by John Sharp. MIT Press, April 2015. 146 p. ill. ISBN 9780262029070 (cl.), $19.95.
Reviewed September 2015
Joan Jocson-Singh, Order Unit Librarian, Butler Library, Columbia University Libraries, firstname.lastname@example.org
Part of MIT's Playful Thinking series, Works of Game, by John Sharp, offers an insightful and thoughtful look at the visual art within video games. Sharp's background as associate professor of Games and Learning at Parsons-The New School for Design informs this work with a visionary look at how game-based art creates an aesthetic.
Referencing influential game design case studies, Sharp identifies three creator groups whose work moves from conceptual ideas to virtual realizations within game creation; they are game art/artists, artgames, and artists' games.
The first group, game artists, appropriate subjects, storylines, and objects from video games to create their own art. Sharp references the work of game artist Julian Oliver, who used a video game engine bug from Quake III that distorted images to make colorful abstract visual art, illustrating the idea of using games for purposes other than recreation.
Sharp then explains the emergence of the second group, artgames, as games designed to be a medium for artists working to explore their craft, referencing games like Passage, Castle Doctrine, and Train. More aligned with traditional art-making, they are aimed at imparting both a functional goal for the player as well as an experience which imparts a social, intellectual, or noble insight. Artgames engage both player and creator with a sense of exploration and investigation, as well as reflexivity that other forms of expression—like poetry, music and painting—previously occupied.
Finally, Sharp discusses the emergence of artists' games as the product of a coalescence of engineers, artists, and players, merging the two previous groups' approaches of game art and artgame. Sharp argues that this group's contemporary art and game communities produce a new aesthetic in which a game's intersectionality with art, performance, design, purpose, and production are satisfied. For this, Sharp discusses videogames like Bill Viola's The Night Journey and Mary Flanagan's Giant JoyStick, artists' games that address self-exploration and collaboration.
Throughout, the text engages with questions like, "What tools are necessary to make it?" or "What are the techniques and principles that lead to the best works?" Asking such questions brings into focus considerations relevant to each of the three groups, illustrated by anecdotal evidence of innovation and imaginative game aesthetics.
Totaling 146 pages, the book fits alongside its brothers, with each volume addressing a variety of game-related topics that should appeal to an audience from novice to seasoned academic. The back of the book includes chapter notes, as well as a bibliography and works cited section. Overall, the book is a compelling text for both academics and game culture aficionados who are interested in concepts of game design and contemporary art.