Drew Damron Transforms Grand Rapids Into a Role-Playing Game
With GRpg, Drew Damron single-handedly turns Grand Rapids, Michigan into a Super Nintendo-style role playing game. And like game designer Shigesato Itoi, who took inspiration from his relationship with an absent father, Kurt Vonnegut, and his young daughter’s handwriting when creating Earthbound for SNES, Damrom inserts his own life into GRpg. While today’s cutting edge video games become more like films through advancements like motion-capture technology, and text-based Twine games converge with literature, GRpg reminds us of video games’ unique strength as an art form. “[They] are the only forms of artistic expression that allow the authoritative voice of the author to remain true while allowing the observer to explore and experiment,” wrote Chris Melissinos, curator of “Art of Video Games” at the Smithsonian in 2012. GRpg takes this to heart as it invites us to explore Damrom’s life in 16 bit graphics.
Growing up I played video games set in faraway places: the fantastic world of Sonic, faceless city of Streets of Rage, and pro basketball courts of NBA Jam. When I bought GRpg from Drew Damron at the Grand Rapids Zine Fest in July, he commented, “Wouldn’t it be cool if every town had their own video game?” It’s a simple idea, yet a very novel one: local video games. Lucy Lippard, art historian, writes about the importance of place-specific art forms, “[They] should become…part of, or a criticism of, the built and/or daily environment, making places mean more to those who live or spend time there.” In GRpg, Damron does just that, including the music of local bands, historical photos from the Grand Rapids Public Library, his workplace, and expressing his opinions on the philanthropy that shapes the city. GRpg deepens our experience of Grand Rapids by giving us a new way to experience it.