While in DC last spring I paid a visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, to see The Art of Video Games, one of the first exhibits to document the forty-year history of home video games. The sophisticated aesthetics that we have grown to expect of games speaks volumes about the marriage between artistry and technology. For example, the beauty and fluidity embodied in games such as Flower and Journey would not be possible without advancements in technology. Although attention was paid to the talent that contributes to on-screen artistry, overall there was little emphasis placed on the artistic elements that contribute to video game graphics. However, there were a number of interviews with media scholars, video game designers, and producers, most of which offered insightful glimpses into another form of artistry: that of the gamer.
Storytelling and emotional connection through gaming were dominant themes in the interviews. One of the best articles I have read about the exhibit includes a quote from Chris Melissinos, curator of the exhibit. Melissinos notes that one of the things about the exhibit that has been most rewarding is “helping to elevate the argument about what video games can mean to society at large”.
More recently I was in NY and paid a visit to the MoMA to see Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000, an exhibition that demonstrated, among other things, some of the major influences upon learning throughout the 20th century. Among the early influencers were individuals such as Freidrich Froebel, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner. The exhibit was an invaluable opportunity to see how learning and artifacts of play have changed over time. For example, while I was aware of Froebel’s influence on early childhood education, the exhibit enabled me to learn more about his methods. The exhibit featured Froebel’s “Gifts”, a series of twenty-one playthings he designed with the intention of fostering curiosity and creativity in children.
Among the many things that struck me was the history of playgrounds in the United States, which developed in concert with the Arts and Craft movement in Chicago. John Dewey’s contributions in the realm of education also added momentum to what was then only a nascent concept of playground, as Chicago was the location of his Laboratory School.
Overall, the thing I found to be the most though-provoking was the method of rapid chalk sketching Rudolf Steiner relied upon for mark-making, in order to communicate “his sense of thought as living, creative energy” and of the individual as part of a larger whole. As I considered Steiner’s methods I realized that part of the appeal was the sense of vitality those methods exuded. The sense of immediacy found in Steiner’s markings reminded me of an experience I had last summer when I participated in my first Gamestorming session. More recently, I experienced a similar vitality, while helping to build a temporary playground in one of Philadelphia’s most famed neighborhoods, Rittenhouse Square. A mere two hours of building reminded me of the intrinsic value of playgrounds, not to mention the significance of the individual as part of a larger whole.
Reflecting on these two exhibits, along with my recent experiences engaging in various forms of analog play, the experiential differences between digital and analog stand in contrast. In a recent online discussion about Gamestorming, there were various remarks made about the benefits of working in analog.
One of the most compelling arguments I have encountered about analog play comes from Katie Salen, DePaul University, the Executive Director of the Institute of Play, in this remarkable seven minute video.
To quote Ms. Salen:
“Play creates in people a reason for them to want to engage.”
As the influence of digital and virtual are increasingly blended into our lives, we face many new questions and new realities in our analog space. Games such as Minecraft seem to have myriad applications with respect to learning. And, as I write this post, in the wake of the most destructive storms I have ever experienced, I am acutely aware of the way technology helps to connect us, and, in doing so, elevates our human experience.
My hope is that the dialogue that Mr. Melissinos refers to regarding video games will continue. Books such as Jane McGonigal’s, Reality is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, certainly make a very compelling case for why the dialogue ought to continue.
As we endeavor to enrich our communities, I hope we will also choose to take full advantage of games and modes of discovery that are purely analog in nature. Why?
Because these experiences will also make us better and will help to change the world.
© 2012 Kira Campo