Canadian artist Howie Tsui redesigned a pinball machine to turn it into a crude simulation of a musket-ball rattling around a soldier's guts for a War of 1812-themed exhibition currently running at the Agnes Etherington Arts Centre at Queens University in Kingston. It's meant to demonstrate the way that repetition and concentration can inure you to the horrors of war:
The first part of his exhibition is a re-themed pinball machine, which now, having been Tsui-ed, is called Musketball! Tsui repainted the front glass panel and it now shows a British soldier reeling back as his guts explode from a musket shot (no rolling around inside for this one). The playing surface is painted with organs, tissue and bone, with the words “mangled viscera” at midfield. It would all be tame in a modern shooter video game, but it’s shockingly graphic on a vintage board.
I step up to the game and fire my first ball, which gets back in the gutter faster than I thought possible. I fire the second ball — which I note are gold, not silver, to which Tsui says, “I kind of blinged it up a little bit.” This ball stays in play just long enough to hit a few bumpers and set off sound effects of rifle shots and artillery blasts. I fire my remaining three balls, and my final score is slightly less than one-tenth of Tsui’s high score. “It’s your first time playing. I had to do a lot of testing,” Tsui says, showing he’s also talented in the art of diplomacy.
“After a while,” he says, “you sort of get hooked on the game, and the whole idea for me is that it distances the player from the idea of violence.”
Pinball, bones and animal skins: Howie Tsui’s wonderful horrors of the War of 1812 [Peter Simpson/Ottawa Citizen]