November 14, 2011  |  Events & Programs, Family & Kids
CLICK@MoMA: Babycastles’ Arcade

Holding one of the Johan Sebastian Joust controllers at Babycastles

For this season of In the Making, as part of our CLICK@MoMA digital media workshops for teens, we brought in the guys from the indie video game collective Babycastles to run a 10-week workshop on the amazing world of interactive technology, consoles, and video games that function as works of art. For their second week of class, Babycastles brought the teens from MoMA to Brooklyn and showed them the Babycastles gallery space, as well as a few other important aspects of the current NYC DIY community. Check out their post below!

– Calder Zwicky, Associate Educator of Teen and Community Programs


On October 13, the Click@MoMA Teens were taken to a 3,000-square-foot concrete warehouse near the edge of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Lit only by colored bulbs and clip lights, the space was filled with independent video games—some inside arcade cabinets and others sprawled all over the room. The teens were on a field trip, visiting Babycastles at our former location at 285 Kent Avenue. They were playing our most recent installation, called QWOP The Screen, an exhibition of (mostly) non-screen-based “physical games.” As they entered the venue, they were ushered to the back of the space, where we initiated a game of Johan Sebastian Joust, a tempo-based game that vaguely resembles a cross between tag and musical chairs, with a soundtrack consisting purely of Bach. The players held up their controllers valiantly and pressed a button to enter the game. The colored orbs on their controllers lit up, assigning a different color to each player, and the music began as all six players entered the game. The objective was to “tag” your opponent out by tapping their controller at the same pace as the music. Move too slowly, and you risk getting tagged out; move too fast, and you might just tag yourself out.

Teens playing Johan Sebastian Joust in Babycastles' cavernous space

GIRPing it up at Babycastles

After quickly mastering the game in a few rounds, we had the teens play another a game from the installation. Mega GIRP is based on a popular flash game of the same name. GIRP is a exercise in finger gymnastics, requiring a player to contort their fingers in impossible positions to enable an on-screen rock climber to reach his next elevation. In Mega GIRP, the keyboard keys used for input are mapped to four dance pads. These pads take the inherent finger gymnastics and turn them into impossibly real gymnastics. The teens struggled to get the rock climber past a few feet. Even though Mega GIRP is a single-player game, the entire class engaged the game cooperatively and tried to help whoever was playing by shouting out the next move they should make, “G! No! No, F!” They combined their efforts to try to figure how to conquer this seemingly unbeatable game.

Checking out Showpaper

We moved the kids away from the games and back to the rear of the venue, where poster-like zines called Showpapers were strewn about on our stage. Rob Chabebe and Alaina Stamatis spoke about Showpaper, a bi-weekly newsletter that lists all-ages venues in the tri-state area and the events happening at those spaces for the next two weeks. Alaina and Rob went over the art on each cover, which is carefully curated, and pointed out their favorite covers.

Babycastles had opened a gallery on 42nd street with Showpaper last year and, at the time, shared the same headquarters at Silent Barn in Ridgewood, Queens. Our relationship with Showpaper and the space that was Silent Barn was an integral part of how Babycastles grew and became a significant presence in the independent video game scene. By letting us host monthly exhibitions of independent games, Silent Barn made us the first permanent arcade in the city at the time. When we started our arcade, we didn’t know that there was a vibrant indie-game scene in Ridgewood, Queens, or that there was even a need for a space to gather to talk about and play or exhibit games, but we were happy that we had the opportunity to create such a space. Brooklyn and Queens have been the musical and artistic compass for NYC for over 10 years now, acting as a sandbox for artists, musicians and, most recently, game developers, to inhabit spaces and cultivate positive, all-ages communities that support and nourish fringe projects. That’s what the “DIY” scene represents, and that’s why we took the class to our next location: Death By Audio.

From left: In awe at Death By Audio; Teens check out one of the Babycastles arcade consoles

Death by Audio is an all-ages music venue that resembles the venues Babycastles has inhabited before. They follow the same politics (all-ages, always) and apply a lot of the same aesthetics—with wildly painted art on the walls and curated music shows—as Babycastles has over the past two years of its existence. The teens were introduced to Edan Wilber, the curator of the space. He gave them a brief tour and explained how he booked the venue and kept it going. Edan went over the risks inherent in running DIY spaces, such as complaints from neighbors or keeping shows orderly, and addressed any questions posed by the curious teens.

The following week, we tied what we saw at Babycastles and D.B.A. to our lecture about viewing arcades as a way to exhibit games that go against how traditional galleries exhibit work. In addition, we went into the Museum and looked at work from MoMA’s fourth-floor galleries, discussing the ways in which artists such as Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra, Dan Flavin, and Eva Hesse have all integrated traditional and nontraditional sculptural materials into their three-dimensional work. With this information, the students in our class will construct and present their own version of an arcade that will be displayed in the big teen art show starting December 16. With the amount of enthusiasm and talent that they’ve displayed so far, we can’t wait to see what they come up with!

– Syed Salahuddin, Joe Salina, and Kunal Gupta // Babycastles