April 29, 2012
A Warm Place is an interactive video game, best enjoyed on an analogue television, played with a classic game controller. The piece attempts to evoke a sense of nostalgia in the player by capturing and emulating moments from my own childhood (playing video games in the mid 90s). In particular, the piece addresses the notion of re-experiencing the past in hopes of recreating a childlike sense of wonder, while at the same time understanding that this nostalgic encounter is simply an emulation. The idea of “keeping the past in its place” is communicated by the game’s narrative structure: the first half of the game acts as a gateway into the player’s childhood, making reference to several classic video game tropes. The latter half of the game abruptly disrupts the player’s experience by introducing unconventional, disorienting and psychedelic elements.
The game should be played on an old-school analogue television, using a SNES game controller to interact with the piece. The software runs on any Java-supporting machine, and can be plugged into a television using an A/V converter box to transfer the computer’s digital display signal to analogue. The game itself takes audiovisual cues from classic RPGs of the mid-90s, including Pokémon Red and Blue, The Legend of Zelda, Chrono Trigger, and Earthbound – all of which are games I have made nostalgic connections with from my childhood. The environment is modeled after a generic RPG town, featuring houses, wooden signs, and trees.
Players begin the game with an introduction from a young boy named Gene, who seems to share visual resemblance with the player’s unnamed character. Gene has left his notes at home and forgets what he was supposed to tell you, so you soon find yourself at home, unknowing of the adventure that awaits. Your house environment is incredibly similar to the home of the main character in the original Pokémon games, down to the moment where your mother subtly prompts you to begin your adventure. Players explore the town, and eventually find themselves in the home of a local shopkeeper and his pregnant wife, who is on the verge of giving birth. Shortly after entering this awkward situation, players are swept into an uncomfortable and psychedelic scenario where they cannot distinguish their surroundings, and the ghostly image of Gene appears all around. After a few frustrating button presses, a message pops up: “You aren’t able to find your home… even if it were right in front of you.”
It is important to note that once players have entered this psychedelic field, they cannot backtrack through the experience, communicating the idea that moments from our past can never be truly revisited. Because the leisure time of my childhood was largely spent enjoying video games, it is my hope that emulating a classic gaming experience will evoke personal feelings of nostalgia for myself and other users who participate with the work. In a gallery setting, the idea of nostalgia can be further highlighted by presenting the game with an analogue television set and classic SNES controller, paying close attention to the limitations of gaming hardware in the 90s and imposing those restrictions on the audiovisual components of my work. A Warm Place aims to ease participants into the childlike fun a retro gaming experience offers, all the while preparing them for an abrupt and uncomfortable reawakening – that the past must remain behind us, and the present never ceases to move forward.
Some of the events and elements that appear in A Warm Place might seem odd or out of place. I’ll try to explain some of these components to the work here.
Who is Gene? Gene is you, the player, as a child. This is why he recognizes you in the beginning of the game.
Why do we see a woman on the verge of giving birth? Birthing a child represents the progression of time and the formation of a major moment in a person’s life. (Also, one might say that the womb is “a warm place,” and being forced out of this warm place is parallel to growing up).
What’s with the end of the game? Before witnessing the woman give birth, the player is sucked into a psychedelic scene. Here there are a few elements: firstly, Gene (your younger self) appears in a ghostly manner around the screen. He represents the clouded memories of childhood (and moving away from them as an adult). The background is also particularly hard to make out — they are images of the player’s house, zoomed in to the point where objects are difficult to distinguish. This ties in to the message that plays: “you aren’t able to find your home… even if it were right in front of you.” The player has been home this entire time, but has grown so attached to memories of the past that the present has become distorted and difficult to grasp.