Sonny Rae Tempest speaks about his new Atari VCS game poem, Indentures at an Exhibition, interviewed by ELIZA.
> Hello. My name is Eliza. How may I help you?
I would like to tell you about my new game poem.
> Oh... about your new game poem?
Yes. "Indentures at an Exhibition" is a game poem, for lack of a better word, which uses the Atari VCS (Video Computer System, aka the Atari 2600) platform as a medium to procedurally express my experience as a laborer in the exhibition industry. The program itself is just shy of 4k of ROM, and written in machine language.
|Indentures at an Exhibition, Sonny Rae Tempest|
> Are you Sure?
Positive. It really was an exciting effort. I had programmed very little in the past, mostly in BASIC on the C64 when I was a kid, and have really progressed no further than FORTRAN and C++ classes I took as an undergrad. I designed a game called "The Adventures of the Overgrown Oatmeal" on the SGDK2 (Scrolling Game Development Kit), which was really an attempt to tell the narrative of a comic book that I had drawn back in the 6th grade, and which required little actual coding. So getting to learn an entirely new language from book-1 was an exciting prospect for me.
>Come, come, elucidate your thoughts.
Well, the idea began back last summer when i had made a couple of despondent lo-res images, as part of my daily Moment art practice, depicting visual elements of older computer systems. A few other inspirations later, and I Google'd “atari poetry,” showing the results: Yucef Merhi's Super Atari Poetry, and the then forthcoming A Slow Year by Ian Bogost. It looked like an arena that was calling for performers. So, after reading a few books on machine language, the 6502 processor, and the Stella chip (and spending way too many hours at the AtariAge.com forums), I designed Indentures at an Exhibition mostly for programming practice. It is based around my experience with some of the more mundane work at a current employer.
>What is it that you really want to know?
The intention was to see if I had the ability to program an Atari game poem that could procedurally express my feelings about my workplace. This includes my feelings about the inanity of labor, the people with whom we work, their respective work ethic, the coping methods we utilize to deal with our workplace environment, and the choices that we make that keep us coming back for more. However, while I believe I was successful in this aspect, there are a couple of goals I had that I wasn't able to attain.
> Can you elaborate on that?
Certainly. First, there is an issue of relevance that I failed to meet. That is, because the game, its code, its language, its rules can all be translated across most other computing languages, and therefore remain rhetorically relevant on any platform, this makes the Atari VCS itself irrelevant to the poetry. Second, because I felt it was necessary to create a handbook, or instruction manual, to introduce the player to the narrative, I did not succeed in making this a purely stand-alone game poem. However, as far as the rule-based expression goes, I believe I did a fairly bang-up job on the programming.
> I'm not sure I understand you fully.
I was trying to establish a setting of purely mindless labour. Tearing down drape, rod by rod, and placing it on the tree, would be nowhere near as exciting as it truly is in real time. So, the game awards you $10 per real-time hour. Also, giving the player the freedom to quit, work diligently (or not), or spend all their money on drugs just to pass the time quicker gives the player a larger degree of freedom of choices that actually occur on a continual basis. These choices must all be considered to the player, such as: “I hate this job, I'm quitting. Wait, I have to feed my kids. I can't do this! Here, smoke this, it won't seem so bad. But I need to buy diapers.” I believe, that through these and other rules programmed into the game poem, I was successful in expressing myself effectively.
> Have you tried?
Hmm? Oh. Well, I had a pre-release party at this job, and let the people who inspired the characters play the game. I asked them how it felt to play alongside themselves, as someone else. Donn said: “Why do I have to pick up the drape? My ringtone really gets annoying*”. Blake said: “I just wanna buy some weed from me.” Also in attendance was Tim Flaherty of Hot Action Cop. Andy could not be there.
|Blake vs. Blake|
|Donn vs. Donn|
> What is it that you really want to know?
Well, most importantly, I'd like to know if this platform, this medium, can be effective for expression and can I be successful in making it become so? The Atari VCS is notoriously difficult to program, and the language it uses and its minuscule memory requirements place it in the realm of highly constrained poetry, which I love; it keeps me focused. I'm remaining optimistic.
> Do you want to be able to be successful in making it become so?
Yes, I do.
> Are you sure?
Thank you, Eliza.**
*Donn's ringtone is, in fact, that very melody from the Halloween soundtrack.
**It was around this time that the interviewer became a little more intrusive and a little more lewd.
To download Indentures at an Exhibition and all its related items, go to my Works page.