Art and Purpose Objects

In this month’s GROUP SHOW, I touch on the fact that educational games are perceived as “less pure” than games without an explicit use beyond entertainment, or even not games at all. This comes from a more general suspicion of utility throughout game theory and the construction of a history of videogames. The idea of games as necessarily or primarily “entertainment,” purely systems of engaging and rewarding mechanics, has played a role in deciding what games are included in the talks, books, and exhibitions that are quickly composing a supposedly authoritative history of gaming, but it also excludes a large portion of important work also worthy of study and preservation. As we’ve seen with film before it, in the early decades of a new mediums’ existence, the way that dominant ideologies define what is the paragon examples of a medium has a lot to do with what early work survives, often to the later chagrin of historians.

From Smarty by Theresa Duncan

Rhizome’s recent conservation efforts occur at the intersection of several elements of gaming history running the risk of oversight. Theresa Duncan’s games were released as CD-ROM in the mid-90s, when gaming history overwhelmingly focuses on arcade and console programs, with few exceptions of especially notable PC games, usually from later than the mid-90s. These games also fall into the category of “art games,” games often created by single artists who create work in other mediums as well. Theresa Duncan, who also worked in film, animation and writing, is one such creator, and The Intruder by Natalie Bookchin and various Doom mods by JoDi are also examples of this sort of work, which is more often associated with art historical movements like than the history of gaming, where they equally belong. Finally, in addition to being created for a machine primarily associated with workstations rather than gaming, and made outside the typical routes of production and marketing associated with games, Duncan’s games take an explicit approach of being an imaginative, somewhat educations interactive storybook aimed at young girls.

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