Artists have been using representational media to critique society and reimagine realities throughout history. By using digital technology, artists can create truly immersive and interactive universes for audiences to experience. Combined with the internet, we have the potential to share our ideas for alternate realities and collaborate on visions for the future.  

The artists and scholars interviewed through these programs create interactive spaces to reflect on current realities and for considering new possibilities. 

Section Glossary

Artist residency – The activity of an artist produced in a specific space for a duration of time. Often these are programs offered by groups or institutions designed to support the creation of artistic work in a new environment. 

Autotheoretical or AutotheoryAn approach to philosophy and theory that uses autobiography and other more personal ways of knowing.

Capitalist – A political and economic system where resources, trade, and industry are controlled by private owners to produce profit. In the past 500 years, this system has gradually grown to encompass more of society, made possible through colonization, the Atlantic slave trade, and modernized forms of labour and resource extraction.

Colonialist or Colonization –When one country or group of people tries to take control of another. 

Discourse – The large-scale discussions being had by people across a specific field on a specific topic.  

First-person-shooter or FPS – A popular genre/style of video game, where the player controls a character from the perspective of that character, moving across three dimensions (forward/backward, up/down, left/right).

Hardware – Physical machinery used to run computer programs, systems, and code; the “body” to software’s “brain.” 

Ideology – The set of norms and beliefs that inform the way one experiences their world and reality.

IronicVerbal irony is when something stated is intended to have a different or opposite effect than expected. Situational irony is when something has an unexpected outcome. Dramatic irony is when an audience knows something that a character in a story does not. Artists often use irony as a tool of expression.

Landscape – In art, an artwork that depicts the natural or built environment; in computers, a display aspect ratio where the width is greater than the height.

Modifiers or modsGame modifiers or mods are add-ons to existing software and platforms that change aspects of their user experience. Mods are often created by fans of games to expand aspects of gameplay.

Praxis – The process of applying theory in a practical way, such as through an art practice. 

Render – In computing, the process of making an image using shading, colours, shapes and textures, often in a way that looks three-dimensional.

Side-scroller – A two-dimensional video game where the player typically moves a character along horizontal and vertical dimensions of movement. 

Software – Code used by a computer (“hardware”) to do things, like math, games, websites, communication, etc. 

Transfeminism – A form of feminism that includes trans women in its’ discussions around women’s rights and equality. Trans feminism could also be considered part of intersectional feminism, a form of feminism that seeks to include other groups that often get left out of discussions on feminism. These groups can include people who are discriminated against because of their race, class, sexuality, age, or immigration status. Intersectional feminism considers how these different statuses can overlap, often creating even greater inequality. It also considers the historical context of these social statuses- for example, how colonialism affects Indigenous women’s rights in Canada. This term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. 

WASD navigationThe use of the W, A, S, and D keys on a keyboard in the same fashion as one would use the arrow keys. This form of navigation ergonomically frees up the right hand to use a mouse, typically to control the look direction in a first-person perspective.

VernacularA speech or writing style developed organically by a community, tradition, or cultural practice, rather than by an individual or corporation.

Zine – Short for magazine, usually a small batch publication created in a Do-It-Yourself manner.

Videos

Maize Longboat: TerraNova

Maize Longboat’s Terra Nova is a two-player game that speculates on a first contact encounter between Indigenous and Settler peoples occurring thousands of years in the future. The project highlights the affordances of video games to convey messages through interactive storytelling. This video features a full playthrough of Terra Nova with live commentary from the artist. Live-streamed June 18, 2020.

Worldbuilding with Unity3D

Artists Hilarey Cowan and Simon Fuh learn the basics of creating and navigating virtual landscapes in the video game Unity 3D. Follow along to learn how to apply this powerful software to your own projects. Live-streamed April 23, 2020.  

Sandee Moore: Nowhere Anywhere

Nowhere/Anywhere explores the artist’s ongoing interest in what she calls ‘featureless places,’ spaces she identifies as lacking distinctive geography or architecture. Featured in DAiR v1: Video Games by Artists, Nowhere/Anywhere places the prairie and retail landscapes in discourse with one another, landscapes whose vastness is integral to their presence. The player is represented as a plastic shopping bag and moves gently through the environment. Setting itself apart from the standard of fast-paced action games, Nowhere/Anywhere invites the player to join their presence with that of an all-encompassing landscape. Live-streamed March 11, 2021. 

Simon Fuh: The Sky is Falling

Artist Simon Fuh presents “The Sky is Falling,” featured in the DAiR v1: Video Games by Artists exhibition. The project is inspired by the Chicken Little folktale wherein a farmyard chick is hit by a falling acorn and concludes that the sky is falling to earth. Fuh’s interpretation twists the moralistic tale into literal gameplay, with the audience navigating an apocalyptic island as a small yellow chick. Non-player chickens populate the island, offering the audience a choice between narrative and self-preservation. Live-streamed March 4, 2021. 

Cat Haines: (g)Ender Gallery

Cat Haines’ (g)Ender Gallery was an installation and performance series on the Ender Gallery Minecraft server. Over the course of her residency, Haines constructed digital representations of her body block-by-block, creating an ironic and playful transfeminist intervention into yonic art canon. Through theoretical research and autotheoretical praxis, Haines explored the possibilities of queer and trans intimacies in digital spaces. Livestreamed May 8, 2021. 

 

Content advisory: pixel representations and discussions of genitalia. 

Hilarey Cowan: Caring Capacity

Featured in DAiR v1: Video Games by Artists, Caring Capacity places the audience in charge of the wellbeing of “CareObjects,” virtual objects with a variety of needs. The piece subverts common game mechanics of destruction, emphasizing the audience’s actions of maintenance. The project is part of a larger body of work exploring connection and care in the context of power, production, and lifespan. Live-streamed March 4, 2021. 

Exploring the landscapes of Indigenous Futurism with Taylor McArthur

Artist Taylor McArthur gives a tour through her work as seen at the Art Gallery of Southern Manitoba’s !in.Site; digital exhibition. McArthur works across 3D modelling, animation, augmented reality, and game design to create immersive worlds informed by an Indigenous Futurist perspective. Live-streamed July 30, 2020. 

Dallas Flett-Wapash: Crappy Home Designer

Part of DAiR v1: Video Games by Artists, Dallas Flett-Wapash’s Crappy Home Designer examines the popular Animal Crossing game series and the underlying ideologies of its mechanics. Flett-Wapash identifies how the Animal Crossing universe normalizes colonialist and capitalist ideologies of debt and control. These in-game privileges are further emphasized by their limited access through their real-world dependence on expensive proprietary hard- and software. n Crappy Home Designer, the artist offers a freeware interpretation of the game, whose gameplay is consistent with the lived realities of low-income families. Crappy Home Designer offers cheery graphics and engaging gameplay, while asking the player to consider who can afford virtual escapism. Live-streamed March 11, 2021. 

TJ Cuthand: Bipolar Journey

Featured in the exhibition DAiR v1: Video Games by Artists, TJ Cuthand’s Bipolar Journey uses interactive gameplay to explore the artist’s personal experiences with Bipolar disorder. To win the game, you must successfully find your way through tasks such as medication management, psychiatric hospitalization, and community reintegration. Integrating a zine-inspired collage aesthetic with interactivity, Bipolar Journey seeks to explain the experience of madness. Live-streamed March 4, 2021. 

 

Content advisory: discussions of mental health and psychiatric hospitalization. 

Taylor McArthur: Line of Sight

In Line of Sight, the artist has created a gentle atmospheric environment for the audience to navigate. One of the works exhibited in the DAiR v1: Video Games by Artists exhibition, the project is situated in the contemporary genre of walking simulators which trade reward systems and fast-paced gameplay for contemplative immersion. Combining naturalism with neon shapes and geometric patterns, Taylor McArthur’s project is an immersive personal reflection on her identity, memory, and ties to the land.Live-streamed March 11, 2021.

Simon M. Benedict: Odanak – at the Village

Odanak – at the Village is an installation and custom texture pack informed by Benedict’s ancestral community. Drawing from Kinaw8la – She Takes Care of You, an educational booklet co-authored by his sister Evelyne Benedict and Donna O’Bomsawin, Benedict’s exhibition remixes the default Minecraft environment to incorporate medicinal plants – both native and non-native – currently present on Odanak Abenaki territory. The exhibition features representations of both the natural and built environments of Odanak, reckoning with the ongoing colonial project as it pertains to the Abenaki people. In the wake of recent conversations regarding the Canadian residential school system, Benedict’s project addresses this history while creating virtual spaces for education and healing. Live-streamed July 10, 2021. 

 

Content Advisory: This exhibition addresses the residential school system, genocide, and death.

Resources

Things to think about

  • If you could create your own world, what would it be like?
  • In partners or small groups, discuss creating a world together. What ideas do you agree on? What things do you disagree on? How can you solve those disagreements?
  • Think about either your own vision for a world or the vision you created with a group. What digital medium or technology would be best for creating that world and sharing it with others? Make a list of pros and cons for using that particular digital medium. 

Studio Activity

Cat Haines: Making a Better World with Minecraft