Video Game Makes Everybody a Graffiti Artist
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host
And I'm Robert Siegel. Nike sneakers, Heineken beer, and Verizon phones. Drive around Washington, D.C., these days and you'll see images of these products painted up on walls, as if they were examples of vandalism, rather than advertising, which they in fact are. The underground graffiti movement has made it to the marketing mainstream. It was only a matter of time, then, before graffiti turned from the mainstream means to a mainstream end.
Marc Ecko, the hip hop impresario and owner of Ecko clothing lines, has created the video game Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. The game follows the subversive artistry of Train, a homeless, spray can-crazed youth, as he navigates New Radius, a city patrolled by brutal fascistic police, the CCK. In a few minutes, we'll speak with Marc Ecko about his game, which goes on sale today.
But first, we sat down with NPR's Rob Holt, our manager of digital media infrastructure, and our go-to guy for game reviews.
Mr. ROB HOLT reporting:
Your goal is to get reputation points by spraying graffiti and spraying your tag, which is your name and designs that you make on walls, and the harder to reach the place that you make your tag, the more reputation points you get.
SIEGEL: Well, let's see if you can make Train do something interesting for us and see what he encounters. He just leapt off the roof, climbing Spiderman-like down the --
(Soundbite of game)
HOLT: As you can tell, the language is a little off color.
SIEGEL: Can we find any language that we can actually use?
HOLT: Since you're climbing down the side of an apartment building, you're actually hearing the people arguing inside of the apartment building.
SIEGEL: I see. That was just the sounds of the city. Oh, these are the fascist police picking up members of the other gang with their billy clubs.
HOLT: Stay clear of the CCK cops, or they will arrest you. So what I need to do is tag this van. So you hold down the middle mouse button, and you just press the first mouse button, and it draws the tag for you perfectly. So you don't have any free form access to the graffiti.
SIEGEL: I see. Train, when you ever click for Train, Train will put his tag up there. That's what it looks like.
HOLT: Yes. And you have access to different tags, like here's another one.
SIEGEL: The first one just said, Train.
HOLT: Let's see, I'll show you the different ones.
SIEGEL: Oh, here's a different one. Express Train.
HOLT: So you have to tag this thing eight times. This is the police van.
SIEGEL: How novel is the idea of a game that's based on how much graffiti you can put up on walls?
HOLT: That is novel. And I like that. I wish that you could have free form control over what you drew. I mean, of course, I'm no graffiti artist. And one of these things that this game did give me was a real appreciation for some of the artists that Marc Ecko, growing up in the New York area, he would see these people, so he basically sort of enshrined them in this game. And you meet them throughout the game, and they're mentors to you and you can actually like take pictures of these art pieces that are on the wall. And it really did give me an appreciation for graffiti as art.
I don't think I will play this that much more. Now that we're done talking about it, I probably won't play this. But I will actually go get a book on graffiti art. There are some artists, like this game introduced me to RJD2, and I really like his stuff.
SIEGEL: The music?
HOLT: The music, yeah. So the music is fantastic. The fashion is fantastic. The graffiti is awesome. The game play, not so much.
Mr. MARC ECKO (Designer): My name is Marc Ecko. I am the executive creative director and the writer of Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.
SIEGEL: What's so cool about graffiti?
Mr. ECKO: I think what's kind of moved me is that it really is the official visual dialect of youth culture and the youth culture experience around the world. If you're in Sao Paulo, Brazil, or if you're in Newark, New Jersey, or Carney, Nebraska, or Detroit, which is a city that has a graffiti problem, you're going to see street art, and the motif of street art, even if it's being marketed to you by soft drink companies or media companies and motion graphics, or whatever at the front of their music videos. It has really become the visual language of youth culture.
SIEGEL: You just said Detroit has a graffiti problem. It's a problem?
Mr. ECKO: Yeah.
SIEGEL: It's not the lack of graffiti you're talking about. There is graffiti.
Mr. ECKO: Right.
SIEGEL: How is it that you can see this as a problem while you're celebrating it as an artistic activity?
Mr. ECKO: I'm celebrating the language. I'm celebrating not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Illicitly going and writing on someone's wall, as someone who owns property, I'm not condoning that. What I am celebrating is the motif of graffiti and the aesthetic language. I haven't put paint on the wall.
SIEGEL: Fair enough. I'd like you to talk about the actual aesthetic of graffiti - you would say graf?
Mr. ECKO: We've got to get you a tag name.
SIEGEL: You've got to give me a tag name. We can develop that during the interview.
Mr. ECKO: We'll do that offline.
SIEGEL: I want you to tell me what it is. Is it simply the drip of paint in broad strokes? Is it the outlining of the lines that are broader? Is it one's name? What is it that you look at it and you say, that's graf?
Mr. ECKO: Well, what I'm drawn to by the esthetic is how it's evolved really. In its early iterations in the late '70s, mid '70s even, in Philadelphia and Manhattan, and it was really born from purely aerosol art. And guys would go in and they would modify the spray paint cans. Some guys would find that putting a raid cap on a Red Devil can would give them a fatter, wider stroke or some other cap from another can of a home product would give it a stippled effect. And over the years, the aesthetic of graffiti has just evolved.
Now, it involves stenciling, and postering. And the medium can't be defined in a monolithic way. I mean, it's as broad as an artist like Banksy, in London, doing these really politically-motivated kind of statements through stencil art, to someone like Mare 139, who's doing these complicated metal sculptures that take six to eight months to produce each one.
SIEGEL: But the streets are vital to it. This is something that's not -- it doesn't quite work in the salon situation, in the studio situation?
Mr. ECKO: No. It's something that's definitely born from that kind of angst to want to be heard and seen and known. And it is definitely something that doesn't happen in the Ivory Tower. And where the real energy and innovation come from, generally, it's from the street.
SIEGEL: That's Mark Ecko, who is a designer and also creator of the new videogame, Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.
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