J. Sharp, Works Of Game

John Sharp, Works of Game. On the Aesthetics of Games and Art, MIT Press 2015

Apart from introductory ones, the four chapters in a book are titled: Game Art, Artgames, Artists' Games and Games as a Medium. They present four different ways in which games are included in the modern world of art. The author provides many examples/cases illustrating (also indeed with photos or screens) each of the chapter. This catalogue is certainly not exhaustive, but thought-provoking and might be of interest to a wide audience.

The book is focused on pieces intended for museums or art galleries and does not dive a lot into connecting games and music. The very connected to modern music Fluxus movement is referred (p. 22: Fluxchess), there is a consideration for a gaming equivalent of John Cage's 4'33 (p. 40), and a case of Open Score is presented (p. 78). Open Score was a performance by Robert Rauschenberg and Jim McGee from 1966. It's main module was a tennis match played on the spot, where rackets had microphones with their sound amplified. The musical layer that emerges is acknowledged, yet the performance was outfitted with more effects, e.g. regarding light and extras.

More musical connections are made on a theoretical level. Maybe the most important insight would be advocating for a closer embrace of all the essential features of games in art. What are these features is debated, but generally the topic is presented in the context of thick and thin esthetics, where "thin" relates only to formal qualities and "thick" takes into the consideration a deeper context. The choice of using this frame (p. 77, credited to philosopher John Hospers) might not be on point, because when art connects to games in the shallow way, it doesn't even get involved with formal aspects and is based merely on common associations.

The formal aspect of the game consists of such hard to perceive elements like goals and possible decisions (p. 107). In the book the experiential and conceptual aspect of games is stressed much more and formal aspect gets only a mention, but that may be due to fashions within postmodern art (form is more of a modernistic staple). When looked from this perspective, we can see that a lot of effort of game designers is put in the grey area just between the formal and the experiential, a perfect example is putting mechanics in balance. Author provides us also description of projects done "right", for example by Nathalie Pozzi and Eric Zimmerman, stating (p. 104) that:

their work finds a way to have its game cake and eat its postmodern conceptualism, too.

As for conceptualism, notably scattered in the book are biographical remarks on Marcel Duchamp (p. …, 115). The famous artist left us with an interesting quote:

while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists

In Works of Game the classics like Eco and Huizinga are properly referred. Impossible to mention was Aesthetic of Play as the book shares the year of publication (and the publisher). In their generality two books explore seemingly similar topics although here in Work of Game the approach is from the opposite side and games are a bit less in the forefront comparing to other forms of art.

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