In the Eye of the Beholders | Dunedin Art Reviews

In the Eye of the Beholders | Dunedin Art Reviews

This column is supported by DPAG, but they have no influence on the reviews

Every week, we send two writers to an art exhibit in Ōtepoti Dunedin. One of them will choose a specific piece, and describe it to the other without them looking. They’ll try to figure out what the piece actually is before diving into their thoughts on the entire exhibition. You can’t ascribe any one meaning to any one piece of art, so this functions a bit like a game of artistic telephone. Let’s dive in.

This Week: Code Breakers: Women in Games

Justina: The piece I’m looking at is digital and interactive. Its visuals centre on a cyberpunk inspired cityscape. There is a particular focus on movement and navigation through urban space. It uses 3D elements, seen from a side-on camera view. It is accompanied by electronic beats.
Esmond: Ok, this must be some kind of video game? Or perhaps some kind of virtual reality experience? My guess would have to be an entry from the Mirror's Edge series.
The answer:
We’re looking at Ninja Pizza Girl, an indie platformer video game developed by Disparity Games. It’s part of Tūhura Otago Museum’s Code Breakers: Women in Games exhibition. 

Now, before we start, you might be thinking to yourself “are video games art?” Generally, when we think of video games, we don’t tend to consider the artistic processes behind it. But from 3D modelling and texture painting to voice-acting performances and sound design, video games are an amalgamation of many forms of artistic expression. They take a whole team of creatives to make. Long story short, a game is one big art collaboration!
Around half of gamers are women, yet video game development remains disproportionately male-dominated. Well, it’s time to level up and smash that glass ceiling. In this exhibition, Tūhura Otago Museum presents several video games all created by women of Australasia, celebrating both their creations and personal stories. The featured games span a variety of platforms and genres, with something for all the gamer gurls and boyz.
The first game we checked out was SPARX, a free online game initially released in 2013. It was created by a team of researchers and clinicians from the University of Auckland. The game is targeted towards teens as an e-therapy tool, making use of cognitive behavioural therapy, and it aims to equip its players with the tools to resolve issues related to mental health; something SPARX should be, and has been, commended for. It is rare to see a video game have a genuine focus on mental health rather than using it for a cheap plot trick, however, its visuals were where this game fell flat for us. Textures are muddy and pixelated and characters design and animation are janky. But it is from 2013, after all, and it wasn’t made by some triple-A company. 
The next game we tried to play was Need for Speed: No Limits for iOS: a racing game developed by Firemonkeys Studios and released in 2015. We were greeted with a slew of pop-ups, and were almost tempted to purchase the daily deal on the fastest car (now down to only tens of thousands of in-game currency!). But we decided it was best not to test whether microtransactions would process on the museums’ iPad.
Another iOS game that we checked out was Māori Pā Wars. A forthcoming title, developed by Metia Interactive. It's a tower defence game set in our very own Aotearoa! It sees you placing Pā, aided by Atua to defend against hordes of warriors and native beasts, all in a cute illustrative style. Seeing Māori culture depicted so lovingly and appropriately (looking at you Far Cry 3!) was heartwarming. It really showed the potential videos games have for representation when done correctly.
The last game we tried was Tearaway Unfolded, developed by Media Molecule and Tarsier Studios: a platform-adventure game released in 2015 for the Playstation 4. This game has a mesmerising art style, wrapping around a world made of paper, and in-game animations run at a specific FPS to emulate the style of stop motion. The game goes the extra step to immerse the player through its implementation of the lightbar on the front of the DualShock controller; being able to aim and “shine” the light into the game world and watching it physically affect it was awesome. Flowers bloom, enemies are drawn like moths to a flame, giving you the sense of god-like power over this adorable world.
Whether you’re a video game vet or just needing a break from that essay, pop across the road to Tūhura Otago Museum to experience the mahi of some inspiring developers, and smash that digital ceiling on the way.
Recommended song for your visit:
Infinite Amethyst by Lena Raine

This article first appeared in Issue 24, 2022.
Posted 1:59pm Saturday 24th September 2022 by Esmond Paterson and Maddie Fenn and Justina King.