Interview/Article By Jonah Brucker-Cohen
In the world of video games, the closer a game gets to reality, the better return for its designer and publisher. Take for example, Grand Theft Auto: a limitless city environment where every object is playable and can be stolen, picked up, or trashed. In the hardware business, allowing players to feel and experience these worlds is becoming more important with integrated haptic feedback in controllers, microphones for voice communication between players, and even VR headsets for more immersive experiences. Taking these sensory additions to the extreme are the Germany-based artists //////////FUR////, who create augmented hardware devices for gaming and attempt to alter the player s experiences with the added variables of pain and physical, first-person perspectives. GIZMODO spoke to Tilman Reiff of the duo about the reasoning behind their work and how pain and suffering ultimately add up to a more pleasurable gaming experience.
Name(s): Volker Morawe, Tilman Reiff
Age(s):V: 35, T: 34
V: Space electronics technician, Diploma Academy of Media Arts Cologne
T: Diploma information science, Diploma Academy of Media Arts, Cologne
Affiliation: Independent Artists
Exhibitions: Ars Electronica (Linz), DEAF (Rotterdam), Garage (Straslund), Bang The Machine (San Francisco), Emergences (Paris), Robodock (Amsterdam)
GIZMODO: How did you first become interested in altering the experience of video game play and players?
TR: While I have been playing video games for decades, this form of entertainment has always bored Volker. Somehow these opposite views lead to building the Painstation and everything else developed from there.
GIZMODO: With Painstation [where players hands are whipped and burned as they play a game of Pong], why make pain an important aspect to game play? How does it change or augment the final outcome of the game for players?
TR: We felt that in order to make games more interesting, we needed to include physical feedback. We remembered games we used to play as children, where being punished was part of the game. e.g. the card game "Folter-Mau Mau" where the loser would have to suffer strokes on his fingers according to the remaining cards in his hands. The threat of being punished always made these games very thrilling and we wanted to bring this thrill to video games as well. The whole pain-thing however wouldn't be that interesting if you weren't playing against a human opponent. It's the back and forth between yourself being punished and your opponent suffering, accompanied by each player's individual reaction to the "treatment" that makes the overall experience intense and fun.
Painstation 2.0 (2003)
GIZMODO: In Legshocker, [a game where shin guards with hydraulic pistons are attached to each player s legs] adding physical consequences to on-screen actions seems to be important. Do you think these types of "harmful" additions increase or decrease the level of competition in games?
TR: In the case of Legshocker, the interesting aspect is how the addition of pain alters the whole game: players tend to chase each other around on the virtual soccer field in order to tackle and thus cause pain to the opponent. Shooting goals is no longer interesting.
GIZMODO: With the Furminator, you were aiming to provide a "first-person shooter" style experience for pinball. How did this experience affect the game play for the average player?
TR: The idea of the Furminator was to provide an immersive experience that does not rely on computer generated images. The immersion is intensified because the player is really inside the (mechanical) machine. The installation can be seen as an oversized VR-helmet. The game play however is not affected.
View Inside the Furminator (2005)
GIZMODO: Most of your gaming-related projects deal with changing the perspective for the player. How important is perspective in video games and gaming in general?
TR: Our goal is to change and experiment with the experience of man-machine-communication in general. We are building games because we think it's the most advanced form of interactive media and through our playful and entertaining approach we manage to reach people that usually wouldn't be interested in art. So in a way, our projects are more about the perspective on art than the perspective in video games.
Mr. Punch (2005)
GIZMODO: What is your most recent work about? How is it similar different from the previous projects?
TR: Mr. Punch, our latest work, is a mechatronic boxing automata. It recreates typical video-game style game play with mechanical puppets, housed in a Punch-and-Judy theater. This merger between early automata and a modern videogame shows that the content hasn't really changed for centuries, it's just the form of presentation that has evolved.