Douglas Edric Stanley

"A game that's impossible to win, meant to inspire thought? Didn't Missile Command do this decades ago?" Playing Douglas Edric Stanley's Installation at the Games Convention

Not only did I get a chance to play Guitar Hero World Tour at the Games Convention (awesome drums, way superior to Rock Band's) and beat my English speaking friend John and two 12 year old girls in a round of a German version of Buzz I also came across Douglas Edric Stanley's controversial Space Invaders Installation that has players trying to fight off the destruction of the World Trade Centre's Twin Towers. Upon me asking what it was all about I was informed by a staff member of the Computergame Museum (the organiser of the exhibition), that it was a statement regarding America's foreign policy respectively that the invaders represented the terrorists who were responsible for the destruction of the WTC. I could kind of see where he was coming from: The attackers as the alien "others", hostile to our culture, blindly leaping forward without any regard for our Western values, fanatical in their compulsion to destroy, the inability to communicate and the fact that we won't be able to win this war despite our wildest gestures (as conveyed by the game's motion controls).

Trying to hit the red UFO (Bin Laden?!) by using arm movements in front of a symbol for one of the biggest tragedies of the 21st century did feel ambiguous to say the least. Eventually it left a shallow impression, I couldn't see beyond a simple juxtaposition nor was I taken by surprise by an interpretation I didn't think about before, a view which possibly could have shed a different, more compelling light on the installation.

Do I agree with the pulling of the piece? Not necessarily, after all freedom of expression is what differentiates us from the invaders. Also the fact that apparently it is OK to commercially – and cynically – exploit 9/11 (+ Pearl Harbour + several wars) by means of movies, books and merchandise while a non-commercial installation draws worldwide negative attention makes for an interesting imbalance – admittedly, in Stanley's abstract work compassion for the victims is largely absent, something which differentiates it from other media deemed more acceptable.

Nevertheless, I still believe that digital games have the potential to make strong, insightful and relevant statements. As Leigh Alexander puts it on Kotaku:

Invaders! actually accomplishes everything we've constantly asked games to achieve - it draws mainstream attention. It provokes thought and discussion. It deals with a real-world issue. It's open to interpretation. It's independently-created art.

And it stings, doesn't it, to see our hopes for the medium twisted into such an uncomfortable, painful shape. But let's not let the pain force us to dismiss it. This is an achievement.

If a shallow, transparently controversial juxtaposition such as Stanley's installation is capable of eliciting such a response then the future for digital expression surely looks bright.