Since I lived most of my life without any type of video game in it, they’ve always amazed me from an outsider’s point of view. Too poor to have any type of gaming machines growing up, I’ve always stood back to watch others have a good time playing them, typically to great effect; if you ever needed an 8-bit cheerleader, here I (still) am.
That’s probably the reason why I was so immersed in the world of Oklahoma Contemporary’s Open World: Video Games and Contemporary Art mediation so much, just because I have spent my life viewing video games, desperately unable to mash those controller buttons; I feel that I was able to absorb the artistry of it all so much more.
Don’t get me wrong: when I entered the building, I was immediately drawn to the throwback Atari arcade machine that was firmly planted in the entryway but, not knowing what to do, I was immediately killed and given a “game over” screen, once the kiss of death for youth but, now, a soothing balm letting me know that, many years later, I’m still no good at it. It was a strange sort of relief.
Even more than the rigid gameplay, however, I could now see the other side of the console, past the deadly gorillas and poisonous mushrooms, fully taking in all those warnings that our parents gave us about the violence that permeates those games, but also absorbing the subtle commentaries on issues like homelessness, poverty, and so on; moving past the “pop” in pop culture to a not-so-brave new world that has become an absolute obsession for many of their fans.
Viewing the exhibit, I will admit that one of the artists I absolutely fell in love with San Antonio’s Michael Menchaca, creating various fictional levels to political video games featuring bold statements that, I’m sure, was a shock to the many of the sheltered youths that passed by; taking on the role of a migrant worker, you’re faced with ICE agents, patrol dogs and coyotes, all for a life in America. Funny how truth is stranger than fiction.
(However, I will admit that I Shot Andy Warhol is a fantastic game and really should have been marketed in the 90s.)
And even though this world—this Open World—was a bit of a new one to me, it wasn’t one that I could turn away from, nor would I want to. It’s a pixelated view of the worlds we created—both real and unreal—that is one step into the future. When you finally leave, the only thing is to determine is how are you going to create your partition in it.
Open World is an exhibit that will make you think, like me, about so much more the 1’s and 0’s of these digital platforms and how they affect everything from fun and games to pain and strife in our digital lives. Of course, I say that as a person who never played them; your epiphanies may vary.
Open World, at Oklahoma Contemporary, 11 NW 11th, is free to the public and runs until February 21, 2022.