When I was first brainstorming ideas for Debris, my instinct was to create something that felt old and new at the same time. I wanted to give the viewer an experience where they could discover ancient relics that told stories about the distant future. This concept of giving the viewer agency to explore a dynamic space really stuck with me. As a game developer, I believe that games and game-like experiences provide a unique element of interactivity that allows the player to tap into their sense of curiosity and wonder. It is with this spirit of discovery in mind that I began development on Debris, the core of this body of work.
Debris is a point and click adventure game that takes place in a barren world after the disappearance of humanity. How humans died out is not stated explicitly, but what remains are the virtual remnants that continue to occupy space in this abandoned wasteland. As an alien visitor, you are left to forage through the fragments of this world to collect artifacts using virtual currency. As the hype-driven ecosystem of the crypto market continues to dominate discourse in the art community, I was inspired to create a work of speculative fiction that explores the long-term consequences of crypto art on both real and virtual ecosystems.
In order to emulate the surreal and often context-deprived environment of crypto art, I created Debris as an interconnected web of virtual spaces for the viewer to wander through. With little dialogue or characters to speak to, the majority of the experience is spent looking at one's surroundings and interacting with relics from an ancient future. The artifacts themselves are sourced from video games from the early to mid 2000s—low-poly assets taken out of their original context and used to generate new narratives. Around this time period Myst was released, a puzzle game that I played as a child which became a key point of inspiration for creating Debris.
The artifacts in Debris also exist in a different form, as virtual sculptures on pedestals in the online Stanford Honors exhibition. Given the constraints of the virtual space, I wanted to present these 3D models as facsimiles of traditional sculptures in a real gallery space. Also in the virtual gallery I decided to showcase screenshots from Debris as virtual paintings, blurring the line between interactive and static media. Taken out of the context of the game, these images invite the viewer to observe them as they would a painting, noting the combination of digital brushstrokes, photographic collage and 3D found objects. Through this multimedia art experience, I hope the viewer is able to imagine new ways of accessing and experiencing art outside the limits of existing structures.
Noah DeWald (b. 1998, San Francisco, CA) is a new media artist and birdwatcher currently pursuing a B.A. with Honors in Art Practice and Minor in Computer Science at Stanford University. His current body of work takes inspiration from our digitally mediated present, a nostalgic longing for "dumb" technology of the past, and what lies beyond the Anthropocene. By merging traditional art practices such as painting, collage and sculpture with the interactivity of browser-based games, Noah seeks to defamiliarize the devices which have become second nature to us.
Over the past few years, Noah has been working with various artists on projects in the Bay Area. In 2019, he collaborated with three other painters to execute Wall Drawing #911, a large-scale Sol LeWitt mural for the new Stanford Hospital. Last year, he spearheaded a series of digital portraits to fundraise $3400 for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. Since the beginning of 2021, he has been developing one game per month with his game studio Quite Good. Currently, Noah is working with Rashaad Newsome Studio to develop the Being App, a racial trauma therapy app that incorporates natural language processing as well as diverse forms of virtual therapy. Throughout his time at Stanford, Noah has developed his diverse knowledge base in the arts through classes with Lauren Toomer, Dana Hemingway, Terry Berlier, Jenny Odell, and Camille Utterback.