Guerrilla Pong


I came across these two webpages only just recently: Josh Nimoy’s MiniPong and Hakon A Hjortland, Havard Moen, and Alf Storm’s unassumingly named 5×7 LED dot matrix pong.

The most immediate thing you’ll notice about these two pong clones is that they are tiny. Their display resolution can be counted on fingers, and their hardware can be packaged into dimensions just as unbelievably small. Ignoring any discrete components involved in their construction, they, quite amazingly, only really need a cheap five-dollar microcontroller.

The units seem definitely playable, and this really pushes home the most important thing about these pong units: electronic communication is a serious aesthetic medium with its own distinctness. Although this is now obvious from the fact that everyone possesses a handheld computer many hundreds of times faster than most home PCs from a decade ago, the primitive concreteness of these tiny pong clones serves as a reminder that the fantastic virtual worlds we now live in through our tablet computers and smartphones are based on manipulating our physical reality.

Take a look, for instance, at these two photos taken at (basically) the same event, one captured 8 years after the other:



These two images place in stark relief the impact of the digital technological revolution that has been undertaken over the last 30-40 years. These pong clones are significant in this light because they are a reaction to the rapid digitalisation of everyday life. This is especially true in Nimoy’s case, because of its subversive message. The purpose of MiniPong is that it is to be quickly and securely installed into public places for mass attention. The transgressive act of mutilating a piece of the public environment with an attention-arresting electronic meme carries with it obvious political and ethical overtones–who controls the information you receive?–what is it being used for?

On this point the description of Nimoy’s pong clone at an art exhibition reads:

The present generation of new media artists espouse an approach that is a reaction against commercial software-driven art. They have little concern of the media critique of their immediate predecessors. Rather, they dabble in commercial software critique, and see programming as a means to become empowered.The result is a complete circle, where the earliest analogue computer generated images of the 50s are duplicated in the software art we see today. The pioneers of computer art have always been writing their own software in the 50s and up until the 80s before desktop computers and packaged software became broad consumer products. Today, the reactionary artist resurges: the new Modernist who seeks to liberate art from commercial media.

Aside from the social commentary of which these simple pong clones are capable, it is not difficult to be very impressed at the ease with which it is possible to clone, at a hardware level, a game that took the world by storm forty years ago. You can do it for around twenty dollars, in an afternoon. You can find a video of Hakon, Hardvard and Alf’s pong clone being played here