Mark Allen

[DIGITAL ARTIST]

“THE SHOCK WAS STRONG ENOUGH TO MAKE YOUR ARM PULL YOUR HAND OFF THE CONTROLLER, SO YOU LITERALLY LOST THE ABILITY TO FIGHT BACK AS YOU GOT INJURED IN THE GAME.”
Ways in which video games mirror capitalism:
You get off on getting more and more spells or gold or magic shields
There’s always some level of aspiration that you have yet to reach
You’re never satisfied, because that’s the nature of the game
They don’t want you to stop playing

In 2001, Mark Allen and his collaborators at C-level—an art cooperative in a basement in Los Angeles’s Chinatown—wired together a PlayStation, some electrodes, and a few photoreactive sensors to create a physio-cybernetic hybrid game they called Tekken Torture Tournament. It was hacking as performance art: the basement became a gallery in which visitors took turns playing a version of Tekken that shocked the user when the video-game characters got wounded. The experiment was a success, paving the way for Mark Allen to explore his interest in computer games as an artistic medium by developing a whole series of event-slash-installations. Allen is now a faculty member in the art department at Pomona College, where his program is called DARPA (Digital Art Related Program Activities) and offers courses in Computer Programming for Artists and Electron Wrangling for Beginners. As his official bio states, Mark continues to search for “interesting ways of mixing art with electricity.”

—Joshuah Bearman

*

THE BELIEVER: So artists have taken up video games as a medium. But it seems that video games have yet to aspire to art.

MARK ALLEN: I think there might be a structural limitation to games. They cannot have the narrative power of a film or book, because what we look for or experience in art is less about choice. It’s the expression of a feeling we’ve all had but have been unable to articulate ourselves, and then someone else articulates it beautifully. And that requires a singular narrative vision. When you have eight billion choices, as you do in a video game, any one combination of choices becomes meaningless.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Joshuah Bearman is a writer and, along with his girlfriend, a jewelry proprietor. He lives in Hollywood, where he is a contributor to the LA Weekly and other publications.

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