Interview with Brody Condon

Posted by Jonah Brucker-Cohen | Tue Dec 9th 2003 6:26 p.m.

Interview with Brody Condon
By Jonah Brucker-Cohen (jonah@coin-operated.com)

Introduction
If life were a game, LA based artist, Brody
Condon, would probably be its designer. From
recreating the political mess of the FBI's
assault on David Koresh's Branch Davidian Complex
with his C-Level collaboration, "Waco:
Resurrection", to emphasizing the violence
quotient of mainstream video games with "Adam
Killer", Condon's work is both a reflection on
the history of gaming and a cautionary
realization of its future. His presence in next
year's Whitney Biennial, "Velvet Strike",
(created with fellow artists Anne-Marie Schliener
and Joane Leandre), is a slap in the face to the
hard-core gaming community. The online
multi-player shooter subverts the death and
destruction of "Counter-Strike", by allowing
players to plaster graphics of peace symbols and
anti-war slogans on the 3D walls. This year, one
of Condon's students designed a game called "9-11
Survivor", a third person's victim's perspective
of the tragic event that was eventually pulled
offline for obvious reasons. If the future of
gaming combines virtual and physical space with
themes based on actual events, Condon might be
leading the revolution. His work is a poignant,
although sometimes upsetting vision of the
merging of interactive entertainment,
international media, and personal life
experiences. What follows is an interview I
conducted with Condon about his motives as an
artist, academic, game designer, and pop culture
enthusiast.

Your Name: Brody Condon
Age: 29
Occupation/Affiliation: variable
Education: MFA University of California at San Diego
URL: http://www.tmpspace.com/

JBC: What do you love about games? What do you hate about them?

BC: I don't play games as much as I used to. I
tend to be more interested in the elements that
surround games and game culture. To some extent,
most of the screen based games I consumed in the
past, and continue to consume now, are
forgettable. I suppose I am bitter about all the
lost years of screen time. I could have been
accomplishing something at least
pseudo-productive. On a more positive note, I
still love the pure aesthetic joy of watching the
progression from one graphics generation to
another. Forming a intuitive relationship with
those images, and now having the ability to crack
them open, rearrange, and play with those
aesthetics and structures at this point through
emulators, PC game modding, and console hacking,
etc. is a blessing.

JBC: Are you satisfied with the state of games
today? What would you change or leave the same?

BC: As happy as I am with movement of games and
game culture into the mainstream, I somehow yearn
for the days when being "the kid who could beat
ANY game," was not exactly a badge of honor. It
took a certain sense of fortitude to persist in
your gaming hobby. It was dangerous to walk
around your neighborhood on a weekend with a
couple cartridges and an Advanced Dungeons and
Dragons First Edition Player's Handbook under
your arm. Little did the guy who came at me on
the sidewalk know that D&D books could be used as
weapons. Especially if stacked properly in a thin
duffel bag and swung by the handles, they can
become a sort of make-shift bludgeoning weapon.
Years later I found out that guy had a father
that committed suicide, then he broke his leg and
dropped out of school at some point. Eventually
after a party he wandered out to the highway and
threw himself into the path of an oncoming
tractor-trailer. I'm not kidding.

JBC: Your work seems to be about emphasizing
cliches found in games, especially the death
scene in "Adam Killer". What is important about
this topic and what has this approach taught you?

BC: I am interested in these cliched game play
structures as a material. Whether it is a kid
making images of his domestic environment
juxtaposed with the trademark FPS hand and gun at
the bottom of the image, or the concept of the
"re-spawn", which contains interesting links to
reincarnation and resurrection. Again, these
cliches are also great cultural indicators. They
represent and at the same time repetitively
inform the emotions and psychology of the player.
What does the empty shell of the character mesh,
which has an interior constructed of "gibs", or
small gut-like portions, that explode and replace
the body mesh inform us about our current
relationship with death and the interior of the
body? Given the long history of representation of
the body, I find this contemporary shift in those
representations and the material they are created
with a great site to dig for content. At the same
time, it's a desperate attempt to work out the
box that the consumption of those images have
placed me in.

JBC: You also seem to focus on aggregating the
connection between real life events and how these
could or might be played out in gaming
environments. Do you see game spaces as a logical
extension of physical spaces or an antithesis?
How do real events affect gaming and vice versa?

BC: Game spaces may be no more antithetical to,
or extensions of, actual spaces than the
perspective translation of 3-dimensional natural
phenomena onto 2-dimensional surfaces in the 15th
century. The tools have just been updated. A
Cartesian grid with simulated perspective is the
first thing I see when I open up my 3D modeling
program. The crossover between level and
environment design in games, and traditional
architectural practice is obviously growing due
the success of game environments that mimic
reality. Scenarios like The Getaway, and True
Crime Streets of LA are GTA3 knockoffs that take
place in simulations London and LA are great
examples. This simulation of a city's
architecture and urban planning has the ability
to alter the perception of the city to those that
live in and outside the city, possibly as much as
the actual physical site. What also interests me
are the subtle differences in the game version,
the easy rearrangement of structures and streets
to fit game play scenarios. On the other hand, I
feel like architecture has taken these
environments too lightly. Especially fantasy
environments are discarded as only an aesthetic
surface, and not as inspiration for new
structures and patterns of movement through them.
Imagine constructed spaces inspired by the idea
of going downtown to your bank, jumping from
platform to platform, to reach your ATM located
in a floating Necropolis of the Undead Scourge
from Warcraft III.

JBC: Is there anything a game can't emulate?
What are the main problems in games today? What
are they missing and what are they failing at?

BC: There are a horde of problems. I suppose
targeting problematic issues in gaming depends on
what angle you are concerned with, cultural
implications, business strategies, game dev
education, etc. However, the core problem is not
located within games, it is the lack of any
substantial media literacy dialogue within the
public school education system in the states. Not
to mention the current information bubble that
surrounds us here like an invisible shield.

JBC: Are people who play games (such as hardcore
gamers) interested in your work? Who plays your
games and how are they affected?

BC: [My] work has been labeled "Gayer than actual
gay people." by the online gaming community. In
this case it was specifically about the work
"Velvet-Strike" that I contributed to. We
(Anne-Marie Schliener and Joane Leandre) also
received near death threats and other fun
comments such as:

----- Original Message -----
>>Subject: Velvet-Strike... POINTLESS!
>>
>>Hi,
>>I wanted to say I don't support YOUR stupid little brigade to create
>>peace and love and shit like that, face it its just POINTLESS BULLSHIT!
>>If you think that you can actually stop hate, then you're just a fucking
>>moron, it's like trying to say that the DEA will actually stop drug
>>trafficking. Those two things will never be stopped. Human nature is to
>>hate the enemy. And another thing don't flood are fucking games with this
>>"LOVEY DOVEY BULLSHIT!" I almost hate you people more than my enemies. So
>>one last thing, If you and your queer little hippy friends don't like
>>America, then FUCKING LEAVE! GO FUCK UP CANADA OR SOMETHING!!!
>> - Sincerely, your worst enemy
--------------------------------

Otherwise, I think any direct and positive
relationship with the actual game development
community has been fairly non-existent, and
mostly relegated to the traditional and media art
circuit. However, now that we have made the jump
from modifying and hacking existing games to
using middleware game engines, there is more
industry crossover in a playable piece I recently
worked on like Waco: Resurrection (
www.waco.c-level.cc ). However, I should say I've
ran into developers and gamers that love the
work. It is really such a broad range of
individuals that make up the industry and
consumer base. Either way, a vernacular dialogue
has been started on the ground. Debates are
flowing in the game community blogs and forums,
at game industry conferences, and among the
general public concerning the relationship of
games to culture, and the alternative
possibilities for game development outside of
escapist fantasy narratives and sports
simulations.

JBC: Do you think there is a connection between reality TV and gaming?

BC: Hard to say, I have never watched a reality
TV show from start to finish. Living in LA, you
can sort of throw a stick and find someone who
knows about these things, so I just went outside
and asked my landlord this question. Him and his
wife were contestants on that early reality show,
The Amazing Race. He never played games, so we
were stuck on this one. However, he did say that
the show broke up his marriage, and that those
shows are fixed.

JBC: What is your opinion on pervasive gaming? Do
you think it's a genre that could succeed and
become mainstream like PC, Massively multi-Player
Online Games (MMOG), and console games? (When I
say "pervasive gaming", I am referring to
projects like Blast Theory's "Can You See Me
Now?" and It's Alive's "BotFighters". Games that
mix digital and real spaces.)

BC: I'm not in the business of prophesizing
successful tech, but I checked out Blast Theory's
website, and they seem to be having a good time
running around in those cool workout-suits with
all that nifty PDA gear on them. I'm all for it.
As far as the cell phone "pervasive" gaming is
concerned, there is such a different relationship
with cell phone technology there (UK). I can't
imagine how that would go over with a consumer in
the US. A car ran over my cell phone and it gives
me a headache whenever I use it. I recently
spent some time at a SCA (Society for Creative
Anachronism) event where hundreds of people
gathered in the desert for a week of heavily
immersive medieval reenactment. True "pervasive"
gaming, at these events there are regular battles
of hundreds of individuals in homemade armor
beating the hell out of each other with sticks in
regimented battles. There are bridge battles,
castle sieges, etc. The most interesting
intersection with screen-based gaming is their
incorporation of "Capture the Flag", and
"Resurrection" game play structures.
  • Jonah Brucker-Cohen | Tue Dec 9th 2003 7:49 p.m.
    I'm resending the interview since I sent stylized text out by
    mistake in my orginial post.. sorry for people who got this twice.
    jbc

    --------------

    Interview with Brody Condon
    By Jonah Brucker-Cohen (jonah@coin-operated.com)

    Introduction
    If life were a game, LA based artist, Brody Condon, would probably be
    its designer. From recreating the political mess of the FBI's assault
    on David Koresh's Branch Davidian Complex with his C-Level
    collaboration, "Waco: Resurrection", to emphasizing the violence
    quotient of mainstream video games with "Adam Killer", Condon's work
    is both a reflection on the history of gaming and a cautionary
    realization of its future. His presence in next year's Whitney
    Biennial, "Velvet Strike", (created with fellow artists Anne-Marie
    Schliener and Joane Leandre), is a slap in the face to the hard-core
    gaming community. The online multi-player shooter subverts the death
    and destruction of "Counter-Strike", by allowing players to plaster
    graphics of peace symbols and anti-war slogans on the 3D walls. This
    year, one of Condon's students designed a game called "9-11
    Survivor", a third person's victim's perspective of the tragic event
    that was eventually pulled offline for obvious reasons. If the future
    of gaming combines virtual and physical space with themes based on
    actual events, Condon might be leading the revolution. His work is a
    poignant, although sometimes upsetting vision of the merging of
    interactive entertainment, international media, and personal life
    experiences. What follows is an interview I conducted with Condon
    about his motives as an artist, academic, game designer, and pop
    culture enthusiast.

    Your Name: Brody Condon
    Age: 29
    Occupation/Affiliation: variable
    Education: MFA University of California at San Diego
    URL: http://www.tmpspace.com/

    JBC: What do you love about games? What do you hate about them?

    BC: I don't play games as much as I used to. I tend to be more
    interested in the elements that surround games and game culture. To
    some extent, most of the screen based games I consumed in the past,
    and continue to consume now, are forgettable. I suppose I am bitter
    about all the lost years of screen time. I could have been
    accomplishing something at least pseudo-productive. On a more
    positive note, I still love the pure aesthetic joy of watching the
    progression from one graphics generation to another. Forming a
    intuitive relationship with those images, and now having the ability
    to crack them open, rearrange, and play with those aesthetics and
    structures at this point through emulators, PC game modding, and
    console hacking, etc. is a blessing.

    JBC: Are you satisfied with the state of games today? What would you
    change or leave the same?

    BC: As happy as I am with movement of games and game culture into the
    mainstream, I somehow yearn for the days when being "the kid who
    could beat ANY game," was not exactly a badge of honor. It took a
    certain sense of fortitude to persist in your gaming hobby. It was
    dangerous to walk around your neighborhood on a weekend with a couple
    cartridges and an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons First Edition
    Player's Handbook under your arm. Little did the guy who came at me
    on the sidewalk know that D&D books could be used as weapons.
    Especially if stacked properly in a thin duffel bag and swung by the
    handles, they can become a sort of make-shift bludgeoning weapon.
    Years later I found out that guy had a father that committed suicide,
    then he broke his leg and dropped out of school at some point.
    Eventually after a party he wandered out to the highway and threw
    himself into the path of an oncoming tractor-trailer. I'm not kidding.

    JBC: Your work seems to be about emphasizing cliches found in games,
    especially the death scene in "Adam Killer". What is important about
    this topic and what has this approach taught you?

    BC: I am interested in these cliched game play structures as a
    material. Whether it is a kid making images of his domestic
    environment juxtaposed with the trademark FPS hand and gun at the
    bottom of the image, or the concept of the "re-spawn", which contains
    interesting links to reincarnation and resurrection. Again, these
    cliches are also great cultural indicators. They represent and at the
    same time repetitively inform the emotions and psychology of the
    player. What does the empty shell of the character mesh, which has an
    interior constructed of "gibs", or small gut-like portions, that
    explode and replace the body mesh inform us about our current
    relationship with death and the interior of the body? Given the long
    history of representation of the body, I find this contemporary shift
    in those representations and the material they are created with a
    great site to dig for content. At the same time, it's a desperate
    attempt to work out the box that the consumption of those images have
    placed me in.

    JBC: You also seem to focus on aggregating the connection between
    real life events and how these could or might be played out in gaming
    environments. Do you see game spaces as a logical extension of
    physical spaces or an antithesis? How do real events affect gaming
    and vice versa?

    BC: Game spaces may be no more antithetical to, or extensions of,
    actual spaces than the perspective translation of 3-dimensional
    natural phenomena onto 2-dimensional surfaces in the 15th century.
    The tools have just been updated. A Cartesian grid with simulated
    perspective is the first thing I see when I open up my 3D modeling
    program. The crossover between level and environment design in games,
    and traditional architectural practice is obviously growing due the
    success of game environments that mimic reality. Scenarios like The
    Getaway, and True Crime Streets of LA are GTA3 knockoffs that take
    place in simulations London and LA are great examples. This
    simulation of a city's architecture and urban planning has the
    ability to alter the perception of the city to those that live in and
    outside the city, possibly as much as the actual physical site. What
    also interests me are the subtle differences in the game version, the
    easy rearrangement of structures and streets to fit game play
    scenarios. On the other hand, I feel like architecture has taken
    these environments too lightly. Especially fantasy environments are
    discarded as only an aesthetic surface, and not as inspiration for
    new structures and patterns of movement through them. Imagine
    constructed spaces inspired by the idea of going downtown to your
    bank, jumping from platform to platform, to reach your ATM located in
    a floating Necropolis of the Undead Scourge from Warcraft III.

    JBC: Is there anything a game can't emulate? What are the main
    problems in games today? What are they missing and what are they
    failing at?

    BC: There are a horde of problems. I suppose targeting problematic
    issues in gaming depends on what angle you are concerned with,
    cultural implications, business strategies, game dev education, etc.
    However, the core problem is not located within games, it is the lack
    of any substantial media literacy dialogue within the public school
    education system in the states. Not to mention the current
    information bubble that surrounds us here like an invisible shield.

    JBC: Are people who play games (such as hardcore gamers) interested
    in your work? Who plays your games and how are they affected?

    BC: [My] work has been labeled "Gayer than actual gay people." by the
    online gaming community. In this case it was specifically about the
    work "Velvet-Strike" that I contributed to. We (Anne-Marie Schliener
    and Joane Leandre) also received near death threats and other fun
    comments such as:

    ----- Original Message -----
    >>Subject: Velvet-Strike... POINTLESS!
    >>
    >>Hi,
    >>I wanted to say I don't support YOUR stupid little brigade to create
    >>peace and love and shit like that, face it its just POINTLESS BULLSHIT!
    >>If you think that you can actually stop hate, then you're just a fucking
    >>moron, it's like trying to say that the DEA will actually stop drug
    >>trafficking. Those two things will never be stopped. Human nature is to
    >>hate the enemy. And another thing don't flood are fucking games with this
    >>"LOVEY DOVEY BULLSHIT!" I almost hate you people more than my enemies. So
    >>one last thing, If you and your queer little hippy friends don't like
    >>America, then FUCKING LEAVE! GO FUCK UP CANADA OR SOMETHING!!!
    >> - Sincerely, your worst enemy
    --------------------------------

    Otherwise, I think any direct and positive relationship with the
    actual game development community has been fairly non-existent, and
    mostly relegated to the traditional and media art circuit. However,
    now that we have made the jump from modifying and hacking existing
    games to using middleware game engines, there is more industry
    crossover in a playable piece I recently worked on like Waco:
    Resurrection ( www.waco.c-level.cc ). However, I should say I've ran
    into developers and gamers that love the work. It is really such a
    broad range of individuals that make up the industry and consumer
    base. Either way, a vernacular dialogue has been started on the
    ground. Debates are flowing in the game community blogs and forums,
    at game industry conferences, and among the general public concerning
    the relationship of games to culture, and the alternative
    possibilities for game development outside of escapist fantasy
    narratives and sports simulations.

    JBC: Do you think there is a connection between reality TV and gaming?

    BC: Hard to say, I have never watched a reality TV show from start to
    finish. Living in LA, you can sort of throw a stick and find someone
    who knows about these things, so I just went outside and asked my
    landlord this question. Him and his wife were contestants on that
    early reality show, The Amazing Race. He never played games, so we
    were stuck on this one. However, he did say that the show broke up
    his marriage, and that those shows are fixed.

    JBC: What is your opinion on pervasive gaming? Do you think it's a
    genre that could succeed and become mainstream like PC, Massively
    multi-Player Online Games (MMOG), and console games? (When I say
    "pervasive gaming", I am referring to projects like Blast Theory's
    "Can You See Me Now?" and It's Alive's "BotFighters". Games that mix
    digital and real spaces.)

    BC: I'm not in the business of prophesizing successful tech, but I
    checked out Blast Theory's website, and they seem to be having a good
    time running around in those cool workout-suits with all that nifty
    PDA gear on them. I'm all for it. As far as the cell phone
    "pervasive" gaming is concerned, there is such a different
    relationship with cell phone technology there (UK). I can't imagine
    how that would go over with a consumer in the US. A car ran over my
    cell phone and it gives me a headache whenever I use it. I recently
    spent some time at a SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) event
    where hundreds of people gathered in the desert for a week of heavily
    immersive medieval reenactment. True "pervasive" gaming, at these
    events there are regular battles of hundreds of individuals in
    homemade armor beating the hell out of each other with sticks in
    regimented battles. There are bridge battles, castle sieges, etc. The
    most interesting intersection with screen-based gaming is their
    incorporation of "Capture the Flag", and "Resurrection" game play
    structures.
Your Reply