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

Julian Oliver julian at selectparks.net
Tue Mar 18 20:00:52 EST 2008

we should always be wary of taxonomies, of course, but this isn't to say
they can't be steering - if not at times temporary - guides in the
process of archiving. by rejecting taxonomies outright is to take them
too literally, i think..

taxonomies can be considered an ecology of vectors, vectors that are
tested and expended in the distribution and production of culture. they
are used in the conception and process of making work itself: even if
taxonomies exist to be argued, rejected, to be battled against, then
that is a valid rationale to create them (apologies to Voltaire).
Metzger, as Paul points out, 'invented' 'auto-destructive art'. the term
is nothing without the content yet his content needed a term.

regardless, we're reliant on taxonomies in most other forms of art and
art practice and so it follows that those coming from other disciplines
or areas of study with an interest in so-called 'artistic games' will
look for a termed vocabulary with which to better understand them. the
definition of 'machinima' has been immensely useful to a great many
people, most of all artists who can produce work for festivals only
interested in this form. to machinima i added my own (albeit cheekily)
'sonichima' a couple of years ago, a term given to the recording of an
audio composition made using a game engine as both instrument and studio.
time will tell whether this is at all useful. if not, it will rightfully
die and disappear.

we regularly have researchers writing to us seeking work of a particular
type, of a particular kind. in an ideal world they would take a term,
enter it in a search box at which point our MySQL database would be
queried returning a table containing all the entries tagged under that
term. however, this system of tagging is highly lossy if authors and
readers can't refine the tags, the terms, over time. tags like any
descriptor in language, will tend to mutate as the thing described
and/or the use of the description changes. the rate at which art-history
digests terms, feeds on them, proves to the digital archivist the need
for a plastic approach to this problem.

an artistic game has a great many properties, some of which are
exclusive only to that particular kind of game, or even that work
itself.  for this reason the creation of any term to point to a game
begins with a battle between the general and the specific: choosing a
word, or set of words, derived from a property common to all work to be

as Christian and Jason allude, this is often most safely done (or at
least begun) by looking at the 'medium'. this approach seeded the
fragile and perhaps dying term 'art game', separated from the general
'digital art' long enough for us to have this mailing-list conversation. 

defining, however, what comprises the medium of games is extremely
difficult, something game programmers know well (see my paper for
Daphne's Mediaterra 06 conference, The Game is not the Medium
intended for a general audience).

nonetheless, when people are speaking of materials they are more likely
to sit on common ground than if they are speaking of abstract types,
lest of all in the frame of newly invented words. from there terms of
Method can be introduced for further refinement, after which point
composite terms of Intent may increase indexical resolution ('Abstract

to speak practically however, what shape would an termless, typeless
archive take? how does one search a flat-file-system without meta-data?
i can see how it would be possible to navigate it, but not search it.

IKEA meets Plato's Chora? i always knew the sofa-bed was born in an
accident of terms ;)


julian oliver
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..on or around Tue, Mar 18, 2008 at 12:36:38PM +1100, Melanie Swalwell said:
> I enjoyed reading your reflections, Julian, on how your own
> perceptions of game art and what types of work selectparks should host
> have changed over time.
> But I have to say, I am suspicious of taxonomies.  Whenever one is
> proposed as needed, I want to ask why?  What's at stake and what's it
> going to be used for?  (I see a link here back to archiving, in that
> both archiving and taxonomising are politically charged endeavours.)
> I note that you are specific in saying that this would be useful:
> >  at least to aid
> >  the great swathe of literature and exhibitions on the topic in refining
> >  their curatorial and editorial ambitions.
> but I'm still suspicious of taxonomies, especially the work that they
> are asked to do/presumed to be able to do.  I'm reminded of the Borges
> quote that Foucault opens The Order of Things with (which includes
> animals a. belonging to the Emporer, and.... m. who've just broken the
> water pitcher), and how highly contingent this is.
> Making definitions of game art/artistic games/whatever on the basis of
> what kind of tools are used also seems limited, like saying that
> certain items/works can be discussed together because they are both
> made from the same thing (eg. canvas and paint). To what extent does
> the medium determine what is important about any art?  While works
> certainly can be classified together in this way, what this enables us
> to discover about the art of the thing is something else.  Does it
> really help us get at questions that matter?  So parts of a mooted
> taxonomy project feel to me like going back to some early and quite
> limited notions about what is art.  Even distinctions between
> commercial and non-commercial, I don't find all that urgent -- we live
> in a post-Warhol age, after all.
> Isn't the anxiety around classifications and taxonomies really about
> something else?
> I also want to make a link to the preservation discussion here, around
> *the archive* and what it is/might be, as regards game art/artistic
> games/whatever.  Because I'm concerned at what provision is being made
> for the collection and preservation of game art (along with games that
> are not primarily considered art).  Old notions of the archive as
> 'containing everything' are I think clearly outdated.  To be
> realistic, no cultural institution that is aware of what is involved
> is going to step up to the plate on any kind of software
> collecting/preservation/conservation endeavour if collecting and
> preserving 'everything' is the expectation/requirement (and yet I
> suspect this is one of the things holding back some institutions).
> Won't institutions' collection acquisition and management for games
> and game art be along the lines of those they employ regarding other
> types of art/collections?  Ie. they'll collect what is considered
> 'significant' in terms of their own criteria: whether this is a
> connection to the local, or whatever.  Highly contingent, but at least
> there will be some collections.
> Melanie
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

julian oliver
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