Tech, SCAD host Art History of Games

On Feb. 4 to 6, a symposium gathered at the Rich Auditorium at the High Museum of Art to talk about games, mostly digital in nature.

The event was co-hosted by Tech and the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The purpose of this conference was to investigate games as an art form, featuring members in the fields of game studies, art history, and other related areas of cultural studies as well as practicing game developers.

Until now, the vast majority of symposiums about video games have been convened from the commercial side of the equation, most notably the Game Developers Conference. However, the question surrounding games like Braid at this particular symposium was not about sales figures. It was instead about the artistic merits of the games.

After opening remarks, the opening address was given by John Romero, the co-founder of id Software and co-designer of groundbreaking FPS shooters such as and . Romero’s focus primarily lay in the groundbreaking technical efforts by early programmers in the games industry, finding new ways to not only optimize their code, but establish new gameplay conventions, many of which are still found today.

On Friday, the shift focused to the more academic side of games. John Sharp, professor at SCAD, delivered remarks reminding the audience of how gaming has been interwoven into the development of culture for many centuries.

The next two speakers, Jasper Juul and Frank Lantz, both traveled from NYU for the conference. Juul highlighted the warring factions over the aesthetics of “pure” gaming, citing how process intensive games that generated their content dynamically are often at odds with the drive to make games more narrative and cinematic.

Lantz delivered an inspiring talk about the passions of three different artists that seem on the surface to be completely unrelated to artistic expression. For instance, Nabokov, the author of Lolita, was an avid butterfly collector. Lantz found little difference between Nabokov’s butterfly collecting and the ability of fans to remember minute details about their preferred game.

On Saturday, the talks turned to developers who had worked on the games commissioned for the festival. The highlights of this day came from the duo known as Tale of Tales and long-time game developer Brenda Braithwaite.

Tale of Tales noted that their game was in fact not a game at all, instead being an interaction meant to provoke deeper meaning. In conjunction with this game, Tale of Tales delivered a talk that was more political theatre than lecture, arguing that games were not art at all.

At the end, they declared they were starting a new movement, to be entitled “Notgames.” While the talk was likely meant as a call-to-arms, the tone sounded less like philosophy and more Internet trolling.

In contrast, Braithwaite spoke directly to the artistic process surrounding her game , a board game based on the forced relocation of the Cherokee during the Trail of Tears. A tragic event may seem a strange inspiration for a board game, but Braithwaite argued convincingly that tragedy was as valid for gaming as it was for other forms.

After a lively panel featuring these game creators, the final talk was given by Christiane Paul, who spoke on curation of New Media works in established spaces. The final panel with her and several renowned game designers also featured some of the most pointed comments of the symposium. A dry affair, this was not.

In her conclusion, Tech’s Janet Murray spoke directly to the artistic conflict grappled by the festival, noting that she herself was optimistic for the future. This sentiment was echoed throughout the symposium.

For a more real-time look at the reactions of participants at the symposium, search what Ian Bogost referred to as the Twitter back channel by searching for posts with hashtag “#AHoG”. The symposium-commissioned games, , and , will remain on exhibit at the Kai Lin gallery in Midtown until March.