Saturday, June 21, 2014

Spirits of The Wild

This is the photo version of the game I made for Gamechef 2014, Spirits of The Wild.

It took me the whole week to make. I had to draw and cut out 10 cardboard stencils. Robert helped me get the cardboard from a dumpster and drew a lot of the stencils. Cutting them out with an x-acto knife was extremely time consuming. It's really difficult to get through both layers of cardboard quickly and precisely. After I was done I got two cans of glow in the dark spray paint (Glowz by Krylon) and went to the Olympia Train tunnel. The 10 different lines of the game are spread out fairly evenly down the entire length of the tunnel, along the south facing wall. A friend helped me hold the stencils and I sprayed. I forgot face masks so we were inhaling a lot of paint and fumes, especially when the wind in the tunnel died down. No fun.

Conceptually, here's how the project came about. The theme of Game Chef this year was "There is no book". I brainstormed a bunch of different approaches to this and one idea was to write the game on a wall as graffiti. As I thought about it, I thought it would be really cool to make a game that was basically two games. One game would be following the instructions of the game, but the other game would be finding the instructions themselves. After I settled on that, my original plan was to create a maze of graffiti messages in downtown Olympia with glow in the dark paint. The messages would be written in the alleyways around 4th ave, and each message would have an arrow leading towards the next one.

I ended up giving up on that idea at the last minute, mostly because I had run out of time and was preparing to do the graffiti on the weekend, when that area of downtown is super busy. The number of people around on weekends was part of the reason I wanted to do it there, for the visibility, but I didn't want to do it when they were around. Since I had never done anything like this before and since there would be so many people around and no other time to do it before the deadline, I felt like the chances of me getting caught and slapped with a fine I couldn't possibly afford were pretty high. Another option was to get permission from buildings, but that also seemed time consuming and somewhat unlikely.

So at the last minute I decided to switch to the train tunnel. The train tunnels have very low visibility, but that also made it much easier to do it whenever I wanted to. The train tunnels are already filled with graffiti anyways, so I figured that the police probably wouldn't even care if some guy did a little art project in there. If I didn't think that I wouldn't be posting this here, I would have had to use a pseudonym, So being able to take credit for the whole thing is an added bonus.

Also here's the animated gif:

And the video (with music!):

As far as the actual text went, my inspiration came entirely from the theme and ingredients. The ingredients were wild, sickle, glitter, and absorb. The words glitter and absorb gave me the idea to do glow in the dark paint. I even thought of making trails of glitter from one message to the next, maybe even with glitter glue to make it more semi permanent. Glow in the dark paint absorbs light and then shines brightly, sort of like glitter. I knew that since I would be doing graffiti, I would have to have the text of the game be very condensed, more of a game poem then a normal game. The ten lines I wrote actually ended up being a lot, and I used both cans of spray paint up completely.

When I was thinking of graffiti I was thinking of how it's often a way that people with no voice in society attempt to communicate. Maybe they communicate with art, maybe a written message, or maybe they use secret symbols. Sure, sometimes it's used to mark territory, but that's just another secret message meant to be understood by criminals, countercultures, and street people. So I started to imagine invisible people in our world who have no voice.

Combining that with the ingredients wild and glitter, I thought of some sort of fey or faerie people hiding in dark alleyways, leaving hidden messages for the people who payed enough attention to see them. Graffiti and the sickle made me think of Russia, communism, and the Berlin wall. I started thinking about the language of revolution and graffiti as a way to spread a revolutionary movement. I thought of what sort of revolution these faeries would be trying to start, and I felt like it would be some sort of vague, perhaps apocalyptic future that they had prophesied.

I also wanted the games text to be inspirational for people of countercultures and people who felt underprivileged. I used the term "Spirits of the wild" because it was more vague and inclusive then saying fey, but it could mean that as well as people who were forced to live in the streets or otherwise on the edge of normal society. The line "We leave trails of glitter in our wake." was put in because I wanted to include queer and trans people too, and again it could also easily apply to faerie.

I've always thought that graffiti is at it's most positive when it's a visual art, when people make paintings or stencil art on the walls. It can be used to convey a message while beautifying and decorating the blank walls of the city. So that's part of why I said that you can't communicate in words, only pictures. The other part was the idea that these messages were coming from people who had no voice in society, so I thought I could convey that more symbolically by making them communicate only in pictures. In a way the game is just an art prompt to inspire artists to spread art around their cities that will promote positive change. I added that the pictures could be drawn on walls or paper, so that you wouldn't have to break any laws to actually play, you could also play by just drawing on a piece of paper, or even a canvas, and leaving it somewhere for people to find or see.

Ultimately I also wanted part of the game to be in it's interpretation, in the act of interpreting it. I imagined it as this strange found object, a piece of alien art. Stumbling upon it, or upon these images, what do they mean? Where did they come from? Who drew them? And in what strange glowing green paint? Where were they written? I wanted people to ask those questions.

I'm really curious about other ways to interpret it and how people imagine it would be played. One piece of feedback I got from my reviewers was that they thought discussion was really important for games and that I should open the interpretation up for discussion. I really want to do that, and I want the discussion of what the rules mean to become the actual rules of the game, sort of living document. So what do you think it means?

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