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Work Samples

Cho-Am

Cho-Am videogame screenshot
In this videogame, the player visits the cremation site of Pol Pot as a sleepwalker. They interpret the world their character is inhabiting by their gestures and brief glimpses inside their head. This game does not have an ending until the player decides to leave. Game time is connected to the current real time in Cambodia. The real life cremation site of Pol Pot in Cho-Am is a place of contradictory spiritual and political significance.

1,000 Heads Among the Trees

1,000 Heads Among the Trees videogame screenshot
In this videogame, visit a quiet town in the Peruvian desert at night searching for spirits and taking photos, then sharing these pictures with locals who free-associate based on them. This game is based on time I spent with a brujo in the desert suburb of Cachiche, a town that was founded by witches during the Peruvian Inquisition. Here descendants of witches still live and continue to practice traditional healing and fortune-telling.

After

After videogame screenshot
This is a videogame about finding and then placing a loved one in the afterlife. The goal is to simulate an agnostic encounter with one's own belief system when dealing with death. The game begins with the death of a partner, and after, the player encounters obstacles in their life that can be overcome only by incorporating the imagined presence of their departed lover into their life.

The Mischief of Created Things

The Mischief of Created Things videogame screenshot
This project is based on my two years as a development worker in Mali. The imagery is intended to inspire players to find the magic in the mundane and references a hybrid of traditional Malian and Western culture overlapping between magic and technology.

Cho-Am

Visit the cremation site of Pol Pot as a sleepwalker. Interpret the world your character is inhabiting by their gestures and brief glimpses inside their head.

This game does not have an ending until you decide to leave. Game time is connected to the current real time in Cambodia.

The real life cremation site of Pol Pot in Cho-Am* is a place of contradictory spiritual and political significance. As a "good-luck" shrine, offerings are continuously left by visitors who hope to have assistance in their prayers from a main architect of the Cambodian auto-genocide. One of these visitors, a Thai businessman, constructed a hand-made spirit house at the site as thanks for Pol Pot appearing in a dream to him and giving him winning lottery numbers.

This is a way of dealing with the memory and presence of someone responsible for pain and destruction that is outside of the realm of forgiveness and punishment.

The site itself, across from a casino in a small town on the border with Thailand, in the region of Anlong Veng (a previous base of the Khmer Rouge), has very little aside from a tin roof covering a mound of dirt where Pol Pot's ashes used to be, a burn bin, a couple of spirit houses, and a hut near the entrance where a guard (the wife of a former Khmer Rouge general) sits and takes admission payment. It is an otherwise empty area with a powerful history.

Much of the experience of the site takes place in one's head.

"The actions themselves are recognizable, familiar, and affecting, but alien . . . ." - Daniel Fries, Kill Screen

"The chilled out tone and ethereal texture of the game suggest a certain degree of pensiveness and maybe even transcendence. [ . . . It] captures some complex and not altogether noble feelings evoked by engaging with historical trauma of this magnitude. It's difficult to wrap one's head around, and feels far away, and yet there's the lingering phantom of something terrible just out of view." - Lana Polansky, Sufficiently Human

"I dreamt of visiting the place where Cambodia's former dictator Pol Pot was buried [ . . . . and] woke up, dripping with sweat. This was after I played Cho-Am." - Southeast Asia in Video Games

Selected for Games and Playful Media Exhibition at A MAZE. / Johannesburg 2016 and Signification exhibit at A1LabArts in Knoxville, TN.

* Normally transliterated as Choam, this less common spelling helps with pronunciation. Also CHOAM appears to be thing in the world of Dune.

Download: https://aaronoldenburg.itch.io/cho-am

1,000 Heads Among the Trees

Visit a quiet town in the Peruvian desert at night searching for spirits and taking photos, then sharing these pictures with locals who free-associate based on them. This game is based on time I spent with a brujo in the desert suburb of Cachiche, a town that was founded by witches during the Peruvian Inquisition. Here descendants of witches still live and continue to practice traditional healing and fortune-telling.

"What works here is that uncertainty space... In a number of places you'll see shadows that don't have a body. And you'll also see people discussing secrets in dark rooms or running past you hurriedly from behind fences. But this only adds to the underlying feeling of something sinister and ominous present, watching you, following you wherever you go..."

Kill Screen

"It's all pleasantly dizzying, like a fever dream."

Baltimore City Paper

FEATURES

  • Explore a 3D world with ambient sounds, voices and textures from the Peruvian desert, a living environment at night.
  • Use your photography as a means of conversing with non-player characters, revealing what they see as well as what they imagine.
  • See yourself as an outsider, lurking in alleys, eavesdropping on conversations, going where you're not supposed to go.
  • Watch the forces of tourism at work and the conflicts rumbling beneath the surface of a small town.
  • Discover that your camera is not just a passive recorder, but that its act of observation can change the environment.
  • Complete progressively more abstract quests and delusional journal entries.
  • Export and share your photos.

Selected for the International Indie Den Showcase at Game Happens! in Genova Cornigliano, Italy. Exhibited at Synthetic Zero Event at BronxArtSpace, New York (2015) and the Maryland Artist Registry Juried Exhibition at Maryland Art Place, Baltimore (2016).

After

This is a videogame about finding and then placing a loved one in the afterlife. The goal is to simulate an agnostic encounter with one's own belief system when dealing with death. The game begins with the death of a partner, and after, the player encounters obstacles in their life that can be overcome only by incorporating the imagined presence of their departed lover into their life.

Created in 2010 with Unity and MakeHuman

After has been featured in the net.works exhibition as part of Vector Game + Art Convergence in Toronto, in FILE RIO 2012 and FILE Media Art 2011 in Brasil, SIGHT.SOUND [INTERACTION] 6 in the Rosenberg Gallery at MICA, Baltimore, MD, as well as the D-Art2011 Online Gallery of Digital Art, part of the 15th International Information Visualisation Conference in London. It has also been written about in the book Playing with Religion in Digital Games.

Download here: https://aaronoldenburg.itch.io/after

The Mischief of Created Things

The purpose of this project, completed in 2007, was to create an interactive environmental narrative dealing with images of West Africa. The content is based on my two years as a development worker in Mali. The imagery is intended to inspire players to find the magic in the mundane and references a hybrid of traditional Malian and Western culture overlapping between magic and technology.

My process involved creation of a three-dimensional environment in Flash, which the player can explore non-linearly. Within the environment are characters, with whom players can converse; the conversations are based on a fluid navigation system similar to the environment's exterior navigation. Stories are based on my diary entries and letters home, and were chosen for their personal, surprising, and multi-layered nature.

Rather than use traditional game design methods, I chose to start with narrative and imagery and create the game structure from them. During play, the user discovers narratives that build on one another throughout the course of the experience. The player uses these to form a meaningful picture of the environment as a whole. The order of events changes each player's interpretation, since the experience of certain events directly influences the sequence of subsequent events. The surprising and non-sequitur nature of the narrative makes the game characters and environment seem more real.

Towa Towa

This is a videogame created using documentary process based on time I spent with the Guyanese bird-racing community in New York.

Bird Racing is a sport played in Guyana and Trinidad as well as in the immigrant communities in Queens. It is actually more like bird-debating, as they sit two birds next to each other and see which one can tweet the fastest and angriest. Male Towa Towa finches, when placed facing each other, chirp aggressively. A number is chosen and bets are made as to which bird will reach the chosen number of chirps first. It’s a weird, macho subculture centered around tiny birds. Some people say that raising racing birds for them is like a drug, and in the Georgetown, Guyana, marketplace you can find CD’s filled with the sounds of birds chirping to train the birds to chirps louder, longer and faster. People smuggle birds into the country in hair curlers, so the FBI is after them and if you try to hang out with them in Phil Rizzuto Park in Jamaica, New York, they’ll tell you to fuck off.

Download: https://aaronoldenburg.itch.io/towa-towa

Pieces of Jonestown

The video is of the empty field in Guyana that used to be Jonestown, where the Peoples Temple massacre occurred in 1978, as well as the surrounding towns and villages. The audio is composed of selections from interviews conducted nearby with local residents Wilfred Jupiter and Carlton Daniels in June, 2010.

Baptize

This is from a series of experimental video games exploring religious actions. I choose certain rituals, activities or mental "games" that people play to reinforce their faith. I take the finite and ultra-logical mindset of the typical video game and replace it with mystery and unknowns in an attempt to provoke a simulation of "faith".

Play on Android mobile device: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.aaronoldenburg.Baptize

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About Aaron

Baltimore City - Highlandtown A&E District

Aaron Oldenburg is a game developer and new media artist whose primary interest is in game rules as an expressive medium. His video and interactive work has exhibited in festivals and galleries in New York, Berlin, São Paulo and Los Angeles, including SIGGRAPH and FILE Electronic Language International... more

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Aaron Oldenburg - Portfolio: http://aaronoldenburg.net


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