UNconventional: Studio Oleomingus

UNconventional: Studio Oleomingus

Conducting work at the intersection of post colonial writing and interactive fiction, Studio Oleomingus uses video game spaces as sites of discourse, resistance and record.

UNconventional by FTC is a series exploring creators, designers and artists expressing unique, thought-provoking perspectives of socio-cultural and global significance through their craft. These creators stray away from the conventions and norms of everyday ideas and give them a new meaning through their otherworldly creativity.

What is the best way to explain the crux of post colonial literature, speculative architecture or cultural heritage in a manner palatable and receptive by the new-age, Gen-Z/Millennial consumer? Well, through video games, of course!

This Indian video game development studio is doing exactly that. In order to revive Indian history, Gujarat-based Studio Oleomingus - through a convoluted blend of visual imagery, music and abstract themes - is changing the way one interprets heritage, culture and literature.

The power house behind the studio, Dhruv Jani & Sushant Chakraborty, combine the frontiers of history and future using video games, the preliminary example of the intersection between modern technology and entertainment, as a tool to sift through the mechanics of various phases in the past that incessantly shape our present.

Dhruv Jani and Sushant Chakraborty
Dhruv Jani and Sushant Chakraborty Studio Oleomingus

Studio Oleomingus was officially formed in 2014, when one half of the duo, Dhruv Jani, joined a residency programme at 'Khoj'. He met Sushant Chakraborty online via Unity Forum and they started collaborating on multiple projects from their respective locations.

"We figured we would make a perfect team. An author-programmer pair, ignorant enough to be willing to blunder their way through making video games in an attempt to unravel the implications of a discordant medium.”

Dhruv Jani for Gamescapes via STIR

The duo's efforts revolve around creating stories that seek to understand how spaces, histories and languages respond when expressed within interactive mediums, and work towards reviving Indian history by shedding new light on it’s construction.

"With each game we enter into a negotiation with our players, a common pact if you will, that for the duration of the game we will together seek myriad and uncomfortable truths about difficult histories. We believe that privilege in various forms withdraws from us the right to consume our own histories."

Dhruv Jani for Gamescapes via STIR

For instance, their game 'In the Pause between the Ringing’ plays on the idea of how in this country of telephones and wires, phone directories become genealogies and telephone exchanges become places of pilgrimage.

The narrative explores the tangles of cables and time where an inventor, Iqbal, waits for a telephone call and his perpetual pause initiates a recollection of the terrifying history of the telephone in India.

In the game, the player is also introduced to the writings of a fictitious author, Mir Umar Hassan that serve as a non-linear hypertext, emphasising the plurality of history. Jani describes this as a "deliberate delegitimisation of authorial and historical veracity of the stories being told from within the shadow of colonial rule (or any similar modern authority)."

Termed as a 'Redacting Authorship', Jani explains that these obfuscated fictitious translations and appropriations provide allowances to repurpose local history and to appropriate places of colonial occupation and entangled heritage into virtual domains that become arenas for post-partition and contemporary political and historiographic discourse.

"Amidst the contemporary revival of a despotic colonial political order, when there is a palpable danger of erasure of plural voices from the margins, there is a grave and urgent need for a pirated history of our times. A munificent history that can assimilate and succumb to stories from a bewildering variety of sources, a history devoid of concerns of authorial prestige and veracity, a history such as can only be written in the form of hypertext."

Dhruv Jani for Gamescapes via STIR

With highly descriptive, literal and visual language from the hidden archive libraries of ancient India, the creations that this duo brings to the gaming and tech sphere are nothing short of magical realism.

The gameplays are an intoxicating concoction of absurdism and pragmatism blended with vivid colours and landscapes, all the while imparting insight on our timeless culture. The immaculate visuals, whimsical folklore and subtle ethnic music revolutionise the basic notion of the end of a video game associated with a certain 'Win' or 'Lose' conclusion and make it more about the journey instead.

Check out the downloadable versions of Studio Oleomingus' games on their website. The games are available for Mac, Windows and Linux platforms and playable on Itch.io and Steam.

Interview excerpts credited to www.stirworld.com

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