Post Magazine

March 2010

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36 Post • March 2010 A TLANTA — "Play," a creative form "older than culture," according to Johan Huizinga, has served human- ity in such diverse ways as enter tainment, education, exercise, conflict resolution, ritual and self-expression. But it was not until the 20th Centur y that games and the play ex- periences they provide began to be per- ceived as an art form, as well. With nods to the past and the future, and with an open acknowledgment of all the awkwardness, bravado and measured successes thus far, the Art History of Games (www.arthistory- conference, held in early Februar y, sought to more clearly explore and articulate the importance of games as a legitimate art form. Hosted by the Savannah College of Ar t and Design, or SCAD (, and the Georgia Institute of Technology's Digital Media Program (, the three-day Art History of Games sympo- sium in Atlanta was the first of its kind to bring together experts in the fields of game studies, ar t history and the related areas of cultural studies. Matthew Maloney, digital animator/asso- ciate dean for the SCAD School of Film, Digital Media and Performing Arts, describes the conference as both significant and timely. "Games and ar t have connections going back to the early 20th Centur y, but the subject is not ver y well explored," he said. "While there is much discussion on whether games are art, it is often limited to comparisons to Hollywood cinema rather than contemporar y ar t. This symposium provides a venue for ar tists, scholars and game developers to expand on games as a form of ar t, as well as set the path for con- versations going forward." W H AT I S A RT ? The conference provided attendees ac- cess to leading ar tists and academics in the videogame industry, and featured a host of panel discussions, presentations and Q&A sessions. Prominent game designers who spoke included SCAD professor Brenda Brathwaite, a pioneer at the forefront of women in games studies who recently re- ceived the Vanguard Award for her game Train at IndieCade; and Ian Bogost, associate professor at Georgia Tech's Ivan Allen Col- lege of Liberal Arts and founding partner of the award-winning independent videogame studio Persuasive Games. "Games are a par t of human culture," noted Bogost. "They have been for millennia, and we can study them for many reasons: to make better ones and to learn to plumb their depths as players, for example. But perhaps the most important and least common rea- son is to understand their role in our lives." Conference par ticipant Celia Pearce, as- sistant professor of digital media in the School of Literature, Communication and Culture at Georgia Tech, where she also di- rects the Experimental Game Lab and the Emergent Game Group, provided an in- triguing perspective about the evolution of games and their legitimacy as an art form. "When the words 'videogame' and 'art' are used in the same sentence, the discussion tends to revolve around the questions of whether videogames are ar t, the ar t and graphics of commercial games, and, less often, the use of videogames in fine ar t," said Pearce. "Contemporary digital game art is a growing movement, comparable to the rise of video as a fine ar t form in the '80s; how- ever, fine artists have harnessed the expres- sive power of games for nearly a century." L E A D I N G B Y E X A M P L E An integral and impor tant par t of the conference was the introduction of three new games specifically commissioned for the Art History of Games. Premiering their new games were: conference presenter Jason Rohrer, creator of the critically-acclaimed games Passage and Gravitation; Tales of Tales' Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn, creators of Path, many Website and Internet artwork; and Eric Zimmerman, co-founder of Game- Lab, and his partner, architect Nathalie Pozzi. Rohrer's contribution, Sleep is Death (Geisterfahrer), is a two-player asymmetric game. Pozzi and Zimmerman's Sixteen Tons — aptly named after the folk song made fa- mous in 1955 by Tennessee Ernie Ford about coal mining and debt bondage — looks like a large-scale board game, but the gameplay is complicated by the fact that players can pay each other with real money. Playing the game becomes an experience that critically blurs work and play, as the real value of money is grafted onto the ar tificial meanings of the game, and player identity shifts fluidly back and for th from coopera- tion to competition. Lastly, Tale of Tales' Vanitas is a virtual me- mento mori for your digital hands. Vanitas presents players with a gorgeously rendered John Sharp (center) is interactive design and game development instructor/art history professor at Savannah College of Art & Design. History of Games conference: videogames as an art form Sixteen Tons: The value of real money is grafted onto the artificial mean- ings of the game.

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