Since it comes into the world, the human being plays. In the beginning, something simple is enough for you, like looking at your own hands. When he starts walking, he imagines pirate adventures or space travel. And, although the years go by, wrinkles grow and life sometimes strives to take away the smile, it always saves a space to return to that ancestral pleasure. It happened in Ancient Egypt, in the Middle Ages, and still today. And as much as part of the magic now comes out of a screen, for Luca Carrubba there are things that have not changed much. “The need to play has always accompanied us,” says the curator of the exhibition Homo Ludens. Video games to understand the present, until October 31 at CaixaForum Madrid —then he will travel to other cities. His show presents digital adventure as the futuristic cousin, but not so far removed from chess or marbles. And he wants to reflect through some 40 pieces on videogames as a “complex phenomenon that has crept into many facets of society.” For a long time the data has told that its collection, worldwide, adds more than that of film and music combined.
The title alludes to the homonymous essay by historian Johan Huizinga, on the importance of play in human development. But, at the same time as a tribute, Carrubba seeks an evolution of the concept. “It is not about celebrating or demonizing video games. The point is to open a reflection on the central role that its mechanics, its aesthetics or its narrative already have in aspects of our lives such as industry, science, art or even desire. It doesn’t matter whether you play or not, the show appeals to everyone ”, he argues.
An installation, towards the end of the tour, explains it more intuitively. Five large colorful screens invite you to try different activities. Under the slogan “we play to find love”, drawn faces begin to appear. The assistant moves the ones he likes to the left; instead, he sends those that leave him indifferent to the right. Right next to it, “play to be informed” asks to scroll up and down a long list of short messages. Like every day, but without calling them or Tinder or Twitter.
The heart of Man playingIt is actually a very analog room. Five showcases compare a traditional game with a mythical title for consoles and computer, based on essential keys. In terms of simulation, an old dollhouse is not that far from The Sims. By more than Tetris and a puzzle look different, both appeal to the configuration skill. And the player of Pac-Man collects like the mancala. Starting from its central heart, the exhibition continues its discourse through as many sections, where the brightest and darkest facets of the video game are confronted. And invites the visitor to create their own profile and answer various questions that hang on the walls, to participate in the debate.
Five showcases compare a traditional game, such as a puzzle, with a mythical title for consoles and computers, such as Tetris
Carrubba always looks for lights and shadows: “They allow the experience of others to be lived with greater intensity. It can be positive, generate empathy. But, on the negative side, it can favor isolation ”. Perhaps that is why the exhibition hardly offers any options to play. For the most part, the visitor observes passively videos and installations, from creators like Bill Viola, Daniel Canogar or Mónica Rikic. And he is discovering, yes, what video games are capable of. For good. And for the worse.
On Alone, by Agustina Isidori, sexual harassment threatens a woman’s night walk. Y Lyla and the Shadow of Warby Rasheed Abueideh, evokes the actual bombing of the Gaza Strip in 2014. The exhibition attests to the momentum of the video game to art, its recent alliance with pop music or how it offered millions of people confined during the pandemic a alternative to loneliness. Man playing remember that the participation of 250,000 players in the project Eternal provided a group of scientists with a tide of data to map the brain, or that the Stockholm City Council asked citizens for suggestions to remodel the Royal Seaport district through Cities:Skylines.
The examples, at this point, transcend the exhibition: the Thyssen museum participated in the creation of Cloud and the adventure That Dragon, cancer It was the only vehicle that Joel Green’s parents found to narrate the loss of their little one and try to overcome it. There are video games that help to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and famous football teams have added to their usual signings those of the talents of the command to also compete in the e-sports. Several users modified Fallout 4 to dress their characters with slogans in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and thousands of alter egos digital marched online last year for LGBTIQA + pride day. Behind each one, there was a user of RuneScape. But the parade on the screen of necromancers, elves and the strangest creatures only reinforced the message: in the world there is room for everyone.
Video games also offer radically opposite scenarios. The Last of Us Parte 2, Probably the most applauded blockbuster in history, it suffered fierce harassment from thousands of fans, outraged that a woman with masculine features, a transgender character and a lesbian relationship starred in the story. The Internet has hosted debates about the alleged “ugliness” of many recent heroines, the blogger and feminist activist Anita Sarkeesian has related all kinds of threats suffered and the gender gap continues to mark the industry. And that practically all the studies suggest that the players are already half of the public.
Not only: as much as indie games ooze creativity and daring, the market is still dominated by shooter, be it from Call of Duty, Fortnite O Fifa. What, sometimes, also conditions the look towards the sector. Or even within him. “I am very happy that video games have come this far. But I feel that now many, instead of investigating their own exclusive potentialities, are trying to borrow expressive forms from cinema and other media, ”Fumito Ueda, the original author of The Last Guardian O Shadow of Colossus.
‘Homo Ludens’ does not hide under the rug the dirtiness of the sector, such as labor exploitation or the risk of addiction
Faced with so many contradictions, Man playing seeks to offer as complete a perspective as possible. And it does not hide the dirt from the sector under the rug. Some come out in a section called The dark side. There they talk about the labor exploitation known as crunch, which affects many of the best-selling games of recent years, or the risks of addiction. A mannequin condemned to type forever evokes the Farmers, as it is known to users who repeat actions for hours to obtain resources within a video game and then sell them in exchange for real money. And in that room there is also room for “programmed obsolescence”, the so-called illusion of control and other typical curses of the free-to-play, free games that allow internal purchases.
Most, for example, offer daily bonuses that encourage constant connection. And also random reward boxes: that is, the user spends money with no guarantees that they will get exactly the gift they wanted. All this without warning of the dangerous resemblance to games of chance, those that concern the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, who wants to prohibit access to these products to minors.
“Video game fans may be the most disappointed with the exhibition,” says Luca Carrubba, the exhibition’s curator.
“Video game fans may be the most disappointed with the exhibition. Skeptics, on the other hand, could find their place ”, insists on his search for balance for all audiences Carrubba. The commissioner considers that, for its few decades of life, the sector has taken giant steps, but sees a wide margin for the maturation of the industry and its production model. And he thinks users would appreciate it: “Maybe it’s not the millions who play Call of Duty, but part of the public already demands a lot of diversity. And superhero comics offer a model. They were considered ‘children’s things’, until many graphic novels gave them an authorship stamp ”. The video game may follow the same path. Solving problems is at its core. It is the only way to pass the screen.