To borrow from Monty Python: "And now, for something completely different."
That's the story behind the latest installment of the "Project Atrium" series at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Ian Bogost is a video game designer and critic. He's also the Ivan Allen College distinguished chair in media studies and professor of interactive computing at Georgia Institute of Technology and founding partner at Persuasive Games LLC.
Bogost's video game relates to social and political issues including airport security, consumer debt, pandemic flu and tort reform. His games have been exhibited at venues including the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Ga.; the Laboral Centro de Arte in Madrid; Eyebeam Center in New York City; and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.
His game creations include "Cow Clicker," a Facebook game that satirizes Facebook games, and "A Slow Year," a collection of four games for Atari VCS, Windows and Mac platforms.
Bogost earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy and comparative literature at the University of Southern California and a master's degree and Ph.D. in comparative literature at the University of California-Los Angeles.
His creation for MOCA is a video game developed exclusively for the exhibition titled "Simony," which is defined as "a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual or annexed unto spirituals." Medieval ecclesiastical authors described the practice as "the most abominable of crimes," according to the Catholic Encyclopedia at newadvent.org.
"The trend in digital games is buying progress or success," said Bogost of his inspiration for the exhibition.
The game is in a kiosk at the top of a flight of stairs in the museum's Haskell Atrium Gallery. Bogost described the installation as "a blend of the Apple Store and a cathedral" and the design as an "altar."
"We have become enlightened through science. Technology has become religion," he said.
Bogost designed two options for playing the game.
"It's a simple game. You have to remember and reproduce a series of button sequences. You can work your way through it or you can pay fees to advance faster," he said. "It forces us to contend with the relationship between virtue and finance. The point is to make people think about how they feel about buying progress. Is it cheating if the structure is in place to support that?"
Visitors have the opportunity to register themselves as game participants at the kiosk or by downloading the game app to an iPad or iPhone.
"In game design, social media and app stores have changed the medium," said Bogost.
"Simony" represents MOCA's first digital interactive exhibition. It's also the first to be made available in real time and globally via the Internet.
Bogost said another facet that's a first for MOCA is the "leaderboard display" that will track the top scorers in the game. When the exhibition closes March 10, all funds collected from players will be placed in a pool. The utilization of the pool will be determined by a jury comprised of the players with the 10 highest scores.
"It's wide open. They could choose to fund a new acquisition for the museum – or they could elect to throw the money into the street," he said.
"Project Atrium: Ian Bogost" opens with a preview for museum members from 7-9 p.m. Friday; the exhibit opens to the public Saturday. Bogost is scheduled to present a lecture at 2 p.m. Saturday concerning his career, his creative process and the exhibition. The lecture is free of charge and open to the public. Regular admission fees apply to nonmembers who wish to visit the galleries before or after the lecture.
For museum hours, membership information and details about all of MOCA's exhibits and educational programs, visit mocajacksonville.org.