Playing with art

By Luke Wilusz

The Interactive Arts and Media Department celebrated a culture of fun and frivolity last week with the opening of the third annual “Art of Play” exhibit.

The exhibit, which features work by game design students and faculty, as well as two- and three-dimensional artwork from other concentrations, focuses around a central theme of lighthearted, playful fun. The show’s March 11 opening also featured a classic game competition put together by Columbia’s Regen Game Club.

Sal J. Barry, an IAM adjunct faculty member and coordinator of the show, said he wanted “Art of Play 3” to be a departure from a culture of what he considers overly-serious art installations, focusing instead on “games, play and fun.”

“I think a lot of Columbia exhibits are a little too serious sometimes,” Barry said. “I think a lot of art is really serious. I mean, it’s always like ‘Fact and faith and fiction’ and ‘Where will you go when you die?’ and ‘What does this mean?’ and it’s suffering and stuff like that. And we’re just like, ‘Games, fun, play!’ Upbeat, you know? It’s not going to be a dimly-lit room. It’s going to have fun stuff. That’s really what I want it to be about. There’s plenty of outlets for the more moody stuff, but this isn’t one

of them.”

Barry said while some of the games featured might contain violence, their main purpose is still fun and entertainment, so they are included in the show.

“Games might use violence, but that’s still as a means of release or a means of fun,” he said. “If you think of a fighting game, you’re beating the hell out of the other guy, but you’re having fun. After playing ‘Street Fighter’ for an hour, you’re not pissed off, you don’t want to go out and beat up somebody; you’ve had a good time. So violence in games can be an outlet; it can still be enjoyable. It’s pretend. It’s make believe.”

Barry, who teaches Web Design and Authoring Interactive Media courses in the department, noticed the “Art of Play” show—which has happened every year since 2008—wasn’t on the schedule for this year. He decided to step up and organize it in order to give game design students an avenue through which to showcase their work. He also made a point to showcase faculty work along with student projects.

“I think it is a good feeling for the students to have their work displayed with faculty,” Barry said. “I think it kind of brings us closer together than, ‘This is student work and this is faculty work and they can’t be together.’”

Aaron Baker, a programming major whose game, “Facesketball,” was featured in the show, said the exhibit gave students a more organized time table and forced them to work like professionals.

“One thing that people look for when you go out in the world to find a job is completed projects, how many games you’ve finished,” Baker said. “[‘Art of Play’] gives you a deadline, you know, something to work towards, and at that point you have to declare it finished.”

Patrick Budris, who worked on a game called “Cowboy Six Gun Run” with game development major Andrew Forster, said the show puts a spotlight on underappreciated talent at Columbia.

“I think it’s good for raising awareness,” Budris said. “Because our program seems to be a lesser-known one at Columbia and we have a lot of talented students in the department. I think it’s a really good showcase for them to show off what kind of skills they have.”

Barry said the retro game focus for the competition after “Art of Play’s” opening was specifically chosen to invite people who might not normally play games to participate.

“The people coming to the show are probably not going to be interested in a competition unless it’s games that are accessible to them,” said Barry, who provided two Atari 2600 consoles for the Regen Game Club to use in the competition.

He said people would be less intimidated by one button and a joystick than they would by the current generation’s complex controls, and would be more likely to play.

While the exhibit focuses on showcasing the games themselves, Barry said he wished there was more space available to do an exhibit highlighting the often-overlooked artistic aspects of video games.

“Nobody will look at a well-designed game and say, ‘Wow, this is really good,’” Barry said. “I mean, they might take a look at a movie and say, ‘Wow, this is really good,’ or a graphic design and say, ‘Wow, this is really good.’ But as a game, it’s just like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a cool game,’ and nobody really thinks about what goes into it.”

“Art of Play 3” runs through April 1 in the IAM Department’s Project Room, located in the 916 S. Wabash Ave. Building, room 111.