'Hey! Play! Games in Modern Culture' aims to bring out the game in everyone

Multi-colored image from the game Sound-Self
Pictured above is a multi-colored image from the game Sound-Self, which involves participants speaking into a microphone while wearing a virtual reality headset. The game then converts the sound into colorful designs that are seen on the VR screen. Sound-Self is one of nine games in the upcoming Chicago Design Museum exhibition, "Hey! Play! Games in Modern Culture." (Image courtesy of Robin Arnott)
An interactive exhibition that encourages play and offers guests a look at the world of games beyond what's found on Xbox or Steam is set to open Oct. 20 at the Chicago Design Museum. Co-curators Brian Schrank and LeAnne Wagner, both DePaul School of Design faculty members, created "Hey! Play! Games in Modern Culture" with all ages and experience levels in mind.

"The exhibition brings a new perspective to games, hopefully a broader lens to view them through," Wagner says. "Generally, our society supports a pretty narrow view of games, console based, first person shooters and violence, but there's a great pantheon of experiences that happens in games. The different experiences are what we want to encourage in this show. There is so much more to games than a console and controller. This exhibition encourages guests to use their bodies, interact with people and have new experiences."

The exhibition features nine games that range across three big areas in gaming: high art, outsider art and indie games, Schrank says. High art games can help connect history and art and incorporate elements of graphic art, music or story. Outsider art involves individuals who aren't necessarily trained in the arts and won't be in the elite art galleries or museums, but involve art done out of obsessiveness. Small studios or independent artists who are blending art and commercialization make indie games.

"We had a lot of flexibility and openness to how we shaped the exhibition," Schrank says. We looked at how games have been exhibited in the past. We decided we wanted to incorporate all three areas of gaming. Our exhibition is like a wine tasting, we are giving you different games to try, feel and interact with. We are hoping people will learn what games can do outside of familiar ones like Pac-Man, Madden NFL or Monopoly."

A few of the games on display and available to play at the exhibition include Robin Arnott's "Sound-Self," Feng Mengbo's "Long March: Restart," and Champlain College Emergent Media Center's "Spacebox."

"Sound-Self" involves putting on a virtual reality headset, laying on the ground, and making noise into a microphone. The game visualizes the noise with designs on the screen and was created to help individuals cultivate a dynamic and playful mindfulness, Schrank says.

"Long March Restart" takes a fresh look at the military retreat of The Chinese Communist Party's Red Army under the command of Mao Zedong in 1934. Retreating from the Chinese Nationalist Party, the Red Army traveled over 8,000 miles in 370 days. The game involves participants standing in a long hallway with a side-scrolling screen on both sides. Using a controller, participants run a character on the screen back and forth while battling flying Coca-Cola bottles, Wagner says.

"Spacebox" uses an ordinary cardboard box to bring participants back to their childhood, where any object could become a game, Schrank says. The box has hidden censors that are triggered by moving the box's flaps back and forth. The movement triggers a screen that shows a spaceship flying.

"'Spacebox' was designed to show that games can be made from anything," Schrank says. "It reminds participants of childhood and brings about a sense of magic and wonder. We want people to go home and think 'I can make that game; I can play with this stuff.' We want to inspire people."

The other games on display include "SuperBetter" by Jane McGonigal, "Slapsie" and "Parachute Game" by Bernie DeKoven, "Videoball" by Tim Rogers, "Untitled Game" by JODI, a collection of games by Anna Anthropy, and Terry Davis's TempleOS operating system ready for play on a desktop computer.

Founded in 2012, the Chicago Design Museum is located on the third floor of the Block Thirty-Seven mall at 108 N. State St. It's open from noon to 7p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. "Hey! Play! Games in Modern Culture" runs through Feb. 17, 2018. Admission to the museum is free, but donations are encouraged. There is an opening reception Oct. 20, which is a ticketed event. Information about the reception and the Chicago Design Museum is online at https://chidm.com/.