[-empyre-] hi all. I'm John.

John Sharp jofsharp at gmail.com
Sat Mar 16 12:20:59 EST 2013

hi all-
Thanks for inviting me to join you all this week as a guest. 

I'd like to start by giving a long-ish intro, as Googling doesn't work so well for finding info about me; there are number of far more self-promotional John Sharps out there in Google-land.  (Skip down six paragraphs if you know me or this feels TL;DR.)

I'm trained as an art historian (PhD from Indiana University with a dissertation on the 15th century Italian painter Carlo Crivelli). While in graduate school (thanks Sarah Burns and Patrick McNaughton), my personal interests began to shift my scholarly focus  from the Renaissance to contemporary popular culture and diverse topics including Survival Research Labs, punk rock and hip hop, and graphic design. 

Over the last eight or so years, my scholarship has become increasingly focused on games—videogames, yes, but also sports, board and card games, folk games, etc. I have a chapter coming out soon in Routledge's Sports Videogames on skateboard videogames and their relation to skating culture; I've written a couple essays for the Well-Played series, including a critique of serious games through the lens of the boardgame, Pandemic; and I have a book coming out through MIT Press' Playful Thinking series, Works of Games, which is a series of case studies of artists working with/through games, and gamemakers creating art. I've also done research into game art, which I've primarily presented at conferences like Foundations of Digital Games and the Digital Games Research Association. One last bit of scholarship: Colleen Macklin (an Empyre listee) and I are also in the research phase of a book on iterative processes across media and practice.

I've been increasingly involved in game curation as an extension of my scholarship. I co-organized the exhibition alongside the Art History of Games, I curated "Spacewar: Video Games Blast Off" for the Museum of the Moving Image, and I'm currently co-curating "XXO: Alternative Voices in Game Design," which will open at the Museum of Design Atlanta this July.

I've also been a designer of some sort for about 25 years now: club and radio DJing, graphic design, photography, motion graphics, web design, and of course, games. I'm a partner in Local No. 12 with Eric Zimmerman and Colleen Macklin. We create games out of culture and its practices. Our first game was Backchatter, which was a Twitter-based conference game that wrapped a game around the Twittter backchannel that happens during conference sessions. Our next game was the Metagame, which is a card game about debating about material culture. We have two versions right now: the Videogame edition, and the Culture edition, which was published as an artist's project in Esopus magazine. We're currently working on our first digital game, Losswords, which uses rights-free literature as the source material for creating word puzzles. I'm also a partner in Supercosm, which does web-based work for arts orgs like the Dia Art Foundation, Electronic Arts Intermix, SculptureCenter, the Warhol Foundation, etc.

I've been teaching for awhile now, too. I started as an adjunct in Parson's Design & Technology program. I helped start up the Interactive Design and Game Development program at the Savannah College of Art and Design's Atlanta campus and then had a short stint at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Digital Media program. I'm now back at Parsons The New School for Design in the School of Art Media and Technology. There, I co-direct PETLab with Colleen Macklin, the lab's founder. We approach games and their design as a form of social engagement. Current projects include Art Play, a curriculum funded by the National Endowment for the Arts that seeks to integrate games into K-12 arts education; Games for a New Climate, which is a collaboration with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and the American Red Cross through which we are creating non-digital games to help prepare for climate change; and Data Toys, which is an attempt to go beyond traditional storytelling and information visualization to create beautiful, play-based experiences that illuminate how complex systems work.

Finally, I'm pretty deeply involved in conference organization within academia and indie game scene. I co-organized the Art History of Games symposium with Ian Bogost and Michael Nitsche, and have co-chaired the IndieCade Festival Conference for the last few years. I'm currently co-chair for the 2013 Digital Games Research Association conference along with Celia Pearce and Helen Kennedy.

All of that to say: I am deeply interested in games, design, history, creative process and the teaching of each of these. A few things on my mind:

With games, one of the things I've spent some time thinking about over the last few years is the ways games are used by artists. I've noted a few threads, among them the use of games more as cultural signifier and toolset than as a "medium." By this I mean, when many artists engage with games, they aren't interested in the same things as a game designer might be. The intentions and aesthetics are located in different places. The formalism of many game designers is alien to many artists, and the conceptual and political nature of many artists is alien to game designers.

I've become increasingly interested in play over game. This is largely a response to the formalism of the game industry and the indie game scene alike. I find it to be problematic in that it leads to games being thought of more as product than experience. I would prefer to focus on designing experience, not tight rules systems. 

Games hold so many conflicting roles in culture, among them: the silver bullet for education (c.f. Quest 2 Learn, Games for Change, military training); the secret weapon for marketing; a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry; a pariah to blame for violence, apathy and disintegration. How did games get to the point that they can be so many things for so many in so short a time? Or has it always been this way?

Anyway, glad to be hear, and looking for to the week ahead.


John Sharp

Associate Professor of Games + Learning
Art, Media + Technology

Co-Director, PETlab

Parsons The New School for Design

sharpj at newschool.edu

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