Cory Arcangel, Various Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat The Champ), 2011, fourteen video game consoles and fourteen video projections, dimensions variable. Installation view.


Cory Arcangel’s latest work, Various Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat The Champ), 2011, is a video installation featuring fourteen bowling video games made between the 1970s and the 2000s. Each game is rigged to roll only gutter balls and plays in scoreless loops. The video installation is a co-commission between the Barbican Art Gallery in London and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Here, the artist discusses his thoughts on video games, social media, and his latest Web-based projects. The Barbican exhibition is on view until May 22; the Whitney show opens on May 26.

WHEN I WAS A KID, I didn’t have a Nintendo. So I’d go over to my friend’s house, because he had one, and I’d just sit for hours and watch him play The Legend of Zelda. I never liked playing video games very much––still don’t––but found watching them so boring that somehow it became infinitely fascinating to me. And if you really want to know, this is where the inspiration for Various Self Playing Bowling Games comes from.

The work is a video installation of multiple bowling video games, and each has been hacked or modified to only roll gutter balls. As you walk into the Barbican you see the games projected next to one another in a long row. The projections are big—like Bruce Nauman big. The first versions you see are the earliest bowling games, and as you walk along the games get newer and newer until pretty much the present day. At the Barbican there are fourteen games in total.

I chose bowling because it was the most ridiculous and awkward virtual experience I could think of. Think about it: You are sitting in front of your TV and there is this little virtual avatar made out of polygons throwing virtual bowling balls. It’s a great metaphor for all the different ways that life is spun around technology. And in Various Self Playing Bowling Games it’s humiliating—what’s more humiliating than throwing a gutter ball?—but a bit funny at the same time. It mixes all these things together and the result is this kind of despotic sadness tinged with a bizarre, weirdly endurance-related humor.

A lot of my work uses humor to express a suspicion of technology. A recent performance piece that is a good example is called Working on My Novel. It’s simply a Twitter search for the phrase “working on my novel.” When you search that phrase on Twitter you get all these people talking about how they’re working on their novel. The joke is of course that if you’re twittering about how you’re working on your novel, you’re probably not working on your novel! I love these situations.

Another, and probably one of my favorites of the newer works, is titled Sorry I Haven’t Posted. It’s a blog that reposts people’s blog posts where they apologize for not blogging. They all include the phrase “sorry I haven’t posted.” I sift through about fifty a day to pick only the best ones. They are often equal parts sad and inspiring.

These situations are of endless interest to me because they amplify the contradictions that are on the rise as technology becomes an increasing part of our lives. I’m not immune to any of this either. I spend a lot of time on computers––all of my time actually––and of course my work is primarily digital. But that said, I don’t really approve of any of it. It’s a love/hate thing, I guess.

Various Self Playing Bowling Games is part of a series I have been working on for a few years, and I still have some ideas left. For example, I could have a self-playing fishing video game. I like the idea of a guy who can never catch a fish, who just stands out on a boat forever, or a football game where the player gets sacked over and over again into eternity. There are so many possibilities, and all of these endless scenarios that could play out forever.

— As told to Allese Thomson Baker