Public Arts Garage: E-scape game

Game experience in progress, created for the Public Arts Garage summer course, a collaboration between Concordia University Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, Bauhaus University Weimar and Queen’s University Belfast.

Game creators:
Idun Isdrake, Natalia Balska, Martin Müller.

Play the game here:

Research questions
A goal of the course was to collaborate across borders and share the experiences of walking in the different parts of the cities we are in. For our group is was mainly around Concordia University and Place des Arts in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, and Weimar in Germany. How could we make the process of creating and sharing an experience with the class inclusive for this specific group and in line with the aims of the course?

How is space experienced and perceived physically and how does the architecture and political structure in our areas change, or force us to change, our paths? Psychogeography, parkour, graffiti, colonialism and accessibility are areas we discussed in our group. Place des Arts specifically, can be experienced as excluding and hostile with few spaces to escape the burning sun or masses of people during organized events. What happens here between the events?

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.”
“Society of Spectacle” Guy Debord

Spaces like Place des Arts and Place des Festivals, while resembling blank urban canvases, have within their inception implicit laws of usage – organized and approved by the city’s administration through lengthy bureaucratic processes. They are spaces that are contradictory, open to everyone but allowing only specific modes of engagement that reinforce a power relation between the public and the performer, the festival goer and the festival organizer, the consumer and the provider of the art consumed. To break out of this established order, our group decided to explore modes of engaging with space that run counter to the duality and implied power structures. Urban practices of graffiti and parkour that reclaim public spaces by disturbing the fabric of a cityscape through art and movement – usually without permission, and the old understanding of hacking practice – engaging with existing technology to modify and explore it’s function and limits.

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.
“Theory of the Dérive” Guy Debord

Part of our intervention was to recreate the experience of wandering or drifting through public space, questioning the ways in which the spaces are constructed and accessible, or not accessible, to different earthlings. E-scape provides a space to stroll through with the potential to get lost, walk in circles and break the linearity of this type of architecture, walking vertically through the human made ground and jumping between realms. The potentials of overcoming what geographically divide spaces is provided by cyberspace and digital tools.

The retreat of Weimar’s Unesco heritage Park an der Ilm thus intervenes in the experience of urban Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. With “Goethes Gartenhaus” the romantic clinging to historicity interrupts the modern, while the newly built “Bauhaus Museum” interfaces architecture of urban cultural centers in communication with Place des Arts.

Digital representations of physical spaces also made us think about transience and archiving or recreating lost spaces, histories or art, as well as what bodies some of those spaces are built by, and on. We are not bound by time limits in the same way in the digital space, and we can hack and reshape constructed landmarks indefinitely. What are the iconic landmarks or marketing features of a city and who chooses them?

“Incorporating time travel, alternate realities, parallel universes and multiverses, and alternative histories is a hallmark of Native storytelling tradition, while viewing time as pasts, presents, and futures that flow together like currents in a navigable stream is central to Native epistemologies.
“Native slipstream” Grace L. Dillon

Game data
The game is made in Bitsy, a simple game engine where you can make all parts of a game. We did however also play with graphics generated from photos (pixy) and with text translated to binary code/graphics, inspiring the player to look into the game source code for meanings encrypted into  the binary tiles. It visually imitates 8-bit games – which were limited to encoding the pixel information in bits (a binary value of on and off, or 1 and 0) of 8 in row for a processing unit. The Bitsy engine itself encodes each 8 by 8 tile with two values, the background color and the sprite/tile color, with each bitsy ‘pixel’ designated to be either the color of the background or the sprite/tile. That translates within its source code to 0 and 1 respectively. The code for our game can be found here

A Bitsy tile can not only be used to store information representing objects but just as easily store binary data, with each row of 8 pixels translating to one letter or sign. In line with our idea of subverting intended use of existing structures, some of the Bitsy tiles were constructed from binary encoding of words – their meaning only revealed when following the instruction of in-game guides, the player ventures from the game as rendered within the engine to game as script and translates them back from binary.

Game map
This is an overview of the scenes or rooms available in the game. Depending on which path you take the route will be different but the entry point the same, while the exit point has two variations.