Less than a year after we brushed elbows with Rihanna at “the most buzzed about tattoo shop in the history of man” at 26 Clinton Street, Bang Bang (aka Keith McCurdy) packed up his crew and moved on. Last night, the space was playing host to a different New York niche culture – call it revenge of the nerds.
Even as Community 54’s arcade/T-shirt shop was getting pushed out down the street, Bang Bang’s former business partners, Kelly Galligan and Vincent LaCava decided to turn the space into an indie game incubator called Waka Waka, building on their 14 years in the gaming industry.
Last night, the luminaries of New York’s gaming world turned out for a launch party with a clubhouse feel: dudes in rumpled button-downs and t-shirts, kicking back ice-bucket beers on the couch, nerded out over potential uses for Oculus Rift as breathless fanboys spotted their gaming idols. Teams of five battled at the Killer Queen arcade game, wildly popular on the indie gaming circuit.
Huh? What indie gaming circuit?
Apparently, New York represents the same thing to indie gaming enthusiasts as it does to indie filmmakers and musicians: freedom from the big West Coast studios to experiment and find your own weird direction. Hence, places like Babycastles and its recent exhibition focusing on Muslim game designers.
Downstairs at Waka Waka, Eric Zimmerman, a founding faculty of NYU’s Game Center and one of the biggest intellectuals on the indie gaming scene, was playing a Sportsfriends game that looked like Pong, but the paddles were flexible and moveable.
“Look at the physics of this fluid kind of world,” he said, admiringly. “A lot of this is intentionally primitive stuff.”
With the rise of the app market, indie games like Sportsfriends are finally finding wide distribution; Zimmerman said the indie game market is poised to explode even while TV and music decline. “I think New York City is reaching a critical mass to become the world capital of independent gaming,” he said.
Waka Waka is supposed to become the hub for this explosion. It’ll be a co-working space and incubator for emerging game developers, collaborating with NYU’s Game Center (where LaCava also teaches) to “keep games weird.” Neighbors can also drop by to play a game or two.
Peter Berkman of Amanaguchi, a band that writes “strange electronic music for people who grew up on the internet,” was manning the DJ laptop. He said getting together to play games “fulfills this need to meet up.”
“I’m excited to have a place to go that isn’t a bar, a club or a sports event,” he said. “A lot of these games just function better in a social place.”
And what of Bang Bang? LaCava said he couldn’t drop any hints but said the tattoo artist is doing his own thing and should be making an “exciting announcement” very soon.
But if you care more about games than tattoos, look ahead to Waka Waka’s first major event. September 19-21 it will host NYU’s No Quarter, basically an art opening for the gaming crowd.