There are various language components, too. The game applies a code-breaking algorithm in reverse, generating phrases that look semi-English, “to cover the language aspect, which is so important when you’re discussing art.” Humble also transcribed selections from early twentieth-century art theory, and fragments of these are randomly presented throughout the game. “I took the liberty of throwing in a bunch of my own stuff and purging the art theory I didn’t like, or changing it deliberately. For example, I took Wassily Kandinsky’s quote, ‘I don’t want to paint music,’ and I changed it to, ‘I do want to paint music.’ And I banned the Futurists, because they were too sexist for me. [Laughs] Even though they were quite bold.”
The PlaySFMOMA public playtest was personally rewarding for Humble, and also informative in a practical sense. Accounting for audiences who were not playing the game, but watching others play it, introduced a new dynamic, albeit one that harks back to the oldest computer games, arcade games. With arcade games, watching others play, socially, is a fundamental part of participation.
“One couple just loved sitting there watching kids play the game,” he remembers. “Some of my favorite reactions were people who simply sat and observed, and said, ‘That’s really beautiful.’ And then they’d look at the binder, which talked about some of the symbolism and issues in the work, and they’d either be surprised or want more of that. I hope it gave the experience an extra bit of spiritual value.”
He also notes that the usual “don’t touch” rules for museums were enjoyably inverted. “Kids have zero fear about approaching a game and playing it, in a museum or wherever.”