[-empyre-] Experimental game sketching

Coppin, Peter (Academic) pcoppin at faculty.ocadu.ca
Sun Mar 23 12:56:22 EST 2014

Emma, Alison, Sandra, all:

I think that your message below (and the sketching metaphor) touches on some important issues at the intersection of ‘traditional’ fine and/or applied (visual) art and digital media and how this intersection engenders (or does not engender) ‘independent’ (e.g., non-commercial/non-mainstream) approaches. My message will also touch on some issues raised by Alison and Sandra. My discussion below will focus on tools and training, the needs of artists, and how tools and training might (or might not) enable access and inclusion.

As we all know, the personal computer is probably one of the more malleable devices ever to be mass-produced. One computer can be used for games, filmmaking, accounting, writing, drawing, controlling spacecraft, robots, and beyond. A problem is that only a subset of artists can access that malleability by programming their computers. This would seem to be a big obstacle when it comes to developing experimental interactive media of the genre described this week. A sketching metaphor has been used to describe an alternative perspective on game development and I really like the metaphor (from Emma’s message). However, whereas a sketch I drew today (for example, graphite on paper) has many common properties with ancient cave or children’s drawings, interactive digital media builds upon many engineering and mathematical conventions that are not part of mainstream (art) education.

I’ll try to characterize at least some aspects of the situation by comparing some disciplines implicated in interactive media (game) development: computer science/engineering and the visual arts.

A.	One interpretation of the history of digital (interactive) media is that it emerged from the intersection of applied math and electrical engineering. Today, a computer-programming course might begin with ‘hello world’ and then recruit skills of mathematics and logic to produce the programmed instructions that drive an interactive experience (such as a game). My main point is that digital media is built upon this mathematical foundation. Let us now consider the visual arts.
B.	As we know, within the visual art-design tradition, training (traditionally) begins with sketching and drawing. Upon this (perceptually oriented) foundation, artists and designers can build toward a conceptual practice. 

Given A and B above, how are interactive digital experiences (i.e., computer games) traditionally developed? At least in industry, games (and/or interactive ‘immersive’ experiences) are often created by bringing artists and practitioners with the expertise described in A (above) together. 

How does the situation impact the creation of independent (non-mainstream) interactive experiences? Emma, Sandra, and others are in the trenches and would be able to speak about this better than I can. At least on the surface, classic ‘outsider artists’ where able to produce work without the kind of specialized training that might be required for contemporary computer game development. An independent artist can also create a ‘zine’ or comic book with similar ease. However, a complex interactive digital experience would probably require specialized training.

Perhaps so-called ‘artist-friendly’ tools (some examples were noted by Sandra) are a partial solution, but I (also) think that education and training is another important dimension (and these have economic implications for artists [the theme raised by Alison]). And of course, this raises other issues of accessibility and inclusion.

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