Play Digest: Gwen Smith and Angela Washko

Gwen Smith and Angela Washko come to the idea of the avatar and what it might represent from two different places. Nonetheless, the work of both artists can teach us something about compassion, hate, and who we are.

New York-based artist Gwen Smith‘s Yoda Project is something of a collaboration. Her partner, fellow artist Haim Steinbach, has for a number of years taken Yoda as his avatar. Over time Smith has photographed Steinbach in everyday situations, often with their son in the frame—using it as an opportunity to make something of a photographic growth chart and to use this playful approach to illustrate her family’s character. Smith describes herself as “an artist, a mother, a seeker, a finder, and a player,” and her playful (yet thoughtful), observational oeuvre captures this complexity.

Angela Washko has assumed a herculean task using a massive platform: “teaching feminism” and questioning received notions of women within the milieu of World of Warcraft, the most popular, cumbersome, multi-player video game in the world. For her, game hacking is a feminist projectAs assistant professor of art at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Washko’s academic work not only embraces play, but messes with it and the expectations we may of it, and it doesn’t stop with tackling the creation and perception of female avatars in WoW: recently she’s taken on that most loathsome of cultural phenomenon, The Game.

“Tired of playing [WoW] as directed,” Washko went off-piste and began asking questions and naming names. Unfortunately, she “did not learn how to turn WoW into a space for equitable, respectful conversation,” as intended, but she has unmasked some ugly truths about who we are and how we present ourselves in the realms of these games: “Who we are online is who we are IRL.” 







Lydia Gordon, assistant curator for PlayTime, will be moderating an upcoming panel, Game Changers: Women Activists in Digital Space, at PEM on Saturday, May 5, at 4:15 pm. Join us for this special PlayTime conversation with artist Angela Washko, scholar and activist Susana Morris, and game designer Jane Friedhoff. The panel is made possible by the George Swinnerton Parker Memorial Lecture Fund and offered in conjunction with the Present Tense Initiative.

(Image credit: Photo by Allison White/PEM.)