Video games: Listen up

Artists and educators Stephan Moore (left) and Chaz Evans (right) both curated and installed the exhibit “The Ears Have Walls: A Survey of Sound Games.” 

By Kendrah Villiesse

In an all-white apartment that serves as a gallery space, artists Chaz Evans and Stephan Moore set up “Panoramical,” an immersive musical adventure video game, to be projected on the kitchen wall. Framed video game art showcased in past exhibits hang above a bed and a pair of virtual reality goggles is available for viewers.

“The Ears Have Walls: A Survey of Sound Games,” running Dec. 1–Feb. 25, 2018, is an interactive exhibit looking into the world of sound and perception in video games. The exhibit is curated by Evans and Moore, two lecturers in Northwestern University’s Communication Department, and is located at Video Game Art Gallery—2418 W. Bloomingdale Ave.—and the Experimental Sound Studio—5925 N. Ravenswood Ave.

By examining video games based on sound rather than visuals, the exhibit poses questions that help game designers and players develop strategies, according to the exhibit press release.

Moore said the exhibit was inspired by the game BlindSide, an audio-only adventure game. Moore brought the video game to Evans because he thought its subject matter was not getting proper recognition. They decided to create an exhibit to shine a light on this gaming category. 

“When we are playing video games, [we focus on] what is happening on the screen. We are looking at things and we are reacting to it,” Moore said. “The sound comes as a confirmation. In these games, the sound comes first and the visuals are antecedent. The relationship between the sound and visuals is very different.” 

The Experimental Sound Studio, which was founded and is owned by Evans, partnered with the Video Game Art Gallery so games are on display at both sites. The name of Evan’s gallery, he said, pays homage to the idea that ears understand and can navigate space like vision can.

The exhibit’s games include “Oikospiel Book #1,” an adventure video game, and “PaRappa the Rapper,” a rhythmic game. The space at both galleries has been subdivided into tiny rooms equipped with headphones to add to the gaming experience.

Ryan Packard, marketing director and graphic designer for Experimental Sound Studio, said he did not grow up playing video games like his peers. But, video games’ interactive nature is an intriguing method to explore different thought processes through art, he added. 

“Sound is often a disposable thing,” Packard said. “Music doesn’t have much monetary meaning. In some respects, it seems like people expect music to be free. We are using sound as not being tied to these things.” 

Packard also said people should not consider sound and music as a form of entertainment but to recognize it as an entity and a way to share different cultures. 

Evans said every exhibit at the Video Game Art Gallery attempts to answer questions about how video game categories function in different cultural contexts. 

“Everything VGA does, they work to push the profile of under-appreciated or poorly understood categories of art-making around video games and keep putting that in front of people,” Evans said. “The idea of highlighting sound games as a cultural category is to make sure these things aren’t isolated.”