AHA! A House for Arts

S7 E11 | FULL EPISODE

AHA! | 711

Michael Lattanzio experiments with different materials like wood, plexiglass, and LED lights for sculptures inspired by his interest in neon and architecture. What can the multibillion-dollar industry of interactive games tell us about society? Find out from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Assistant Professor Maurice Suckling. Canella performs at WMHT Studios.

AIRED: October 06, 2021 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

(upbeat music)

(gentle music)

- [Lara] Enter the glowing universe of Michael Lattanzio,

Maurice Suckling reveals

the unique storytelling potential of video games

and catch a performance from Canella.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA, A House for Arts.

- [Commercial Reporter] Funding for AHA

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include the Leo Cox Beach

Philanthropic Foundation, Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

The Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(gentle music)

- Hi, I'm Lara Ayad and this is AHA, A House for Arts,

a place for all things creative.

Here's Matt Rogowicz with today's field segment.

(instrumental music)

- Graphite powder paintings, LED architectural sculptures

and jewelry.

Michael Lattanzio does it all.

And I'm here at a studio in Cohoes, New York

to get a look at the magic behind his work, let's go.

(gentle music)

- I do many different things.

I call myself a creator.

I have had the love of art all my life,

and I'm finally at a point in my life

where I'm getting to mold my art

with other passions that I've learned

and had throughout my lifetime.

When I start a painting,

I usually start in the upper left-hand corner

and I keep everything covered because I'm right-handed

so that as I work, the working area is always covered.

Reason being I did a painting one time

I was halfway through it,

and I got into it, there was a fingerprint

right in the middle of it, but in the trash.

(gentle music)

My first real job was working for a car dealer.

And I started sweeping floors,

worked my way up to shop manager, kind of thing,

line mechanic, and I've always had a love of automobiles.

From there, I went to the graphic arts industry.

I got involved with a company printing T-shirts

that started at 25 years or so career

in the graphic arts world.

I was in my studio one time and I was playing

around some, I've always loved airbrush

and I've done some airbrush work.

And I had started playing around

with some of these geometric images.

And I thought, well,

I want this hard metallic metal kind of look to it.

And I thought, well, airbrush is the way to go,

but I just couldn't get the look I was looking for.

And I remember one night sitting down,

I took a pencil and just rubbed it

on a piece of paper.

And then took my finger and started smearing it around.

I was like, "Wow, there's something here."

You know, then from that,

it evolved into picking up a brush and a blending tool

and this and that.

Finally, I found the powder graphite.

That gave me the ability to create soft hues

and soft interpretations

yet they still have that metallic mechanical

type of look to them.

Finished the first painting in 97.

And my technique, my ability has improved tenfold.

The graphite paintings can run anywhere

from a hundred to 150 hours worth of work.

(gentle music)

I have a tray that I put the powder graphite in,

and I have brushes like any normal fine artist would have,

you know, different shapes, different thicknesses,

different points, that kind of thing.

And I dip into the powder graphite like an artist

and other artists would dip into an oil or acrylic

watercolor, same time thing.

I'll flick it off and then it's just, a very light touch

sometimes, a lot of what you see,

especially the dark areas,

it's layer upon layer upon layer, upon layer of graphite.

That's why it takes a lot because it's not like

you put down a color with a paint brush and it's there.

This, you start light, go to dark.

I get tired, I get bored.

You know, it's like,

I'm working on a painting and it's like,

"Ugh, I've had enough, I gotta get my hands

into something else."

(gentle music)

At something new, COVID turned out to be a blessing.

I'd like to have a year where I'd had nothing else to do.

I didn't have to work.

I had the resources just to go into the studio

and see what would happen.

COVID provided that.

I've always had a love of two things,

neon and architecture.

And this is a blending and a way to be able to blend

the two without actually using neon.

These are LED lights, which are great.

They're very low energy consumption.

They generate no heat.

You can change your color palette.

You can set a mood in a room with these things.

The first piece I did was a triangle.

I cut the sides out and put some paper in there

and I put a light inside of it and it's like,

"Wow, this is cool."

You know?

And that was the kind of the beginning.

And I was like, what else can I do with this?

What else can I light?

What else can I add this to?

The Mayan pyramids,

the regular pyramids in Egypt, that kind of thing.

And then getting into regular architecture.

By using plexiglass, I use the clear only for the edges,

the edges light up, the rest of the clear doesn't light up

as you'll see in some of the pieces.

But I also use frosted plexiglass,

which gives off a soft glow.

It's a very diffused light.

It's not as pinpoint kind of light,

even though the lights themselves are pinpoints.

I've learned how to diffuse the light in certain images.

One of the things I just did was a sign for myself,

using clear plexiglass, I cut a mask on the backside,

painted it, pulled the mask, back lit it,

then put a diffuser panel in there

which evens the light out,

which gives it that neon look.

"Unbelievable, holy cow, I've never seen anything like it."

"Unbelievable," those are just some of the comments.

And I guess that's one of my goals

is to bring to the people,

something they've never seen before,

from my signature to my graphite patterns,

to these sculptures, to the jewelry, whatever,

I love bringing stuff into this three dimensional world

that's never been here before.

(gentle music)

Getting into that space of creating

it becomes a very blissful experience.

All of this construct we live in disappears.

It matters not.

Time almost stops.

It becomes irrelevant because all that matters

is what you're focused on right at that very moment.

To me, that's blissful.

To me, I would love to live in that space all the time.

(gentle music)

- Maurice Suckling is an assistant professor

in the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences program

at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

with a PhD in creative writing

and a master's degree in global history.

Maurice's interest lies in the powerful storytelling

potential of digital board games.

What can this multi-billion dollar industry tell us

about society?

I spoke with Maurice to find out.

Maurice, welcome to A House for Arts.

It's such a pleasure to have you on the show.

- Thank you for inviting me.

- You know, humans have been playing games,

including board games for thousands and thousands of years.

I know they've done excavations

in what's now Iran and Jordan,

and they found games that are about 8,000, 9,000 years old.

And you know, when you think about like,

kind of like modern classics today,

like monopoly or Chutes and Ladders,

what is it that board games still do for us today?

Why have we been playing these for so long?

- In terms of those classic games you mentioned

things like Chutes and Ladders and Monopoly,

they're quite good introductory ways into the hobby.

They get us accustomed to the idea of sitting at a table

together, playing games,

introducing some of the basic mechanisms

that we're accustomed to seeing in some board games.

So in some ways they are a reroute in to the hobby,

but I mean, those games are obviously old, you know,

Chutes and Ladders is possibly well over 2000 years old

in its earliest form and Monopoly over a hundred years

and its earliest form--

- I had no clue that Chutes and Ladders was so old,

but I guess that just kind of demonstrates the point

that like the same kinds of like the idea

of sitting together and playing something together

and engrossed at a table is something that we've been doing

for so long.

- Yeah, you know, we're social animals for the most part,

we like the interactivity of working with people.

But you know, there are also games

that are all about playing the game on your own.

They tend to be narrative driven.

We like story too.

We also like touching things.

We like tangible, tactile things.

And so board games give us that.

- You know, I understand that you have a background

in writing and in history.

So I'm curious to know what kind of role does storytelling

play in the development of, you know,

a board game or a video game of some kind.

- It would depend on the type of games.

So if you're making something like Tetris,

you don't really need storytelling there, but--

- Just a game of strategy, right?

You make the different pieces fit into certain gaps.

And then you eliminate--

- From a development perspective,

that's asking you to do different things.

It's calling on different kinds of design skills.

It's not really asking for storytelling,

but we have a lot of games now,

both in board games and digital games

that are heavily narrative driven.

We have people playing games for the story

to spend time with characters.

It's obviously a massive marketing concern too,

that you can understand how to integrate story

with other design elements.

And that's, you know,

not necessarily straightforward if you have a game

like Assassin's Creed, for example, a digital game,

that's using history in some ways

you might have a writing team of over 20 people on that.

- Oh wow. - And that's not just the--

- And you have writing credits,

right on famous games like Fortnite.

And so this is kind of interesting because I think

when people think of game development,

if they're from the outside, at least somebody like myself,

I'm not thinking about the writing storytelling aspect

like getting a writing credit on that.

So describe that a little bit for us.

Like what does it take then in this team of say 20 writers

to write a game?

- What I would say generally is,

what I think is becoming more clearly understood by writers

and game developers and players

and I think now scholars as well,

is that when you take a story into the form of a game,

you're potentially changing the nature of what the story is.

So when we shift between mediums,

that's not just a jump to different platforms.

You're not just experiencing the same thing,

but on a different sized screen.

- Right, so different mediums would be an example,

be like a physical analog board game

versus a digital one or--

- So I was thinking more in terms of,

so if you take a story and you have it in a TV format

or we have it on in a movie, it's not just that you say,

okay, well let me just take that movie

and then just chop up that story and put it in a game

on a different size screen.

It's more that when you take a story and put it into a game,

you're potentially changing the fundamental nature

of what a story is.

So because players have agency they're able to do stuff,

they are in some considerable ways,

potentially making the story.

So that's not really storytelling at all anymore.

That's story making.

- Got it.

So the players are now story makers.

- Potentially, yes.

So instead of conceiving of a writer as being someone

who tells the audience precisely what is happening

and precisely the sequence within which that should happen,

you can now think of it in the context of games,

as a writer being someone who invests a world

with story potential and then unleashes a player

to construct or reconstruct a story

out of that story potential.

- I'd imagine that when people think of a board game,

they think, well, the video game industry is this huge,

you know, I think it's like $167 billion industry

or something like that, it's huge.

And I could imagine some people would think,

well now video games are overshadowing board games

and board games are, you know,

waving goodbye and that's it that we're not gonna see

them anymore.

Do you agree with that kind of stance

or do you see it from a different perspective?

- Short answer is I disagree.

The longer answer is the board game industry

is probably worth about 3 billion annually right now.

So clearly there's a massive disparity, right?

But those figures on their own,

don't tell us, there's lots that they don't tell us.

They don't tell us how time works.

So if you buy a $70 board game and you play

with four other friends who didn't spend any money

on that game and you all play for 150 hours each

that's not showing up in those figures.

Also a board game industry is growing by about 15 to 20%

each year, which is substantially more

than probably what the video game industry--

- So the growth rate is at a much faster pace

for board games.

Why do you think that is?

- I think it's connected in some ways to the very fact

that board games and video games are not opposing poles.

They're connected.

The rise, the resurgence in board games,

there was a time in which board games

absolutely looked that way

that board games were going to become obsolete

in the sort of late eighties, early nineties,

people started to feel that's what was happening.

But I think the resurgence of board games

is in part, a large part down

to the ubiquity of digital technology,

people want to escape from their screens--

- Think we especially feel that way right now

with COVID and everyone working from home,

I can just imagine.

- Well, here's the thing though,

that digital technology is also facilitating people

to play board games remotely.

- [Lara] Interesting.

- So these things are not, they're not opposed.

You know, there's plenty of people who play,

could play both.

I suspect most people who play games

absolutely do play both.

And we also have these hybrid games,

which are blending digital technology with analog

technology, which is a recent trend.

- When I think of like some very typical video games.

And even there are a lot of board games

that deal with the theme of war.

When you think of like Call of Duty, for instance,

is a great example.

You know, I can't help,

but think of that in relation to the recent events

that have unfolded in Afghanistan.

And I wonder from your perspective, Maurice,

do you think that that sometimes video games

or analog board games or whatever format

may risk trivializing, the suffering and death

that often comes with real war?

- Yeah, for sure.

I mean board board games,

video games can and frequently do trivialize war,

but then I think movies and TV and fiction

frequently does too.

That doesn't mean they necessarily have to,

it just depends on what your approach is.

So, you know, we have in movies, we have "Apocalypse."

Now we have "Band of Brothers" on TV.

We have Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried"

in fiction, or, you know, swap those out for other examples

that you prefer.

But in video games we have Spec Ops: The Line.

We have games that actually don't just trivialize

where they come at a different way.

And if we don't think about games as purely being driven

by Twitch game, play by dexterity

testing our ability to run and jump and shoot them

and duck and so on,

then we can think about games that look at broader aspects

of war, things like strategy or politics

or economy or survival.

- Or even diplomacy possibly.

- Yep, absolutely diplomacy and board games in particular

I would say, although not exclusively,

generally do a better job of that

than video games.

There's a whole sector of the board games industry

that looks at those kinds of aspects.

If you want to understand Afghanistan or the war on terror,

you're gonna do much better by looking at something

like Labyrinth or Distant Plain by Volko Ruhnke,

former CIA analyst,

you're gonna get much closer looking

at those kinds of analog games

than you are by looking at a host of other video games

that essentially about shooting.

- Right, so we can actually learn how to think about things,

in more nuanced and bigger picture ways,

including like issues like war by playing

some of these games, which is fantastic.

- Absolutely yeah.

It's that experiential quality changes the nature

of what a story is and your nature of your,

the depth of your understanding are altered

by the fact that you experience it.

- That's amazing.

I wanna go and check out all these new games and new ideas

that you've shared with us Maurice,

thank you so much for being on AHA.

It was such a pleasure to have you.

- You're welcome, thank you.

- Please welcome Canella.

- Hello everyone.

My name is Canella and I'm gonna be singing "Quiet Love,"

and you can find this song and music video on YouTube,

Spotify and all streaming platforms.

(soft guitar music)

♪ I've been better ♪

♪ How have you been ♪

♪ Can you remember ♪

♪ The last two weeks ♪

♪ Around the same time ♪

♪ My mind wasn't here ♪

♪ I looked at the mirror ♪

♪ To see nothing there ♪

♪ In a blink I find myself ♪

♪ Without a home to call my own ♪

♪ In the middle of the night I close my eyes ♪

♪ And hope I'm not between our quiet love ♪

♪ Love ♪

♪ Hide my first cry ♪

♪ Cause I haven't seen the sun ♪

♪ And I meant to cause no trouble ♪

♪ And I meant to cause no harm ♪

♪ In a blink I find myself ♪

♪ Without a home to call my own ♪

♪ In the middle of the night ♪

♪ I close my eyes ♪

♪ And hope I'm not between our quiet love ♪

♪ Love ♪

♪ How I miss the times before ♪

♪ I was knocked right out the door ♪

♪ How I miss the times before ♪

(soft guitar music)

Thank you

This song is called "Gold."

I hope you enjoy it.

(soft guitar music)

♪ Spinning circles in my head ♪

♪ Lie on the ground and look golden ♪

♪ It smells like the seasons ♪

♪ That make me sad ♪

♪ The freezing around you ♪

♪ It's like being in bed ♪

♪ Oh where you go ♪

♪ Don't fall ♪

♪ Falling behind you is like being alone ♪

♪ Don't go ♪

♪ Stay home ♪

♪ Crying beside you ♪

♪ Is discovering gold ♪

♪ Lying beside you ♪

♪ Is discovering gold ♪

(soft guitar music)

♪ You taught me to think less about myself ♪

♪ And when I'm around you ♪

♪ I feel okay ♪

♪ Oh thank God I'd see you ♪

♪ Through all of the shade ♪

♪ The darkness of night ♪

♪ Is my favorite day ♪

♪ Oh where you go ♪

♪ Don't fall ♪

♪ Falling behind you ♪

♪ Is like being alone ♪

♪ Don't go ♪

♪ Stay low ♪

♪ Lying beside you is discovering gold ♪

♪ Oh no stay low ♪

♪ Making our drawings from stars that we saw ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Lying beside you is discovering gold ♪

♪ Lying beside you is discovering gold ♪

(soft guitar music)

Thank you.

- Thanks for joining us.

For more arts visit wmht.org/aha

and be sure to connect with WMHT on social.

I'm Lara Lara Ayad.

Thanks for watching.

(gentle music)

- [Commercial Reporter] Funding for AHA

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include the Leo Cox Beach

Philanthropic Foundation, Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

The Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

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