J. Sharp, Works Of Game

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

After introductory ones, the four main 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 of artworks that illustrate each of the chapter (also with photos and screenshots). This catalogue (non-exhaustive, of course) is thought-provoking and might be of interest to a broad audience.

The book is focused on pieces intended for museums or art galleries and does not dive a lot directly into connecting games and music. From close areas the Fluxus movement is referred (p. 22: Fluxchess), there is also a consideration for a gaming equivalent of John Cage's 4'33 (p. 40), and also Open Score from 1966 is presented in detail (p. 78). Open Score was a performance by Robert Rauschenberg and Jim McGee. It's main module was a tennis match played with amplified rackets. The musical layer that emerges from tennis is acknowledged both in the concept and in the book even if music was not the only focus of Open Score.

More musical connections are made at 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 usually when the work of art connects to games in the shallow way, it doesn't even get involved with formal aspects and is based merely on common associations. Thin aesthetics in this case would be just employing the item from the game, out of context. And also on the other hand: what constitutes the "form" of the game?

It is mentioned in the book that the formal aspect of the game consists of such (hard to perceive) elements like goals and possible decisions (p. 107). It may be argued, that such an elusive "form" should also be included in the thick aesthetics rather than thin. In the book the experiential and conceptual aspect of games is stressed much more than formal, but that may be due to general 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 other classics like Eco and Huizinga are properly referred. Impossible to mention was Aesthetic of Play as the book shares the year of publication (and, by the way, the publisher). In their generality two books explore seemingly similar topics although here in Work of Game the approach is from the opposite side of the "art/game" dychotomy and forms of art other than games come to the forefront.

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