Gamescapes: Anokhi Shah discusses materiality, virtuality and video games

In the seventh part of the series, STIR speaks with architect, entrepreneur and curator Anokhi Shah to know the implications of a future where material and virtual reality spaces merge.

by Shraddha Nair Published on : Aug 18, 2020

Art does not function in solitary existence. It is inextricably intertwined with the multiple facets of society. With regard to science and technology too, art often finds influence and inspiration from these areas of study. While the methods and materials might differ, and respective communications certainly employ dissimilar lexicon, the seemingly separate domains are in fact two sides of the same coin. There are spaces when these disciplines overlap. It is at these intersections that osmosis begins and the two subjects disregard their constructed boundaries in the favour of growth, development and exploration of unknown territories. With artists increasingly branching out into new media, we are seeing more artwork that stands at the crossroads of creation and discovery. Artists like Refik Anandol, whose work brings into play algorithms and data, and Diemut Strebe, who collaborates with scientists at MIT Boston to explore artificial intelligence, are at the forefront of this integrative space. Just as these creators imbibe from and feed back into the world of science and technology, so do video game developers. With the growing popularity of augmented, mixed and virtual reality-based video game experiences, studios remain at the forefront of all developments in this space as they consistently analyse what is economically and ergonomically feasible for their users, in order to incorporate those developments.

A visitor experiencing virtual reality at TIFA Working Studios | Paw_cosm | Anokhi Shah | Gamescapes | STIRworld
A visitor experiencing virtual reality at TIFA Working Studios Image: Anokhi Shah

Anokhi Shah is an architect, curator and new media entrepreneur who shuffles between Pune, India and Frankfurt, Germany. Her curiosities grow at the intersection of spatial experience and interactive design. She works as curator for TIFA Working Studios in Pune and is also the founder of IOVR, an interdisciplinary design research startup founded on the premise of technological innovation flirting with new media narratives. She has curated and participated in multiple exhibitions, both in India and Europe, experimenting within and exploring the continuously developing area of new media. In conversation with STIR, she discusses how the exceptional material of video games works in tandem with tech-related developments: “Experiential mediums allow for a fully immersive setting. New modes of simulations are now possible. Infinite games using artificial intelligence in these mediums are now coming up. These mediums become great platforms in experiencing the world of the game space. Similarly, projects made in AR/VR constantly borrow ideas of storytelling and fictional worlds from video games. Aesthetics also becomes a common factor. The two major factors that are common between these two ideas are immersion and playfulness. Built around these two points, I curated Cyberia: New Media Playground at TIFA Working Studios in December 2019. The Art of Immersion is dedicated to the transforming experience of reality through immersive digital visualisation systems. Stemming from principles of video game design, Cyberia aimed to lay a foundation for experimentation through play using key principles like interactivity, fictional storytelling, fictional worlds, narratives, characters, style, etc. The idea of play can transform real-world references, meanings, and ideologies, and can hence function as political and social entities in media - in a positive, enlightening way or in the sense of seductive propaganda”.

‘Quarantine Worlds: Low Poly Aesthetics’ is a project led by Shah at IOVR | Low Poly Aesthetics | Anokhi Shah | Gamescapes | STIRworld
Quarantine Worlds: Low Poly Aesthetics is a project led by Shah at IOVR Image: Anokhi Shah

Shah explains the complexities of our expanded reality as technology pervades our experiences in various avenues of life, “I am constantly investigating the effects of the digital in its complete takeover of space/spatial perceptions. Projection is no longer image-based but has now gradually become experience-based. Mixed reality, sometimes referred to as hybrid reality, is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualisations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real-time. Experiential realities require a user to interact with the technology in order for it to work. In augmented reality it is by the use of an application, in virtual reality, it is usually through teleportation. This allows the user to immerse completely in this space, which makes the experience more playful and engaging. With the use of computational designs, it is now possible to create real world simulations using immersive technologies. This opens up infinite possibilities to create new experiences. Questions of aesthetics and different forms of representations are of great importance and most projects are accompanied by a strong narrative to make them more playful and engaging”.

Paw_cosm is an architecture graphic novel that can be read entirely over Instagram. The project tries to narrate a story through spaces and on a contemporary social media platform | Paw_cosm | Anokhi Shah | Gamescapes | STIRworld
Paw_cosm is an architecture graphic novel that can be read entirely over Instagram. The project tries to narrate a story through spaces and on a contemporary social media platform Image: Anokhi Shah

She concludes by saying: “The only risk that I personally feel afraid of is losing out on our tactile senses. Everything in the virtual space can be controlled but I miss the lack of materiality. There are lots of people working on bridging these two ideas but there is a certain sense of difficulty involved because of the medium. I have been communicating on Zoom for the last few months but it does’t even come close to the feeling of meeting people in person”. 

While the universe of virtual reality games is rather nascent, some augmented reality video games have already achieved massive success. Niantic Inc. is a software development company based in San Francisco, USA and are perhaps best known for their AR games Pokémon Go and Ingress. Other video games such as Trover Saves the Universe, Half-Life: Alyx and No Man’s Sky are slowly paving the path for progress in this space, which continues to unfold itself and reveal its nuances.

Anokhi Shah | Gamescapes| STIRworld
Anokhi Shah Image: Anokhi Shah

Click here to know more about video games as an artform and read the other articles in the Gamescapes series presented by STIR.

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