MetaPet 1.0

Natalie Bookchin

March 28, 2002, Re-launched May 1st, 2003
Web Project
Image Courtesy of Creative Time

‘MetaPet’ was an on-line virtual pet game by Action Tank, collaboration between artists Natalie Bookchin and Jin Lee. The project explored the complex social and political issues surrounding genetic engineering and corporate behavior.

With MetaPet, Action tank playfully confronted three cultural behemoths: the biotechnology industry, the electronic gaming industry, and corporate culture at large. To play was to enter a world in which the uncooperative worker was replaced with a genetically engineered human worker. To play by the rules of MetaPet, you, the player, were the manager. As a worker-pet manager, your challenge was to discover the right balance between a firm hand and a gentle coax without ever losing site of the bottom line. The player had the responsibility of manipulating the physical and psychological characteristics of the worker-pet by offering promotions or vacations and in turn motivating it to work harder and more efficiently. By the same token, the player could determine the fate of the worker-pet by withholding pleasures or firing him or her. The player was placed in the center of an intricate matrix of corporate biotech culture and was poised to emotionally experience a complicit role as manager of the worker-pet.

Games allowed for free play and discovery within the formal structure of a pre-determined set of rules. Games are not a new form for artists - from the Surrealists to Fluxus, the last century found artists pulling compelling games out of their bags of tricks. However, with the surge of contemporary gaming culture in the later parts of the 1990s and the development of the electronic gaming industry as a major cultural force, there was still a niche to be carved between the individual pursuits of artists and the slick, critically unexamined product of the mainstream electronic game industry. Creative Time’s commissioning of ‘MetaPet’ and the later upgraded release of ‘MetaPet 1.0’ in 2003 marked a new phase in the evolution of artist-made games and staked out new territory for independent, creative practitioners.

‘MetaPet’ also featured mini-games by guest artists including: Plagiarist, a.k.a. Amy Alexander, Davis & Davis, Carmin Karasic, Jeff Knowlton, Anne-Marie Schleiner, Naomi Spellman, Karl Mihail and Tran, T. Kim-Trang of the Gene Genies, and Paul Vanouse.

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