[-empyre-] games as art or art as game

Julian Oliver julian at selectparks.net
Mon Mar 17 22:19:18 EST 2008

..on or around Sun, Mar 16, 2008 at 06:21:27PM -0700, Jason Nelson said:
> All,
>   Sorry for the late jump in here. 
>   Some thoughts....I've been corresponding with Jason Rohrer lately, as you know he created
>   the art/literature games  Passage and Gravitation, both of which use game devices (small scale and old school graphics) to tell stories/create artwork. http://hcsoftware.sourceforge.net/jason-rohrer/  (scroll half way down for the games and other links)
>   He feels an art game must use the rules and gameplay to truly be an art/literature game. Whereas, I feel that the game interface, the movement, and exploration offered by game engines should be explored by artists/writers. And those works should be considered
>   art games despite the lack of intricate game play.

now's a good time for categorical refinement it seems, at least to aid
the great swathe of literature and exhibitions on the topic in refining
their curatorial and editorial ambitions.

we also feel the pressure at Select Parks, which host around 140
'artistic games' - a difficult term in itself - and are in urgent need
of a high resolution taxonomy before undertaking an overhaul of our
archives (and site in general). particularly problematic are works of
the following types:

	- works that engage videogame culture yet employ no game technology

	- works that reproduce popular videogame logics using entirely
	  non-electronic media

	- works whose interaction model contains little or no game-logic yet
	  deploys popular game technology.

while having modded for some years beforehand, i exhibited my first
'artistic game' 10 years ago, built using the Half Life engine. it was
toured around America, Japan and Europe as a 'sound-based game' while
having absolutely nothing in the way of game mechanics. the
technological inheritance from a first-person-shooter and the fact it
was 'played' was enough to categorically assert its position as a

for me the technological roots were primary in this assertion as i was
coming into games out of a need to escape proprietary and otherwise
innaccessible VR technology in my own work: the combination of access to
engine code, game code and the internet was my spring-board from working
with Virtual Reality straight into the technological platforms offered
by first person video games. i doubt i would have been interested in
working with videogames at all if there were other, more open, more
readily distributable solutions at the time.

back then, modification as a practice felt like a kind of positive,
techno-political conversion (rather than subversion) of proprietary
technology and mass-media interest; a dungeon of glimmering games
shackled to lesser interests, waiting to be plucked and lifted into art
as an expression of their pure technological and aesthetic potential.

this evolved into a techno-snobbery of sorts that prioritised engine and
game modification - as a practice - over other toolchains like Flash, so
much that we simply refused to host games using this technology at
Select Parks for many years. many Flash-based submissions we received
were very much Games - in the sense of them being rich in game design
and logical play - yet for us the subversive element (to hack is to
make) was not present; the technical limits of the software was
described by Macromedia manuals rather than from one artist to another.
there was no transformation from propriety to unintended application.

for us, in fact, the more play-less the game, the more art it became. if
not that then it would have to antagonise the assumptions of logical
corollary in play, with modal play as an expression of that logic, to be

these days i'm increasingly unclear as to the cultural value of a term
like 'artistic game' - let alone its intrinsic value as a descriptor.
for this reason it's both refreshing and challenging to hear a call for
distinction from your friend Jason and others. it's a debate set to
impact greatly upon us at Select Parks alongside artists, curators and
writers active in this wriggling thing we call 'artistic games'. 

a fine outcome of this conversation would be an Empyre contribution to
the Wikipedia page on VideoGame Art, a page that expresses the scope of
the need for clarity here.


julian oliver
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