Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Arts & Crafts" Materiality in (and out of) Digital Games

This is from Sara Grime's blog -- please go there for videos etc. Sara also presented on this topic at the DIY Critical Citizenship conference in Toronto, November 2011

©2010 Nintendo, Inc., Kirby Epic Yarn promo materials

This week Nintendo released it's newest installment of the Kirby series, Kirby's Epic Yarn. What piqued my interest about the game is its use of arts & crafts as an aesthetic motif - everything looks like it's made of string, buttons, yarn and zippers. The aesthetic is supplemented by some clever looking game mechanics, which add to the sense of materiality and texture introduced by the game's environments and imagery. For instance, backgrounds contain loose threads that can be pulled, and things made of yarn (including Kirby himself) can change shape. I should add in a d
isclaimer at this point that this description is based on a cursory review of the demo videos (such as the one I've posted below) and early reviews - I haven't actually played it yet:

Of course, this immediately reminded me of LittleBigPlanet, which obviously also applies an "arts & crafts" aesthetic, albeit in a significantly (i.e. stylistically) distinct way. But as I thought about it a little more, I started to list all the other games I've come across that "play" with materiality, textiles and crafts, and realized that there is a small but notable genre emerging here. Nintendo itself has applied a similar "material" or "arts & crafts" aesthetic to a number of games in the past - most notably in the Paper Mario games, but also in the cardboard cut-out environments of Yoshi's Story:

Games like Crayon Physics, And Yet It Moves and Okami might also be included on this list, though more on the arts aspect than crafts. From Majesco, we now have Crafting Mama for the NDS. And there must be just about a million "girl games" or "pink games" that incorporate crafting to some degree - though I suspect this is predominantly in the form of mini-games, rather than on an aesthetic dimension. Searching for more examples, I came across this website for KNiiTTiiNG!!, a game that uses the Wii to simulate and teach knitting. Apparently, the game is still in Beta, but it got some media coverage last year (e.g. Kotaku), and is currently being featured as part of an art exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. Again - not quite what I have in mind when I'm thinking of materiality and an "arts & crafts aesthetic" - but worth mentioning nonetheless.

All of which leads me back to the other side of this burgeoning relationship between arts & crafts, materiality and videogames, which manifests as physical objects, crafts, embroidery, etc., that reify (reproduce, remediate?) elements and characters from videogames. Aldo Tolino calls these "ludic artifacts": player-created objects that are inspired by video games, but created outside of the games themselves. Oftentimes, these objects aim to transport game themes or characters into the physical world, thereby extending the game experience into other areas of cultural experience & fan practice.

Gaming community members have long engaged in these practices, which include everything from knitting Metroid Prime dolls, to dressing up asPacman characters and running around the city, to baking the Portalcake (based on a recipe included in the game as an Easter Egg). For Tolino, one of the most important features of "ludic artifacts" is that they are quite often shared online - through pictures, videos, and other digital artifacts - with other members of the game community. There are also online communities that have formed around particular forms of "ludic artifact" production. An example of this is Sprite Stitch, a blog and forum dedicated to "videogame inspired crafts" and the people who make them. The forum community includes over 1200 knitters, embroiderers and other craftmakers who exchange pictures, patterns and advice about making videogame characters into tangible objects. One of the things that interests me most about these practices is how frequently they combine traditionally feminine (or do I mean feminized) craftwork with videogame fandom - baking, knitting, sewing, carpentry and metalworking. The transfer from digital to material and back to digital again (as the objects are photographed and filmed to be shared online) is simply fascinating.

More Examples:


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