Video Game Art Is Coming to the Greenway

Harbor Islands plays itself based on weather conditions.

harbor islands video game

Images via Anthony Montuori

A giant video game is coming to the Harbor Islands Welcome Center on the Greenway this week—but in the form of public art.

Called Harbor Islands, the installation is a video game that’s projected on an LED screen, and was inspired by the arcade classic Asteroids. The catch? The harbor islands will be the ones playing.

Artist, video game maker, and art handler Anthony Montuori created the game to play itself based on the weather data collected from the harbor islands. Montuori describes the piece as “an inverted version” of Asteroids. His rendition of the game begins with one asteroid instead of many, and they proliferate instead of disappearing when they’re shot.

The game incorporates variables collected on an hourly basis: temperature, wind bearing, wind speed, humidity, visibility, as well as the written forecast. Temperature determines the directions in which the ship moves, wind speed and direction determine the movements of asteroids, and the humidity dictates their rotation.

“The more humid it is, the slower, more sluggish they are. The less humid, the faster they spin,” explains Montuori.

Montuori’s asteroids also appear as tokens gleaned from other video games. “You’ll see Mario or a Mario coin floating around with actual asteroids from the game Asteroids,” explains Montuori. “There will be hundreds of visual manifestations that the little asteroids can take. It’s like the detritus of old video games just floating around.”

Conceptually speaking, Harbor Islands departs slightly from Montuori’s previous works, which collectively portray existential dread with touches of a deadpan “defeatist attitude.” In The Adventures of Sisyphus, players perpetually and pointlessly push a boulder up a hill. In Super Maria, Montuori recreates “Super Mario,” where the coins that the character collects are used to buy furniture. In Debtris, players play to pay off insurmountable student debt.

According to Montuori, his older pieces contemplate “the way video games give player control”—or, rather, the illusion of control. He says, “With my work, it’s to take that away from them with the goal kind of being, well, nothing.”

Without the human interaction integral to video games, Montuori had to consider ways in which viewers could remain engaged. He thought of arcade games. “It’s kind of this flashing title and if you don’t play the game or immediately do anything it’ll start playing itself. It’ll do this recorded demo,” he explains. “I was thinking [about] how I could cue the viewer into this experience where you can’t do anything. You’re just watching.”

Harbor Islands is presented by Boston Cyberarts and the National Parks of Boston. It will be on view at the Welcome Center on the Greenway between Faneuil Hall and the Ferry Ticket Center on Long Wharf starting October 6 through spring 2017.