Subverting the gaming culture

Lucas ‘Jerry Paper’ Nathan upends conventions in a demo of his new video game at CDA

BRATTLEBORO — The Center for Digital Art (CDA) presents Jerry Paper in a night of musical entertainment and gaming.

On Thursday, Nov. 20, the Brooklyn-based musician will perform songs from his recently released album, “Big Pop For Chameleon World,” and showcase the interactive game “Dr. Javier Genneheigen's Chameleon World,” which uses the songs from his album for its soundtrack.

“Big Pop For Chameleon World,” on Orange Milk Records, is Paper's sixth release in two years and is his second record to be pressed to vinyl this year. “Dr. Javier Genneheigen's Chameleon World” is the first video game he has helped create.

Paper demos his game at 7 p.m. Local acts Peter's Window, and Ruth Garbus, follow. The evening concludes with a performance by Paper.

Paper is the stage persona of musician and songwriter Lucas W. Nathan, who describes his alter ego as an “11th-dimensional entity that inhabits [my] body.”

Nathan's Jerry Paper stems from his longstanding fascination with the concept of direct experience. As he explained in a recent interview with The Fader, musical sounds act as symbols and carry information that can bypass linguistic processing.

“I wanted to investigate that freaky idea,” he says.

Nathan says he doesn't recall how the name Jerry Paper came about, just that he created the persona to help him distance himself though a character in a way that highlights the artifice of performance.

“I become Jerry Paper onstage right in front of the audience,” he says. “I like to see this transformation as a ritual experience.”

Nathan says he first used a basic costume prop for Paper, but now dons a full purple robe as he slips into his stage persona.

“Paper's costume itself is constantly evolving,” Nathan says. “I have been trying to use face makeup, but with varying theatrical lightings in different venues I perform, the effect can turn out to be a little too crazy. I am not really sure where I am going with that.”

Nathan has made music for most of his life. Initially, he put together albums for himself. He started releasing them to the public around five years ago.

He adds that he works on “a lot of music, and I have had five or six released since 2012. I try continually to do different things with my music.”

“Big Pop For Chameleon World,” he says, is significantly different from the album before it, “Now Sounds for Today's Lovers.” That album, he says, was more overtly emotional than the new release, and it dealt with the complications of ending a relationship. In it, he says, he “tried to mix emotional excitement with song.”

In “Big Pop for Chameleon World,” he says, his approach was more broadly philosophical.

“I always liked toying around with adding funny sounds to emotional lyrics but here everything seemed to work more cohesively like in a puzzle, and I got the concept right,” he says.

Nathan explains that he writes the words and music for his songs. While he says he feels that they both play equal parts, he notes that that early on he emphasized the music. Lately he has found that the words have become more significant.

In fact, he says, nowadays he finds himself less influenced by music and more by what he reads - particularly fiction and poetry. He is particularly inspired by the postmodern novelist Don DeLillo, with whom he says he is “obsessed.”

“- Particularly [in] how he is able to combine in his fiction both humor and seriousness often at the same moment. People don't take humor too seriously, as if what you are doing is less significant, which I do not think is true,” Nathan explains.

“Dr. Genneheigen's Chameleon World” is Nathan's first interactive game. With the purchase of the digital version of “Big Pop for Chameleon World” customers get a link and code to download the video game.

“Dr. Genneheigen's Chameleon World” places the user in Jerry Paper's game using Nathan's likeness as an avatar through a psychedelic quest to rid oneself of impurities. The goal, Nathan says, is transcendence.

Throughout the game one can encounter chameleons dressed as clowns, gangster cockroaches, rainbow peace signs raining down from above, and the player him- or herself.

Nathan says he originally had no intention of working on an interactive game. Rather, the initial idea was to make a music video for songs on his album. As the process evolved, it became clear to him that a video game would better accompany the album than a music video.

Each song on the new album plays a role in the game.

“You are thrust into a white hallway with many doors,” he explains. “Each door leads to one of the songs on the album. You need to go through the first door, but after you do that all others except the last doors are unlocked, which you can explore at random. After you go through all these you can enter the final door, [which] leads you to the completion of the game.”

Nathan says he is new to gaming. He doesn't play them and isn't particularly interested in gaming. “I find the culture sexist and violent. However, it quickly became apparent to him that the technology was something he could explore to create experiences:

“After I started to work with the programmers on it, a music video seemed too passive, when you could get listeners actively involved with the music through a game.”

Nathan says he wrote all the dialogue for the game “and constantly interacted with the video programmers. Sometimes I would ask myself why am I wasting all my money making this game. It became a labor of love.”

Although he doesn't claim he's been converted to the thrills of video games, he is planning a follow-up piece. “I can not resist using this medium,” he says. “It is so much fun.”

In this next game, Nathan says he intends to “play with” problems of video culture itself - such as sexism.

“In too many games, your avatar is a hyper-masculine killer,” he says. “I want to create a game where you will be able to choose your gender - not merely as male or female, but on a graduated scale of 1 to 10, from fully masculine to completely feminine... however anyone want[s] to situate him- or herself. The game then becomes a new way to situate identity.”

“I want to engage with the gaming culture in a subversive way,” he says.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates