Half Real @ The Hanover Project, Preston

Half Real brings together an international group of creative practitioners exploring and working within the intersection between art and videogames.

Review by Santini Basra | 24 Feb 2016
  • Half Real @ The Hanover Project, Preston

Half Real looks to explore the space between art and games, bringing together an impressive group of international artists and game designers including Rod Humble, the former CEO of Linden Lab (the company responsible for groundbreaking online multiplayer game Second Life) as well as Molleindustria, notorious for their guerrilla-style provocative socio-political games. The Italian group are best-known for Phone Story, a game which asks a player to become symbolically complicit in the unethical processes involved in producing a smartphone.

The selection of works on show, united by their medium – the video game – blur the boundaries of gaming with other art forms, focussing beyond gaming and games’ often overshadowing commercial aspect, and onto the spectrum of other roles the game can assume. The Graveyard, by Belgian studio Tale of Tales, simply asks the player to guide an old lady to a bench on the other side of a graveyard, where she sits, contemplates her life, and also may die. While extremely simple, the game powerfully confronts the player with the notion of death, and one’s acceptance of it.

On a similar level, Molleindustria’s Every Day the Same Dream follows the tedious and repetitive daily commute of a nondescript white collar worker, and encourages the player to subvert the repetitive banality of the character’s existence, in turn posing questions and providing ambiguous commentary on the notions of routine and repetition.

continues below

More on gaming:

Video Games Virtually everywhere: Have we all become gamers?

Dear Esther 5 leading indie devs on the changing shape of the videogame

Through examining the work showcased at Half Real, it is clear that much of it has been produced in direct confrontation with the traditional ideals of the ‘game’ championed by the commercial videogame world. As Tale of Tales have mentioned in reference to their own work, “[it’s] about dispensing with the formalities of gaming”. This collection contributes to the ever expanding definition of the videogame, providing the medium a greater remit in which to exist and experiment, positioning them in roles beyond entertainment and into the realms of documentary, journalism, activism or commentary.

Maze Walkthrough by Serafin Alvarez positions itself central to the show, and certainly stands out in the body of work. The game consists of a never-ending series of connected corridors – each corridor taken from a sci-fi film, leaving the player to wonder through these with no goal or objective. The game is a manifestation of Alvarez’s obsession with the corridor as a liminal and transitional space, and almost exists as his personal museum, stitching together these spaces and leaving the player or viewer in a state of permanent transition. In wandering through these corridors a feeling of intrusion is elicited, as if you have stumbled into someone’s personal fiction and obsession and are seeing something that was meant to be hidden away.

Looking past the content and at the exhibition as a whole, Half Real provides an interesting perspective on the medium, and its role within the art space. In all cases, the work on show exists as downloadable files, which can be played on personal devices. However, positioning these games in a gallery space invites the viewer to engage on a more critical level, clearly framing the work as meaningful and content rich as opposed to a product for entertainment. As shown with MOMA’s acquisition of Pac-Man, in recent years we have started to accept the significance of the videogame medium, and Half Real serves to contribute to this growing awareness.

Half Real is on show at the Hanover Project in Preston until 29 February and is supported by the University of Central Lancashire.