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Classic video games project goes viral

Reymond's Tetris took over four hours to film using 880 still photographs

A Swiss multimedia artist's work re-enacting classic video games – Pong, Pole Position, Space Invaders and Tetris – has become a major online hit.

Guillaume Reymond's Tetris video recently took top honours in the creative category at the 2007 YouTube Video Awards. His four projects have been viewed more than ten million times.

The falling-block puzzle game is the latest section of Reymond's collaborative Game Over project, which uses people instead of pixels to recreate iconic videogames using stop-motion animation.

"I'm very pleased. I kind of expected [the success] a little bit as Space Invaders and Pole Position had created quite a buzz. I knew that Tetris would also work as it's a well-known game," he told swissinfo just after receiving the award.

"I received an email from the YouTube team without an address or telephone number to tell me that I was nominated. First of all, I thought it was a gag, then two weeks later I received another email telling me I'd won, then the package with the award arrived in the post."

The secrecy and strange process makes him chuckle.

"It's funny as it's disproportionate to the media attention surrounding the project," said the 39-year-old from Vevey. "It's kind of exceptional that a video of a little Swiss artist at a festival in Lausanne should have so much global success."

Collective move

Reymond's Tetris, which took over four hours to film using 880 still photographs, was played and shot for the Urbaines festival last November.

In all, 88 people, each wearing a coloured T-shirt, disguised themselves as blocks for the performance in the Palais de Rumine auditorium.

Each participant received precise rules on exactly what they could do – turn, move right or left, etc – and it was up to the pixels to decide collectively how they would proceed.

"Each person really participated; they watched each other on the big screen to see how the game evolved; counted and created strategies together to play as well as possible," he explained.

"I knew the project would be quite eye-catching, but my aim was to create a performance, the video was just a result."

Post-modern message?

Tetris follows on the heels of the table tennis video game Pong, originally produced by Atari in 1972, the mythic Space Invaders, and Pole Position, one of the first driving games.

Yet Reymond's Game Over project is not the first attempt by humans to reproduce old school arcade games that have entered popular culture.

There have been several versions of Pac-Man, including an augmented reality project by the National University of Singapore's Mixed Reality Lab, and regularly staged Pac-Manhattan.

American marching bands have also recreated Tetris and Pong at half-time, and the daft Japanese game show Brain Wall, later known as Human Tetris, with contestants attempting to squeeze through block shapes in a wall, has been reproduced in 20 countries.

So are there any post-modern philosophical messages behind these attempts to recreate video game culture? Is it the need to humanise technology or for players to project themselves into the gaming world?

Reymond says he is not trying to moralise, but is fascinated by the potential of his creative collaborative processes.

"Everyone's a consumer; it's important to get people to participate," he said.

"Also, there is a tendency to digitalise people to make 3-D films, and I thought it was more interesting to do the opposite: rather than use a computer to imitate reality, to imitate the computer using reality – humans," he added.

"The auditorium where Tetris was made is where political decisions are taken on canton Vaud's future during the week. At the weekend we had fun filling in lines... 88 people agreeing to advance things – a kind of political metaphor," he laughs.

With his mind firmly on the performance aspect of his work rather than the number of online clicks, the Swiss dreams of future projects such as Pac Man, Breakout and a handful of other old school classics he'd like to put on at arts festivals.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley

Key facts

Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov, a Russian-born computer engineer who lives in the United States, developed Tetris while he was working for the Computing Centre of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, a Soviet government-founded R&D centre.

YouTube was created in February 2005. In October 2006 Google announced it had reached a deal to acquire the company for $1.65 billion in Google stock. In 2006 it had 100 million videos viewed every day and an estimated 72 million individual visitors each month.

As well as his Game Over project, Guillaume Reymond runs a multimedia communication company based in Vevey, canton Vaud, called NOTsoNOISY.

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