ESR 2 Blog April/May 2022: Piu-Wai Chan

Only a few weeks ago, I was invited to give a presentation on open world games for the gaming initiative and artsprogram at Zeppelin University. As I stressed in the presentation doing a PhD and being a gamer is almost mutually exclusive (unless you are doing a PhD in Games–hold on a second…) I did feel a bit rusty with my skill and know-how in games (same with my programming skill to be honest–) Yet, as I was preparing the presentation, I also come to a realisation that ‘a gamer just never stops gaming’ (and thank you Matthias and Robert from the Gaming Initiative who gave me that empathic nod when I made the statement)

It was a very lively evening and filled with exciting discussions between gamers and games-observers– much of this will for sure inspire my future thesis to come (yes, this is a teaser blog post.) For now, I would like to use this space to handle a particular question from one of the audiences/readers:

‘Is the deer cam a new kind of “non-game game”?’

The ‘Deer cam’ here refers to San Andreas Deer Cam, a game art project that I concluded the presentation with. But before discussing the work itself, we probably should first make sure that we are all on the same page regarding the ‘world’ in which the deer is situated. Not just any old ‘open worlds,’ one needs to be more precise and concrete– we need to first understand its context, i.e., the ‘infamous’ game Grand Theft Auto which it hacks into.

I would recommend this pretty good 30-min video on GTA’s history if you find a moment.

But to put a long (hi)story short, GTA is a triple-billion-dollars action-adventure video game franchise, where players play small-time criminals who need to complete various missions in order to climb up the ladder of the crime world. As fellow gamer and a dear friend of mine, Nick from Manchester, simply puts it, ‘it is a crime thrill simulator.’ And unsurprisingly, this series has created many controversies and lawsuits (since controversy and perversion drive sales.) Indeed, teenage criminals claim the game as their aspiration,  and the BBC have even produced a docudrama on the game as global phenomena. The popularity of GTA represents a very particular generational, restless, yet nihilistic memory space, with the song by Uffie as its ultimate theme tune. (Ok, maybe that is just a personal guilty pleasure.)

Most of the iterations of this series are an offline action RPG, but in the case of _San Andreas Deer Cam_, it was actually found in the online version of the RPG, GTA V, with a record of 267,000 players going online at the same time. There, all online users could actually seek the deer in the virtual crime world, or simply watch it randomly create chaos in the algorithmic empire through the streaming channel of the artist, Brent Watanabe, who was interviewed by the BBC due to the huge internet sensation the deer creates.

I ended the presentation with the last 10 mins of San Andreas Deer Cam (Timestamp around 59:17.) It shows how players consistently attack the deer– violence is a norm in the GTA world after all. I was once randomly shot by another player and consequently, I made sure that I killed him. That is the basic logic behind the game. Yet, as we see in the video, the deer never dies and it never fights back– by simply existing, it glitches the empire. Is it non-game game? It is more than that. It represents a possible hope for the increasingly ‘open’ world to come.

Plus, honestly, I am more bothered by one of the biggest philosophical debates of the Myspace era: Is Uffie a rapper?

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