, spaceships and planets, using minimum means to achieve maximum results.
When I think of current day games, I like artist who challenge way we use games that crossover from fiction to reality. A good example is FURSR, creators of the Painstation, a game where you play Pong, but get physically punished by a small whip that hurts your hand when you lose points. Another, less extreme example are "pervasive games" like Susigames' Edgebomber where players create their own levels and sketches to solve the game by taping ductape - which is turned into a platform for the characters in the game to interact with.
Marieke Verbiesen, Tombraider 0.1 is a single-player game installation, 2008
GameScenes: Your game installation "Tombraider 0.1" features 2D low-res graphics and pixel retro-style. What drove you to pixel art? Why did you choose to retrofit Lara Croft?
Marieke Verbiesen: I will tell a little bit about how I got into making games and pixel animations. After graduating art school - at that time I primarily worked with animation - I started a live collective called "Videohometraing" along with Gijs Gieskes and later Dalas Verdugo. We made music with classic game consoles such as the Nintendo Game Boy & Commodore 64. For our live shows, I created 8-bit animations that eventually turned our show into a completely different format. During our performances, all our songs and animations were structured like "levels" in a game. Each level introduced a new environment and characters that interact with the music, leading up a an explosive and chaotic ending where all levels, characters and music, meshed and converged. Suddenly, I was able to use pixel-animations as a visual language. From there, I began to create interactive installations that used these animations in a different kind of context;
"Tombraider 0.1" functions as a fictional early version of something that is originally a 3D game, like reverse engineering. In "Tombraider 0.1" the main character Lara Croft along with her cool karate moves in this 3D game are "converted" to an early C-64 version, yet keeping the same characteristics which makes us recognize the game.
Pixel animations obey to the laws of games - not real life. This means that anything is possible, anything can be created without real life logic. A character can wander around in a world full of coloured blocks, suddenly change into another character, shoot at random objects - these are the laws of the game. We are not sure what is going on, but we totally accept that. I think we have internalized this logic, because games have become part of our short-term cultural history, computer games have influenced the way we look at moving images.
Marieke Verbiesen, Brain Games, Digital Animation, 2008
GameScenes: What about the animation "Brain Games"? What inspired you to create this pixel art video work?
Marieke Verbiesen: "Brain Games" is a prime example of an animation based on the logic of a videogame: videogames can become cinema and vice versa. I had this idea for an animation; a person whose everyday life gets stuck in a loop, which turns out to part of a videogame. In "Brain Games" a somewhat boring and predictable character becomes the victim of a zombie attack. He is saved by ninjas who turn out to be part of a game played by an evil midget living underground. Before starting the animation I did a lot of hand-drawn sketching to create the characters. I asked myself: What should they look like? What is their role? And, above all, can I visualize several stories into one?
I don't really know where these crazy ideas come from. Often they just pop up in my head where they execute a harsh counterstrike attack on my braincells in order to get to the sketchbook. However, a lot of them don't make it through the left brain-filter and are therefore forced to live in the dark dungeons of my subconsciousness....pity on them!
Megaslacker BETA, Interactive Game Installation, Animated & Programmed by Marieke Verbiesen
GameScenes: The protagonist of "Megaslacker" is described as "the ultimate antihero game". Why did you choose this particular character for your game?
"Mega Slacker" is based on Namco's Pac-Man, but instead of Pac-Man, you are a "slacker". Similar to Pac-Man you move trough a grid as fast as possible, scoring points by drinking as much beers as you can and eating junk-food, plus avoiding your boss. The "goal" in the game is to be the ultimate "Mega Slacker". People can identify with an everyday dude as a character, who is much closer to our reality then a strong, super-powered type of hero. There is something slightly moralistic in a lot of computer game heroes, they carry aspirations of someone who we might want to be but never become in real life, something we ultimately dislike. Anti-heroes represent a parody to this kind of moral. As long as there are heroes, there will always be anti-heroes.
Marieke Verbiesen, ComputerMusic4Kidz, Interactive installation, 2009
GameScenes: In addition to videogame and animation, you produced several sound pieces. You have embraced chipmusic well before it entered the mainstream. One example is "Computermusic4kids". What is the role of lo-fi sound in your artistic performances?
Marieke Verbiesen: I started making music on the Game Boy Classic back in 2002 using an audio-application called LittleSound DJ made by Jonathan Kotlinski. LittleSoundDj is a powerful tracker application for the Nintendo Game Boy. It is restricted to use 4 audio channels but the possibities for making instruments and combinations are pretty much endless, as several amazing chiptune artists out there have proven: even though many of them use the same classic game consoles, all of them manage to create a unique kind of sound.
Music is an important part of my works, whether its a game, installation or video. This brings me to my installation "ComputerMusic4Kids" which functions both as a learning tool and musical instrument for chiptune music, controlled from a playful interface. "Computermusic4kids" allows children to explore the history of classic gaming consoles and create chiptunes. The installation mainly focuses on the sounds that can be produced with classic game consoles and enables children to create music using classic game console soundsamples. By using an intuitive interface children can navigate through a visual library, that contains a selection of game consoles produced between 1972 and 1990. By selecting a game console from the timeline children can produce music with samples that originate from the chosen game console.
"Computermusic4kids" was made for the means of preserving a piece of cultural history and at the same time put that information it into an interactive audiovisual machine. Games and Game consoles are part of our young cultural history. If we look at this history it's really only necessary to go back to the early 1970s when the first game consoles were introduced. Even though game consoles have a place in this history, they still seem to be part of disposable culture. "Computermusic4kids" is an installation that gives children an insight in this young history of game consoles and allows them to use the interface to create chiptunes in a playful matter.
Link: Marieke Verbiesen
Interview archives: Contemporary Practitioners; The Early Years
Text by Mathias Jansson
Editing: Matteo Bittanti
All images courtesy of the artist