Slots of Suffering

Slots of Suffering

Picture of the game "Slots of Suffering". There is large slot machine in the center.

Play the game here!

Slots of Suffering is a short artgame about the dangers of slot machine addiction, as represented through cruel money-management and addiction mechanics.

Artist’s Statement:

Slots of Suffering was primarily inspired by Natasha D. Schull’s book on machine gambling, Addiction by Design, and Lucas Pope’s 2014 artgame Papers, Please. The former book presents an ethnographic view of slot machine addicts in Las Vegas, and I found it shocking and pretty upsetting. I felt like this dark side of game design often goes overlooked, and wanted to make a game that attempts to spread awareness of the real-life implications of gambling addictions. Papers, Please shows, among other things, how financial concerns can lead people to be complacent in harmful systems. The way that Papers, Please represented the financial burden on your character, through payments for food and medicine for your family at the end of every day, was inspiring to me, and I realized I could make my point with a similar system.

I would also connect this game to the works of Brenda Romero, who has created several stripped-back analog games that try to make their point through their mechanics. “The mechanic is the message” is the name of the series. In my game, I wanted to represent addiction mechanically, rather than just telling the player “you are addicted to machine gambling.”

There are several shortcomings with my game that I did not have time to flesh out or rework. My biggest problems are that the representation of addiction is not perfect, and that playing the game “well” doesn’t reward you. I don’t want to misconstrue the way the complex condition of addiction works, but it is also a tricky one to model. An interesting symbolic way I tried to represent it was making everything but the slot machine visually drab, whereas the machine itself is bright and animated and fun. This was intended to represent the way addicts can move through life in a haze, just pushing on to the next hit. The more obvious interpretation of addiction in the game is that I don’t allow players to leave the casino until they’ve played enough. “Enough” depends on how much they’ve played before. This can be frustrating to the player that is forced to spend all their money at the slots, but I think this works to show how people can be frustrated being trapped in a cycle of addiction.

The other thing I’d want to expand on is actually rewarding the player for doing the right thing. When playing the machine just makes you lose money (and subsequently your home and family), the only winning move is not to play. Unfortunately, right now not playing isn’t a great outcome either. You just have to continually go to work and barely support your family, until you eventually lose to RNG. This doesn’t really reflect the message I want to send, so having some sort of good ending for not playing would help make the message more clear.

I chose to make this game in basic HTML and JavaScript so that it would be playable on any device, and quick for me to develop. The gameplay consists entirely of just pressing buttons, so this was a good fit.

Thank you for playing!

Steal the Beat

All players start with the same 30 second music video clip. The first one to upload it to YouTube without their copyright detection recognizing the song wins. They may use any means necessary to do so – distorting the video, distorting the audio, rerecording parts of it, renaming the upload, etc. Anything is fair game as long as the clip stays recognizable.
You will likely need a 3rd party judge to determine if the video clips are intact enough to be valid.
When you are done, share your strategies in hushed whispers where YouTube and copyright holders cannot hear.

To playtest this game, I played it single-player with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. You can see my results in the video below.

Each attempt took about 10 minutes to render and export, and YouTube recognized the copyrighted material in attempts 1 and 2 in less than 20 seconds. Whether or not my third attempt counts as “intact” is up to your interpretation.


Artist’s Statement:

This game ended up significantly harder than I expected. To start, you can only even play it if you have the software and knowledge to edit video and audio sufficiently. I used Adobe Premiere in my playtest, but it could be possible with entirely free software as well. Once you actually do find some players and start, the game is very slow. Waiting to render and export every attempt becomes tedious quickly. As you can see in the video, I had to distort the audio and obscure the video very severely to be able to upload it. The game may be easier if you play with a less popular song, where the copyright is enforced less harshly.

I was inspired by Jennifer Gradecki and Derek Curry’s intervention in algorithms and computer systems. Their artwork is very concerned with algorithms and data processing, and how they are applied and misapplied in our modern era. I am fascinated with copyright, and have seen various creators on YouTube employ different strategies to play short relevant clips of copyrighted material in their videos. I figured this copyright dodging could make an interesting creative game. There are many ways to go about avoiding YouTube’s copyright detection, but in practice you realize how difficult a task it can truly be.

Part of what I wanted to do with this was to teach players how to get around YouTube’s system, and help them firsthand understand what makes YouTube stop recognizing the copyrighted material. This desire to teach is also why I urge players to spread the information they learned, without telling copyright holders. I think the current systems of copyright and its enforcement are detrimental to art, and the allocations of fair use are insufficient. I wanted to subvert this system and intervene in it. By playing the game on YouTube, players directly interface with perhaps the most-used copyright enforcement algorithm on the entire internet. One thing the game does very well is show how difficult it is to subvert YouTube’s automatic detection. When copyright laws were written, such algorithms did not exist, and copyright infringement had to be enforced on a case-by-case basis. This was slower, but allowed more edge cases to slip through the cracks. Nowadays, there is no way to slip through unnoticed when YouTube checks every video for copyrighted content. Sometimes the copyright holder chooses not just to take any monetization on the video, but to block it entirely. Jennifer Gradecki and Derek Curry’s Boogaloo Bias artwork (among several of their other works) is very concerned with false positives in automatic detection algorithms. This is a huge issue in YouTube’s copyright detection system that I wish my game did more to address. Perhaps one could play to try and twist one song to be recognized as another, but that is a game for another day.

Super Mario Bros.: Just-Like-You-Remember-It Edition!

The Game:

Super Mario Bros.: Just-Like-You-Remember-It Edition! features five levels of memory-deteriorating fun!

Built upon “Super Mario Bros” by Github user Gold872

…which is recreating some old video game from the 80s or something.

Artist’s Statement:

If you’ve ever played the game Super Mario Maker, or its inventively titled sequel Super Mario Maker 2, you’ve perhaps encountered the many remakes of Super Mario Bros.’s first level, 1-1. These are plentiful and unavoidable when playing this game online. Some people twist the level, adding traps and fire bars everywhere. Some remakes are perfectly accurate, but most aren’t. Many of these remakes get small details in spacing wrong. Some of them miss entire parts of the level. As time passes, which details of the games we play are we still able to remember?

Mario in a 1-1 recreation from Super Mario Maker 2. There are numerous long fire bars surrounding him.

I’m not sure I remember it like this… (pictured: Super Mario Maker 2)

This game project was primarily inspired by the plunderphonic works of Daniel Lopatin (AKA Oneohtrix Point Never, AKA Chuck Person), James Leyland Kirby (AKA The Caretaker), William Basinski, and various artists in the vaporwave genre, as well as the appropriation works of the Dada movement.

Daniel Lopatin in 2010, under the pseudonym Chuck Person, released a limited-run cassette tape of 80s pop songs looped, slowed down, and distorted into what he coined “eccojams”. By taking somber lyrics of songs out of context, Lopatin creates a haunting reinterpretation of these once-hits. These eccojams are heavily concerned with the idea of memory. They feel like distant memories of one part of a song, randomly getting stuck in one’s head years later. Lopatin re-released several of them on his audiovisual project “Memory Vague”. He approaches the idea of memory deteriorating at the end of the tape’s first side, where it gets more and more distorted and noisy until the original sample has been fully drowned out by a pulsing harsh noise.
Another artist even more concerned with the deterioration of memory, specifically in relation to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, is Leyland Kirby, who produces music as The Caretaker. The Caretaker’s most well known albums, “An empty bliss beyond this world” and “Everywhere at the End of Time”, are based on a study where people with Alzheimer’s were able to recall associated memories from the music of their youth. Both albums feature 1920’s music scavenged from record stores, looped and echoed into distant memories. “Everywhere at the End of Time,” Kirby’s final project as The Caretaker, is comprised of six stages reflecting the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Kirby’s work is often compared to William Basinski’s “Disintegration Loops”, an album of tape loop experiments where the tapes continually deteriorate as they’re played.

The Dada movement saw many artists (although they themselves at the time may have rejected the term, time and Wikipedia have come to know Dada as an art movement) appropriating found objects, twisting their meaning and purpose into new subversive works. While these artists were very interested in specifically using found objects, I am mostly interested in the way these repurposed objects lose or alter their meaning. When Kurt Schwitters repurposes machine parts, old newsprint, or bus tickets, they lose their ability to function as intended. Using these appropriated works in collage puts them in a new context and assigns them new meaning. When Marcel Duchamp creates a readymade statue out of a bicycle wheel or a urinal, he assigns it new meaning as a work of art. I love this idea of assigning new meaning to existing things through selection and transformation.

These projects got me thinking about applying the idea of memory deterioration to games. Artists like Basinski use the decay of physical artifacts to create their art, but digital games don’t degrade in the same way. I wanted to capture the idea of a poorly-remembered level, such as that seen in Mario Maker 1-1 remakes. I wanted to loop one piece of a game into infinity, like Daniel Lopatin or Leyland Kirby did with their music. I wanted the entire thing to collapse in on itself by the end like the Disintegration Loops, because at some point, everyone’s memory runs out.

Mario in a glitchy version of 1-1, with floating pipes and rows of blocks.

I originally wanted to use a game other than Super Mario Bros., but it was the easiest to find an accurate recreation of to modify for this project. It also worked well to work off of a game with wide familiarity, since the game should ideally be concerned with a level the player actually does remember. I took the structure of 1-1 and created five levels from it.

The first level is exactly 1-1, recreated perfectly, in a fairly accurate recreation of the original game.
The second level is slightly off. The spaces between key moments of the level have been altered, and powerups may be in different locations. The music has been slowed down slightly. This level is meant to represent misremembering the small details of the level design, as many Mario Maker recreations do.
The third level begins repeating key structures of the level, or forgetting some entirely. The music does something similar, repeating portions of the iconic overworld theme and skipping occasionally.
The fourth level repeats the beginning of the level over and over again. I consider this the “eccojam level”, as one moment is repeated again and again. The music is inspired by the second eccojam on the tape, called “angel”. It loops one section of the song, speeding it up and down in a disorienting manner. One moment it resembles the original bouncy track, and the next it briefly slows to a chiptune dirge.
The fifth and final level represents the final deterioration of a memory of this level. The level design and background elements repeat and glitch in nonsensical ways, only vaguely resembling the looping beginning of the level. The music is slow and drawn out, randomly pausing for large amounts of time and twisting into sounds the NES would not be able to replicate. Eventually, the iconic features of the level vanish, and the empty land soon gives way to an uncrossable abyss, as the memory eventually fades away.

Mario is walking in an empty level on a thin line of blocks that abruptly ends.

At some point, everyone’s memory runs out.


Score: Boundary Piece

Boundary Piece

Play tag with no boundaries.

Play tag with a reasonable boundary.

Play tag with an unreasonable boundary.

You may play hide-and-seek instead of tag.



Author’s Note:

This piece was heavily inspired by the work of Yoko Ono and the Fluxus artists. Yoko Ono’s elegant, poetic scores inspired the simple, repetitive style of this score. The alternative way to perform the score presented at the end is also something Yoko Ono does frequently in her book Grapefruit. Much of the Fluxus movement was interested in procedure and play. Tag (or hide-and-seek) is a very physical game. Playing it, especially with no boundaries, gets players moving through space, and actively experiencing life. The Fluxus artists were also concerned with modifying existing games, which I call back to here.

My score requests its performers to “play tag,” following whatever rules they understand that to mean. The rules of tag may vary wildly between different people, who grew up playing it in different environments. One thing tag does not have is a set end point. I recommend playing each step of this score with a short timer, but it could be played on a longer timer or even with some alternate win condition, if one understands tag to be played that way. Just like playing “proper” tag, this score is best performed outside, in an open space. Obstacles may or may not be present, and may or may not factor in to the performers’ conception of a (un)reasonable boundary.

This score was made with the specific purpose to make the performers think about boundaries in games. The score first asks you to play without boundaries, which, in my experience, does not work well. Players can just run away forever, never getting cornered by an impassable wall. Many playground disputes have arose from games of tag started with no established boundaries, over what is fair and reasonable. The score next asks you to create a reasonable boundary, making the performers consider what borders do facilitate a well-played game of tag. It concludes by asking the performers to play tag in an unreasonable boundary. This asks them to get creative. In both times performing this score, the performers went for an unreasonably small boundary, following the pattern established by the other two steps, but an unreasonable boundary could also be one with too many obstacles, or one of reasonable size but an over-specific, confusing shape.

My original conception of this score asked performers to play tag in an enclosed space, and then decrease the space until nobody can run, and play tag in the new enclosed space. I thought this was interesting, but did not leave room for interpretation and player expression, traits I admired in Yoko Ono’s work and wanted to include in my own score.