A new organization is looking to build awareness of North Texas’ independent video game scene. The group, called Tiny Thumbs, recently hosted its second pop-up arcade, and we paid it a visit.
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Bobby Frye is playing a diabolically hard game called Super Hexagon.
“What I do here is I control this little triangle as I move around a hexagon that’s rotating in space. I just died. And I’m dodging squares that are coming in toward the center,” he says. “Now, if I was a better player, you would see as I get further on, the hexagon would turn into a pentagon … eventually going to a point as the game gets harder and harder.”
Instead the air is filled with a familiar refrain: “Game over.”
Frye is playing the game at a meet-up of Tiny Thumbs, a group dedicated to building awareness around the indie game scene in North Texas. He’s a Ph.D candidate at the University of Texas at Dallas, and he formed Tiny Thumbs with Kyle Kondas, who teaches there. This is the club’s second event, and dozens of gamers have stopped by to sample a handful of games created by independent developers. All of them are delightfully analog, throwbacks to the 8-bit ’80s.
“Things like this – these pop-up arcades – it’s awesome because you can come see what other indie game developers are doing, see what people like and don’t like,” said UTD student Clint McClain. He was test driving the games with a couple of classmates.
Which is actually a rare experience. Home gaming buried arcades long ago.
Frye says bringing back that communal experience is another of Tiny Thumbs’ missions.
“It wasn’t just you playing the game, it was you with your quarter placed on the machine waiting for someone else to finish the game,” he said. “The games are interesting, but what’s much more interesting are the people playing them.”
But the most interesting part of this little get-together may be where it’s taking place – the Dallas Museum of Art. The museum hosted the pop-up arcade in its Center for Creative Connections.
The setting got the crowd thinking about where video games intersect with the art world. The question has been in the air since the Museum of Modern Art announced in December that it has acquired 14 videos games for its permanent collection. Pac-Man and Tetris will share space with Picasso and Twombly.
Anna Andreen considered the question while playing a game called Endless Forms Most Beautiful.
“It combines so many different levels of art and brings them all together into one engrossing story that we can all take part in without having to know the history behind it that people might expect you to know if you go to an art museum and see the classics,” she said. “It’s almost like the people’s art.”
Which doesn’t mean a game can’t still be thought-provoking. For at least half an hour, an elementary school age boy was transfixed by a game called Yeti Hunter, tracking the mythical beast through the snow. Clint McClain, the UTD student, stood and watched, pondering the nature of the game.
“We’ve been watching it here for a little bit, and so far out of anybody I’ve seen play, I haven’t seen a Yeti,” he said. “So it’s like, what if there’s not a Yeti? And that’s like the point of the game is to see that breaking point. Like when you’re just going to stop playing – or get so frustrated with it. If we’re trying to bring art games into the mix, then that would be something an art game would do.”
Alas, just before the event ended at 11 p.m., the Yeti was spotted.