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At Rensselaer


Researcher Creates Video Game Art

This summer, as part of The ZeroOne San Jose Arts Festival, Katherine Isbister, associate professor of language, literature, and communication at Rensselaer, created an intriguing public art installation using surveillance cameras and the popular video game The Sims 2™ as her only tools.

Isbister focused the cameras on the Fairmont Plaza in downtown San Jose to capture images of passersby. She then used The Sims 2 — a game that allows users to create simulated worlds and fill them with cyber-citizens — to create a virtual version of the plaza, and fill it with avatars (human representations in a shared virtual world) of the people in the plaza who’d been caught on camera. The virtual population grew throughout the duration of the exhibition.

The final installation — called SimVeillance: San Jose — had two displays. One screen featured the game running, populated with the simulated transients, while the other showed live surveillance of the plaza itself.

“SimVeillance brings the local urban population back into the show in a unique way, as locals may be able to see themselves captured via surveillance camera and transposed into the game,” says Isbister. “Even viewers who don’t catch glimpses of themselves in the installation are bound to reconsider the impact of wandering the urban landscape. The project seeks to evoke feelings of curiosity, voyeurism, and a jolt into the perspective typical of city planners or sociologists.”

Isbister collaborated on the project with Rainey Straus, an installation artist and Web designer based in Oakland, Calif., and Chelsea Hash ’06, a recent electronic arts graduate from Rensselaer who is now working at 1st Playable Productions.

The team received one of two honorable mention awards for their project, which was exhibited among installations and artworks from over 200 artists working at the intersection of art and digital culture.

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