Information Hunter Gatherer @ Electric Art
Information Hunter Gatherer, a video game where the player shoots down news headlines and gathers the content of the news story, premiered at the Electric Art Show in Syracuse, NY on April 26, 2008. The program and installation was created by Stephen Belovarich.
Information Hunter Gatherer is a video game where the player can reflect upon their relationship with mass media. The player takes on the role of hunter as they point an electronic toy gun at a projected screen. A target appears on the projection wherever someone aims the gun. When someone walks up to the game, they are greeted by on screen instructions that read “Shoot down news headlines,” “You only get five shots,” and “Read the News Stories.” After pulling the trigger and shooting the word “Hunt!”, the player has five bullets to shoot down five or more news headlines. The installation tells the player to walk to the computer monitor after they run out of ammo. The participant is then welcome to read the news stories associated with the headlines they shot down, where they gather the information.
Using a gun originally intended for the Nintendo Wii, I attempt to draw younger people into the role of news hunters and gatherers. The original impetus for this project was a study of my own behavior when selecting news stories from Internet RSS feeds. I saw myself and began to observe others as consumers of information. Consumer is not used here in the sense of purchasing goods, but instead the eating of food. This logically brought me to the conclusion that since most Americans are detached from the process of food creation (hunting/farming), they replace this primordial survival instinct with the consumption of information provided by the mass media. Most news stories are centered around violence, whereas Cro-Magnon man experiences violent acts in the killing of animals. This predatorial instinct is not lost when someone is merely sitting on a couch watching the 24 hour news, it is translated into habitual viewing and reading.
The installation consists of projector, computer monitor, Nintendo Wii Gun, sensor bar, mouse, keyboard, speakers, broadband internet connection, and computer running at least OS X 10.4 and Max 4.6.5 with a video card w/ 128mb of RAM. The computer periodically downloads the news from the RSS feeds of the most popular news outlets in America (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, New York Times, L.A. Times, BBC, Associated Press, Reuters, and the Syracuse Post Standard were included for the Electric Art Show). The installation then streams the headlines across the projection screen similar to a news ticker, but instead the headlines seem to flock or swarm together. The participant shoots down news headlines using the supply of five virtual bullets. The bullets are represented by a five icons on the top right of the projection frame, one disappearring each time a kill is made. The sound of a rifle cocking and shooting happens every time the player kills a headline. The news story of the killed headline then appears on the computer monitor adjacent to the projection.
Taking the role of cultural anthropologist, I observed several people using the installation for the first time. It is important to note that several participants did not read the on screen instructions or were confused as to the gameplay element at first. Some individuals needed verbal instruction. There may be a possible design flaw in the implementation of on screen instructions. Sometimes pop up windows failed to appear due to a computer error. Older participants had difficulty reading the streaming headlines, it is possible to slow them down a bit. Another sample of the audience massacred headlines on screen without reading the news stories, while others really took the time to explore the game for what it was, a conduit to real time information from all over the world. I was told later in the evening that someone who studied journalism wanted to play the game in her home and would use it everyday to read the news. If one were to spend several minutes hunting and gathering news stories with Information Hunter Gatherer, they may begin to observe the interrelationships between media outlets that are owned by the same media conglomerate.
Information Hunter Gatherer is part game, part cultural artifact. The work takes on the characteristics of a game and is treated as such, but to a video game industry that is heavily indulgent in fantastic graphics and fiction, this would look more like an old school arcade game that is too sociopolitically charged to be a viable commodity. This is one possible reason why Information Hunter Gatherer finds its place in an art gallery, where sociopolitical underpinnings are welcome in a work. But even this setting, usually reserved for the image hanging on a wall, the sensory experience of touch is awkward for the viewer. It seems that the eventual place Information Hunter Gatherer will be most suitable is on the home computer or entertainment center. I will continue to develop this work over time, hoping that it will mature to an online release on the Mac platform.