In the game Lissitzky’s Revenge, you are the tiny red triangle against the mighty white circle depicted in El Lissitzky’s 1919 Suprematist poster “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge.” Created by Atelier Games, it’s the first in a planned series of games inspired by 20th-century artists and art movements.
“The mission of the Atelier Games project is threefold: create unique art-based games, explore the viability of utilizing non-digital media for game art production, and introducing game art and development as a creative possibility for non-traditional audiences,” Chris Totten, the game’s creator, told Hyperallergic. Totten is Game Artist in Residence at American University and makes games under the name Pie For Breakfast Studios. He notes that following the propaganda-influenced Lissitzky’s Revenge, the Atelier Games team is working on a “political cartoon game made with ink on paper drawings.” Last year Totten released Zup!, which incorporated craft-foam cutouts and cotton balls, and Atelier Games, with its focus on art movements, has continued this experimentation with non-digital materials in games. Lissitzky’s Revenge itself was designed with paper cutouts, and the team is researching other art production methods for future games, such as René Magritte’s painting technique or the Ashcan School style of Ohio artist Clyde Singer.
Lissitzky’s Revenge is available to play free on Game Jolt, as well as download for Windows and Linux. While it’s recommended you play with a controller, the red wedge can also be directed with a keyboard through the Game Jolt site. The basic strategy is to dodge Russian words from the poster’s title while attempting to pierce the white circle, which in Lissitzky’s original work was symbolic of the Bolsheviks slicing through the White movement in the era of the Russian Civil War. The name and gameplay are a reference to the 1982 Atari game Yars’ Revenge. As Chris Priestman at Kill Screen points out, the game isn’t the first instance of the poster being reinterpreted, as it was a huge symbol for the West of the interior strife in Russia, and it’s that history that gives the game a heavier meaning that doesn’t shy away from its politics. In the first level you’re told “Good luck comrade,” and later you batter away at a black rectangle that reveals this Upton Sinclair quote: “All art is propaganda, it is universally and inescapably propaganda, sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately propaganda.”
While the action of being immersed in Lissitzky’s Bolshevik vs. anti-Communist world — all set to encouraging music of the era — is a provocative theme for a game, it’s also the use of the non-digital paper cutouts in its visuals that really captures that aesthetic. The Suprematist embrace of symbolic geometry is there in both the static circle and the attacking triangle of revolution. The gameplay is a little repetitive and can be tedious as you try to work out increasingly complicated puzzles, but along with games like Flomm: The Battle for Modern 1923 — released earlier this year and inspired in its gameplay and design by the 1920s avant-garde — it marks a new way to reconsider the production techniques of some of the most radical early 20th-century art.