Playing with content & context 

By Karen Herland

Lynn Hughes has been stretching the terms of computer gaming and artistic practice. Along the way, she’s been rethinking the programming approach needed to do that.

Hughes became interested in computer gaming five years ago and developed CUBID, an interactive, collaborative game that requires full body movement. Most computer games at that time were limited to an individual in front of a computer screen using a joystick or similar interface.

“CUBID is part of an approach to electronic games that is as physical as it is virtual.”

Hughes wanted the game interfaces to operate intuitively, and the content to appeal to a broad range of people. Currently, she is building on that experience. Working closely with game designer Heather Kelley and programmer Paul Gavazzi, she is addressing some of CUBID’s weaknesses through a new project called Connect the Orbs.

The new game is based on connect the dots. “We started with a universal kid’s game, because it’s so recognizable.”

Like CUBID, the game requires lots of physical movement, but unlike more recent developments like Nintendo’s Wii system, Connect the Orbs also makes real use of the player’s physical context — the space of the room he or she is playing in.

CUBID allows two players to interact with a large projected game using intuitive interface tools. Magnifying glass

CUBID allows two players to interact with a large projected game using intuitive interface tools.

While working on CUBID, Hughes was struck by how much the technology, and the programming approach, affected the “shape” of the game. “People think of artists as providing content to a technological vehicle that’s already there. But that technology shapes what you do, and makes you go about the content design in a particular way.”

Hughes was dissatisfied with some of the limits of the technology and is now working on ~float, “a game design program that allows sophisticated programming but is also accessible to non-programmers. ~float cross-references, and enables, a number of different conceptual or logical approaches to designing games.”

The flexibility of being able to develop sophisticated approaches with an accessible tool challenges the presumed divide between the technically and artistically experienced.

At the Jan. 26 faculty showcase, she’ll be talking about the development of her artistic practice and how it pushes against traditional divisions between high and low art, mass culture and artistic practice.

“Mass culture used to require huge resources that were unavailable to small teams or single producers” so that artists chose to work alone, reaching small, insider audiences through galleries or specialized outlets. But the days when the lone artist had to struggle in opposition to the over-simplifications of the powerful and ubiquitous mass culture machine are fading.

“Now you can gain access to sophisticated technology for content production on a laptop. And, via the Internet, you can manage distribution independently.”

These new parameters shift assumptions about access, distribution and audience. Hughes points to innovative, low-budget movies that through rentals, repertory and alternative distribution networks have ultimately outgrossed big-budget flops.

Hughes is interested in continuing to push the envelope in gaming. “Games are the new format for telling stories, and there is room to develop them in many other exciting directions as well.”

Hughes is currently Associate Dean of Research and International Relations in the Fine Arts Faculty, in addition to her work with Hexagram and in the Studio Arts program.


Concordia University