Cory Arcangel


Written by Blair Mishleau
28 Monday 28th February 2011

With bowling games being so visually and conceptually similar, and with the controllers rigged to play only scoreless games, the minor variations in aural and visual stimulations combine to document an aesthetic history of video games over 30 years.

We chatted with Cory on the day of the gallery opening to see just how much work went into this hack, as well as what else is on his radar.

How’d you do the research for all of these games? Is there a catalogue of these games?

No, there’s no official anything. A lot of it was just Googling, and the rest was Ebaying. You can just Ebay the name of the system and then just “bowling.” I didn’t want to do any games that were rare. If it seemed like a game was pretty plentiful on Ebay and it wasn’t expensive, I’d go for it.


Cory aside his creation of constant balls, bleeps and falling pins. 

How long did all that take you?

I’ve been working on this since August, so is that a half a year, maybe? That includes Ebaying, buying, buying backups, modifying, testing, porting the loops. It was a crunch, it wasn’t like a leisurely half a year. It was pretty intense.

Some of these consoles are antiques, were you ever afraid you were going to mess something up horribly and kill this old, beautiful machine?

Yes, absolutely. Some of the machines are fragile and it was a bit stressful to work with some of them. But actually, what turned out is that sort of the newer machines are fragile because they have discs. Older machines have no moving parts, which means they’re pretty robust, which I didn’t anticipate right away.

Ten points for the first comment to correctly name all the consoles

How did you learn how to make video games loop? It seems like a rather obscure thing to know how to do.

Well this project I worked with an engineer, because it was a little bit too advanced for me to figure out on my own. I worked about two years developing this little chip that makes the game loop. We kept testing different things, and we were learning the best way to do it. It was pretty much a real back and forth with a real life embedded systems engineer, which now works for any system. That’s why I was able to do the entire history, because the technology was designed to work with any controller.

Did you play any of the games?

Like, for fun? No. I don’t really like to play games.

Wow. Okay, well if you had to pick one, just aesthetically, which of these would be your favourite?

The Brunswick for the PlayStation 1, because it’s early 3D graphics, and it’s really gnarly and uncomfortable looking. I love early 3D graphics, that’s my current obsession in terms of imagery. Awful looking polygons. The early 3D’s are awkward and clumsy.

Games old and new play in an endless loop, controlled by custom-made computer chips attached to the console controllers.

What else is on your radar coming up after this?

Well after this is a show in the Whitney Museum in May in New York. So this piece will go there and then I’m making a bunch of new work around it. So that’ll keep me busy until May. Until the summer, really. It’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s going to be really worth it.

Excellent, thank you very much!

Beat the Champ is on at the Barbican Art Gallery until May 22, in The Curve gallery. 

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  • Guest: aliffdean
    Wed 09 - Mar - 2011, 11:00
    you know this is pretty interesting but there are tons of teenage hackers out there doing the exact same thing.
  • BlairM
    Wed 02 - Mar - 2011, 11:40
    Patrick, I think you've got it! Brad, you're close as well. If I had brownies you'd all get ten of them. For gloating's sake, I'll give you both 10 brownie points. :)
  • Guest: Patrick
    Wed 02 - Mar - 2011, 11:00
    GameCube, PS2, N64, N64, PS1, PS1, Sega Saturn, SNES, Neo Geo, Sega MegaDrive, NES, Atari?, Odyssey.
  • Guest: Brad-10
    Tue 01 - Mar - 2011, 16:43
    10possible points from right to left, Atari or PS2 (just the back of a black box tad tricky) N64, N64, PS1, PS1, Sega, SNES, then it gets a little blurry but I can just see a big black oblong sticking up..Sega perhaps? Do I win these 10 brownie points for being a gamer geek? This is a brilliant installation, great work.
  • Guest: beatgirlcomics
    Sun 20 - Feb - 2011, 13:51
    RRAAARRRR that's not real art RRRAARRRGGHH SNNURRGGG GGNNGGG etc etc etc
  • Guest: dammmgood
    Fri 18 - Feb - 2011, 18:57
    How do game developers feel about this "art"? They work long and hard on their product, and many consider it art themselves. Now this guy is deleting a few items, or creating a video clip, of someones work and calling it his own. If he's an artist, then there are millions of artist all over the world. They're the gamers that take screen shots and make fan videos of their favorite games. The differences is this guy gets an art exhibit. I'll never understand the pop art, and in an era of photoshop it will only continue to expand. If you want to showcase their history, I would personally showcase concept art, screen shots, and video clips of videogames themselves. For those that do enjoy this stuff don't forget it's source. Mario clouds have been around for a long time.
  • Guest: pizzichoco
    Fri 18 - Feb - 2011, 05:51
    I like how in the last picture people are going up real close. As if it was real art. Honestly, they're just pixels. Nothing against the guy though, I think buying up old bowling games for the sake of displaying stills from them is pretty cool, if a bit silly.