On Douglas Edric Stanley’s Invaders!

It’s very discouraging to me to read this evening that digital artist Douglas Edric Stanley has pulled his Invaders! installation from the Leipzig Games Conference.  His laying the classic arcade Space Invaders over 8-bit renditions of the World Trade Center and then intersplicing the gameplay with images from American politics and film has caused a big enough shitstorm that he felt compelled to pull the plug.  A lot of the stories and comments I’ve read from gaming blogs this weekend is fairly typical of the kind of flat-nosed rhetoric (for example, describing Stanley as “an attention whore” who “looks like one of those people who a guy could have fun punching,” just for starters…wait until The Freepers and Fox News catch wind of this…) we see when a piece of art tries to do more than calm the nerves of middle class mallrats.

Luckily, though, Stanley isn’t going quietly, and has replaced Invaders! at the convention with the following statement:

After three days of a steady downward spiral in public discussion of the piece, I have just given my agreement to the organizers of the Leipzig Games Convention to simply turn off the installation Invaders! While I realize the dangerous precedent of allowing the lowest common denominator dictate what is and is not a valid form of expression, unfortunately the current tone has totally obfuscated the original aims of the piece. While I take full responsibility for the uncomfortable ambiguity of certain aspects of this work, it was never created to merely provoke controversy for controversy’s sake, and unfortunately, this is what the piece has now become. The American response to this work has been, frankly, immature, and lacking the sophistication and consideration that other parts of the world have so far shown the work. Contrary to previous reports, I am an American, and it saddens me that we as a people remain so profoundly unable to process this event outside of some obscure, but tacitly understood, criteria of purely anesthetized artistic representation. Due to these profound misunderstandings, I simply feel that from an artistic point of view, the work has lost the ability to have any valuable impact, poetic or otherwise. I have not been pressured by the Leipziger Messe, nor by the Computerspiele Museum in this decision — to the contrary, they have offered their support in defending the right of artists to speak freely, and in whatever context they may choose.

This hullabaloo strikes me as yet another example where the culture misses a golden opportunity to discuss what has us so deliriously afraid, and yet another example where art gets blamed for shining a light on things we so desperately need to talk about. Square-Enix/Taito, the Japanese company who holds rights to the original arcade game, is reportedly threatening to sue Stanley for copyright infringement. They have no problem, of course, licensing the Space Invaders sprites to fashion designers, toy companies, and even wallpaper manufacturers, but they are poised to strike when a digital artist uses those same sprites to question the larger rationale that led them to become Invaders in the first place? What’s truly more obscene?

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