- Installing the Game: Gameplay in the Installation T_Visionarium
Digital art installations are using dynamic gaming elements to facilitate affective and particular experiences. Complex installations like iCinema’s T_Visionarium are incorporating interactive gaming principles and media, to enable users to affect narrative outcomes and generate intimate and personalised encounters. In this paper, I will discuss critical gaming and installation convergences, and explore new forms of digital play. I will begin with an examination of how early arcade games are being remediated, and will then analyse the inclusion of online gaming principles in installations such as T_Visionarium.
T_Visionarium was originally developed in 2001, concurrent to The University of New South Wales’ establishment of the iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research.1 The granting of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Federation Fellowship returned Jeffrey Shaw to Australia to take up the position of executive director. Supported by a council of digital artists and academics and collaboration with ZKM Institute for Visual Media (ZKM), Karlsruhe Germany, and EPIDEMIC in Paris, iCinema sought to give equal attention to practice and discourse. In 2006 T_Visionarium was re-launched, and in 2008 featured as part of the Sydney Festival and International Biennial of Contemporary Art of Seville.
T_Visionarium is constructed as an immersive and interactive environment housed within an inflatable dome. The installation features a virtual reality (VR) headset, which is reminiscent of W Industries’ (later Virtuality) 1991 arcade game Dactyl Nightmare. A key feature of Dactyl Nightmare was a head-mounted stereoscopic display, with two LCD screens, four speakers, and a microphone. The display responded to the player’s head movements, while a joystick controlled the movements of the gamer’s avatar. Similarly, T_Visionarium’s headgear responds to users’ unique movements and lines of [End Page 197] gaze. When a participant looks at a particular image, for example, it increases in size until it dominates the dome. The surround sound also responds to the participant’s unique interactions, by changing in volume and intensity.
In addition to its VR headgear, T_Visionarium incorporates an interactive console, which is reminiscent of the Magnavox video game Odyssey (1972), and Namco’s Pac-Man (1980). iCinema’s incorporation of an arcade game console has resonances with Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski’s 2004 installation Floating Territories. Floating Territories featured an interactive console, which was connected to a projection screen and surround sound system. The installation incorporated a graphical user interface (GUI), with five game settings. Like T_Visionarium, Starrs and Cmielewski’s Floating Territories used early arcade game media to consider how precedent technologies might inform new states of digital play.
Keir Smith argues that digital media can provide users with “an alternative, active and potentially creative engagement with a familiar data set, one which may lead to new, unexpected and, often unintended synchronities” (2009, sec. 1 par. 3). By using the “familiar dataset” of the video game format, iCinema shows how the digital works might reflect upon past notions of interactivity, in creating affective experiences that move beyond. Despite its incorporation of early gaming elements, T_Visionarium shows an advanced understanding of how interactive technology can generate affective experiences. The installation’s console is linked to a dynamic GUI, which selects content based upon unique keyword searches. The installation then streams a mélange of archived and live news footage and audio, which directly relates to the user’s input. The experience that unfolds is affective and particular, and presents transcriptive rather than predetermined narratives. iCinema ironically use arcade game media to reflect upon new possibilities for digital narrative.
iCinema maintain that T_Visionarium’s integration of a dynamic video projection system and panoramic navigator (PN) presents a “method for generating a representation of the virtual environment around the PN, so that the touch screen can be used to interact with it” (Smith 2009, sec. 1, par. 2). The installation’s PN and live search engine enables users to affect narrative sequences, and assume a more collaborative role in development. Through haptic and responsive technologies, T_Visionarium transforms the user into an active collaborator. This rearrangement of roles converses with a shift in the production of digital games, where gamers increasingly affect narrative outcomes.
In the massively multiplayer online...