After having worked with Institutions and galleries for some time, I wanted to step back into doing work in alternative spaces. By this point, I had seen various 'blockbuster' videogame exhibitions, and had been wondering about what was missing from these exhibitions. Generally the history of gaming culture, both how its written about and exhibited, draws from a very sort of vernacular understanding of videogames. That is to say, it's representative only of an industrial history: the 'great men' who made the industry what it is, a timeline of technological innovation (from the primitive to the advanced), and the circulation of global capital through evergreen IPs such as Mario, Sonic, Pokemon, etc.
Thinking about these as articulations of sanctioned histories of gaming, I thought about the myriad of illegal hacks, mods and bootlegs that have been produced, many of which have circulated as another form of 'underground' global digital culture. Sometimes these bootlegs have physical form and have been manufactured as game cartridges or discs, sometimes they are circulated online as ROM and ISO files. Sometimes they are made by fans themselves, rather than digital pirates looking for profit. All of this, plus a myriad of urban myths, proliferate in gaming culture. So, why are they not represented as part of these histories?
What began as a tumblr blog, turned into a duo of exhibitions in 2013. Given the ephemeral nature of much of the material I wanted to exhibit, I chose to show most of the works on hacked handheld gaming devices such as Playstation Portables, and Nintendo DS'. I was then that I decided that the Ghost Arcade must also be portable: all of the equipment needed to stage the exhibition would need to fit into a suitcase. All display tech (shelving, tables, etc) would come from the space I was exhibiting in. In this way, I also gave the exhibitions a sort of site specificity, something that global, touring exhibitions rarely accomplish. The first edition of the Ghost Arcade (June 2013) was held in London Ontario, on the 3rd floor of City Lights Books. Basically Tyler Smith (the store's manager) and I cleared out what was a storage area for old shelving and converted it into an ad hoc exhibition space over a couple of days. Using old shelving, milk crates and even and old door, I built up the displays. The room had no windows and was raw, with exposed brick walls.
The second edition of the Ghost Arcade happened at Canzine, in Toronto, Canada (October 2013). Canzine is Canada's largest zine and DIY arts festival. The room they had give me, felt like an old playroom I had in my family basement as a child. I used the tables in the space, turned out the lights, and even used masking tape to affix small portable monitors to the walls. I wanted it to feel raw and childlike.
Each version of the Ghost Arcade featured a different set of bootlegged games, hacks, modifications. While traditionally I would list them here, I feel like the nature of this project resists that kind of archival, documentation form. Each articluation of this project was iterative and unique. And future editions will also be so. I have retired the blog for the time being and am working towards a new version of this exhibition as part of my dissertation work at Concordia University. More information forthcoming.