This browser-based game by artist Cassie McQuater weaves a dreamlike personal narrative through a labyrinthine world populated by iconic female characters from video game history.
Cassie McQuater, Black Room, 2018 (still). Video game, duration variable. Courtesy the artist
Black Room is on view as part of “First Look: New Art Online,” an online exhibition series copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum. It is accessible on desktop only.
“Imagine you are in a black room. Inside of the black room is a black table. Next to the black table is a black chair. Beside the black chair is a black vase.”
The browser-based video game Black Room (2018), which was completed with funds from Rhizome’s 2018 Microgrants program, opens with its insomniac protagonist trying to fall asleep using a self-guided meditation technique. While aiming to visualize an entirely dark space, thereby lulling herself to sleep, she becomes lost in thought, allowing fantasy and memory to intrude into her mental architecture. The game, which was constructed over several years, takes the form of a kind of labyrinthine memory (and fantasy) palace, where players may encounter new elements each time they play.
McQuater describes Black Room as a “feminist dungeon crawler,” through which she wrestles with issues of gender surrounding video game culture at large and in her own lived experience as a gamer and artist. The work draws heavily on classic gameplay and makes use of female sprite characters lifted directly from classic games by fans.
Alongside these references to video game culture, the work also serves as a reflection on the experience of the contemporary web. Resizing the browser window is a key aspect of gameplay, and rooms open across multiple browser tabs, giving the experience a sense of precariousness: Black Room is a memory palace to which one can lose access simply by closing the wrong tab.
Cassie McQuater is a Los Angeles–based artist who works with digital media. McQuater received the Nuovo Award and an honorable mention for Excellence in Design at the 2019 Independent Games Festival for Black Room.