We at HuffPost Arts are intrigued by gaming communities. Perhaps this is because we had older brothers who played Risk and Dungeons & Dragons when we were growing up, or maybe it's that we are always curious about the things that bring people together for hours at a time. Which is why when we found out about Jakob Dwight's new art game, titled N'CHI, we thought we should go straight to the source to find out how to play it. Jakob's answers are below.
HP: How did you conceive of this project?
JD: N’CHI is an updated version of a game I made up and played as child. I would sit in the back of the room [at school], tune out and draw imaginary coastlines and continents. Soon this became a fully fleshed out imaginary map and countries and their cities and villages labeled in fictitious names, with their seals and flags.
As an adult I brought the idea back of an imaginary planet as a way to initiate conversations that I think are all too rare in this society: namely conversations regarding difference, diversity, competition vs. cooperation, race, class, gender, coexistence, tolerance, sustainability and power. With N’CHI, I not only hope to start conversations, but also to imagine new circumstances that can allow for a collective analysis. The art-making component of N’CHI is a way look at culture in a new way and is derived from live-action role-playing concept. It is meant to balance the more objective, material, and stat-based component online with the more ideological and aesthetic end of culture.
HP: Are you a fan of Risk or did you grow up with any other role-playing games? If so, how did that shape your view of the world?
JD: I watched friends in high school play Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games but never participated myself. Although I did play games a bit like “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego”, my childhood was more old-school, with a more straight-to-the-point study of "National Geographic", World Book Encyclopedia (1981 edition) and a handful of random Almanacs. I would visit and study these religiously, especially entries on nations, flags and clothing of the world.
It is interesting that most people that I have mentioned N’CHI to in the last year mention Risk; [however] Risk has the one-dimensional goal of “world domination” and N’CHI will not necessarily. War, the most likely means of domination, is not a theme that I think we as a society should put too much more energy into studying, and I definitely don’t think world domination should continue to be a core theme in our play, beyond what’s already out there in games like Risk. I am much more interested in, say, Buckminster Fuller’s World Peace Game, where the aim is to "make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone.” Mastering true civilization (social balance, tolerance and coexistence) is much more of challenge than dominating the world, and has been done successfully far less often and I think our games and our play as a society should focus more on this ... we may see a new mode of thinking and behavior develop just from such a shift in gameplay focus. As Huizinga writes in Homo Ludens, "Let [our] playing be [our] learning, and [our] learning be [our] playing."
Also, it should be said that N’CHI is an art experience and as such it is meant to be reflective -- in an artistic and anthropological light -- as much as anything, designed to question what “world domination” actually is, and what culture truly is.
HP: What is the intersection between art and activism? Do you view this as a relational aesthetics project or something different?
JD: I have begun to see art and activism as deeply related, in fact, as two phases of the same transformative energy and communication ritual whereby art inspires a psychic or spiritual change and activism inspires social, political and environmental change...so maybe less of intersection between the two and more of a concentric circle relationship. So we could say that art and activism are really the same flow of communicative and transformative energy through different states and on different scales: from the individual or one-on-one conversation (art) to a more collective and institutional one (activism). N’CHI is meant to stand squarely in the midst of this flow of communicative and transformative energy and to engage both art and activism.
The concepts and works of Joseph Beuys have become very significant for me in defining what I am aiming for with N’CHI. In terms of art and activism intersecting, Beuys is definitely there with his idea of Social Sculpture or Social Architecture. I prefer to see N’CHI as fitting into Beuys-ian social architecture more than as a gesture of relational aesthetics, even though the project may unavoidably be described as relational art.
HP: What artist or work of art has recently inspired you?
JD: I have honestly not been more inspired by anything in recent times as much as this.
To find out more, head over to USA Projects.