Welcome To The Sandbox

Welcome To The Sandbox, is a video installation that looks at the “Happiness Island” sweater and its unsure slogan that proclaims “Happiness is…Land” and its implications for Grand Theft Auto IV, open world games, game consoles, and media formats along with the inclusion of playgrounds throughout fictional Liberty City. The “Happiness Island” sweater found on Grand Theft Auto IV’s “Happiness Island,” a composite of the real life Liberty Island, contains the cryptic souvenir sweater that seems to question if the possession of land brings forth happiness. The slogan seems to be a self referential and self deprecating slogan that not only questions and undermines the attraction of the island but possibly a comment on the banal in-game consumerism that parodies real world consumption that includes the real world purchase of this very game and the hardware on which the game itself is played. Grand Theft Auto IV’s inclusion of numerous playgrounds situated primarily within public housing developments surrounded with fences, parallel the similarly nested levels of consumer sandboxes or detail as it were in game space.

Although a player may purchase an open world “sandbox” game such as Grand Theft Auto the player has no true control over the world they’ve bought for use on their console. Is it fulfilling to wander these games running errands for non-player characters (NPC) or driving around in epic chases popping off cops that inevitably see your health bar fall to zero after which you respawn to step and repeat? It is for a while but eventually you will exhaust what can and cannot be done in the world as you hit the invisible edges of the horizon and find that you are indeed sitting in a finite sandbox that no longer seems sprawling an enthralling.

The highly proprietary game console systems that games such as these are played on regularly contain their own draconian restrictions on the usage and parallel consumption of games and media. “It Only Does Everything” the prime slogan used to market Sony’s PS3 seems to lack an asterisk that details the laundry list of unsupported media that cannot roam PS3 country; it is a land reserved primarily for Sony backed or Sony created formats, a la Blu-ray. The discs that the games ship on are laced with DRM and copyright protection that run parallel to the copyright protection schema that are embedded into the current generation of video cables that connect your console to your TV or your computer to your display. The console and the PC are the hardware manifestation of the sandbox and the greater format and copyright sandbox wars define the edges of these worlds.

We are left with an ecosystem of nested sandboxes with user control being limited to consumption and possession of the hardware, discs, software, files, etcetera. Welcome to the sandbox.