Home Tech A skate through cyberspace: on the edge with the Now Play This festival of experimental video games

A skate through cyberspace: on the edge with the Now Play This festival of experimental video games

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A skate through cyberspace: on the edge with the Now Play This festival of experimental video games

FFor about a week a year, Somerset House in London becomes home to a mini festival of experimental video games: last year’s were all about love. Now Play This has been around for ten years and this year’s theme – liminality – is particularly suitable for this medium. Video games exist between spaces: they are fictional worlds in which real-world relationships are built; they are an art form that exists between technology and culture. You could make a case for the inclusion of many games in this selection, and the ones here explore the theme from some unexpected angles. There are games here about transition, expansion, life and death, borders and skateboarding through cyberspace.

The variety of interactive experiences here is, as always, enormous and shows the full range of what games and digital art can be. There are relatively conventional forms of interactive entertainment here – like Ed Key and David Kanaga’s Proteus, which has you walking through a procedurally generated dreamscape – and Sad Owl Studios’ Viewfinder, a fantastic game about perception and photography. And then there’s Labyrinth, a grid of interconnected ropes that light up bright LED cubes when they touch each other, and a playable suitcase (Moving Memories by Pamela Cuadros). In one room, a film about traveling to the broken, glitchy edgelands of the game Cyberpunk 2077 plays opposite a game (Crashboard) in which you wear 3D glasses, stand on a skateboard and make your way through an obstacle course of pixelated images from the early days of the internet.

Step into the picture…Viewfinder from Sad Owl Studios. Photo: Play this now

Another sideways approach to the theme, Cis Penance: Transgender Lives in Wait is a series of interactive interviews with transgender and non-binary people about their experiences with the world and the frustrations of accessing gender-affirming care (though it’s worth it here to note that for many non-binary people outside the gender binary instead of between rather the two extremes are the point). Pepijn Barr’s VR 5, meanwhile, is an exhibition of shadows on an island built in the game engine Unity.

In addition to Astro.Log.IO, there are a trio of games about life and death, in which you are invited to enter your birthday, sit in a tent and listen to the sound of the stars at the moment you were born. It’s worth seeking out the Artworld Gaiden interactive comic, which sits in its own bright orange cabinet away from the rest of the exhibition – it’s endearingly silly, in an exhibition where many of the games are quite serious. The wonderfully awkward Maze Walkthrough is also worth playing: you wander through an endless series of corridors that are reminiscent of the aesthetics of various science fiction films. It’s like being stuck in a loading screen.

While this year’s theme has the potential to feel overly introspective – liminality can be a disturbing concept and many of the exhibitions lean towards that – there’s plenty of room for playfulness here too. Outside Somerset House, children play an endlessly adaptable version of mini golf. Inside there is an area dedicated to crafting, mess modeling and doodling. A cute scavenger hunt invites attendees to decode a message to win a sticker. Play Now This is a showcase of the avant-garde of gaming, but it’s also a fun day out – and as always you’re guaranteed to play something here that will give you a different feeling about what games can do.

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