Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Games as Art" at the Grassroots Gaming Conference

I like games.

I like design.

When I found out there was a Grassroots Games Conference here in Philadelphia, and, as part of that conference, there was a Games as Art track, I was intrigued. I think the majority of those in attendance were developers; I was surprised to find out that the very first presenter was an artist. “Labs, Galleries and Arcades: Making Space(s) for Art/Games” was the name of this presentation. The presenter was Sarah Brin, Creative Director of GlitchLab LA, an arts organization dedicated to experiments in participatory new media, and co-founder of PEG-LA, a playtest group for games in public spaces. She talked about games as ‘experiences’ and ‘social culture’ and spoke of the shared nostalgia among those who grew up playing various types of games. Her ideas about and examples of participatory new media are inspiring: arcade cabinets and games brought into the gallery spaces, encouraging reciprocity between art and viewers. Those same games, brought into parties and other social spaces, sought to challenge ideas about what art is and where it belongs. The next event was a rather informal panel—“Games and Gamification as Art Practice”—that set out to explore the methods and processes extending creative work into game environments. The panelists came from a variety of backgrounds such as painting, illustration, and graphic design, and all made art clearly inspired by games while tackling a variety of societal concerns such as urban blight. Of course, there were some works inspired by various internet and pop culture memes. Styles ranged from those found in hyper realistic next gen games like those for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to heavily pixelated works reminiscent of 8-bit games like those for the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment Systems.

I began to imagine my own art in a different framework, one with an element of participation and engagement, maybe even play. I thought of the roleplaying game, in which players are immersed in an environment and are tasked with playing through a story. I like the idea of a kind of reciprocity between image, artist, and viewer. At any rate, it is something I am going to think more about, with the goal of possibly incorporating it into my work.

The final event was a panel presentation exploring the intersection of art and video games including Alyce Myatt, Director for Media Arts at the National Endowment for the Arts; Georgina Goodlander, coordinator for The Art of Video Games exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art; Sarah Brin, Creative Director of GlitchLab LA, an arts organization dedicated to experiments in participatory new media, and co-founder of PEG-LA, a playtest group for games in public spaces; and James Swirsky & Lisanne Pajot, the filmmakers behind the award-winning documentary, Indie Game: The Movie. To say I was shocked that a major museum like the Smithsonian even cared enough about video games to have an exhibition made up of them is an understatement. Ms. Goodlander did not hesitate to emphasize that this exhibit was not made up of ‘art’ or ‘indie’ games, but of familiar, mainstream titles. She talked about the preservation of games and consoles as part of the museum’s permanent collection, and how the recent funding from the NEA to games and game-related projects helped her justify such an exhibit to those who run the Smithsonian. The panelists also discussed topics like the place of video games in art history.

Apparently, the NEA is just beginning to provide funding for games and game-related projects. Ms. Myatt briefly discussed this round of projects. She seemed excited and hopeful for the future of this particular branch of media arts.

I think I am too.


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