Cory Arcangel Beat the Champ installation at the Barbican

Spent an evening considering @cory_arcangel Beat the Champ installation at the Barbican with @SmileyBen, @rossf7, Jon and Ira.

Late 1990's The first thing I noticed was the space. I had suggested that we meet at the entrance and found that space ran arched around the back of  the orchestra pit. As there were two potential rendezvous point my first experience of the show was racing through the elongated round. I felt like the protagonist of a 1980’s cyber film set inside a game.

14 massive projected video games screens and their associated noise kept me company. I really wanted to grab a board and skate through the space with the show on. According to Arcangel’s websiteBarbican install was made especially for their crazy big space” so sadly this was one you had to experience in person. Each screen showed a bowling game where the bowler threw a gutter ball each time. We worked backwards starting from games made in 2000’s. By the time we hit games made in the 1990’s the thing that was most striking for me was the varied emotions of the characters on the screen. As we weren’t the player and knew the outcome, it was easy to simply compare screens. The onscreen bowlers were angry, frustrated and sometimes distraught by their awful bowling. One constantly dropped the ball on his foot and was in massive amounts of pain.

There were a relief to hitting the games made in the 1970’s. The emotions had gone and that simplicity of game play was highly watchable. Like extreme sports the quick repetitive nature of these basic games brought through that feeling of the being in zone trance even though we weren’t controlling the games.

Once nudged out of my trance it was the bell shaped arch of realism of the games that struck me. Somewhere in the late 90’s the games were closest to a realistic bowling experience. The pins were reset after each attempt. Other lanes were occupied. The on screen bowler was truly distraught. Early games couldn’t do this. More recent games didn’t bother.

For me the most fascinating thing I wanted to take away and learn was how the games were controlled.  Arcangel  describes his games as “hacked”. It would be an easy task to film the game as it is played. However Arcangel chose a more complicated approach.  Each game was controlled by a chip.

The show moves to NYC is late May and it is worth checking out.