Pippin Barr's v r 3 is a museum of water. I'd known he was working on this for some time, had heard friends talking on Twitter about "Pippin's water museum," but wasn't quite sure what to expect. I pictured interactive exhibits showing dams, or archimedes' screws, or hydroelectric turbines—and then I pictured the spaces these exhibits are generally housed in: big, airy rooms filled with the sound and the smell of running water.
v r 3, the third of three similar experiments, is none of these things. Why should it be? Pippin Barr has demonstrated again and again his willingness to play with convention, to turn the obvious into something completely different. My favorite of his games, It is as if you were playing chess, asks players to perform a series of very simple tasks that, to someone who cannot see your screen, look as though you are playing a very difficult game of Chess. "Look here, and here, and here. Shake your head and flare your nostrils."
So I am not especially surprised when I load v r 3 and find myself standing in front of a long, low building. Inside, I find 24 square basins, arranged neatly in rows. Each basin contains—and this is both so simple and so clever that I'm enjoying the process of typing it—a little example of video game water. Placards on the front of each basin give extra detail.
Look, here's Robert Yang's "Decent Water," 2015, courtesy of the artist. It moves energetically, defined by many sharp ripples. It's brittle and bright.
Over here, in this basin, is G.E.TeamDev's "Water Flow FREE," 2017. It's cartoonishly blue, moving slowly. It is evocative of the water that surrounds islands on which puzzle platformers are set, bordered with palms.
Behind the first building is a second, and this one contains many different examples of the game engine Unity's water shaders. Here, Barr has shown the variables set in order to make the water behave just so, to have this unsettling color of red, to flow quickly or slowly.
In the press kit attached to the game, Barr writes:
"As part of the Speculative Play project I'm a part of I became interested in the idea of a game which is entirely about tech fetishism. Water is perhaps the archetypal technology we use to assess how "good" a game engine or game is in terms of realism, a kind of benchmark. I liked the idea of a speculative future in which, rather than playing a game with water in it, people would choose to simply contemplate the water itself as an activity. Thus v r 3 represents a museum/gallery experience where the audience pays attention to water."
I am reminded of that Twitter post that does the rounds every six months or so. It shows five screenshots of a Miiverse user who seems to have dedicated themselves to commenting on the water in every game they play.
"nice water," they say, of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams.
"nice looking water," of The Amazing Spider-Man.
"amazing looking water in this game," of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes.