A Video Game Lets You Navigate Giorgio de Chirico’s Surreal Cityscapes

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With their long shadows and lonely colonnades, Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings possess a strange allure. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to wander through them.

Now, there’s a way to enter and explore his surreal world. The Brazilian designer Carlos Monteiro has developed SURREALISTa, a free computer game tribute to the Italian artist that simulates it in three dimensions. The goal is to find the secret gateways from one level to the next (there are five), each just a bit more eerie than the one preceding it.

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The first level begins on a deserted terrace beneath the night sky. I found myself bumping clumsily into walls, topiary trees, and lifeless Roman statues as I tried to find my way out. Feeling virtually trapped amid the illusionistic, frustrating architecture, I had a sudden sense of why de Chirico didn’t put people in his paintings. It was the sort of place that made you feel heavy and tired, as if you wanted to just lie down and take a nap. Eventually, I noticed a staircase leading to the stars — had it always been there? — and climbed it, though not without falling off a few times. Poof! I was in the next level.

The game captures the disquieting reality of de Chirico’s paintings, which is that they’re completely uninhabitable — more representative of a spiritual state than a physical one. Or maybe that’s just a failure of my own imagination. As the artist himself once wrote: “To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams.”

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