Working with von Rickenbach again, after the pair turned his aforementioned short into a playable game, Frei admits he’s hoping to bridge “the gap between art, film and video games” with his interactive work.
Sporting the filmmaker’s distinctive stark aesthetic, Kids presents a series of bizarre vignettes, all featuring a crowd of faceless characters, to interact with. From pushing these ambiguous figures into holes, to guiding them through strange pulsating tunnels, the message behind Frei’s game feels purposefully loose (reviewer descriptions range from “something about peer pressure” to “a small game about people who like to throw kids into holes”), with its co-creator admitting “some see it as something dark, some find it hilarious”.
“I was curious on how the game-making and film-making process could produce something that couldn’t be done without marrying the two”, Frei reveals when we asked him about his motivation to make Kids. “My initial questions were very simple: How do we define ourselves? How much are we just a product of our circumstances? How do we decide what to do and where to go? I then started to experiment with scenarios that describe human relationships by the positions blank characters take relative to one other. Crowds form when many characters interact with one another. The project just naturally went there. Crowds are all around us and we are amongst them”.
When we spoke to Frei about Plug & Play, he expressed an interest in using the internet to make audience participation in his work less passive and it’s interesting to see him pushing further down this avenue with this latest project. By allowing his audience to control his on-screen inhabitants, Frei and von Rickenbach not only inject Kids with a strange ethereal feel, but give the player a god-like power which is oddly intoxicating.
Alongside the game, there is also a short film and art installation version of Kids. “Every format appeals to very different audiences”, says Frei, “it is interesting to observe how the project gets viewed differently by the context it is shown in. When I stick a tablet to a wall in an art gallery, people contemplate on it. When a gamer downloads it for 3 dollars, she or he either gives it a thumbs up or thumbs down, and if I am lucky the game gets an insightful review. When an audience at a festival sees the film they clap and sometimes compliment me on the quality of the sound mix after the screening”.
The film has played a host of festivals worldwide – including Annecy, Berlin, Glas, Go Short and more. The installation premiered at the Museum of Digital Arts (MuDA) in Zürich, Switzerland in February 2018 and has since travelled around the world to Japan, Denmark and the UK.
Kids the game is available to download via App Store, Google Play, Steam and more.