Games As the Next Avant-Garde

April 23rd, 2009 | Posted by Alex Myers in Link-out

Darius Kazemi, of Tiny Subversions, recently posted his transcription of a GDX talk given by Ian Schreiber on “Duchamp, Pollock, Rohrer: Games as the Next Avant-Garde”.  In it Schreiber posits that a greater understanding of the twists and turns underlying Art History would benefit those game developers wishing to push the medium further.  He says that the contemporary dichotomy between those lauding media-centric views and those championing the experiential in games was settled over 50 years ago by the art critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg.  Greenberg pursued a purely media-focused theory of modernist art while Rosenberg talked more about the experiences of the viewer.  Schreiber maintains that contemporary game criticism is primarily “Greenberg-esque, judging games on formal elements, if it’s fun for the reviewer it’ll be fun for the player.” and calls for a more Rosenbergian style of criticism,

[The] problem is games are interactive, everyone has a different experience, that experience carries highly personal meaning. In short, games are a postmodern artform. At the same time we review them as if they’re modern art. Ask yourself, if you write reviews, what would postmodern game crit look like? If we accept games as varied experience, how do we review and critique that?

While Schreiber, as channeled by Kazemi, simplifies the Greenberg-Rosenberg dichotomy a bit much, it’s an interesting and enlightening read for anyone looking for a more experiential focus to games criticism.

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4 Responses

  • Ben Abraham says:

    What would post-modern games criticism look like? Herm… let me think…

    We weren’t ready for NGJ then, are we now?

  • I think the answer might be just to start paying more attention to what gamers are posting on YouTube.

    Beyond that, there are also things like the kind of stuff I’m doing, comparing games to other narrative forms that have an already developed theory of reception.

  • The saddest thing about this Schreiber lecture was that the guy didn’t go outside of his own little box enough to prepare for the amount of critique you get when talking to such a large group of people.

    L.B. Jeffries wrote about this a bit in his recap of GDX, especially the part where Schreiber claimed that there were no abstract games. Jeffries cited Municipal Abortionist, and the guy replied, “But isn’t that about abortion?” I’m a firm believer in not opening your mouth when you don’t know what you’re talking about. In the post-speech discussion, he also claimed that film history didn’t contain “schools” of cinema the same way painting had them. Anybody who has taken a freshman film art or history class knows that this is patently untrue.

    Another problem is with aligning Rohrer’s work as avant-garde. The comparison just doesn’t pan out. Rohrer gave a talk at Georgia Tech a few days before GDX, and some professors brought up the same connection. He really doesn’t align himself with these concepts, and close inspection of his games and other avant-garde works substantiates his own view of his games.

  • This is why I’m glad for the diversity of minds among games crit. folks on the internet. I have a reasonable understanding of the history of film and visual art, but have only really studied critical theory in literature. My music theory knowledge is sorely lacking. Until critical theory for games is able to fully stand on its own (and perhaps beyond then), it will continue to be important to have a survey-level understanding of other areas of critical theory.