When one of my nephews chose to study Games Technology at university, there were contradictory reactions within the family.

Firstly delight, as he’d had a Statement of Special Educational Needs, and no expectation to study at degree level. Secondly, games? Surely that’s for leisure time, not a suitable career choice.

Why not accountancy or building surveying, something solid?

Of course it turned out to be a very intelligent decision. He studied hard for a first class degree then immediately found paid work.

At 24 he is now senior coder at a hip young company where T-shirts are worn and everyone calls the managing director ‘Dude’. Probably.

Games technology has wider applications. Psychologists are increasingly using games to investigate human behaviour, as people respond well to an entertaining format. My nephew’s company also won an award for developing a game benefiting children with behavioural difficulties.

I often wonder what it’s like to dwell in a virtual environment as my nephew does, and the exhibition ‘Virtual Worlds’ at Salisbury Arts Centre aims to offer some insights.

Ghostly white-clad figures were moving menacingly amongst the trees as we arrived on the opening night, and many more were inside.

These were performance students from Winchester, part of a multi-level piece created by their lecturer Olu Taiwo. Dr Taiwo himself manifests as three very different avatars within the work: on the night he appeared as a kind of shaman. It was an unsettling but impressive experience.

Canadian Lynne Heller lives a double life, and uses her avatar in Second Life (a web-based virtual world) as a starting point for graphic art. This is an interesting proposition as it calls into question the idea of autobiography as fiction. There is also plenty of scope for satire and humour, and I was reminded of the film ‘How to Murder your Wife’, which features a cartoonist acting out his stories. Heller’s graphic art books are worth a look.

She has also collaborated with the third artist, Jackie Calderwood. Together they have assembled an unengaging video and a slide show, but Calderwood’s ‘Two Trees’ I found especially tiresome. It consists of a large number of poor photographs and a pair of scissors. Audience participation at its most basic level.

Olu Taiwo’s work and performance deserves a wider audience, but sadly few were there on the opening night.

The Arts Centre has a large mailing list but doesn’t send out enough invitations.

There are plans to repeat the performances, so check the centre’s web site for times.

If possible also take a phone equipped with a QR scanner to access video content embedded within QR codes on trees in the grounds.

Martin Urmson

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