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Babyharvester the Opening Night – December 4th

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Babyharvester on December 4th was the official opening reception of the Babyharvester exhibition in the Clocktower Gallery: An 80′s style pizzeria brought to you by Babycastles and the Slice Harvester fanzine, coming straight out of the childhoods of anyone raised in that era. This was no ordinary 80′s style recreation, however; there was quite a different (and rather dark, as you shall soon see) spin to it!

To be specific, Duke Reuben’s – the name of this pizza parlor – was created to be a twisted representation of such a pizzeria. An image of the 80′s from our rose-tinted, childhood glasses, shattered upon the realization of what you are given to interact with in the form of this parlor’s arcades. Duke Reuben’s featured a curation of three … rather screwed up, I shall say, games for its visitors to play; of which none required coins, thankfully! A welcome change from 80′s pizzerias, I am certain.

In the back of Duke Reuben’s next to the oven, music from the 80′s played from an appropriately-chosen old radio, as if it was being broadcast over-the-air right at that moment. In the corner near the entrance, the movie Commando played continuously on a similarly-old television set. It was pretty easy to forget that you were actually inside a room within an art gallery, high above the ground in a Manhattan Criminal Court building.

Engineering and bringing Babyharvester to life were Babycastles, who provided the games and the parlor’s design, Colin Hagendorf of the Slice Harvester pizzeria review fanzine, who provided and served the pizza, and Yusuke Okada, an illustrator and punk musician who drew the many pictures found on the parlor’s walls.

It should be noted that, despite its name, no babies of any species were harvested in the making of this event. And if that thought wasn’t macabre enough for you, take a look at the games that were in store for visitors to this little parlor…

And Now, for the Games:

 

Available on the three arcades to the side were I Was In The War, Harpooned, and PeaceMaker. Each of these games related to some negative aspect of humanity, which players could see and experience for themselves through the games’ mechanics. All of these games had a message to send, although for I Was In The War I admittedly had to think about its message for a little while after I played it.

I Was In The War is a sidescroller where the player controls a lone unit that has to run through mobs of running soldiers … or were they civilians? Anyway, you the player must speed through a continuous gauntlet of people, soon followed by falling missiles, and then rolling tanks, helicopters, jumping guerilla fighters, while growing larger as you maneuver through every obstacle.

If you hit an obstacle – or if you stood still – your unit would then shrink and eventually die, and you would be unceremoniously brought back to the title screen.

Eventually, after dodging many instruments of war, you would be forced to endure a nuclear explosion. Or rather, try to survive your inevitable burning death as you slowly shrink in size, while pixelated fire visibly roasts you alive! This part probably depends on how large you manage to become by the time the nuclear bomb blows up, since you gradually shrink at a continuous rate here, rather than the huge bursts that impacting a human or a vehicle in previous cases resulted in.

There was no seemingly possible way for a player to pass through this event; I initially thought that it was a race to gain as many points as possible, until you died. I later read, though, that there actually is a proper ending to this game past the explosion. No matter how many times I tried to madly dash past it however, I wasn’t nearly elite enough to reach that ending. Oh well; it was quite fun to play, at any rate!

As for its meaning … I surmised that it was a representation of a random guy caught in the middle of a chaotic battlefield. You played as him desperately trying to fight for his life, and escape amidst mobs of other escaping people – or soldiers trying to kill you, however you see it – and vehicles of war advancing to mow you down. Only to be slowly burned to death by a nuclear weapon that you could not hope to avoid.

I was satisfied with this thought, until someone else brought light to me of a potentially darker meaning that it could have. That, if you paid attention to the enemy sprites, they seemed to wear straw hats, and combined with the nuclear detonation could be indicative of a nuclear war in Asia … possibly with references to World War II Japan.

Though I’d prefer to think that wouldn’t be true, it would certainly cast a dark shadow over this otherwise-fun, if not slightly screwed up arcade game!

Harpooned is a top-down shmup-style game, where you play a Japanese “research” whaling boat and you (quite bloodily and gorily) hunt down whales to the last cetacean, for the purposes of, um, science! Or at least, what the Japanese whaling industry and government like to call “scientific research”.

In the cruel reality of now, everyone knows that this euphemism is a total falsehood, and that the whaling industry is using it as a cover to carelessly overfish whales of all species to the brink of extinction. And Harpooned brilliantly and darkly parodies this; as you progress through the game, and kill more and more whales, the numbers of whales that you encounter become smaller and smaller.

Eventually … you no longer see whales, at all. You continue trying to fish, only to meet more icebergs, Greenpeace boats that you are supposed to capture even during the hunting segments, and a vessel presumably belonging to the Sea Shepherd organization.

And then it ends. You are left to assume that you have left the area, to find a new place to hunt the whales down there to the last … again.

Adding to the dark parody is the fact that you are presented with a line after every offloading of meat – processed into burgers, pet food, cosmetics, and a token research paper – stating in some way that whales are lessening in numbers, and that more hunting is required to “study” this decrease. It’s a dark game, and definitely not for the faint of heart once you truly realize what you are doing in it.

However, I wouldn’t say that it’s the most depressing game of this lineup! No; that title, I believe, deserves to go to…

PeaceMaker. This is a political simulation game based on the Israeli-Palestinian war, and considering recent events regarding the two nations, it was probably the most in-focus game of all three. In this game, you could play as either the leader of Israel or Palestine, and you are tasked with attempting to negotiate a true peace between the two groups. You will also have to attend to the needs of your people, manage your nation’s internal politics, negotiate for financial help from foreign powers, as well as try to satisfy or hold back your country’s own internal factions, such as Fatah and Hamas for Palestine.

As if to say that it’s impossible to satisfy everyone – which in this game, you would certainly think so! – every action that you can take feels like while you could gain some sort of approval from one side, you would nearly always lose approval from the other. Sometimes, in unfairly disproportionate amounts. Playing as the Palestinian leader, you would need to gain approval from your people and the rest of the world, while for Israel you would need to satisfy the Palestinians and your people.

An interesting dichotomy, when you think about it; the Palestinians have to worry about approval from, essentially, everyone. Israel, however, only needs to worry about their own approval, and that of the Palestinians’.

Some actions did feel like they would allow you to gain approval from both sides, but compared to the unbalancing approval gains and losses from most other actions that are available, these only felt like they granted you so relatively few points. You can only believe that trying to be a leader in this situation is futile; a point sort of dismissed by Asi Burak, the creator of this game, who was actually present and interviewed before the attendees of this Babyharvester.

More on this will come later in the article, so stay tuned!

The Pizza Serving, and the Big Meeting:

 

At 6:00 PM, the pizzeria officially opened for business, and visitors trickled in and played the three arcades. By 6:15, people started to arrive in waves, and at 6:30 the whole parlor was packed! The arcades were received quite well; I Was In The War seemed to be the most popular choice. At 7:00, pizza was delivered, and slices were served for free to guests.

The pizza (actually made in a pizza shop called New York Pizza Suprema) was quite tasty! Colin Hagendorf, the author of the Sliceharvester, commented that these were, in his opinion, the best slices you could find anywhere in Manhattan. Out of all the pizzerias that he surveyed across the city … only this one had managed to earn a perfect score. Quite an impressive feat, I would say, when you consider that he has literally visited every single pizza parlor in the Manhattan area!

All of these visits are documented within his fanzines, which were available and sold individually or as a set alongside the free pizza.

Outside of Babyharvester was another open exhibit: the Gamelatron Jalan Jiwo, a gigantic space of various gongs, drums, and bells that resonated everywhere within. It was located inside the Main Gallery of the Clocktower, which had the auditorium-like sound reflection necessary for this kind of an exhibit. These instruments would play in a slow pattern – one after another – and when buttons were pushed on a control panel, they could play one of several arranged melodies. It was relaxing to sit and idle in, especially when it was dark; I certainly wouldn’t mind being locked in there for one night.

Free red and white wines were also served inside the Main Gallery by the Clocktower, and visitors from Babyharvester sat on the floor to eat, chat, and bask in the tunes of the Gamelatron. The wines tasted OK; not the best, but they did wash down the pizza I ate well enough! At 7:35, everyone in the Clocktower was invited into the Gallery to see two successive events: a reading of the Slice Harvester by Colin Hagendorf himself, and a magic performance by the young and talented Andrew the Magician.

At the beginning of the gathering, curator of the Clocktower Gallery Joe Ahearn walked up to welcome everyone to the Clocktower, and Babyharvester! Once he finished, Ahearn allowed Hagendorf to assume the stage, and read some personal correspondences and reviews from his 7th (and possibly final?) issue of the Slice Harvester. The audience loved his wit and delivery; I very much liked the personality of his reviews, blunt and honest with his criticisms while delightful in his compliments. They all had the feelings of being more than only reviews, but also personal stories. I could easily see why the Slice Harvester had such a following.

When Colin was done, he yielded the center of the Main Gallery to Andrew Perrin, “the Magician”. Andrew walked to the middle with his table of tricks … and he was quite an unexpected sight! He may have been 9 years old, but to only say that of him would, honestly, underestimate his level. A beginner he was not; he impressed everyone with a series of acts such as pulling excessively and comically long objects from places that should not even fit them.

It was quite enjoyable to sit through, and there were many hilarious moments to be had!

After Andrew bowed out in applause, Hillary and Syed of Babycastles stepped up to announce that there would be one more event coming up: the live Q&A of Asi Burak!

Interview with Asi Burak, and Closing:

 

Inside Duke Reuben’s, all the chairs were arranged to view the front counter, where Syed and Asi Burak would discuss with each other about Asi’s own company, Games for Change, as well as his game PeaceMaker. After the interview, Syed opened the Q&A to the audience, and Asi gave advice on developing games independently, with a few pointers on funding your projects.

Asi revealed that PeaceMaker itself was created to be an experiment and a challenge: To make a game that was about the Israeli-Palestinian war, and make it in the form of an arcade. Asi himself is Israeli, thus he already knew about the events, policies, and points of view of his country. To learn about the Palestinian positions, Asi had to do research, and he collaborated with several Palestinians that he knew.

One thing that Asi was curious about was if his game would become much too outdated as time passed on; if there would actually be a real peace. With tensions recently flaring back up between the two peoples, it turns out that only superficial details had changed in the conflict and setting. The core of the matter … had never disappeared.

As for somehow winning this game, Asi mentioned that there are, actually, many ways to achieve peace between both countries. While somehow maintaining high ratings on both of their respective meters. He did not go into specifics, but he mentioned that there are “right” combinations that you could follow. To find these would require a lot of thinking, however; thinking of all variables necessary in being a national leader.

After the Q&A ended and Asi closed up, Kunal of Babycastles stepped to the front to announce two more pizza servings: one on Tuesday, December 11th, and another on Tuesday, December 18th. Next week on the 11th, the Clocktower and Babyharvester will be bringing in a tabletop gaming group for everyone to enjoy! I definitely hope to see everyone again next week!


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