Indie Game Show and Tell: Hyper Light Drifter

The game I chose for the show and tell was Heart Machine’s 2016 game Hyper Light Drifter, a 2D action role-playing game in the style of the original Legend of Zelda,

In Hyper Light Drifter, you play as a nameless wanderer, travelling through a destroyed, alien land as you attempt to complete a quest of unknown consequences. Aside from the menu, there are no words of any kind. Instead, the player is presented with alien script and beautifully rendered pixel art and have to discern for themselves  what is going on and why.

You know a few things, such as the world is destroyed, and that the player’s character is afflicted with some unknown illness that, from time to time,  causes them to cough up blood and pass out from time to time.  But what you don’t know makes the game that much more interesting.

Hyper Light Drifter is not just a game about dealing with illness (Alex Preston, the game’s director, has spoken about how the game acts as a way to express his own experiences with Congenital Heart Disease), but a game about loneliness and isolation. Aside from your floating robot companion, the only people you talk to are shop owners and travelers you meet along the way.  Most times, you are alone, trying to complete an esoteric quest by solving some unknown riddle. It can be confusing and disheartening at some points, but when you finally complete a task, you really feel like you’r fighting back against some unknowable terror in a world you don’t belong in.



Artwork 4: From Above

My Final Project, From Above, is a on-rails first person shooter in which the player is tasked with destroying as many enemy targets as possible in thirty seconds, while avoiding civilians. However, the twist is that there is no distinction between enemy and civilian, and there are no consequences for destroying any potential civilian targets.

The game is very simple, and short, but it aims to address the effects of warfare upon our modern society, and the effects of modern society upon warfare. With the advent of Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAV for short), many soldiers are now completely detached from the suffering they inflict upon people. UAV pilots can be sitting in an air conditioned office thousands of miles away while dropping bombs on civilians from thousands of feet in the air. While the player in From Above isn’t that high up, being above and away from the people you’re killing makes it seem much less personal and nasty.

As mentioned above, players are unable to distinguish between civilian and enemy targets. The main reason behind this choice, and why there’s no score or docked points on the “Mission Complete” screen, is because, much like in real life, there aren’t many immediate consequences to these actions. Despite being one of the highest funded branches of the government, the military lacks accountability. As seen during the infamous My Lai Massacre,  the military would rather try to bury a massacre than convict those responsible.

In the end, the root of problems like detachment from the battlefield and the lack of accountability is the military’s detachment from the people they’re supposed to be helping. During the Vietnam War, the US Military was ostensibly trying to help the South Vietnamese, but a lack of connection with and understanding of the Vietnamese made their mission doomed to fail. The same can be said for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, who are told that the United States is trying to help them after their village is destroyed. The player character in From Above is ostensibly there to help the unnamed people who they end up bombing.

As for inspirations for this game, two of my biggest came from very different places. The first is Kieran’s Space Invaders game, in which the only way for the players to truly win the game was to not shoot at the approaching aliens. While what the player does in From Above doesn’t really affect the final outcome, I liked the idea of a game that subverts or messes with your expectations. The second is the famous, or infamous as the case may be, “Death from Above” mission in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.  While the player character is a AC-130 pilot instead of a UAV Pilot (meaning that they’re actually inside a plane right above the battlefield), the outcome is still the same. Death is rained down from above, and there is nothing that the moving dots can do about it. It is hard to tell whether the game was trying to make this a cool moment, or was actually trying to send a message by showing how cold and dispassionate this kind of fighting is, but it’s a mission that’s always stuck with me, and many others.

Artwork 3: GTA V Helicopter News (Intervention)

ARTWORK 3: Intervention – GTA V Helicopter News

The Premise:

Players have to act as reporters in a GTA Online match and report what they’re seeing in Game Chat

The Rules:

  1. Two players (One Pilot, One Reporter) pretend to be part of a News Helicopter crew in a GTA Online lobby
  2. The Reporter must “report” in game chat where everyone can hear them
  3. Neither the Pilot nor the Reporter can attack other players or return fire if attacked by other players

Artist Statement & Inspiration:

My main goal with GTA V Helicopter News was two fold: One, to create a fun and silly game that forced participants to interact with the extremely hostile world of GTA Online in a different context (as a defenseless spectator), and Two, to force those who commit the actions that make GTA Online extremely hostile to view their actions through someone else’s eyes.

Part of the inspiration for this project came from memories of the mini games my friends and I had come up with playing games like GTA IV. I also drew some inspiration from machinimas like Freeman’s Mind and Red vs. Blue, which usually manipulated the game to create content that was somewhat different from the intended play (more so in the case of Red vs. Blue). The main inspiration came from several role-playing mods that sprung up from games like ARMA 3 (Project Life) and GTA V (LSPDFR), as well as the many videos that sprung up around such mods.

As for broader sources of inspiration, the work of The Yes Men, particularly in regards to the performance where one of their members impersonated a DOW Chemical spokesperson on the BBC, was influential. This performance drew international attention to DOW’s misdeeds (in regards to them failing to clean-up after the 1984 Bhopal Chemical leak, which was caused by a company they later bought), while also showing how they continued to do nothing to mitigate the damage (i.e. Failed to compensate the victims of the disaster). While my project had far lower stakes, their method of using performance art to make a group of people come face to face with their misdeeds explicitly inspired the second part of the project’s main goal.

Play Report:

  • Results weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either.
  • Plenty of footage was recorded, but there wasn’t much vocal response from the players
  • 9 times out of 10 we were shot out of the sky before we could start recording (had to constantly stop and restart due to Xbox Capture limitations) by hostile players in various flying vehicles (Helicopters, Jets, Hover Bikes, etc.) as well as ground-based players with anti-aircraft weapons (Heat-Seeking Missiles)
  • Side note: It was also really difficult trying to get helicopters because they were spawning in weird places and I had my HUD turned off to get the best footage



Artwork 2: Appropriation Game

Appropriation Game: THE SHIP OF THESEUS


  1. A Judge is picked for the round. For the first round, the oldest player is made Judge. After the first round, the winner of the previous round becomes the Judge
  2. The Judge selects one of the groups of pictures and passes them out to players.
    1. All of the pictures are separated into groups based on what they represent. There’s four copies of the Mona Lisa, Four copies of the Birth of Venus, etc.
  3. Players are given one minute to transform their image the most while alternating their image the least (The most change with the least effort)
    1. Players can use the tools provided (Colored Pencils, Colored Markers, Felt Stickers), as well as whatever tools they also have (Pens, Scissors, Glue, etc.)
    2. Players can also alter the image physically (rip, fold, etc.)
  4. Once the minute is up, players present their transformations to the Judge
  5. The Judge goes through them all and determines which one they think best meets the criteria
  6. The Judge selects a winner, and returns their transformed image to them. The other transformed images are placed in a discard pile. The winner then becomes the next Judge, and the next round starts.
  7. After all of the pictures have been transformed, players see how many rounds they have won by counting through all of the transformed images they had returned to them. The player with the most won rounds wins the game.

Artist Statement:

The Ship of Theseus is a party game in the style of Apples to Apples in which three players are tasked with transforming pictures of famous paintings the most, while also doing the least amount of work or effort to transform said image. A judge then picks the piece with they think best meets the criteria, and the player with the most rounds won wins the game.

The Ship of Theseus is less a game with appropriated elements and more a game about appropriation, asking questions like “When does something become art?”, and, more specifically to this game, “when does one piece of art become another piece of art?” To a lesser extent, the game is also a critique of the legal processes that affect the art world, because in the end, the guidelines for rulings are vague, and it’s up to a judge to make the final decision.  

The two major inspirations for the game are 1.) Richard Prince and his body of work, and 2.)The Ship of Theseus Paradox, the game’s namesake. The Ship of Theseus Paradox is a metaphysical thought experiment which goes as follows:

The hero Theseus sails his ship into battle, and afterwards it is placed in a museum in the city of Athens as a memorial. After many years, the boards on the ship begin to rot, and one by one the boards are replaced until, finally, none of the original boards remain. Is the ship that’s in the museum now the same ship that entered? If not, when did it change?

This conundrum of identity also affects the work of Richard Prince, whose entire career has been based on the grey zone between altering an existing piece of art and creating an entirely new piece of art. Prince’s 2008 series Canal Zone, and the subsequent legal battle between Prince and the photographer whose work he appropriated, was the main inspiration for the goal of the game.

The images that players appropriate in The Ship of Theseus also draw inspiration from other famous appropriation artists, such as Marcel Duchamp (specifically L.H.O.O.Q., 1919) and Andy Warhol (Mao 91, 1972). On top of that, some of the other art featured (Mona Lisa, The Sistine Chapel, The Birth of Venus) was chosen because, on top of them being famous, they are the kinds of work that the Dada movement was responding to.



Appropriation Show and Tell: “Canal Zone” by Richard Prince

The example I chose was one of Richard Prince’s paintings from his 2008 collection “Canal Zone”, which “featured” several pictures from French Photographer Patrick Cariou’s 2000 book Yes, Rasta.

One of the questions that defines Richard Prince’s career is “When does something become art?” Prince has made a career of straddling the boundary between appropriation and straight-up theft of other’s work in pursuit of an answer to this question. While Untitled (Cowboy), Prince’s 1989 work, remains his most famous, I think that the above work from “Canal Zone” (Original Photo on the left, Prince’s work on the right) is the most daring.

Unlike Cowboy, which is interesting in its own right and could easily be confused for an original piece, the above piece from “Canal Zone” is so interesting because it is transformed so very little. It’s so brazen, and it seemed so obvious that this was copyright infringement that Cariou sued Prince and won his case in 2011. However, in April of 2013,  when another court overruled the 2011 ruling on five of the ten pieces from “Canal Zone” and paved the way for the five other pieces to be re-evaluated for fair use.

Many people may not like Prince for essentially taking the work of others, transforming it very little, and selling it for massive amounts of money, and I totally understand that. But what I really appreciate about his work is his focus on the legality of appropriation, paving the way for other artists to follow in his footsteps without fear of lawsuit, and his focus on the “Ship of Theseus”-esque question “When does something become art?”

Artwork 1: Score: Shoe Piece

Final Score:


  1. Gather a few participants
  2. Get all participants to take off their shoes (socks stay on)
  3. Put on two new shoes, each one from a different pair
  4. Note the shoe’s feeling
  5. Walk in one big circle, clockwise, seven times
  6. Take off shoes, return to owners
  7. Put your shoes back on

Artist Statement: 

The aim of SHOE PIECE was to, quite literally, allow the participants to experience what it is like to walk around in another person’s shoes. Part of SHOE PIECE’s goal was to approach the common saying “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes” in a more playful and interactive way.  While some might see this as a satire or subversion of that phrase, especially as the participants wear shoes from two different pairs, SHOE PIECE does want its participants to appreciate interacting with each other in a way that many people don’t. Shoes may universal, but each has a lot to say about the individual that owns them.  As for inspirations, the Fluxus movement is an obvious influence, with particular regards to the work of Yoko Ono.  Another influence, specifically in regards to the fifth step of SHOE PIECE’s score, was the Celtic tradition of Sacred Springs / Holy Wells. From the time of the druids until well into the 18th century, many people in Ireland would congregate in secret at Sacred Springs and walk around it seven times while a priest read a blessing or, later on, a passage from the bible for good luck from the spring. This tradition, which I experienced while in Ireland, really made you think about the land you were walking over and, had there been a priest there,  and the blessings or verses/hymns you were listening to.


Notes –

People had very different reactions to the shoes (sometimes comfortable, sometimes uncomfortable)

Walking in the repetitive shape helped with feeling the shoes

Some shoes didn’t fit

People got dizzy from walking in the circles

Started walking in their own circles, before the big one

Everyone talking about size, how the shoes felt (insert, comfort, style, size)

Variable size good

Variant Blind shoe swap could also be interesting (finding owner of shoes could be interesting)

Interesting Gender perspective (different styles for men and women, different shoe sizes, etc.)

Photos –