by Kari Cwynar
Months ago, at our editorial advisory meeting, the idea for an issue on the theme of “games” came up in conversation and it spurred, among the group at the table, more enthusiasm than I could have predicted. As we talked, games seemed to hold under one word many of the issues and themes we’d been circling around – ideas of fantasy, futurity, participation, community and play. Games offered themselves as both finely tuned structures and as platforms for the destruction of existing structures. Dozens of projects, texts and artists’ names were put forth and in that two-hour conversation came the realization (for me, at least) of the ways in which an issue on games could move between communities, real and imagined worlds, pasts and futures.
Several of the texts in the issue look at artists using games as strategies for decolonization, and there could have been many more such artists featured. Games – to be very general here – are an ideal form for raising difficult subjects, in that they are by nature participatory and designed to be engaging, to hook you in. Mainstream games often inherently contain the language of colonization, whether it be in conquering, defeating, destructing or building new worlds. Artist and game designer Gabriela Aveiro-Ojeda – a co-director of the collective Dames Making Games – addresses the impetus to vanquish as an outdated standard of video games; she suggests new frameworks for evaluating games and details existing alternatives to expected game narratives, goals and conclusions. In her work Unsettling Settlers: Intervention Game, Golboo Amani riffs on the board game Settlers of Catan as a way of disrupting predominant conversations around settlement and land use. During her interview with Farah Yusuf in this issue, Amani discusses the development of the project and the ways in which she brings games, as sites of peer-produced knowledge and experience, into her broader socially-engaged art practice.
At the end of the issue, Clement Yeh reflects on Apology Dice, his collaborative project with David Garneau, which unfolds as a participatory dice game. Naturally, it is organized around chance, but in this case the seemingly simple act of rolling dice elicits responses suggestive of the Canadian government’s 2008 formal apology to Residential School survivors. The outcomes encourage participants to question whether these statements reflect their true feelings: “They are somewhat sorry;” “We are so tired of this;” “I am not sorry.” In his text, Yeh discusses the importance of engendering direct conversation as part of reconciliation efforts, acknowledging the still-widespread lack of information around Indigenous history in most parts of Canada.
Skawennati is well-known for her ongoing work with Second Life avatars and her creation of radical virtual worlds that layer Indigenous histories with imagined and possible futures, such as in the machinima She Falls For Ages, a sci-fi retelling of the Haudenosaunee creation story. Her work with avatars led her to make the triptych Generations of Play – the issue’s Artist Project – in which she imagines three dolls: the corn-husk doll, the Barbie and herself as a Second Life avatar, all wearing the costume of xox, Skawennati’s long-standing avatar. Together they represent Indigenous pasts, presents and futures seen through the lens of play.
Artist Beth Stuart approached this issue’s On Writing column in the form of a Bongard problem – a kind of meta-rational puzzle in which items on the left side of the problem have something in common, as do items on the right, though the problems on each side are opposite. Whereas in most games the rules are predetermined, in a Bongard problem one must figure out what those rules are, what form the puzzle takes, to begin piecing together its content. Bethany Ides and Mitchell Akiyama’s text also derives its structure from games, with a theoretical, poetic narrative that weaves together art, gentrification and the neoliberal economy via a series of proposed games, players and actions. And in Maryse Larivière’s essay on Joyce Wieland, she begins by interviewing architect and close friend of Wieland’s, Phyllis Lambert, to propose the importance of role playing in Wieland’s work and the ways in which her role plays with three particular men offer a vital – and over-looked – way in to her practice and her politics.
Games can be sneakily powerful tools to facilitate unconventional, proactive confrontations with oppressive histories, uncertain futures and a fraught present. Each game can be thought of as an intricately crafted microcosm, designed to assess a particular facet of human behaviour. As seen in the issue, and in the enduring popularity of innumerable games circulating today, games offer the potential of imagining otherwise. In the best cases, they stimulate self-reflexivity about each player’s embodiment of their roles, both inside the game and out. This issue surprised me. To think through games in relation to visual art is to think through aesthetics, interactivity, social structures and representation on a plane that extends far beyond the usual limits of the “art world.” It’s exciting and I wish this issue could be twice the size.
I’ll end with a note on the collaborative nature of this issue, which is to acknowledge the important role of the editorial advisory committee in coming together around games. I’d also like to take this moment to welcome Jaclyn Bruneau as C Magazine’s new Editor and newest collaborator, as I shift into my next role as the magazine’s Editorial Director.