HOW EXHIBITION | Serious Games

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Serious Games

Duration: 2019/08/02 - 2019/11/02

Artists: Alexis Mailles, Feng Chen, Harun Farocki, Jon Rafman, Kent Sheely, Andrew Luk, Lawrence Lek, Matthieu Cherubini, Payne Zhu, Peter Nelson, Wu Chi-Yu

Curator: Fu Liaoliao

Venue:Gallery 6/ 7, 3F, HOW Art Museum, No 1, Lane 2277, Zuchongzhi Road, Shanghai

HOW Art Museum (Shanghai) is pleased to announce that the group exhibition Serious Games will be on view from August 2. Serious Games will present works and projects of both artists and game designers, casting light on the historical development of video games as a form and image, the tension between the mechanism of eSport competition and players from a bio-political point of view, as well as the critiques of spacial politics, historical truth, and future conflicts within the context of video games. Moreover, the exhibition is not limited to present the works directly related to video games, and it also attempts to extend the boundaries of people's notions of game by showcasing works from different perspectives.

Parallel I, 2012

Harun Farocki

Video (double projection), color, sound, 16'

Courtesy of Harun Farocki Foundation

The year 1945 marked the end of World War II.

In 2003, a game named Day of Defeat (DoD)was launched and soon became one of the most known video games centering on the theme of WWII. DoD was based on Half-life, a first-person sci-fi shooter game published in 1998.

In 2001, the 9/11 attacks occurred. Two years before this, Counter-Strike, also a video game based on Half-life, was published.

In 2009, artist Harun Farocki visited Marine Corps Base 29 Palms in California, where he saw soldiers receiving shooting training through computer games that simulated street environment in Afghanistan.

Serious Games III: Immersion

Harun Farocki 

Video (double projection), color, sound, 20'. (Loop), Germany 2009 

Courtesy of Harun Farocki Foundation

In 1944, Chinatown Fair opened on top of a restaurant in Chinatown, Manhattan. Following the birth and development of arcade games, it became knowns as “NYC's last great arcade” in the 1970s, witnessing the birth of the first batch of professional arcade players on the East Coast.

In 2011, due to the decline of arcade, the Chinatown Fair Arcade was closed. Ten years prior to its shutdown, the first World Cyber Games was held in Seoul, South Korea.

In 2015, a game called Kings of Glory was published in China and launched its own professional league in the following year.

Also in 2016, AlphaGo defeated Lee Sedol, world champion and professional Go player of 9 dan rank from South Korea.

Codes of Honor, 2011          

Jon Rafman
Single-channel HD video with stereo sound

Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers Gallery

“Nothing is more serious than the game.”[1]

When Lefebvre wrote down this sentence in 1965, he certainly was not referring to video games, let alone the concept of "serious games”.

As an ancient form of human activity, games have been undergoing drastic changes under the development of science and technology. Until the era of video games, its unprecedented connection with daily life has opened up new possibilities for cognitive space, images and life forms. It has even launched challenges to the present and future way of people's existence. However, in stark contrast to the radical evolutions of the contents and forms of video games and its enormous number of users, games have not yet received enough "serious discussions" because of its natural connection to entertainment.

"Serious games" refer to video games not only for entertainment purposes, but also applied in fields such as education, medical care and social management, etc. Hence, such games are generally referred to as “applied games”. However, the exhibition, Serious Games, doesn't intend to make the distinction between "serious" and “entertainment”. On the contrary, the exhibition seeks to break the stereotypes surrounding video games, trying to investigate video games within the context of the current political dimensions where lines are blurred between machines and human beings, reality and virtuality.

[1] Review of Kostas Axelos’ Toward Planetary Thought, Henri Lefebvre, 1965

Serious Games I: Watson is Down, 2010

Harun Farocki 

Video (double projection), color, sound, 8'. (Loop)

Courtesy of Harun Farocki Foundation

Play as a way of critique

In 2011, after over 50 years of the shutdown of Chinatown Fair Arcade, Jon Rafman interviewed some legendary gamers who had once "fought" there. As these pro-gamers described the intense but short-lived thrill of victory, the artist raised a question in his work Codes of Honor, “in a world where history and tradition mean less and less, how could we achieve redemption and construct a continuous self?” Payne Zhu’s work Ladder System, discusses the mechanism of the ranking system of eSports games from the opposite view of a game developer. Payne treats the Ladder System as a 24/7 real-time updating talent management system and super control machine that integrates functions of monitoring, ranking, selecting, rewarding and penalizing.


Payne Zhu

3 Channel Video,4K,11’49”,2018

Courtesy of the artist and MADEIN Gallery

Lawrence Lek’s work 2065, applies the game rules of the virtual world into the reality of the future. With all work taken care of by algorithms, the online game world where people and AI fight all day and night becomes the only space for human to live and work in the future. Players who initiate a rebellion in this magnificent future world of game claim that "it's a game without heroes, enemies, winners and losers. To explore in an open world mirrors the mindset of the player".

2065, 2018

Lawrence Lek
HD Video, stereo sound, duration: 5'

Courtesy of the artist and Sadie Coles HQ Gallery

Game theorist and critic Ian Bogost once pointed out that  “we must begin to understand what games can offer us today: how they can serve as a mirror that presents a new view of our own experience of the world rather than as an window polished to an incrementally greater shine, facing that same green pasture of familiarity.”[2] Feng Chen's work The Darker Side of Light: Shadow, specifically discusses the characteristics of "light" as a material and interface. The difference between the light we see through the eyes trained by the nature and technology and the light reflected in technological media is also discussed repeatedly in this ongoing piece of work.

[2] Chapter 9 “A way of Looking”, How to Talk about Videogames, Ian Bogost, 2015

The Darker Side of Light: Shadow, 2018

Feng Chen

LED lights, monitors, camera, programming RGB Controller

Dimensions variable

Courtesy of the artist and Capsule Shanghai

Kent Sheely offers an alternative way of practicing and transforming the rules and materials of game in his DoD (Day of Defeat War Journalism). Instead of actually participating in battles, the artist, under the identity of a journalist, captured pictures of battles in the WWII-themed game DoD and made a series of technical adjustments to accomplish the tasks of a "war correspondent". Here, gameplay becomes an issue of recording actions. The artist doesn't deny the interconnection between his work and News-game; and as early as in 2009, he had already started using game engines to process real World War II documentary photos.

DoD (Day of Defeat War Journalism)

Kent Sheely


Courtesy of the artist

Re-engage the engaged

The debates on whether art should be "socially-engaged" or "for art’s sake" have never stopped. Just like the controversies around "participatory art" today: the question that whether art can be more effectively and deeply engaged in public issues and public life has never received a definite and convincing answer. But in the field of video games, this problem does not seem to exist. It "participates" and "intervenes" naturally and the only question seems to be how to critically re-engage with such natural intervention. Matthew Cherubini's Afghan War Diary connects to Counter-Strike's game servers through a software, bringing more unknown players into his game, and retrieving real-time debris each time a player successfully makes a kill. The debris triggers a chronological search in the WikiLeaks database, which contains more than 75,000 secret US military reports about the war in Afghanistan. Based on the retrieved data, the site shows the actual locations of the attacks on Earth. Therefore, this work is produced by the virtual killings by the players of Counter-Strike.  

Afghan War Diary, 2010

Matthieu Cherunibi

Online Video, infinite

Courtesy of the artist

Also based on the re-creation of Counter-Strike and co-designed by Peter Nelson, Andrew Lu and Alexis Mailles, AUTOSAVE: REDOUBT is a recreation of the specific areas of the bunkers and tunnels in Kowloon Peninsula during World War II, transforming them into a playable map of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. This project criticizes the application of 3D computer game technology in virtual archaeology - these technologies should not be considered real or neutral. Rather, they should be understood as a simulation of military visions.


Andrew Luk, Alexis Mailles, Peter Nelson

Computer game modification with custom sound and installation

Courtesy of the artist

In and out of the game: whose field?

Wu Chi-Yu's work, Asia Air, is a game that does not take place in a game interface. Through a "non-existent VR viewing experience", Wu Chi-Yu simulates the viewing mode of future human beings with video devices and discusses the airspace relations in Asia with related flight images, aerial camera images, UAV no-flight maps, air combat command maps, flight airspace, controlled airspace and the corresponding flight regulations, the use and restriction of the sky, and among other issues.

Asia Air, 2018

Wu Chi-Yu

Three-channel video installation and documents

Courtesy of the artist

Serious Game I-IV, which is also used as the title of this exhibition, is created by Harun Farocki during his visit to the US Naval Base in 2009. Farocki explores the links between virtual reality and the army: how can the fictional scenes of computer games be used for the training of the U.S. armies before deploying war zones and for the psychological care of traumatized soldiers when they return? As a summary of the first three pieces, the fourth one Serious Game IV: A Sun without Shadow points out that the shadows of all objects in a video game are determined by the imaginary position of the sun - a computer image of the sun shines over the virtual landscape, and this image is produced for war purpose. However, in Serious Game III, which discussed the post-war trauma treatment, there was no shadow of the sun as treatment cost less than war preparation.

Serious Games IV: A Sun without Shadow, 2010

Harun Farocki 

Video (double projection), color, sound, 8'. (Loop)

Courtesy of Harun Farocki Foundation

This virtual, shadowless sunshine is not irrelevant to our real life. In today's web interface, even those who never play video games are already video-gamers. It's all about how we define game and its meaning to us. Through the revolution of perspectives, interfaces, and operations brought about by video games, along with games' continuous inclusion of elements of war, violence and pornography, they will repeatedly and increasingly intertwine themselves into our daily lives.

This is not a game for dream. Nothing is more serious than the game.

















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