1.0: What is a Lieutenant Butterfly?
Produced in 2013, Lieutenant Butterfly was what I considered at the time to be prototype videogame work, a work that I ultimately ‘failed to complete’ (images in Appendix 5). After completing the prototype, I had no idea ‘where to go’. It seemed to have become too unwieldy to work with, there was no audience, nor place to view it, and I gave up pursuing and developing it. Arriving at Colab in 2014, I was hoping to have space to re-make or further develop this prototype. In reflecting on my practice holistically, rethinking this work gave me new space to reconsider how I approach artwork, and allowed me to release the controlled grip I thought I had on the prototype, as I came to understand it's significance.
The thesis describes a particular methodology, and a means of practice in relation to videogames.
The question posed is– What does it mean to “make work” in relation to videogames? - how does one make a living, and live a healthy life when making work that is, and is not, yet surrounds videogames?
1.1: What about the Psychedelic Ordinary?
The psychedelic can be partially described here as a seeing across and into volumes, and a shifting of focus akin to a scuba diving experience - thinking, sensing, and moving, dreams, writing, play, ways of seeing, attention, sexuality and desire - all come to play a part in this practice. Such a psychedelic practice purposefully allows what may be perceived as fantastical, naïve assumptions into the work – in order to interrogate what they might mean for the development of the artist.
There are plenty of burnt out, horrific experiences, and pressure that come with making work in this field of videogames. This has partially to do with assumptions and biases related to surrounding economic and social contexts, let alone the pressures for an artist or developer trying to make work, in deciding where to go. Videogame audiences are not usually presented with critically reflective work, or even work in development – so that when work does arise that attempts to elicit critical discussion or is in a developing state, aggressive responses from subgroups of those audiences can overwhelm interesting productive critical dialogue. General media portrayal of videogames can also be seen as problematising the production of work in this form, and reductive critical language is often used to describe them.
While this research doesn't pretend to understand a solution to this problem, or even attempt an extended discussion of the causes of this problem - it tries to present an accessible method of artistic practice that embraces videogames.
Need for this research is also reflected in the poetic title. Videogames are a paradoxical collision of many things – art, science, culture and poetics. The Lieutenant metaphor used in the title projects a vision of videogames as a combination of the sub-volcanic militaristic forces that initially produced them, and the blue of the deep creative psyche, So formally, the exegesis indirectly acknowledges these issues of historicity and representation, and identifies videogames as a site in a critical state.
1.3: Overview of Research Method
An overview of the research method, which will be further discussed in detail in Section 3.
This is qualitative, relativistic research, adopting a first and third person phenomenological methodology that accommodates the personal nature of the work, and recognises that the research is interested in the phenomena of consciousness that relate to making work with this particular method, and the implications of this method in relation to the type of work being made. This first and third person approach is seen through the approach of Wolff-Michael Roth in his “First Person Methods: Towards an Empirical Phenomenology of Experience” (Roth, 2012) - in particular, through his sections discussion on vision and sense, memory, dreams, and crises and suffering as sources of learning. These are discussed in detail in Section 3.1.
As the lived experience of an artist working with spirituality in relation to videogames, this study of self and consciousness can be considered a local site of work, seeking to establish knowledge of this kind of practice in relation to videogames, so that shared experience may be extrapolated or compared. The subject of Psychedelics - as a way of looking at the world, as well as that which informs creating videogame work in relation to spirituality is an area seldom talked about publically, so making this phenomenological study as part of public discourse intends to be useful as not only self critique, but also a relatable resource, to provoke conversation.
The research is bracketed through what I previously termed “fantastical naïve assumptions” – which can also be looked at as the basis of certain personally held spiritual beliefs that purposefully inform the practice. These spiritual beliefs are detailed as part of the Method section in 3.1.1.
The artefacts of the research are inclusive of work samples, selections from the painting portfolio, academic writing and formal blog (some of which is referenced in appendices), documentation of the work itself, and a Virtual Reality work.
The research has been developed primarily through a sketch-based method combined with an aggregated process of software design in order to construct and develop the work. Digital painting is employed as a method, firstly of navigating and identifying subtle sites that are uncovered when making work, and secondly providing foundations which the work rests on. Painting also provides an everyday sense of time within the work, in the sense that it acts as a marker of moments in daily practice. The writing of this research also engaged in playful practice informed by readings and descriptions of personal psychedelic and dreamlike experiences.
Sketches in this context are taken as inclusive of writing, the Unity3D scenes (a real-time game engine) and other software programs, physical drawing, digital sculpture, and audio manipulation. Once these sketches are materialised, methods are employed to collapse them together, and interrogate their order. This interrogation hopes to discuss tangibility in relation to digital works, as well as try to make other connections in the seemingly disconnected diverse range of material that is produced.
Simultaneously, a public design blog (philllllljames.me) has been maintained engaging with this process. The writing from this both formal and poetic blog, has been necessary in order to keep track of design additions and changes and is not dissimilar to a ‘change-log’ in software design.
1.4: Research Question and Aims
This research seeks to understand how videogames and their related practices can be informed by sketch-based processes derived from conventional artistic fields as seen through dreams and psychedelic experiences.
It seeks to understand how videogames, informed by such sketched based processes derived from traditional art practice, dreams, psychedelic experiences and through play will change the way videogame practice can be performed, and in what ways this performed sacred will in turn, affect videogames. It also seeks to understand the ways in which this psychedelic ordinary can profanate videogames, in order to make new pathways for them to travel on.