The City Gets Pixelated


True, Patrick Jean’s 8-bit 80s arcade game-inspired New York invasion video, “PIXELS”, will soon be featured on nearly every blog on the internet. But it struck me as so in keeping to some of the other work featured here — from Jan Vormann’s Lego brick street art to this Berlin housing block game of Tetris (repeated on an art deco skyscraper above) — that it would be a shame not to put it in context with these — not to mention some earlier antecedents (the appearance of a frog hopping across the street — a clear reference to the old game Frogger — brings to mind the meta-heroics of Seinfeld‘s George Costanza, attempting to push an old Frogger machine across a busy New York street in a fashion similar to the game itself).

Combined with tilt-shift videography, which has made actual cities appear toylike, these projects all seem to share the same underlying theme: a certain deconstruction of the barrier between the imaginary world (particularly of play) and the actual — a desegregation of virtual and reality. In the video, this is literally (and dramatically) illustrated by the explosion of pixels from the TV screen in which they’d been confined. Such works seem to presage in art the emerging world of augmented reality, which recently began to filter into the consumer mainstream with the release of Google’s Goggles application, in which a smartphone photo can be translated into a digital data stream, integrating networked data into the public sphere.

The benefits that could be reaped from this innovation are countless. But the fusion of mobile communications, social networks, and geolocation data has brewed as much trouble as convenience — the destructive flash mobs that have caused chaos in Philadelphia recently being just one example.

Blurred distinctions between reality and the world of play raise particularly difficult questions. As much as an actual city might provide a novel and attractive platform for an augmented reality game, games are already accused of desensitizing youth to aggression and violence. The increasing deployment of video game metaphors in warfare begs questions over whether the moral boundaries between the virtual world and the real can be maintained when the line between those worlds has itself become so permeable. In that sense, Jean’s video, in which features from competitive games are unleashed upon the city, anticipates that the increasing entanglement between digital and analog worlds will not proceed peacefully.

This entry was written by Christopher Szabla , posted on Thursday April 08 2010at 05:04 pm , filed under Art and Design, Society and Culture, United States, Video and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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