The Hands Off Arcade, which will take place in meeting room one of the Saratoga Springs City Center from 6-10:30 p.m., is a “retro-techno” interactive experience that updates the classic video arcade concept to showcase modern gaming technology.
This one-of-a-kind project brings professors from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) together with a student in the Saratoga Springs Sponsor-A-Scholar (SSAS) program to inspire and elate First Night revelers with the thrills of the gaming art form.
RPI artists/professors Shawn Lawson, Ben Change, Silvia Ruzanka and graduate student Anton Hand have created five high-tech “experiences” that use hands-free, controller-free gaming technology. Much like the Xbox Kinect, the individual will play these games with their body, while enjoying music by Chicago DJ ipaghost. The exhibit includes works called Broken Breakout, Operation Human Shield, Levitation, Conjurer’s Dream and Frosty’s Snowpocalypse.
Lawson said Conjurer’s Dream was created for the theme. “It’s a direct response to the idea; it’s about creating art, creating vision, creating those wonderful effects and unleashing them into a large 10-foot wide canvas,” he explained.
However, the connection between the rest of the games and the 2012 theme is more abstract and is, in a sense, coincidental.
Lawson explained that the National Endowment for the Arts recently classified gaming as a “valid” art form, which he said should have happened years ago.
“In a professional sense, we are thinking of [First Night] as unleashing gaming as art into the world,” he said. Lawson explained that experiencing a game without a controller is an artistic expression – “You’re moving your body kinetically, unleashing and freeing your body to explore these games instead of being tied to your couch holding something.”
Blayne Turner, 16, a Saratoga Springs High School junior in the SSAS program, is volunteering on the big night to explain these artistic “experiences” to the arcade’s visitors.
His participation began a few months ago when fourth-year SSAS mentor Nedra Stimpfle, who is also a Saratoga Arts board member, took him to RPI to sit in on one of Lawson’s classes. Turner also acted as a docent at a recent Saratoga Arts fundraiser held at Longfellows, when Lawson setup a demonstration to preview the Hands Off Arcade.
Turner, who had his first First Night experience last year, said he is excited about ringing in the New Year as a volunteer.
“I want to explain the games to people so they won’t just walk by,” Turner said. He added that Operation Human Shield is his personal favorite.
So far, Turner’s participation in the Hands Off Arcade project has exposed him to a unique college curriculum and a new art form that he did not previously classify as such. The SSAS student admits he’s not much of a gamer, but said his interest has been sparked; that he would like to learn more about computers.
“It’s always good to learn something new,” Turner said.
Stimpfle agreed that it has been an excellent learning experience, one that fits perfectly within the First Night Saratoga 2012 theme.
“I think this project is a great example of ‘Art Unleashed,’ of how art can be expanded in so many ways, particularly with technology, which more and more people are getting involved in,” Stimpfle said.
In addition, a unique collaborative installation called “Saratoga in Bb” that draws from local music talents will continue this theme within the arcade. Local musicians are asked to submit a video uploaded to YouTube in the key of B flat. Then, on New Year’s Eve, First Night attendees will have the chance to “play” the various videos, creating a live, continuous piece of original music.
Saratoga Arts has already received a handful of submissions, but is looking for more. Anyone can contribute, and Lawson said the musical clips will be accepted until December 31, although late submissions are not guaranteed to be included. For more information, visit www.saratoga-arts.org/firstnight.
With so many opportunities for high-tech interaction and inspiration, the Hands Off Arcade is sure to be one of many successful First Night entertainment stations.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen yet, but I think it’s going to be really high energy, really crazy with a lot of people running around and dancing in front of the screens,” Lawson said. “I can’t wait.”
The Hands Off Arcade project is sponsored by State Farm. For more information about 2012 First Night Saratoga, visit www.saratoga-arts.org/firstnight. To view the full list of performances and activities by venue, see page 29.