Tuesday, July 3, 2012

GAME PLAY Artist Interview: James Carter ("NY_Hearts:LES")

NY_Hearts: LES explores the intersection of theater and gaming by putting you in the shoes of one of the main characters of a love story and sending you on a scavenger hunt of sorts through the Lower East Side. The entire experience unfolds in site specific locations while you listen to Jill, Sal’s girlfriend, recount their relationship on an iPhone app, Moveable Feast. Businesses are featured in the story, and at each location you get items Jill talks about, including a yoga class, lunch and many other surprise goodies.

When people say video games aren’t art I tend to talk about how the NEA is now funding video games. I also emphasize how story is essential to practically every video game. Story is the place where theater and video games intersect. I have a friend who plays games just for the story. Game Play offers artists a chance to explore new ways of telling story, going outside comfort zones; theater artists explore games, and gamers bring their narratives to the theater. The convergence of the two is thrilling.

An obstacle in the general acceptance of video games as an art form is sometimes people think video games are a waste of time. It’s something kids do. It’s something unemployed thirtysomethings do while sitting in their underwear. It’s just play. It’s not art. Wait. Did I just say it’s play? Funny. That’s what we do in theater. Play. On stage. In site specific locations. Playing is what theater is. Another convergence of themes.

My most emotional reaction elicited by a game was: Lots of swearing, console throwing, and teeth gritting. Damn TMJ. But video games can also give me a Zen feeling. In the zone, one can relax, release and recharge. Just like flower arranging or motorcycle maintenance, there is a Zen and the Art of Gaming. Oh, snap. Did I just call gaming an art, again?

True or False: video games are now more culturally important than they were in the past. True. They didn’t exist for much of the past, so now they’re pretty important. As far as the recent past, their importance is rising in graphic capabilities, storytelling, and money making. It’s no wonder Hollywood is playing a big part in the evolution of games. It’s big money. The more realistic and social these virtual worlds become, the more culturally important they will be.

I discovered the merit of video games as an artistic/theatrical medium after I became involved with transmedia storytelling, or telling many small stories to create one large story over many media platforms. So many of the creators I know are not just video game makers, but they are game designers in all mediums. Alternate Reality Games (ARG) is a form of storytelling on the rise over the past ten years. This is where reality and fiction intersect, and players influence and sometimes create portions of the story. Interactivity and engagement are words repeated as mantras in the transmedia world, and invariably, whenever I see them done well, some game mechanics are involved.

What video games in performance can provide that traditional media cannot is the interaction and audience influence.

Why should people see your Game Play show? It may be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. If you’ve never played with the Moveable Feast app, it certainly will be new to you. If you’ve never stepped into a character’s shoes (don’t worry no one will pull you up on stage), then this will be new to you. Haven’t seen a show in a site specific location only to receive a present when you visit? You will discover a new experience. Have you ever gone to a theater show and taken a yoga class? You can at NY_Hearts: LES. I’m very happy to be taking many digital and traditional storytelling tools and mashing them up to offer a unique theater experience. Oh, yeah…and it’s going to be tons of fun!

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