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UCSD Artist Sheldon Brown Creates a Video Game for the Thinking Player

Grand Theft Auto has made its lasting, controversial mark on the video game industry. In its seedy world you can drive, shoot at people, play some pool and pick up a hooker. Whatever your thoughts on the social value of the game, moving around in such a detailed virtual space is pretty amazing. However, if your not feelin' your inner gangsta, then head over to UCSD's Calit2 for a different kind of video game with social criticism at its core (I suppose there are plenty of grad students who turn GTA into social criticism). UCSD artist Sheldon Brown has reinvented the driving video game and instead of driving a sports car, the player takes the form of a tornado of cars! I'm bitter that we don't yet have flying cars, so a tornado of cars completely soothes my ire.

Tornado of cars in Scalable City

The game is the centerpiece to Brown's installation Scalable City , currently on view at UCSD's gallery@calit2 (that's their gallery name - get it? & It's all meta). & In the center of the gallery space is a giant track ball that allows you to enter the landscape of the game, which takes form and adapts as you move through it. & You can lay down roads, which means you cut through mountains and create valleys. &


A still from Sheldon Brown's Scalable City.

As a moving tornado, you can also pick up other items in the landscape... items like houses! & Houses get whipped up in the tornado whirl and come crashing down all reconfigured but still retaining enough "housiness" to recognize what they are. The aesthetics of this landscape are trippy yet incredibly beautiful. & The flying and reconfigured houses look like origami houses. &

The houses in Scalable City.

Check out this trailer to see more of what I mean. & A house lands in front of you that looks like a chopped up photograph of a house with a Calatrava designed roof.

What's the point of all of this? Brown says he was partially interested in having users/viewers reflect on how their participation in the world actually changes that world. " Scalable City places responsibility for the new landscape on each user, whose activities are simultaneously constructive and destructive," said Brown. "By applying computational processes to design decisions, it becomes easy to see how development can produce unintended effects after much iteration. Even the smallest design decision today to build a road can lead, at the extreme, to drastic changes in the built environment that were probably neither intended nor wanted."


Science fiction writer Geoff Ryman is the writer-in-residence at UCSD's Center for Research in Computing and the Arts and he's written a short story called Care , which he set in Brown's Scalable City . You can hear both Brown and Ryman talk about their work on These Days . Tonight (Tuesday, December 2nd) at 5:30, Brown, Ryman, and science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson will give a talk at UCSD's Atkinson Hall . & Scalable City will be on view through December 15th. &