By Al Donato
Often, creating is a conduit for catharsis. It’s why Tammy Duplantis made Heartbeat For Barney, a game tribute for her friend who passed away last September.
Load up and you’re greeted with a great grey expanse, interrupted by three humming lines moving forever right. They loop once they hit an edge, like a lifeline monitor grafted to an Etch A Sketch. You can move up and down, but you can never go backwards nor stop the lines from singing. This is Barney’s heartbeat immortalized as drone music.
A Baton Rouge artist now based in California, Duplantis and Barney Canson bonded over a love for music and guitar blues. She describes him as someone sincerely kind, who would make an effort to tell others he liked their company. To commemorate Canson, Duplantis and other musical friends staged a 24-hour drone music marathon at a university chapel. Her instrument of choice was the Game Boy; on it, a prototype for Heartbeat for Barney.
Duplantis was drawn to the Game Boy – an almost 30-year console, largely obsolete – because of its limitations and physicality. With three notes and a white noise filter, she found herself wanting to push what it was capable of.
“Now that it isn’t a shiny new tool, when people see one and play with them, it brings back more of consciousness. They think about the fact that they’re playing a game,” she says.
This mindful gameplay synchronizes with drone music, a genre known for its unending tones. A tinnitus-like ringing encircles Barnye’s heartbeat, which in itself emits a motor purr when lines drag up or down. As the player listens to his heartbeat, the frequencies reveal multitudes; a song that is both funeral chant and rejoicing hymn. This is how Duplantis says goodbye and hello to Barney at the same time.
Heartbeat for Barney conceptualizes grief as something that can be transferred from maker to player; the playfulness of the medium cuts through the usual decorum of the mourning process, and demands that the player engage with the feelings experienced by the creator during the development process. Barney’s heartbeat doesn’t seek an appropriate response or a pithy consoling statement. There isn’t a right way to interact, just as there is no right way to mourn.
In response to another friend’s death, Duplantis had made a previous game that was cathartic, but evoked helplessness and a downward spiral. With Heartbeat For Barney, she hoped to instead capture the essence of what made him caring and beloved.
Since grief is something carried within us forever, it makes sense that Duplantis put the onus for closure on the player.
“I thought for a long time how to end it [the game]. I couldn’t. So I put that on the player. At some point you need to walk away from this,” she says. “I can’t stop it … it’s up to you how to end the heartbeat.”
Download Heartbeat for Barney at deltagardner.itch.io/heartbeat-for-barney.