Here’s a brazen end-of-the-year declaration I’m not afraid to make: 2011 marked the year that videogames came off our screens and liberally encroached on the physical spaces we inhabit. I’m not talking about the living rooms filled with families giddily swinging around Wii remotes like we saw back in 2006 — what we’re seeing now is a fundamental shift in the dynamics of where, when and how games are being played.
Taking cues from the arcade culture of the 1980’s, games exhibitions like those held by organizations like Babycastles and Toronto’s Hand Eye Society played a large part in this shift. Creating spaces for experimental, independently-produced games has established an entirely new context for games to be experienced and enjoyed. The Babycastles arcade, for example, opened its doors on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg to one of MoMA’s teen media workshops, engaging younger generations of gamers with physical/digital hybrid games like Mega-GIRP that bridge the gap between videogame and interactive art installation.
The games themselves have also begun to take advantage of this, sporting designs that no longer assume an individual or small group of people slumped onto a couch in a living room somewhere. Prime among them is Die Gute Fabrik’s Johann Sebastian Joust, a brilliant combination of a fencing duel and Don’t Drop the Egg that uses motion controllers, but doesn’t require any video screens at all. Since it’s not tethered to any traditional home games console, it can be played anywhere — rooftops, parks, crowded city streets — as long as you have a laptop and some willing friends or strangers. The game even inspired artist Adam Henriksson to begin work on his own hardware platform for physical, non-video games.
Don’t fret: playing games at home by yourself probably isn’t going out of style anytime soon. But there’s a chance we’ll soon see a day when being told as a kid to “turn off the videogame and go outside” won’t be so much of a bother — because the games will be out there, too.