The Museum of Parallel Art turns art appreciation into a bonding exercise

“What? It means death,” she giggles.

I’m staring at my monitor trying to pick my chin up. It’s the January 22nd, 1981 front cover for Rolling Stone in which a naked John Lennon is curled around and kissing a clothed Yoko Ono on the cheek. To its right is my card, two squiggly drawn people holding hands with a giant love heart above them. To its left is a knife with blood dripping from its tip. That’s hers.

My head involuntarily moves from my little sister’s squashed expression, back to the monitor, and then returns to her keeled over laughter.

I had to release the air in my lungs: “How could you pick death?!”

The truth is, there aren’t any games like this, just this one.  

We’re playing The Museum of Parallel Art, a game which she would later describe as “fun” because “it’s not, like…I didn’t know there were games like this.”

The truth is, there aren’t any games like this, just this one. We enter the same digital museum asynchronously, with six randomly picked photos, paintings, and pictures on display—a mix of classics, famous images, screenshots from games, and concept art. Before them is a plinth that can hold two cards; one from each of us.

It’s the cards and the meaning that we apply to them that becomes the object of discussion, rather than the framed art on the white walls. We’re examining each other, learning how we perceive the art through our windows of perception, but also how we try to cram our expression into an abstract picture card. The result is absurd; it naturally breeds laughter.

Playing is a performance. It requires one of us to turn our back, staring at the walls and biting our nails, while the other reacts to the paintings, sometimes with a groan or a giggle to entertain the other. Once they’re done, we swap places and trade the gamepad in the process.

After a few goes, we acquired an agreed language within the cards. The knife, skull, and ghost meant death. The bird could mean freedom or peace. Some, like the apple, were only applied literally: when an apple was prominent in the painting.

With this understanding, we changed the rules so that one player had to guess the cards that the other put down. Every card matched was a point.

After playing The Museum of Parallel Art, my sister stayed an hour more to play Gone Home upon my recommendation. Judging by her wide eyes, and smile upon reaching the end, I’m sure she would have assigned it the card with the bird on it.

You can play The Museum of Parallel Art for free here