One Night Only: Transient Videogames


One Night Only: Transient Videogames.

I recently made a videogame that only fifty or so people have played, and only fifty or so people will ever play. It doesn’t exist anymore, save for a few screenshots, some dark blurry video and hand-written high score table.

I created it as an experiment in transient videogames. Recently there’s been discussion surrounding the temporary nature of digital videogames. Old games won’t work with modern tech, cartridges rust, discs degrade, memories fade. Once realised it can be seen everywhere, even in modern games patches and fixes can alter a game without even prompting you. This game experiment idea came from looking at my own reactions to temporary art and media.

My old CD collection is scratched and useless, but it’s tangible. My PlayStation games will remain on my shelf, even though my PlayStation only works when held upside down. I enjoy holding onto these relics, but then I also enjoy hoarding scraps of wood and broken electronics. The popular opinion is that digital games should be archived and collected somewhere, but I’m not sure if that’s true for all games, I personally enjoy seeing a game disappear into the collective memory of its players, it feels similar to cleaning the scraps of wood out of my workshop.

I was given a toothbrush on a flight from Cape Town to Copenhagen, and while we were descending I started thinking about how I could use it as a controller. Obviously it’s made for brushing teeth, so when I arrived in Aarhus I picked up a kilo of clay and made a skull, embedding steel washers into its teeth. After modifying the toothbrush I ended up with a controller that was operated by touching the brush to different teeth.

Controllers degrade much like other hardware. Some are built for decades of punishment, some are a little more fragile. As alternate controllers are becoming more popular this spectrum becomes more interesting to look at, especially as controllers on the fragile end are seen as “bad”. The skull was definitely on the fragile end, as it bumped around in my backpack a few teeth dislodged, and at one point the whole jaw fell off. By the time I arrived in Edinburgh almost a month later I was very keen to get rid of it.

I dropped in to the pub as some friends were setting up an event called “Games are for Everyone”. I asked about an empty corner and got the all clear, leaving me a few hours to throw together a game in unity. It was pretty basic, thirty seconds to gain score by brushing teeth. I couldn’t get a highscore table implemented in time, so I went with a marker and a blank pad on the table next to the skull.

As people discovered that the game was temporary some amazing discussions arose. We talked about what it meant to create a videogame, and what it meant to play it. As people played the game the skull slowly crumbled, the clouds of clay particles looked like smoke in the projector light. Teeth came out, the wires in the brush bent, and playing the game became more difficult as it slowly neared destruction.

The night ended, the scots all left the pub and I smashed the dumb little skull. I got home, took a few screenshots, had a glass of rum and deleted the game. Maybe I’ll make it again, but it’ll never be the same.

Image credit: SK Games