Tag Archives: games

World of World (small)



“World of World: The Adventures of Malbec and Player”: the full print, 10×40″, on a single piece of archival paper stock, open edition, signed by the artist: $285

For other editions, see foot of page.

WorldOfWorld-5A-medI created this work at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. “World of World: The Adventures of Malbec and Player” is a four-panel (modular) digital print totaling 2 feet by 12 feet and it’s one for which I have a special fondness.

I’m a longtime player in RPGs, starting with Gemstone II back in the 1990s and continuing through Lineage to World of Warcraft. The idea behind the piece was to explore the complicated relationship that develops between players in RPGs and their avatars, but from the avatar’s point of view.

So it begins with how the avatar views the player and the player’s artificial (from the avatar’s point of view) world, as if the avatar were the protagonist and the player were the toon. That’s why you initially see the avatar, Malbec, from behind, examining the Player through his WOW interface. At the same time it acknowledges that the two—in this case, a female Death Knight and a male gamer—are one, existing as a kind of functional temporary split personality.WorldOfWorld-5B-med

Malbec is one of my ‘alts’ in World of Warcraft, which I’ve been playing for about four years now. I created her to reflect as clearly as possible the gendered fantasies embedded in WOW programming. She has the tall, large-breasted, lithe-verging-on-anorexic body build of the socially controlled female, but with tail and faun-like lower limbs that inevitably suggest an innate and ‘naturally’ uncontrollable bestiality. She dresses in skimpy costumes—who needs armor?—but, as a warrior, swings an absurdly large and jag-toothed sword.

WorldOfWorld-5C-medFor the purposes of this piece, her Player is postulated as male, since that is still the largest category of WOW gamers, and those whose desires are most clearly reflected in the programming of WOW’s various avatar types. And of course many of them role-play as females, a tendency much commented on in the RPG literature. And not least, the piece was in part an expression of my own frustrations with the horrible misogyny, homophobia, racism, and xenophobia that infect a subset of players and which they feel completely free to express in the chat areas. They may indeed represent only a small percentage of the WOW player base, but for me a primary issue is that their sense of entitlement points to a much larger problem of silent acquiescence among the other players.WorldOfWorld-5D-med

Researching and shooting this project was a lot of fun. I worked with director Robert Allen, and he found just the right actor to be the Player—the terrific Peter Uribe—and Pete in turn found us our shooting location: the gaming den in someone’s apartment. I knew I wanted to use it the second that I saw the fake-brick wall and the photomural of Manhattan taking up another entire wall. I shot all the Player’s ‘scenes’ using a webcam because I love how the low-rez quality of webcams creates an artificial reality of its own for its users, one that I see as a kind of inverted mirror of the high-rez artifice of WOW itself.

excerpt from the text overlay of "World of World"

excerpt from the text overlay of “World of World”

I collected a small library of webcam shots to help me think about look and feel, color, texture, and so on, and in the course of doing so I noticed that certain kinds of expressive enactments crop up over and over on webcams. Dancing, making funny faces, kissing the camera, cuddling stuffed animals, and holding up cellphones to show off pictures of your honey are among the most popular moves. Some of these got integrated into the final narrative arc of the piece, which moves loosely (left to right) from day to night, play to aggression, sociability to solitude.

raw image from the Player photo shoot

raw image from the Player photo shoot

In addition, the work includes an overlay of running text in the form of an internal monologue structured as an antagonistic but codependent dialogue between Malbec and Player. Malbec’s remarks are in roman type, and the Player’s are in italics. I have this kind of running argument with myself a lot of the time I’m playing WOW, generated in part by the tension between my intense involvement in the game and my aversion to so much of its cultural coding. I play it  for fun and a sense of mastery but my experience of these is constantly tainted with the shame and humiliation that come of voluntarily participating in a misogynistic environment. And at the same time, I’m attracted to it precisely because I cannot be oblivious in my enjoyment; it’s complicated and hence always interesting.

“World of World” was created for the 2009 Laguna Museum exhibition “WOW: Emergent Media Phenomenon,” curated by Grace Kook-Anderson.

“World of World” is also available as:

Posted in 2010, prints | Also tagged , , |

World of World (A)

World of World (panel A)

World of World (A):  16 x 20″, on archival paper stock: $175

This is the lefthand of the four panels that make up the full World of World print. It is a standalone glimpse into the world of the player and the avatar.

“World of World” is also available as:

Posted in 2016, prints | Also tagged , , |


txtI recently came across a form of Japanese poetry known as renga or renku. It has developed over the centuries into a number of specialized subforms and spinoffs (one of which is haiku), and some of these have begun catching on in the U.S. in the last couple of decades. But the main forms of renga all share a few key characteristics: they are made up of alternating 2- and 3-line stanzas with a specified number of syllables or beats per line; they are written collaboratively by a group of authors; and they are written to a predetermined length within a given time (usually a few hours). They may have a set theme, and the most traditional forms include a large number of conventions about the deployment of certain subject matter, such as words referring directly or obliquely to the seasons.

But their true distinctiveness, in my opinion, springs from a rule of thumb known as ‘link and shift’ that provides the guiding impulse of movement from one stanza to the next. As the phrase suggests, each stanza should link back semantically or syntactically to the preceding stanza, but at the same time should shift the subject, voice, setting, action, and/or mood as radically as possible. For example, here are a pair of stanzas from a 2005 renga entitled “On the Road to Basra“:

rumors of a heat wave
in the Sea of Serenity

someone explains
the difference between friendly
and unfriendly fire.

One link between the stanzas is the concept pair heat/fire; another is the antonymic pair serenity/war. The shifts include changes of subject, implied person, and tone.

What principally struck me about renga is how much they have in common, formally, with the online textual improvisations I generated with my performance group the Plaintext Players, starting back in 1994. Our texts were also created collaboratively—improvised on the spot—and they were grounded in a set topic. They also followed a link-and-shift structure, although this operated somewhat differently from renga. In the online environments where we worked, the linking sprang mostly from the collaborators’ shared aesthetic of responsiveness to each others’ thoughts, while the abrupt shifts were often accidental, resulting as much from the overlapping nature of online chat as from any desire to change the subject. In both cases, the text owes a great deal to the way a gamelike structure (rules, a challenge, a goal) will set loose the impulse to group play.

Here, for example, are a few lines from one of our online improvisations. Originally entitled “Babbalog” (from The Roman Forum Project 2003), it’s been slightly edited to accommodate the renga format:

“Columbia Lost!”
“Last Message from Shuttle:
Roger, and Then Silence.”

I wanted to be an astronaut.
There were bits on ebay within hours.

We think we can fight a war without casualties.
No one wants to talk about the economy
when they can talk about war instead.

We are all waiting.
Waiting to live through this.

One evident difference is that there is much more repetition in the online improvisations than I’ve seen in the handful of renga I’ve read. That undoubtedly has a good deal to do with the frenetic speed of our improvisations, as compared to the more deliberate pace at which renga are composed. Another difference is that whereas renga are created by authors writing poems, the Plaintext Players texts result from performers enacting roles. But it’s not these kinds of details that really interest me here—it’s the fact that in the same period of time (the last decade or so) an impulse to collaborative, ad hoc textual improvisation surfaced as two different practices in two different circles of American culture. What is the lack being answered in such varying ways, by one set of people sitting in a circle writing poems on paper, and another set of people sitting at far-flung terminals role-playing in cyberspace?

Note: For more about renga, check out the articles on this site (which has a particularly clear article on the history of renga) and this one.


Posted in 2010, latest | Also tagged , , , , , , |