Gaming the Network Poetic
Gaming the Network Poetic, by Josh Fishburn, is a set of five video games on five monitors built in a circle, meant to be played by five people simultaneously. The five games are fairly simple. In one, the player is an arrow that can put hinges onto triangles floating around – a separate game seems very similar except with a black background instead of white. In another game, the player can control shapes falling into a zig-zagged red line at the bottom. A game showing a big circle in the middle has the player moving around that circle as a dot, creating dents in it at will. Finally, in a more vague game, a dark box in the middle of the screen is broken by the player, triggering red shapes at the bottom of the screen to expand and dissolve. Each game seems reflect a mood or mental state, and although they are separately unique, all five games make a whole. The games are influenced by each other as a network, although those connections are imperfect (Fishburn, Josh (2009) One and Five).
Gaming the Network Poetic is about anxiety, family, separation, and human connection. The unreliability in the network mimics human connection. According to Fishburn, the imperfect network acts as a sixth game within his project (Fishburn, Josh (2009) One and Five). Even though computers are capable of accurately sending information across networks, Fishburn deliberately programmed his games not to. It is difficult to tell how or where the behaviors of the players influence each other’s games, mirroring how humans in society are often unaware of social influences upon them. Gaming the Network Poetic also offers a unique perspective to separation and perceived isolation; as the players search for their individual game’s goal, that game is being influenced by and influencing the games around it, changing how the player continues the game. The individual “moods” that are represented in his game might imitate a human’s mental state: performing well on a game that represents a negative mental state might make the game that represents a positive mood more difficult for other players.
However, when reviewed in the Rhizome, it was clear that the poetic nature of the network may be too vague and obscure for viewers to notice, let alone understand the concepts behind the piece:
"Five people are meant to play the games simultaneously, with the activity of one game influencing the others - I have to confess, some of the connections escaped me. Perhaps this was the one piece in the exhibition that, while it invited participation, didn’t really need it. The five G5s could rest alone in the empty gallery, talking obscurely among themselves about the subtle relations between squares, triangles, and other geometry." Lanier, Chris (December 10, 2009) Review of Prospectives 09
In terms of cultural significance, Gaming the Network Poetic has the potential to open up a conversation about perceptions of virtuality. Computers and programming are often considered to be based on cold science without flaw, making them lack humanity, or somehow taking away humanity as if being logical is the opposite of human nature. Fishburn’s piece shows that, with any tool–be it books, television, or video games, anything created by humans will reflect humanity. Even systems that impeccably send information have humans on either side who can still misinterpret that information. In Fishburn’s piece, it’s almost as if the humans have taken the role of the computers, and the computers have become more “human.” The players give their pure information to the computers, their behaviors and reactions and movements on a game. The network takes that information in and is imperfectly sends it out. However, the computer isn’t to blame, and neither are the players. Both the computer and the players’ behavior is in their programming.
In Pin-Pon, a game created by Theo Triantafyllidis in 2015, two players with iPhones stuck inside their hands swipe an endless stream of random objects to the other player. Pin-Pon criticizes popular dating apps like Tinder, where people systematically search for a date by swiping left or right on a person’s short profile, after judging it for a few seconds. Like Gaming the Network Poetic, this piece also comments on human connection and imperfect communication through a multi-player video game platform, although it is very specific in its criticisms of virtual speed-dating.
A game featuring a misbehaving corgi, literally called Bad Corgi, interacts with the players similarly to Gaming the Network Poetic – as a game that directly involves players in a space for introspection. Released in March 2016, this app was created by Ian Cheng for players to confront stress and anxiety while increasing mindfulness, through game mechanics that force the player to deal with controlling a dog that creates mayhem. This is similar to Gaming the Network Poetic, described by Fishburn as a platform for reflecting on anxiety, separation, and family. However, the format of Cheng's game is much different, and communication, separation, and family are not discussed.
Gaming the Network Poetic has been featured at the following exhibitions:
Plus Gallery, Denver Colorado (October, 2009)
Prospectives.09 Digital Arts Festival, Reno Nevada (November 12-14, 2009)