While Giant Robot is wrapping up Game Over / Continue? today, a celebration of gaming’s colorful roots, across town artist Tim Roseborough is casting a more jaundiced eye on the medium’s current state which is walking a tightrope between simulation and coy romanticism.
No One Dies In a Make Believe War is Scenius’ inaugural exhibition, having just opened their door on that stretch of Treat St. lined with cell-like business spaces where Iceberger once resided. Opposite the entrance, above the gallery’s desk, an unblinking eye stares back at you. The sharp report of rifle fire attends each cycling of the projections on the wall, mimicking the sensation that your view is that of the zoom lens of a gamer’s sniper scope. Lining the walls to either side are digital images of a desert landscape and a solitary soldier, the latter with that mannequin stiffness of posture which characterized 3D-modeling circa the late Nineties, around the time of the first game in the Half-Life series.
Graphics have improved by leaps and bounds since then, but the boxiness of anatomy and features helps to heighten the contrast to the elements Roseborough has added that don’t normally get rendered into pixelated form. In the first image to the right of the doorway, the soldier supports himself on the ground, body parts jutting out at hard angles, as a pool of blood spills out from his knee. A splotch of red indicates a chest wound looking like a chunk carved out of a plaster wall.
The view of the surrounding landscape, when it is visible in the pieces, bears that starkly utilitarian minimalism of early deathmatch maps, where all that was needed was cover and sniping bungalows. Accordingly, the buildings are simple box shapes stacked one on top of another, with the same repeating texture that could denote worked stone, stucco or the wall of an aluminum shack. Littering the ground in some of the wide shots, the bright crimson against the dull yellow of the sand indicates the scattered remains of a casualty, positioned at the margins to exploit the oblivious gaze made famous in Pieter Brughel the Elder’s Landscape With the Fall of Icarus. In other works the mutilation of war is front and center. Roseborough floats a decapitated head in a circle of blood and presents a fallen grunt whose lower jaw has been blown completely away, the shreds of meat lying nearby.
Whereas it may seem like the reality depicted in war games is sanitized due to the squeamishness of developers and the buying public, the truth is that neither are necessarily adverse to gory details. Companies seek to both bring down a game’s rating to maximize the buying audience and avoid it being effectively banned in some countries due to the vagaries of their particular classification system. The result is the bloodless pantomimes in which death means a quick reload or a period of clock-watching before the player can return to the action. Right now fierce debate is playing out on game sites surrounding a planned game from Konami set during one of the most deadly operations of the Iraq War. Interestingly, despite the fact that the media is often accused of inherent bias for not reporting on the grim realities of warfare, G4TV recently interviewed some soldiers who wouldn’t mind a game that better reflects the realities and costs of combat. Says one, “Let it be made, and hopefully it will bolster support for military veterans by giving civilians insight into what this war was actually like for them…”