Art, Game, Both, Neither

SODA screenshot from SOD, a Quake mod by JODI

One of the biggest challenges I faced in writing my Masters dissertation was defining the particular area of production I’d be discussing. Sure, narrowing scope to that just-right point is a challenge for most academics, but in my case teasing out the categorizations and movements to focus on was particularly hairy. When I said I wanted to write about videogames in art museums, my advisor presented me with several interpretations of that seemingly simple phrase that surprised me. I was of course thinking of the exhibitions attempting to bring videogames produced outside of the art world into it, like Game On at the Barbican Centre or The Art of the Video Game at the Smithsonian. However, there are also many other ways to interpret this term.

Videogames have been appearing in museums long prior to large exhibitions featuring titles like Pac-Man, Rock Band and Super Mario Galaxy, but these titles are marginalized both in gaming history and the history of art, perhaps because they operate at this borderline. Games made for art galleries or online arts contexts during the 90s and early 00s include Natalie Bookchin’s flash games, and JODI’s abstracted Quake mods (pictured above). This lineage continues to some producers today who categorize their work as art and present in venues like festivals and galleries. Tale of Tales games, for example, includes their “Realtime Art Manifesto” on their site, while also distributing their works over the popular Steam platform.

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