- Blythe Penn
Spend enough nights out in the city and you'll come across it: a mysterious black bus parked outside a bar, maybe another venue. A string of neon lights leads inside, and by the door, a chalkboard sign reads, "Dare to enter: Gallery of Fine Hyper Art."
Inside, the bus seats have been gutted. Instead, you'll find eight different arcade cabinets—some recognizable to any casual arcade goer, like Altered Beast or Ghosts 'n' Goblins, and some obscure, curated works, like Batsugun or Radiant Silvergun. Five of the eight games are shoot-'em-ups, or "shmups," games of the Galaga lineage where the player must survive and retaliate against volleys of bullet-hell-spewing enemies.
The Gallery of Fine Hyper Art (GoFHA) is something of a shrine to these types of games, a mobile museum wrapper that contextualizes them as the fine hyper art that the gallery's owner, David Payne, believes they are. If you've never heard of "fine hyper art" before, it's because Payne invented the phrase. "It describes what happens when you put all these mediums together into one cohesive form," he says. The art, the game mechanics, the user interaction, even the sculpture-like physicality of the cabinets themselves—this is, the Alpine, Utah, native argues, the intersection of maximum labor and maximum tradition.
The idea for GoFHA slowly came together after Payne developed his own game, JPO in SLC. It's a shmup that retells Payne's experience as a member of his brother's nine-piece orchestra, "playing the saxophone in dangerous places in a city with poor arts infrastructure because of strict alcohol laws," the mobile curator says. He started development in 2017, and gained a new appreciation for the complexity of video games after years of only collecting them. In the winter of 2018, Payne realized his desire to show off not only his own collection, but JPO as well.
"If I got a bus, I could display and transport [the cabinets] easily," the 43-year-old says, "and I wouldn't have to pay fees to get into conventions." It seemed like an exciting workaround to the problem many arcade collectors have in sharing their pieces with others. Payne used a $10,000 inheritance from his grandfather to purchase a van on KSL. "I spent the next month cutting the seats out and wiring it for voltage, plugs and everything," he says. "Over the next three months, I added little details. It's pretty much done now. The last thing is the gift shop, because now I'm trying to hype the museum aspect."
Before GoFHA was even conceptualized, Payne met Josie Cordova, who was also developing their own game, To Space, Comrade! The two met through playing small electronica shows around town, and, realizing they shared a hobby, decided to collaborate and fuel each other's fervor. At the time, Cordova had recently left a stable job and was somewhat rudderless, pouring themself into To Space in hopes of selling it on a digital storefront. But, because of the way To Space was originally coded, it became unfeasible to create a commodified version for download.
"Eventually I realized that To Space, Comrade! wasn't going to precipitate financial security for me," Cordova says. "At that point, it shed that high-stakes monetary significance."
Payne persuaded Cordova to put the game into cabinet form. "Our earnest, early plan was to sell these cabinets," Payne admits. He even built a second cabinet of JPO to shop around town, hoping Quarters Arcade Bar would be interested; it fell through. GoFHA then crystalized: They'd take these arcade cabinets, typically thought of as commercial and interchangeable commodities, put them with other classics from Payne's collection and shine an artistic light on them.
It's worth visiting GoFHA to see the original works alone. To Space, Comrade! plays unlike any other game. You control a flotilla of pods headed to Mars in hopes of forming a new Soviet worker state. Although it plays similarly to a shmup, the player can't shoot—only avoid incoming asteroids and space debris. It's difficult. To survive, you must extract resources from comets, execute moles and be willing to lose dozens of frozen corpses to space. Your reward? A radicalized Mars, along with all her moons.
"Losing is fine in this game, because it's about the journey, the grasping," Cordova says. "In GoFHA, this surreal arcade on wheels, any game within takes on that gestalt, magical status. Because of Dave, because he built this thing, the creative output of this painful but ultimately productive and transformative year of making To Space was transmuted into a finer state. It has fully embodied its status as hyper art by becoming a disembodied expression of myself, floating around our city."
GoFHA is a hard experience to catch. "I take it out when I've just added something new or am feeling stoked on it," Payne says. Follow its Instagram, @thegofha, for your best shot. He announces its next destination only days—sometimes just hours—in advance, but if you do find it, dare to enter, and celebrate this unlikely expression of fine art.