While Cory Arcangel’s Whitney exhibition seems overly conceptually didactic in its fabrication and weak on product, the centerpiece of the exhibition Various Self Playing Bowling Games (2011) goes beyond the novelty of how it was made to reveal something more about the inseparable evolution of technology and humanity.
Various Self Playing Bowling Games is what it says: a five channel projection that unites five game consoles (spanning four decades) and their controllers which are powerlessly being operated by a blinking microchip board to play continuously losing games. The 28 page brochure reveals that using proprietary software Arcangel has programmed each system to record/replay 100% gutter ball games.
Perfunctorily interesting is the exponential visual and audio development of the gaming industry. We leap from primitive pixelations and basic internally synthesized sounds, i.e. squarish bowling balls and the heavy drone of rolling ball to impressively disco 3-D bowlers who slide to the sound of the realistic theater of a bowling alley. More curious is the progression of emotion as the gaming technology advanced. In the earliest game, the walking pixel-stick has no expression; it takes a few steps, the ball rolls, misses, and rolls back. In the adjacent three screens the animation continues to advance but amusingly all three bowlers wear almost the same gesture of frustration: the ball lands in the gutter and all three bowlers thrust their hands behind their own ears. This act of ”gosh darn it”, seems very moderate, until the character in the 4th screen follows up with several punches to his own eyes. In the final screen the rage progresses; here the most anthropomorphic of all the bowlers glides balletically while he performs smooth bowling moves but reacts to his gutter balls in a fist-pounding, knee bending, total breakdown. Is this emotional transformation of the game character simply connected to the advancement of technology, or is it an increasingly accurate depiction of people playing video games?