Dungeons, Dragons, and Design

“I was thinking about turning the implicit interactivity of gaming into something viewers could be a part of,” muses Jesse Avina, contemplative artist, while adjusting the reflectors on his tripod. This sentiment was shared by his fellow exhibitors at the Co-Prosperity Sphere’s LVL Eater 3 exhibition on Friday.

It wasn’t always this way at LVL Eater 3.  “Last year there was more of a viewer-watcher aesthetic,” Avina continued.  But this year, from Jesse’s make-yourself-a-monster photo-booth (complete with whimsical costumes and weapons) to a teepee-like structure modeled on a monster’s head from artist Michael Garcia’s favorite fantasy movie, work after work pled for interaction.

Artist Aaron Straus explained the themes connecting the show’s multifarious facets.  “There are two avenues this event is exploring.  There is the traditional art-patron relationship–-‘Look, don’t touch.’  We are trying to break that down.  But there is also the public-private relationship, creating intimate spaces, but letting people in.”

An exploration of the latter theme was embodied in Straus’s elaborate 3D recreation of the board game Settlers of Catalan,  which the attendees would play later that same evening.  “It’s a game about war,” Straus explained. He explained that he chose a tent to house his piece because the cloistered space was reminiscent of a colonial general’s quarters. Looking in on the living and breathing Settlers of Catalan through a gallery window, the distinct spheres between art, disconnected gaming, and living war collided. The window seemed to shatter.

The Bridgeport Co-Prosperity Sphere had been converted from a one room art gallery into a multi-platform space offering an all-encompassing sensory experience.  A narrow hallway, designed in the style of Wizardry, a video game from the 1980s, was populated with rock-pillows and had been fitted with a projector, transforming it into a video-viewing space.  Annie Heckman, the architect of the installment, spoke of the parallels between gaming and the everyday world that can’t be contained within one exhibit.

“I see a lot of scenarios in video games as very strong metaphors for situations in the real world.  In games obstacles are always workable; there is a system to engage with and so we enter into it with some confidence,” she said. The cadence of her voice slowed to match the music signaling the end of her video loop at the other end of the cave.

Rather than an escape from the world we live in, gaming can be a powerful agent for its exploration.  The exhibit seemed to suggest that the divides that appear as impediments to engagement and interaction are no more concrete than our enemies in World of Warcraft.