If someone with a time machine was dead set on stopping associate professor Evan Meaney from becoming who he is today, they would need to go back to 1989, and stop him from playing the Star Wars arcade machine at the Museum of the Moving Image.
The exhibit had a combination of "the rigor of curated art, the thoughtfulness of a curated space" and "the attention to video games as more than just a distraction," which is what Meaney has been pursuing his entire life.
In his career, Meaney has been an artist-in-residence at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University; a super juror for IndieCade, an indie game festival; a founding member of GLI.TC/H, a conference for glitch art; had an article published by the Atlantic and has experience developing virtual and augmented reality applications.
Meaney began teaching at USC in 2013 and currently teaches new media art and video game design for the School of Visual Art and Design.
Years later, Meaney is still a lover of video games, playing them a "stupid amount." For Meaney, games are more than just a hobby. They're something he takes very seriously.
“If you’re not open to the idea that video games are an artistic form of communication, the conversation has left you behind," Meaney said. "You are not part of a serious conversation at that point.”
In 2017 and 2018, Meaney created a series of personal virtual reality art projects. A project in that series titled, "That Dream you Keep Having," has the viewer placed on a boat out in the ocean, when suddenly a Cthulhu-like monster rises from the water behind you. The catch is, you can't ever turn around to see it.
Outside of art, Meaney has been able to use video game engines to build things for industrial tasks.
Some of those tasks involve helping the McNAIR Center build their sustainable space in rotorcraft through virtual reality and augmented reality, creating systems that can shift through data in a moment to quickly get people the information they need. For Meaney, video game tech was a huge help to these technologies.
“Coming from an art background, it’s a very unique and different experience to build something like, 'Oh, engineers are actually going to use this,'" Meaney said. "Or, 'Oh, this is actually going to teach maintainers how to keep this engine from falling apart,' which is just wild."
Meaney is working on other projects at McNAIR, but nothing he can currently comment on.
"Evan [Meaney] is definitely someone who has embraced every technological change, and want[s] to investigate and interrogate both the tools, the technological tools, as well as explore what they are capable of achieving and doing, and also how they fail," Laura Kissel, the director of the media arts program, said.
While Meaney and Kissel have been colleagues since 2013, his hiring wasn't Kissel's first encounter with Meaney. When Meaney was an undergraduate at Ithaca College in New York, Kissel met Meaney during his class's video performance.
"Evan [Meaney] came bounding in, I don’t even remember what he said, but I remember he was super cheerful and really energetic," Kissel said. Meaney's professor at the time "made a comment like 'That’s one of my best students, that kid is brilliant,'" Kissel recalled.
Evan Barnett, a mechanical engineering graduate student, works with Meaney at the McNAIR Center and took his class on video game design. Barnett said Meaney's mentorship is very important.
"We would be a lot further back here at the McNAIR Center, I can tell you that for sure," Barnett said. "And I think I would definitely not have the tools and techniques that I have now to create some of these research projects that we’ve done for these companies and things."
The two Evans are good friends, as well as colleagues. One day, they figured out they both enjoy craft coffee and now exchange coffees and give each other different bags to try, Barnett said.
One of the most important things Barnett feels Meaney has taught him is how to encourage and be kind to people who don't quite understand the work they do, and how to better explain that work to them.