matthew kaney

American Arcade

Interactive Installation 2013

For a generation of Americans, the proliferation of video arcade machines was one of the most visible signs of the new wave of computer technology. In the decades since, that technology has become omnipresent and the distinctions between "real" and "virtual" have degraded. Computer algorithms buy and sell stocks in milliseconds, aerial drones undertake armed strikes by proxy and the military uses first-person shooters for training. In short, much of modern life is now essentially a video game—a prospect that raises both ethical and existential questions.

In my work, I've tried to complete this process of virtualization by building arcade games around aspects of contemporary life. One game explores the interactions of wealth, politics and class. Another describes the disconnect inherent in the military use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The third illustrates the difficult, tedious human labor that brings us our consumer goods. In all cases, these games do not pretend to offer answers. Rather, they offer new ways to frame the question—an opportunity to take an idea and play through its implications.

The video game medium interests me for two reasons. First, the arcade game serves as a metaphor for the myriad incursions of computer technology in everyday life. Video games are hardly to blame for all of society’s ills, but the technologies they harness—technologies of simulation, virtualization, and digital interaction—shape our world profoundly. In addition, video games can uniquely invite participation. Game mechanics can entice us to engage with an otherwise difficult, abstract issue by providing concrete actions to perform. The player is compelled to complete the goals set by the game, even if those goals are uncomfortable or problematic. In this way, the player must become complicit in contemporary crises in order to “win” the game, an outcome that hopefully leads to a moment of reflection.

This work was completed as part of a Spotlight Artist commission from the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition for their Momentum OKC 2013 exhibition, curated by Plug Projects and Taryn Chubb. Thanks to Caleb Eggensperger, who provided additional programming and Jonathan Hils and Pete Froslie who consulted at various point in the project.