The “Cabs of Curiosity” event will take place on April 7 at the CML’s new location (158 King West). The event is part of the English Department’s 50th anniversary. Students will be on hand to discuss their work, some of which will be enhanced this spring so that cabinets can be installed at THEMUSEUM. The CML’s Visiting Artist/Researcher Nick Rombes will also be on hand to discuss his new collaborative project with the CML. More about that later.
These cabinet projects are designed to be “evocative objects” or “objects-to-think-with.” The students were asked to repurpose arcade cabinets to embody various theories from the readings completed in my courses this term. Don’t expect to play hours of “Galactica” and “Street Fighter” at this event. Expect instead to reconsider your concept of a “game,” and to feel very aware of your own embodiment in a situation that usually calls for us to leave our bodies behind.
Why arcade cabinets? There are several reasons. First of all, students this term studied the baroque kunstkabinett or wunderkammer this term. The original cabinets of curiosity were actually entire rooms full of curious objects collected by individuals with a flair for “natural history.” The wunderkammer were in a sense “anti-museums,” in that they did not adhere to a scientific concepts of taxonomy, but instead reflected the personal interests and obsessions of an individual collector. The cabinets were designed to be surprising, and to inspire wonder, reflection, and awe. Wunderkammer bring to mind several issues in contemporary critical theory and philosophy, including the waning of curiosity-driven research in academia, the recent rise of “object-oriented ontology” and “thing studies,” and the questioning of scientific method in the works of theorists such as Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers.
And then there is the MAME side of things. MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is essentially software that allows you to play thousands of arcade games in a single environment on a basic computer. The concept of a MAME Cab emerged when hobbyists began fitting old arcade cabinets with PC’s so that they could play all of these games in the nostalgic glory of their garages or (parents’) basements. Students working in the CML are rerouting that the cultural MAME meme to give it a critical edge.