Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Grand Theft Bicycle

A video game installation by Steve Gibson, Jimmy Olsen and Justin Love
(This post is a couple of weeks late for several reasons I won't mention here, but I saw this piece in Victoria at Open Space.)

As if the animated intro isn't enough - picture Cheney's, Bush's, bin Laden's, and Harper's likenesses (along with a host of others) grafted onto gun-brandishing computer-generated bodies - Grand Theft Bicycle also presents the viewer with a fully playable interactive video game environment. And not with just any regular user interface - the player must sit on an actual bicycle (the Borgcycle, the creators call it), spin the pedals, turn the handlebars, and pull the brake levers in order to play.

There are a couple different ways that viewers interact with this parody of the popular Grand Theft Auto video game franchise. First, you have to play it. I hopped into the saddle myself and blasted a few Gorbys, Thatchers and Hilarys. I'll come clean right now and admit that I enjoyed it - there is a certain satisfaction to be had by capping Ronny Reagan as he steps out of his tinted-windowed, road hogging SUV, all from the comfort of ones banana seat. But, like its progenitor, Grand Theft Bicycle is also a helluva game to watch. I've never really played Grand Theft Auto, but (here comes another admission) I have invested more than a few hours into the game as a spectator. Gibson, Olson and Love present GTB the way every game should be - as a large scale projection with theatrical seating for viewers.

Amidst all the novel technology and presentation, the troubling question one arrives at is whether this video game is just a game. Until I actually experienced it first hand I was a skeptic as well. But several notable details distinguish GTB from GTA. First, the protagonist cannot be killed - she or he is an invincible pedaling machine and the user is free to carry on with the gameplay as long as he or she chooses. Furthermore, the gameplay is pointless - there are no beginnings or ends, no rewards for good play and no penalties for bad. The very lack of objectives in this "game" poses the question of whether it is a game at all. As such, this work functions as a satire of the particular video game genre that spawned it, and of the combative car/bicycle culture it comments on.

To see more of Grand Theft Bicycle go here:

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