The Story Behind the Game

Jason Van Anden
Following is the first draft of a presentation that never actually took place on January 5th, 2005 at the Dorkbot NYC gathering at Location One. The actual presentation was delivered as a tutorial on how to play Farklempt! and included audience participation. Ultimately this was a lot more fun for everyone involved. Video documentation of the actual presentation can be found here.

Regardless, I thought this incomplete first draft might be of interest to some, and so here it is...


Hi, my name is Jason Van Anden and I am an Artist, Technologist and Robotmaker.

I am here today to present my newest creation, Farklempt! version 1.0, a multiplayer online video game that was commissioned by the awesome online net art community with the incredibly generous support of The Greenwall, Jerome and Warhol Foundations.

I was lucky enough to have been granted this commission last May after a very cool democratic process whereby the Rhizome community reviewed and voted on which game proposals they liked best. Of around fifty proposals, Farklempt! was one of six selected for a grant.

For the last seven years I have been obsessively focused on creating human scale emotive robotic sculptures. I proposed Farklempt! to help feed my mind with a different flavor. It is my first online artwork.

Upon its completion, I was presented with a quandary; how does one unveil an online artwork? At Syracuse University where I studied sculpture, we learned to have art openings, which tended to be raucous events where you would celebrate your accomplishment and get feedback from friends and contemporaries over beer, wine, humus, pita chips, etc... At a loss for a virtual equivalent, I asked Douglas Repetto if Dorkbot NYC might be an appropriate venue to present Farklempt!, and he liked the idea and here we are...

Farklempt! v 1.0 is the sum of a lot of seemingly disparate parts. How it came to be requires a little background information. Before I show you the work itself I would like to take a moment to bring you up to date. This presentation and all that it references will be made available on my website at

The Wonder Years

It all began in 1979 in the computer lab at Mildred E. Strang Middle School in Yorktown Heights, New York. Yorktown was an IBM town, so we were fortunate to have a computer lab stocked with the newest PC technology at the time. This included a few TRS-80 Model 1s and one Apple II. All of these were equipped with tape drives. It was here where I was taught BASIC and wrote my first program which looked something like this:
I learned to program, but was ultimately a lot more interested in making art.

The Iron Age

At Syracuse University I studied Sculpture and Printmaking. Sculpture because I was thrilled with making my artworks confront their audience in real space, and printmaking because I am a obsessive and process oriented.

The dominate aesthetic at Syracuse was formalism a la David Smith. Clement Greenberg's 1939 essay Avante Garde and Kitsch was taken very seriously. This had a major influence on my work at the time:
Clement Greenberg + David Smith = Jason Van Anden
In the summer of 1989, Syracuse University sent me to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. My studio was composed of two converted horse stables that faced one another, each exactly 8 x 8 x 8 feet.

Far from the gaze of Mr. Smith and Mr. Greenberg, I found the freedom to experiment with new materials. What started as a series of "invisible sculptures" evolved into stitching together cardboard boxes with fishing wire, which quickly led to converting my entire studio into a cardboard cocoon which I worked on constantly and I where lived for an entire month. It may have been longer had I not awoken one morning to find myself face to face with a racoon.
Before After
As I started to take down the sewn and nailed together cardboard, I became fascinated with the artifacts that were left behind on the inside of my studio. I started to draw on the walls to suggest associations between various marks, trying to make order out of the chaos.
I became enthralled with the idea of creating deliberately temporary installations composed of a few found objects and very important marks. I built a replica of my Skowhegan studio in my Syracuse studio where I would create quick little masterworks, document them, paint the box, and start again. Eventually I would train myself to be so good and comfortable spontaniously creating installations that I could fill whole galleries with a show in an evening. The visual equivalent to jazz or improvisational performance.
I put together and exhibited three solo shows in this manner during my senior year. During this period, I started to miss the process of making actual objects, and started creating sculptures that I might use as if found. These included six eight foot long rubber frogs that could be contorted into all sorts of gestures, one covered with human hair, as well as large steel shapes.
Click here to see more of Jason's portfolio

The Dark Ages

In 1990 I moved to New York City to pursue art stardom. Space was expensive. If I was going to create vast installations it seemed that I was going to need a lot of money. After working as a bartender and a metal fabricator I came to realize that my BASIC skillset from seventh grade was my most likely way of surviving. I taught myself newer languages, and built a career as freelance software designer, incorporating as Quadrant 2, Inc. My clients included huge multi-national corporations, a jewelery manufacturer and an investor relations firm.
As my 30th birthday approached in 1998, I realized that my aspirations to become an art star had been completely sidetracked by my career as a software architect. That summer I took a break from freelancing and studio-sat for an artist friend in Louisiana. In a very hot studio in Plaquemine, Louisiana I created a series of automatic drawings that were shown the following fall, one of these is shown above.

The Smile Project

I was not thrilled with the Plaquemine drawings, and I was at a loss as to what to do about it. Group therapy changed all of that:

I became intrigued with the behavioral dynamics I obsevered in group therapy. I started considering how this might be represented as art, and created software to represent these systems as such. Theses were written in Visual Basic 3.0 and not much to look at. Around this time, I was also developing a series of primative mouth-shaped drawings based upon something I thought I had heard on NPR, that our first understanding of love as a child takes the form of our mother's smile. I combined these two ideas and embarked on The Smile Project.
The Smile Project will be comprised of a family of five human scale living sculptures who respond to each other and their audience "emotionally". After seven years of very intense development, two of these exist named Neil and Iona. The project is a work in progress. With the fiscal sponsorship of The New York Foundation for the Arts I am seeking to raise money to finish and exhibit the five originally envisioned.
In the process of creating The Smile Project, I invented software to enable the robots to interact improvisationally. This software allows me to define "phrases" made up of combinations of "beats" defining sound, facial expressions and physical movement. Essentially a user friendly cybernetic GUI that allows anyone to graphically create a finite state machine.
I presented Neil and Iona at Dorkbot in September of 2003, so I am not going to spend time going over them here. If you are interested in learning more about The Smile Project or would like to see them for yourself please visit and join my mailing list for infrequent announcments.

I was a bit overwhelmed by the endless possibilities of this tool. As I would psych myself up to use it, I often found myself playing with it like a toy instead. Inspired by Rhizome's call for entries, I decided to leverage some of this technology into a game. To my astonishment, Farklempt! was commissioned.

And that about brings you up to date for the official unveiling of Farklempt! version 1.0.


At this point in the presentation, Farklempt! version 1.0 is unveiled.


My future plans for Farklempt! are a series of "versions" that play with the format, visuals, physics and sounds. I also plan to create a physical interface to be presented as an installation.

This all hearkens back to how I worked in my studio at Skowhegan, trading the 8 x 8 x 8 white box for an 800 x 600 browser window.