These Minecraft and GTA hacks prove video games can be art (Wired UK)


Artist Kent Sheely’s “Resourcefull” mod slaps brand names on Minecraft

Kent Sheely


You step out of your shelter and look down at your feet. Instead
of grass, you see the familiar gold-and-green logomark of petroleum
behemoth BP. On the horizon, verdant hills are dotted with Shell
Oil Company’s avatar. The structures around you are built on brands
in the most literal sense: Bricks emblazoned with Ikea, 3M, and
Enron. Overhead, Walmart’s joyless sunburst stretches across a pale
blue sky.

This is Minecraft re-imagined by Kent Sheely, a new-media
artist living in New York. Sheely specialises in video game
subversions like these, adding to, subtracting from, and remixing
familiar interactive titles to help us consider them in new
ways.


Sheely specialises in video game subversion. His on-going series Zappers replaces guns in films with Nintendo’s orange weapon

Kent Sheely


Sheely discovered video games at a young age and realised he
could bend them to his will shortly thereafter. He was 6 when he
started learning the programming language Basic, and he grew up
with one foot on each side of the medium — avidly playing games
and making them. It wasn’t until college that he encountered people
using video games for art: “You know, really re-interpreting the
existing work to communicate something about the medium and about
its culture,” he says. It spurred him to explore games as a means
of expression.

One of Sheely’s most successful early works was called Grand
Theft Photo, which he completed in 2007. He calls it his “first
real breakthrough piece.” It took the form of a dummy DSLR camera,
outfitted with a small screen on the back. Through it, gallery
visitors could explore a version of Grand Theft Auto: San
Andreas
Sheely had modified himself. Locked into an in-game
camera mode, the only thing left for players to do was walk around
and take pictures.

dust 2 dustKent Sheely

Today, in-game photography is a well-explored gaming off-shoot.
The latest installment in the Grand Theft Auto franchise
actually encourages players to take selfies. But in 2007, when
Sheely and a few other artists were just starting to explore the
idea of treating the game world as a photographic subject, it was a
more radical notion. “I liked the idea of reinterpreting the goals
given to the player,” Sheely says, especially in the context of the
notoriously violent GTA series.

Of course, creating a virtual world amenable to that artistic
vision necessitated a fairly thorough rewrite of the game’s code.
“I had to edit the character behaviour files so they wouldn’t
attack the player and edit the firing mechanics so you were always
looking through the camera lens,” he says. “I also had to make the
player invulnerable to harm, just in case people using the mod
accidentally wandered onto the highway when they were trying to
take a photo of the moon.”


“I liked the idea of reinterpreting the goals given to the player,” Sheely says, especially in the context of the notoriously violent GTA series

Kent Sheely


Sheely’s work isn’t strictly interactive. For Skybox, another
early piece, he installed a large virtual skylight in the ceiling
of a room inside an art gallery. The “sky” visitors saw on the
other side was one of several Sheely had carved out of video game
scenery. It changed throughout the day to mimic whatever was
happening outside the venue. In Ready For Action, a series of short
video clips Sheely started making in 2012, we see characters from a
variety of action games taking a break from their usual mayhem to
wait for buses and subways. It’s something totally mundane in our
world that seems instantly out of place in the context of a violent
virtual environment.

Sheely’s process varies. Sometimes, he’ll be messing around with
a game and something will jump out at him. That’s how the
Minecraft mod came about. In other cases, Sheely will have
a statement in mind and look for ways to communicate it. One
brilliant example is Dust2Dust, a mod of a standard team shooter
that erases all trace of the players themselves, leaving squadrons
of disembodied guns bopping around dusty recreations of Middle East
towns. It’s a striking visual, but it’s intended to make a point:
In video games, as in the media, war is often cast in the
simplistic terms of good and bad, us and them. Take the combatants
away and figuring out your allegiances becomes much more
difficult.

I couldn’t help but wonder: Has the career of Kent Sheely, video
game artist, ruined games for Kent Sheely, video game player?
“Yeah, it can be tough to switch that off,” he says of his artistic
eye. “I do have moments where I get really absorbed in something
and just treat it like a game. But when I play certain games, like
anything that lets you just roam around, my mind starts to wander
and I start picking up on little things that trigger the
instinct.”

This article originally appeared on Wired.com

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14 August 2014 | 12:51 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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