ArchiJam x Molleindustria
Intro talk and final projects showcase

Open – Russian Pavilion, DTO #10
Imagine a Way Out

An overview of ArchiJam, a gamedev session that took place as a part of Open, the Russian project at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.

The 7-day session, co-organized by Open, the MARCH School of Architecture and the Scream School, was designed to develop projects at the intersection of video games and architecture that would address the central question of the Biennale, How will we live together?, while focusing on new ways of thinking about and acting within cultural institutions in physical and virtual realities. Interdisciplinary teams of architects, artists, and game designers met the brief with six projects questioning not only the existing institutional modes but also the larger issues at stake in the Biennale at large and the Russian pavilion specifically.

One of the highlights of ArchiJam was a public talk by the game designer and Molleindustria founder Paolo Pedercini. The recording of the presentation titled A Pattern Language for Game Spaces is available on this page. In his talk, Pedercini lays down a basic network of patterns that can inform expressive and critical world-building in games.

Dmitry Vesnin joined the curatorial team of Open and the ArchiJam jury in reviewing the submissions and revealing the themes, patterns, and aims common to all of them.

Life Road by Kirill Mitrukhov
#1 Life Road

Created by: Kirill Mitrukhov
Link: repsoloff.itch.io

Life Road is a generator of buildings that line along a single endless road. Progressing, the player keeps discovering new structures, each slightly different from the previous ones. The Life Road goes all the way from wooden architecture to concrete skyscrapers; the only limit is the computer memory, incapable of holding all the buildings along the route.

The protagonist of the game is architecture. It is not controlled by the player and strives to surprise left and right. The gameplay feels like taking a walk in a big Russian city that always has some new and unexpected structure waiting around the corner, set against the regular urban background. The point Italo Calvino makes in Invisible Cities, «What meaning does your construction have? What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?» is more than relevant here. The answer provided by Life Road is: sometimes new buildings just emerge out of the blue, at their own whim, with no particular plan or objective. Citizens have no apparent ways of influencing this process.

In a way, the narrative of Life Road reaches far beyond the evolution of architecture, questioning the very phenomenon of urban transformations and self-inflicted renovations. One of the strengths of the game is the procedural generation of urban experiences, gritty as they may seem.

Quarantine Dreaming by Evgenia Ostrikova, Dmitry Lotash, Arman Nadzharian, Polina Smoliakova
#2 Quarantine Dreaming

Created by: Evgenia Ostrikova, Dmitry Lotash, Arman Nadzharian, Polina Smoliakova

If the first game is a reflection of today’s reality, Quarantine Dreaming is an escapist flight of fancy that throws the players out of their familiar homes and hurls them towards the private spaces of other characters. The architects of this game turn the inner worlds inside out and send the protagonist out to explore the imaginary realms of their close ones that coexist within the visible living spaces but turn out to be quite literally on different planets.

The unusual topology reflects the attempt to break through compulsory isolation and establish contact either with oneself or with the outside world. As soon as we learn that one of the doors opens into a different planet, the perception of the four walls around it undergoes a dramatic change. It is like waking up in one’s own bedroom only to discover a lunar landscape outside the window. But even so, what does it matter if one is locked up at home all the same?

To quote Federico Campagna’s essay on the relation of games and the so-called «real world», «by abolishing the distinction between work and play, between art and life, contemporary society has attempted to desertify the realm of play, and along with it, to do away with any chance of conceiving of an exit from our present condition.» While underscoring the urgency of Campagna’s point and revealing the limitations of virtual worlds, Quarantine Dreaming indicates a solution in the physical reality. And the solution lies in humanity.

How I Will Live Together by Yaroslav Kravtsov
#3 How I Will Live Together

Created by: Yaroslav Kravtsov
Link: yarkravtsov.com

Level designer and media artist Yaroslav Kravtsov created a game that meets the brief on several levels. First of all, the title How I will live together exposes the naivety of the central question of the Biennale, How will we live together?, inevitably reverting to the singular.

In the gameplay, the solitude is not instantly perceived: at first, the player spends some time in a virtual reality with other players, amid public spaces and cute little Easter eggs to be discovered by the inquisitive mind. But after a while the protagonist is propelled back into a different reality, that of human anhills. Kravtsov would have been hard pressed to provide any novel insights on the subject, but he makes the players feel the despair of the inhabitants of dormitory suburbs, concrete jungles and urban sprawls upon return from their forays into virtual reality. Just like Quarantine Dreaming, Kravtsov’s game captures the shifts of perception that change the atmosphere of a place as soon as we learn about its surroundings.

How I will live together offers no other solution than to escape. However, all the virtual escape routes are strictly controlled by the government. Parallels with life and politics of today’s Russia are evident: the walking rules imposed in 2020 translate into virtual restrictions while hinting at the websites blocked by the authorities; open, free and clear spaces are compared to dense suburbs, private housing is matched against residential highrises. As a matter of fact, How I will live together is not about escapist phantasies: it is a neat and stylish summary of the existing situation.

Sanctuary by Daria Kamysheva, Polina Vasina, Ivan Shtyka, Konstantin Smirnov, Daniel Dyatchin, Daria Khitrykh
#4 Sanctuary

Created by: Daria Kamysheva, Polina Vasina, Ivan Shtyka, Konstantin Smirnov,
Daniel Dyatchin, Daria Khitrykh

Link: bit.ly/3EhhSPp

Sanctuary is set on an amazing sandy island in the middle of an endless parking lot. It is within the parking space that the players interact with the imaginary garden, only to find out that their actions can have the most unlikely consequences. The game location has a real-life prototype within a residential project by PIK Group, one of Russia’s biggest developers.

The residential garden which is the starting point of the game echoes the concept of this year’s British pavilion, The Garden of Privatised Delights. Elevating nature to the status of a sanctuary, the designers of the game problematise the elitist, reserved quality of these spaces. Gaming interactions end up validating the boundary between humans and nature that is behind the environmental crisis we are living in today.

Sanctuary has just one location but it is enough to raise dozens of social and political issues, from regulating access to nature to the ever-escalating conflicts between humans and their environment.

The Line by Ksenia Kononenko, Kirill Makarov
#5 The Line

Created by: Ksenia Kononenko, Kirill Makarov
Link: xenia-kononenko.itch.io

One of the most striking and unusual gameplays of ArchiJam, The Line invites the participants to read a poem composed of sculptural letters. There is no single vantage point offering a panorama of the entire text: instead, one has to find a route through a labyrinth, deciphering the poem from the first letter to the last.

The towering letters are scattered in a way that in theory could allow shortcuts and alternative routes. But these solutions do not score: the players must respect the original artistic intention. Drawing on the ideas of Barthes and Nancy, the game postulates the authority of the text and issues a strong warning: this is no place for carefree wanderings and alternative routes.

The game can easily be translated into a public art work with visitors resting inside the letters, reading other books, taking shortcuts and Instagrammable photos. This way, the poem would become a mere decoration. Referencing the title of Open, the game builds walls that are open enough to allow players through and provides additional restrictions that compromise the openness.

Chimera tectonica by Ksenia Gorlanova, Victoria Volokitina, Valeria Kholmogorova
#6 Chimera tectonica

Created by: Ksenia Gorlanova, Victoria Volokitina, Valeria Kholmogorova
Link: dilika.itch.io

Giant hogweed (Heracleum sosnowskyi) is one of the most urgent problems of Russia during the summer. The plant, cultivated in the Soviet times as a silage crop, spread across the continent and became highly invasive. The storyline uncovers a variety of semantic layers, including toxic heritage, regional restrictions, and class divides. The anti-hogweed campaign is waged by research facilities, agricultural authorities, and the media.

Instead of providing an unequivocal answer to the question How will we live together?, the team behind the game chose to investigate one of the potential scenarios. Drawing on Donna Haraway’s Staying with Trouble, the designers invoke the hogweed as a trigger for reflections on learning to accept life in all its strange and unusual forms. The research behind the game is illustrated in a presentation that cites the myth of Heracles, Kikoriki, and popular TikTok channels. The game was designed as a metaphor of anthropocentric world model. In the future, they intend to translate the hogweed simulator into a procedural narrative in order to represent the entire interaction cycle of the plant.

Conclusions:

The projects developed during ArchiJam expand the notion of architectural thinking in game design. The submissions reflect the current agenda, reveal hidden mechanisms and put to test the forces behind architectural processes. The games propose imaginary solutions to the problems we are all facing in the ‘real world’.

One of the best parts of ArchiJam is the way the resulting games represent the Russian context, the local specifics and rules. It goes to show that games are not only a part of a global culture but also a way to make clear statements on things that are going on next door, of our own difficulties, handicaps, and visions.

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