In 1993, Feng Mengbo created a series of paintings he titled Game Over: The Long March. Painted in the style of 8-bit video games like Mario and Mega Man, the paintings depicted 42 scenes, arranged in order to look like snapshots from a real side scrolling video game. Feng’s protagonist was a nameless Red Army soldier, depicted battling everything from ghosts and giant insects, to sumo wrestlers and astronauts. Fifteen years later, Feng finally realized his vision for a true side scrolling cideo game based loosely on the story of the Red Army’s treacherous retreat through China, known as the Long March. Mao Zedong’s solid leadership through the march solidified his future position as the Chinese leader, and served as the foundation for many of the glamorous myths that would later be considered legitimate parts of his life story.
Feng’s side scroller is a permanent installation at MoMa. Displayed on a massive screen, 80 feet long by 20 feet tall, each pixel appears supersized. Viewers are forced to physically interact with the piece by running back and forth down the hallway, in an effort to keep up with the character’s movements. All the while our Red Army soldier is collecting Coca-Cola cans and chucking them at his varied enemies with rechless abandon, traversing every realm from a stormy mountainside plank bridge to the surface of the moon (the actual Long March saw over 8000 miles of wretched terrain covered in just 370 days, so perhaps the range of stages in game is a more accurate depiction than first considered) .
Despite what may seem to Westerners to be a critique of Chairman Mao’s leadership, Feng and many other artists in the Political Pop Art genre desire only to introduce a more human element to the legendary figure and his role in the development of their country, through tongue in cheek depictions that blend traditionalist propaganda and contemporary, Western-influenced ideas and cultural references.