City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Journal: Video game flâneur

Written in


Is it true that Rockstar’s next big game is a version of the The Warriors? If so, fantastic. I love The Warriors. And I have heard this rumour a couple of times now.

[This next part-inspired by Jonathan Bell’s excellent recent piece over at Things magazine concerning video game representations of cities, and their potential impact on contemporary architecture]

Rockstar and others have virtually (pun intended) built the digital infrastructure to generate generic large city forms. All they have to do is drape a particular cultural fabric over it, and the architecture, clothes, music, adverts etc. all just fall into place, as defined by a talented new form of ‘curator’ perhaps. (Hey Rockstar, if you’re listening, I’ll have that job!).

[Thought about this before, after reading about Gangs of New York and similar potential in films; read also about the way Rockstar design this stuff; about some future potential of Rockstar’s city-based games; and Manhattan as muse for video games.]

If it is The Warriors, then just inhabiting a version of NYC in the early 80s would be a blast. One of my favourite near-mythical urban eras, as witnessed in the incredibly flawed but compelling film Downtown 81. I’d struggle to do address any of the usual Rockstar narrative ploys though, instead trying to track down John Zorn, Arto Lindsay & DNA, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, The Kitchen, James White & The Blacks, Talking Heads, Thurston Moore, Basquiat etc. Materialising in the almost deserted early-80s Lower East Side, I’d probably get my head kicked in anyway (which is standard Rockstar plot device of course).

One of the Tate Modern’s first shows, Century City, was built around the conceit of particular cities assuming particular cultural importance at particular times: with their visual art bias (dumbasses!) they pinned New York from ’69 to ’74. Also, Moscow from 1916-1930; Vienna 1908-1918; Rio 1955-1969 etc. We had similar concerns when curating Urbis. It’s an alluring thought – if given a video game-based time machine, where would you go back to? As well as NYC 1980, I’d loved to have witnessed the insanity of 1830s Manchester, as the city rises, unfettered by planning concerns or old conceptions of ‘the city’, seemingly powered by entirely new forms of energy, commerce, and organisation. The city-states of renaissance Italy could be fun. Weimar Berlin would certainly open the mind. So, if Rockstar where to ‘open-source’ their city-machines such that any urban forms could created, where to be a video game flâneur?


3 responses to “Journal: Video game flâneur”

  1. Dan Avatar

    Just discovered this film, Times Square. Looks to be similar era to Downtown 81, if less arty.


  2. Dan Avatar

    Leaving aside my thesis that all journalists do these days is reprint blog entries, this Sunday’s Observer Music Monthly had an interestingly related article: “If you could travel through space and time, at which city would you alight to twist and shout or even let it all hang out.”
    The god-like Charlie Gillett compiled the list. I’ve met Charlie (we had wanted to do a website at work around his BBC London & World Service shows) and he’s a thoroughly nice chap as well as one of radio’s greatest ever DJs. Here’s his list – as idiosyncratic, forward-looking, and interesting as ever:
    1 San Francisco, 1966-68 (Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Steve Miller, Bill Graham’s Fillmore, Tom Donahue’s ‘free form radio,’ Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone magazine)
    2 New Orleans, 1900-1910 (Jazz)
    3 Paris, 1987-2004 (Les Negresses Vertes, Mano Negra.)
    4 Liverpool, 1961-63 (Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, Big Three, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, The Silver Beetles)
    5 Memphis, 1951-56 (Johnny Ace, Bobby Bland, Rosco Gordon, Sam Phillips)
    6 Barcelona, 2000-2004 (Ojos de Brujos, Dusminguet, Macaco)
    7 Detroit, 1959-68 (Berry Gordy & Motown, Bob Seger, the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges)
    8 Dakar, 2004 (hip hop, Daara J
    9 New Orleans, 1955-1956 (Fats Domino, Little Richard)
    10 St Petersburg, 2000-2004 (Leningrad, Markscheider Kunst)
    I can’t quibble with Charlie’s choices of San Francisco, Memphis, Liverpool, Detroit, or New Orleans. Not sure about the others, but time will tell.
    Of course, once we head off down this particular rabbithole, we’re also talking:
    Chicago from the mid-50s to the mid-60s (large scale African American migration north creates electric blues);
    Vienna (early-20th century contemporary composition of Schoenberg, Webern, Berg etc.);
    Canterbury (early 1970s folk-rock scene);
    Seattle (early to mid-90s grunge);
    Manchester (mid-80s to mid-90s, from Joy Division through to the ‘Madchester’ of Happy Mondays, via Smiths, New Order, Stone Roses etc.);
    Sheffield (early-80s: Heaven 17, Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, ABC etc.).
    Had the pleasure of being there for bits of the last two!
    Written about aspects of this before (scroll down to location). There’s loads in here.
    Charlie’s List: Observer Music Monthly: The 10


  3. Dan Avatar

    And in a follow-up series of letters in this month’s Observer Music Monthly, readers add the above cities/music scenes – as well as adding Köthen 1717-1728 (Bach et al), and London 1962-66 (blues/R&B/soul boom, mods, rockers, trad Jazz, Flamingo & Marquee clubs etc.)


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