A Museum of Dubious Splendor
A Museum of Dubious SplendorOleomingus

Dubious Splendor: An Indian Video Game Artistically Blends History & Literature

I want you to visualize three things — art, history and literature. Most of us would imagine art in the galleries, history in museums and literature in libraries. These geographical associations are quite rightly based on reality. Now, for a suspended moment of time, let us throw reality out of the window and enter a dream world, where art, literature and history seamlessly converge and create a distinct identity of its own. And what is our gateway to this dream world? Through the realm of video games.

Today, we are going to explore the work of an Indian duo, Dhruv Jani and Sushant Chakraborty, titled A Museum of Dubious Splendor. Through their studio, Oleomingus, they've weaved an exquisite dream world and are artistically utilizing the incredible multiplicity of the video game platform to play with the boundaries of the past and present, to renegotiate history and spaces, and to re-interpret literature.

A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'
A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'Studio Oleomingus

A Museum of Dubious Splendors combines elements of a storybook and an exploration game that pushes the boundaries of historical reconfiguration and narrative exploration. Supported by the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) Bangalore, this game delves into non-linear narratives within an absurd yet beautiful setting. Within its virtual spaces, players encounter a collection of folklore and oral tales, interwoven within peculiar rooms that invite wandering and discovery.

A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'
A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'Studio Oleomingus

These captivating tales find their origins in the works of Mir Umar Hassan, a renowned Gujarati poet. However, translating his compositions has proven to be a formidable challenge due to the intricate blend of Urdu and Hindi present in his writing, resulting in a mellifluous linguistic tapestry. The collection, titled In Dubious Splendor, was initially penned in Gujarati in 1962 for the Malwa Chronicle. Regrettably, the stories underwent unauthorized editing and manipulation prior to their serialized publication, leading to a contentious dispute over authorial ownership. This legal battle marked a significant moment in Independent India, as it became the first court case to address such matters.

A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'
A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'Studio Oleomingus

Despite the diligent efforts of scholars to restore the text to its original form, the question of whether the adaptation used in A Museum of Dubious Splendors truly represents Umar Hassan's authentic work remains uncertain. The complexities surrounding the text's history and the challenges of translation contribute to an ongoing scholarly discourse, leaving room for speculation and further investigation.

A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'
A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'Studio Oleomingus

This unproved origin of the source brings me to one notable aspect of Studio Oleomingus' approach — their deliberate obfuscation of authorial and historical veracity. Through a conceit they term "Redacting Authorship", the duo nest their work within a series of fictitious translations and appropriations, obscuring any original source for the game. This deliberate obfuscation allows them to repurpose local history and appropriate places of colonial occupation and entangled heritage into virtual domains that become arenas for post-partition and contemporary political and historiographic discourse.

A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'
A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'Studio Oleomingus
A Museum of Dubious Splendor
Live Through The Tragedy Of Partition At A New Interactive Virtual Exhibition

By incorporating literature as hypertext within the game, Studio Oleomingus emphasizes the plurality of history and challenges the notion of a single narrative. The inclusion of fictitious literature within a nonlinear game structure creates a rich tapestry of historical reinterpretation. This approach enables players to engage with the complexities of history; encouraging them to critically examine established narratives and consider alternative viewpoints.

A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'
A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'Studio Oleomingus

In A Museum of Dubious Splendors, the duo employs the inherent frivolity of games to study colonial power structures and the obscured histories they entail. By utilizing interactive fiction as a site of discourse, resistance, and record, Studio Oleomingus aims to challenge and intertwine a single reductive record of the past. The game explores the role of languages, translations, and questions of authorship, delving into how our lives' records and the stories of our various identities are remembered and re-purposed by individuals, organizations, states, and archives.

A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'
A frame from 'A Museum of Dubious Splendor'Studio Oleomingus
A Museum of Dubious Splendor
Three Museums Commemorating The Millions Affected By Post-Colonial Partitions

I would like to end with a topic that keeps me up at night and is of great personal interest — the elusive nature of language. It surfaces quite evidently when I write about video games. Words may fall short because of the experiential nature of video games. This idea is self-contained in the very source of the video game — a piece of literature that has historically been untranslatable. And when language fails in the real world, Studio Oleomingus invites us to move beyond words and experience it for ourselves in the dream world of A Museum of Dubious Splendors.

Click here to enjoy this free-to-play game.

Follow Studio Oleomingus here.

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