Features & Columns

Counting to ZERO1

The biennial returns, and two SJSU artists are ready to turn arcade games into DIY projects
Zero1 DESIGNING FROM THE GROUND UP: SJSU's John Bruneau (right) talks to students about DIY strategies at a recent Cooperative Gaming Co-Op gathering. Photograph by Aron Cooperman

Both a swap space and a do-it-yourself arcade, the Cooperative Gaming Co-Op will transform WORKS/San Jose into a multi-layered, time-transcending experience for the ZERO1 Biennial next week.

Student game developers from SJSU will see their games come to life in homemade arcade cabinets. Other enthusiasts will show up to trade classic computer games from Frogger to Warcraft, thereby functioning as participants in a larger game.

Local artists James Morgan and John Bruneau are orchestrating the whole shooting match. Morgan and Bruneau, both lecturers at the CADRE Laboratory for New Media at SJSU, will also bring the co-op to the (e)MERGE ZERO1 Biennial street festival on Sept. 14 on South First Street, as part of the biennial's emerging artists component.

Holding true to most flavors of contemporary new media art, a thousand plateaus of meaning are disguised within all components of the nomenclature, so one can either refer to the project as a "co-op" or a "coop." Perhaps the coop refers to the temporary installation at WORKS, while the co-op is ever-evolving.

Just as the moniker ZERO1 exhibits multiple layers of meaning, each component of the biennial does the same. Both Morgan and Bruneau occupy the interstices among game theory, networked art and creative data mining, so, according to them, the co-op shatters the space-time continuum, merging the history and future of arcade games—all to explore the biennial theme of Seeking Silicon Valley. I recently spoke with both of them, at the same time, so allow me to (e)merge their comments.

"The gaming co-op came out of a lot of things," they said. "Part of it is this yearning for the golden age of video games, but we see the arcade making a resurgence and merging with do-it-yourself culture. People are now saying, 'I wanna make me one of those.' More and more people are making their own arcade games. We see this popping up on both coasts and overseas as well. We want to tap into that 'make my own arcade cabinet' by collecting all the games of these individuals."

When it comes to physical places, the DIY gaming community has taken hold in places like New York, Austin and Boston, but even though Silicon Valley produces many of the workers, Bruneau and Morgan claim a DIY artist collective hasn't yet emerged. The time is now.

"The game scene is here, but the art scene isn't," they told me.

As a result, anyone seeking the past, present or future of Silicon Valley will find them all at WORKS/San Jose. As I listened, Morgan and Bruneau elaborated on the multiple dimensions of opportunity for anyone who visits.

"Several things will be going on," they told me. "But one of the things we're trying to encourage is for people to make their own games and bring them. One of the cabinets, very specifically, is set aside for SJSU students and the game development club that's here. This is also our connection with the (e)MERGE festival on the street outside during ZERO1. The students get to see their desires emerge."

All in all, in the gallery, there will be at least eight homemade arcade game cabinets, featuring games created by indie developers. That is, instead of distributing their games on a shareware basis, those hobbyists will now get to see them installed in bona fide arcade cabinets. What an idea. SJSU Spartans as well as indies from the private sector are encouraged to bring their games on down to the co-op.

"Students have been creating their own games for years now," the artists told me. "They've been doing this with no connection to classes for years now. So we have a good collection of games, based on that, that we're going to be highlighting, in the street fair and in the gallery. This is, again, about the DIY movement. This is what Anna Anthropy, in her book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters is talking about. Everybody should make games, just like everybody should draw or shoot YouTube video. Everybody's capable of doing it because the tools exist now."