Exploring the Art History of Games


Georgia Tech Media Relations
Laura Diamond
Jason Maderer

Sidebar Content
No sidebar content submitted.

Summary Sentence:

Conference traced history of artistic influences on games.

Full Summary:

The conference traced the history of artistic influences on games and history of games as art.

  • John Romero John Romero
  • Art History of Games Art History of Games

Leading game theorists and historians from around the world gathered in Atlanta in February for the Art History of Games symposium, organized by Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College and the Savannah College of Art and Design. The event focused not on asking whether games represent an art form, but rather tracing the history of artistic influence on games and the history of games as art.

In his opening remarks, Tech associate professor and event co-organizer Ian Bogost said it was time to move beyond the question, “Are games art?”

“It’s interesting that we have to justify this question in the first place,” Bogost said.

Tech assistant professor Michael Nitsche said the event served as a breaking point from that question into a future of analyzing games as art.

“Games are a dynamic and alive form of art,” Nitsche said. “We only lose time if we return to a debate on whether they are art or not. As such, this conference was a milestone of the discussion.”

The symposium, which was held at the High Museum of Art, featured video game luminaries such as John Romero, whose 130 credits include iconic works such as Wolfenstein 3-D, Doom and Quake.

Romero’s keynote speech focused on the lessons designers can learn from past game creators. He explained how the earliest systems gave way to genres — like the first-person shooter games Romero helped popularize — and that developers have become entrenched in those genres.
“Our masters worked within a lot of constraints,” Romero said. “The Atari 2600 was created to play just two games. However, designers today are more constrained.”

Several presenters cited the work of the Jodi art collective in taking the code to games such as Doom and stripping them down to almost abstract forms. Tech professor Jay David Bolter and postdoctoral researcher Brian Schrank include Jodi’s games in their research on avant garde video games.

“It forces you to become conscious of the game’s conventions,” Schrank said of such games. “They make the familiar unfamiliar.”

In a line that was repeated by several presenters, Celia Pierce, an assistant professor at Tech and director of the Experimental Game Lab and the Emergent Game Group, credited painter Marcel DuChamp as “the patron saint of gamers.”

While DuChamp was best known as a Dadaist artist, he was passionate about chess. But that passion was criticized by those who viewed chess as a waste of time, Pierce said. That’s a criticism familiar to those who love video games.

Pierce praised DuChamp’s creativity in art and in gaming and called for that spirit to continue. In her role as festival chair for IndieCade, Pierce said, “We like to throw out every boundary.”

Beyond presentations, the event also featured three commissioned games. One of those was Sixteen Tons by architect Nathalie Pozzi and Eric Zimmerman, a game designer who has been named one of Interview magazine’s “30 To Watch.” Essentially a large-scale board game, Sixteen Tons incorporates real money as players pay each other to move their pieces.

Nitsche said organizers hoped the commissioned games would bridge the gap between theory and practice.

“The fact that everybody played the games in the gallery and was somehow united in that excitement helped,” he said. “I really hope that this momentum carries on beyond the conference itself.”

The most exciting aspect of the symposium for Nitsche was the passion of the attending artists mixing with the historical perspective provided by researchers, he said. He credited Frank Lantz, a game developer and director of the New York University Game Center, for uniting “a distanced view of history and art theory to the excitement of game as art practice.”

In his talk, Lantz called for game theorists and developers to not forcibly group games with other types of art but to embrace the wildness of games.

“Instead of formalizing them, we should embrace games as weird,” he said. “Games are like an art form for Asperberger sufferers.”

Written by Van Jensen, Georgia Tech Alumni Association



Additional Information


Digital Lounge - Gaming

Digital Media and Entertainment, Research
Related Core Research Areas
No core research areas were selected.
Newsroom Topics
No newsroom topics were selected.
art, bogost, Games, history, Nitsche, scad
  • Created By: David Terraso
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Feb 16, 2010 - 8:00pm
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:02pm