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Videogame appropriation in contemporary art: Pac-Man

16/12/2010
Mathias Jansson

The legend says it was when the Japanese game developer Toru Iwatani took a slice of his pizza that the yellow game character Pac-Man appeared before him. In Pac-Man, we find a restless character hunting around in life’s mazes constantly seeking for pills to satisfy his insatiable desire. Meanwhile the ghosts of anxiety are tracking him down. What many players don’t realize are that the game also contains an unanswered philosophical-existential question. Where is actually Pac-Man for the short period of time when he escapes into the left or right end of the maze and after a short time pop up on the other side of the maze?

Pac Man

In Martina Kellner’s work “Pac-Man Time Out”, which was showed at the exhibition A MAZE in Berlin 2009, Kellner had created short video clips that investigated what Pac-Man actually did in the short time he was away from the monitor. In one clip, we find him at the airport queue with Ms. Pac-Man ready to board. Perhaps they are planning to take a holiday away from the busy videogame environment? One thing is for sure, Pac-Man does no appear in contemporary art as much as his colleagues from other classic games as Space Invader, Pong and Super Mario.

Street Pac Man

Like many 8-bit characters Pac-Man is well represented in street art and design. For example the American street artist Katie Sokoler staged a real Pac-Man game in her quarters. But it is quite unusual with installations, machinima or Art Games in which Pac-Man has the lead role. This is a bit odd considering how famous Pac-Man is among the general public. The French artist François Escuillie has even created a paleontological reconstruction of Pac-Man’s skull and the Swedish artist Johan Lofgren has in his new colour series “Confessions of a Color-Eater” taken with the colour “Ms. Pac -Man-yellow “, but despite this there are few interactive artworks based on Pac-Man.

Pac-Mondrian

Two exceptions are in any case worth highlighting: the “Pac-Mondrian” and “Eggregore”. “Pac-Mondrian” was created in its first version in 2002 by the Canadian artist group, Price Budgets Boys and is described as a mix of Piet Mondrian, Pac-Man and Boggie Woggie music. The board consists of Piet Mondrian’s painting “Broadway Boogie Woogie” (1942-43), which in its turn is inspired by Manhattan’s street grid and boogie woogie music. The videogame works with the same principle as a normal Pac-Man game except that the maze is a painting by Piet Mondrian. Price Budget Boys have also created three sequels: “Detroit Techno” (2005), “Tokyo Techno” (2006) and “Toronto Techno” (2006). The labyrinths in the new versions are created by stylized street grid from each city, executed in the style of Piet Mondrian. And in the name of equality, you play as Ms.Pac-Man in these versions. For those who have followed previous articles in this series, will recognize that there is a similarity between “Pac-Mondrian” and the Danish artist Andre Vistis works “PONGdrian v1.0”, in which Vistis combined the videogame PONG with Mondrian’s paintings.

social video game in which eight players, each with its own control will try to collaborate and steer Pac-Man through the maze

Antonin Fourneau & Manuel Braun’s work “Eggregore” is a social video game in which eight players, each with its own control will try to collaborate and steer Pac-Man through the maze. It may sound like an old teamwork workshop with a twist. Eight wills and strategies must collaborate to succeed with the mission. “Eggregore” is a Greek word which is associated with occultism and means a collective mind. The question that Fourneau and Braun is asking is: Can multiple individual game strategies together create a stronger and better collective player or will it just be chaos when the different games strategies are pulling in different directions? In the video game world, there are many examples of online worlds like World of Warcraft, where player successfully work together in clans or guilds in order to achieve higher goals in the game. It has even become an asset in your CV to show that you have played World of Warcraft and that you can lead and work together with other players to achieve different goals. Pac-Man, however, seems to be a rather greedy individualist who only thinks of himself in the video game world. And perhaps it is this self-absorption with himself taht prevents the game from breaking through as a major theme in contemporary Game Art?

Links:

Pac-Mondrian:

http://www.pbfb.ca/pac-mondrian/

Eggregore:

http://liftconference.com/eggregor8

Videogame appropriation in contemporary art: Pong. Part 1 by Mathias Jansson.

Videogame appropriation in contemporary art: Tetris. Part 2 by Mathias Jansson.

Videogame appropriation in contemporary art: Space Invaders. Part 3 by Mathias Jansson