Interview: Babycastles Blends Art & Games Under One Roof

Laura Pieorni on Wednesday, Mar. 23rd

Babycastles is an indiecade out of New York that creates and curates games and installs them in music venues, art galleries, and special exhibits. I sat down and had an e-mail interview with the creator of Babycastles, Kunal Gupta a.k.a DJ Kunal, about how the organization started and who participates in the creation of each exhibit. In the audio portion, I also talked with Joe Salina, one of the event planners — and long time member of Babycastles — about branching out to new audiences and breaching that line between video games and interactive art installations.


Turnstyle: How did the idea for Babycastles come about?

Kunal Gupta: While my college friends and I have been putting games up as art installations and at parties / record releases / etc for many years, the specific project Babycastles was my thesis project for an “Advanced Game Design” class taught by Frank Lantz, of NYU Game Center & Area Code. It was a whole semester of reading & conversation on the relationship between the public and video games.

TS: What is the background of most of the people in Babycastles?

KG: Because Babycastles operates at some sort of apex of DIY (Do It Yourself) art venue culture in New York City, most people helping us out have a art-related background, whether it be performance, visual art, comics, games, or music, which is wonderful.

TS: What has been your favorite installation?

KG: Terraforms, curated by Zach Gage & Sarah Brin ~
Games That Will Make You Cry, curated by Arthur Ward ~
are among my favorite, but the rest are available here & here

TS: How will the move to Manhattan from Brooklyn change the feel or tone of the arcade?

KG: While we were able to present more frivolous, quirky, interesting, deeper, and even violent ideas in game design @ Silent Barn, Queens because our host space: Silent Barn, has an audience expecting to give a lot to the art they inhabit, Manhattan was a whole separate project. Manhattan was what Babycastles wanted to say to art curators & press & general public that wouldn’t make it to a tucked away DIY space out of their natural curiosity. We basically just curated a series of different exhibitions that showcase different cultures of video game expression, different reasons people are making games because it’s largely the many specific cultures for game development that validate the field as an maturing art form. Our Manhattan run included a GameJam (Experimental Gameplay Project), a Illustrator & Game Designer mashup culture, two different giant sort of “sundance festival” like contexts for game art called IGF and IndieCade, an all new physical game by Eric Zimmernan, game modifications… etc. All of those were specifically trying to present Games in some sort of capital letter way. Now, while Babycastles @ Silent Barn in Queens will continue to be a more playful curation of nonsense, Babycastles Gallery in Brooklyn will serve a whole new gallery function: we recently ran another galleryesque Arcade called “DADAMACHINIMA” in another space, and we believe it’s finally time for strong and uncompromisable game art curations.

TS: Who comes up with the ideas for the different themes of the installations?

KG: With very few exceptions at the beginning of the Babycastles project, we have worked entirely with an external curator for each exhibition at Babycastles, and almost one individual curator per exhibition. They have been students, game journalists, game professors, indie game designers, corporate game designers, and anybody heavily involved in playing games: Game curation is a cool and unprecedented field to get so many people involved in. This has mostly been a volunteer effort on the curators part, and although also take on the responsibility of managing the money generated from the exhibitions towards the game designers, I hope the growing field will compensate them for the experience. We also hope to turn into some sort financially functionable employer within the next few months!

TS: It was rated “Best Arcade-Best of New York 2011” and featured on g4TV, do you think the success will change Babycastles?

KG: Yes! It gives us way too many opportunities and directions to choose from, and basically has been making our organization massive. Just trying to clamp down this excitement and energy into directions that still truly matter for the project is going to be very difficult. The thing I’m most excited about is designing a tangible model around the successful parts of our activity, and offering that economics, hardware, software, and cultural research to the rest of the neighborhood, as the whole city is starting to want to become an environment for independent game development. Everyone really cares about these games, the more access people have, the more people are really into this! That itself is cool to verify.

All photos attributed to Christina Xu.


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