“We’ll never run out of walls”: build and curate your own virtual art gallery in Occupy White Walls
Early access gamers have already built virtual gallery space 336 times the size of the Louvre, filled with over 6,000 pieces of iconic and contemporary artworks.
- Jenny Brewer
- 17 March 2020
As major galleries shut their doors during the ongoing health emergency, the designers of art gallery building game Occupy White Walls (OWW) have found themselves releasing their game to the world at an oddly apt moment. After a year in beta, the creator StikiPixels has been planning today’s Kickstarter launch for a while, and yet as many find themselves self-isolating the game is likely to provide some well-timed creative relief.
The gaming concept combines elements of world building and Instagram-like curatorship, wherein players (called “art-curious gamers” by the developers) claim a virtual plot, build a gallery from a library of thousands of 3D architectural elements, materials and lighting effects, and then buy and exhibit art. These pieces can be historical and world-famous, or not; anything from the Mona Lisa to a relatively unknown artist’s work. Players use virtual credits to buy the pieces (only one copy of each piece is allowed per person), and in turn display their taste and personality through their in-game collection. They can also wander round other players’ galleries, exploring the collection and discovering new works.
StikiPixels CEO Yarden Yaroshevski came up with the idea as a way to democratise art, in a more imaginative way than Instagram. “When people see art in galleries they can’t do much with it,” he tells it’s Nice That. “In the game, they can use the art to express themselves.” 15,000 early access players have already built virtual gallery space 336 times the size of the Louvre, 40,000 galleries (some players have built more than one) filled with over 6,000 artworks, and the average individual art collection totals 800 artworks.
“It’s not lofty like the real art gallery world,” Yaroshevski continues, explaining that all art in the game, whether it’s Van Gogh, Hilma af Klint, Rousseau, Munch or one of the many emerging artists, is the same price. Every artwork links to a biography of the artist and links to their site, Instagram and Kultura page, an online platform for the game’s growing art library. “In today’s world we have access to any culture (on Netflix, Playstation, etc.) at any time, but art is stuck in galleries. Our theory is that people are bored of galleries because they are a narrow view. Tate is showing what it thinks everyone wants to see, but everyone is different.”
Core to the game’s discovery feature is its AI, named Daisy, which suggests artwork to players based on other items they’ve picked for their collection, but also throws in curve balls from outside the algorithm. The AI “is not biased,” Yaroshevski says, in that it will show Degas or an unknown artist in equal measure. The team has also placed a focus on featuring women, queer and other artist demographics generally underrepresented in art history.
The galleries themselves range from the traditional to the more architecturally conceptual, some themed around subjects such as mental health or sci-fi, or dedicated to a historical event or person. On a virtual tour, he shows me gravity-defying structures, and the apparently infamous “Mona Lisa in a box” that has become a meme among players. “Every day someone hacks it and we don’t know how!” Yaroshevski laughs. The game is powered by Unreal Engine, allowing the artworks and interiors to react to their environment in terms of light, shadow and space.
Budding artists can also create pixel art within the game, a function which some have used to pay homage to their favourite artworks – for example, one gallery’s pièce de résistance is a pixel Mondrian framing an actual Mondrian.
The StixiPixels team is currently expanding the library of building elements as well as the art collection, mostly using artworks that are in the public domain due to their age, and contemporary works submitted by artists. It’s hoping to become as influential a platform for discovering and sharing emerging artists as Instagram. Within each gallery is a reception desk with a guest book, where Yaroshevski says people leave predominantly nice comments. “It’s a hideaway for nice creative gamers,” he says, “mainly because you can’t shoot anyone”. And while buying an artwork in the game doesn’t yet translate to real-world cash, the creators say some in-game discoveries have led to players buying pieces from artists in the real world, and StixiPixels doesn’t take any commission nor rights. “Instagram is not ideal for artists,” he says. “We want to work for the artists, to help find them an audience. No matter how obscure, the art will find fans here.”
“Most major galleries show five per cent of their collection,” he concludes. “We’ll never run out of walls”.