Multiplayer online art museum turns visual art into a game –

Over the past two months, museums have spent a great deal of time and energy trying to simulate the experience of being in a gallery and appreciating (or despising) art. Explore the Guggenheim Museum in New York, for example, or the Orsay Museum in Paris, with Google Arts & Culture. Tune in to the tours on Instagram TV and YouTube. Or immerse yourself in meticulous virtual reality reproductions of galleries, like the one at Hauser & Wirth’s new sunny location on the Mediterranean island of Menorca. And yet walking around these digital rooms only seems to prove how different they are from reality. Slippery paths around space often provide a single angle on a work, and they zoom in past signs that an embodied viewer would slow down to read. They fail to capture sensory impressions, like the texture of a dotted canvas.

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The Online Multiplayer Art Museum (oMoMA) launched April 3 as a lo-fi virtual branch of LikeLike, a physical location for experimental games. LikeLike hosts shows once a month at a converted garage in Pittsburgh, but its new online arcade gallery is open 24 hours a day as an interactive environment. Where many art museums have opted for digital photogrammetric products, LikeLike’s aesthetic is charmingly cartoonish simplicity, and the “multiplayer” in its name indicates that it is meant to be a game rather than a game. a document. It has the 2D scrolling view of early computer games rather than the first-person shooter perspective that permeates Google museum tours.

View of the video game Ennuigi by Josh Millar, 2015.

Josh Millard’s game Bored, 2015, at LikeLike.
Photo Josh Millar.

After choosing a bulk avatar, visitors can enter and play games from an organized selection, which changes monthly. The current iteration, which debuted on May 1, features games created with the retro-styled PICO-8 engine. At Josh Millard Bored (2015), you take on the role of Super Mario’s brother and walk through a dilapidated mushroom kingdom, thinking about scary thoughts triggered by the push of a button. The backyard has a pixelated version of Harvey, the dog who lives on the Pittsburgh site; you can stroke it with one click. There is also an arcade machine that sends you to a Twitter feed of looping animations whose code takes less than 280 characters.

View of the backyard with a pixelated version of the dog Harvey who lives at the Pittsburgh site on LikeLike, 2020.

The LikeLike Virtual Yard.

But click on a door in the back of the garage and LikeLike gives way to its fictional virtual expansion, oMoMA. While the LikeLike arcade is bathed in a red glow, oMoMA is a series of brightly lit white cubes. To interact with oMoMA, you need to type lines of text that appear as your avatar’s speech bubbles. Each gallery in the museum has a conceptual work that uses your words as material. In cnsnnt rm, for example, you can only use one vowel at a time (sometimes none). In the VIP room at the top of the museum, everything you type is transcribed in a phonetic rendering of the chic British phrase, and clicking on the windows produces ironic remarks (“gentrification is beautiful”). The upper level also has a dark room (18+ only) that changes your words to make them comically pornographic.

This manipulation of the text underlines the function of the digital museum as a social space. It is actually a chat room where you can interact not only with the facilities but also with other visitors. LikeLike founder Paolo Pedercini programmed and organized the oMoMA. He told me in an email that it’s best to visit at openings or other events, to maximize interactions. In the lobby, I asked an avatar named rona if she had visited the oMoMA before. She replied, “Like twenty times!” Confettirab belonged to a computer science student from Western Canada who was visiting for the first time. A woman in a wide-brimmed pink hat asked me if I was real, in the Hall of Mirrors. “YES / SEY,” I say. She replied “cool / looc” and hurried out. Each time, the privilege of being incognito among other people made me dizzy with pleasure. “This kind of chance encounter between anonymous people no longer happens in the age of social media, with its followers and circles of friends being followed and carefully organized,” Pedercini wrote. None of the Zoom calls and virtual hangouts on my calendar replicates that simple feeling of being alongside strangers doing the same work at the same time.

View of the dark room on LikeLike, 2020.

The darkroom of the Multiplayer Online Art Museum.

LikeLike’s project isn’t the only attempt to recreate the experience of viewing art in a video game. Incredibly popular Nintendo Switch game players Animal crossing: New Horizons have found creative approaches to sharing and making art. Users can visit each other’s islands on the in-game network, and some have rigged their virtual homes to host art exhibitions. But every island belongs to someone. And while there is a museum on each island, it functions as a sticker book for individual players to complete. There are no impersonal institutional spaces like oMoMA, where we, the public, share feelings of surprise, confusion or fascination. This common framework is what makes a museum socially meaningful.

View from cnsnnt rm on LikeLike, 2020.

The cnsnnt rm at the online multiplayer art museum.

Why do we go to museums? Seeing art, understanding the world, of course, but also being with others. As Joshua Wolf Shenk recently wrote for The believer: “Life (and culture) takes place in these interstitial moments, not in the performance, but in the social experience of it. Museums were never designed to be experienced alone. The joy of the visit comes from the awareness that an object can be seen from many angles, and the possibility of finding connections during chance encounters. While museums remain closed around the world, the oMoMA maintains the momentum of meeting art among others.

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