Sunday, 17 January 2010

Grand Theft Bicycle

By Steve Gibson, Justin Love and Jim Olson

Note: Grand Theft Bicycle is currently installed in the IOCT lab. If anyone would like to take a spin please mail me on

Grand Theft Bicycle is a "game art" installation that uses the kinetic interface of a bike – modified with sensors – to allow users to ride through a 3D “mod” of a video game (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas). Set in a desert environment, Grand Theft Bicycle immerses the user into a chaotic battlefield. The original GTA game has been modified to include political leaders of various stripes. The user can choose to side with one group of politicians (or not).

Grand Theft Bicycle (GTB) is part of a growing genre of game art, that includes artists such as Wafaa Bilal. In short, game art uses the forms and techniques of commercial gaming, but inverts normally banal or uncritical gaming content to include critical, ironic reflections on issues such as the nature of violence in media culture.

Our view of game art is that it should also function extremely well as a game. In direct contrast to some other previous game art attempts, the piece is intended to work (on the surface at least) as a traditional shooter game, with all the violence and mayhem that shooter games generally employ. The use of the traditional first-person shooter model gives the piece an “in” with gamers. Given the familiar shooter format, subversive elements are more easy to sneak into the game.

Another concern that I wanted to address in GTB was the generally sedentary nature of gaming culture. This has changed somewhat in recent years with the advent of the Wii, but in general most game culture remains profoundly “unphysical.” (even Wii usage is dominated by bowling and golf, both unlikely to get a good heart-rate going). To play GTB you need to ride our sensor-modified bike. Inaction will produce very few results. What is interesting to observe is that people of all sizes and shapes will play the game for extended periods (often up to 45 minutes), whereas normally it would be extremely unlikely for most of the gaming public to get on an exercise bike for similar periods of time.

In short, GTB is an odd mix of tactical media, first-person shooter and aerobics. There is an element of absurdism to the mix, but from my observations of literally hundreds of riders the mix works extremely well for most users.

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