Games and the Art of Agency with Thi Nguyen
April 15th, 2020
32 mins 37 secs
About this Episode
Are games art and if so, why? Are they important or valuable and if so, how? A lot of work tries to answer these questions in aesthetics by comparing games to various properties of traditionally acknowledged works that scholars already agree are art. But does this obscure basic features of what games are all about? Unlike most fictions, game designers don't just create a stable object, like a book or a movie. Insead, they create goals, rules, and abilities that people slip into when playing and that guide their experiences. In other words, to some extent games also recreate us, which both reveals what’s beautiful about them--and kind of like yoga--forces us to try out unfamiliar ways of being.
Links and Resources
- C. Thi Nguyen
- The paper
- The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits
- Lady Blackbird: Adventures in the Wild Blue Yonder
- Games and the Good by Tom Harkin
- Achievement by Gwen Bradford
- Defining Game Mechanics by Miguel Sicart
- Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right by Patrick Leder
- Apocalypse World
In game playing, we take on alternate agencies. The game designer can shape a specific form of agency and then pass it to the player. The clarity of the rules and the crispness of the goals make it easier for us to find our way to a novel form of agency. Thus, games allow for the curious possibility of communicating agencies. Games join, then, the various methods and technologies we have invented for recording aspects of our experience. We record sights in paintings, photographs, and movies. We record stories in novels, movies, and songs. And we record agencies in games. By letting us inscribemodes of agency in stable artifacts, games can help constitute a library of agencies.
It is easier to start trying out an unfamiliar way of being when somebody tells you exactly what to do. This is true with yoga and other physical training. If there is a mode of movement or a postural stance that is unfamiliar to me, the easiest way for me to find my way there is to submit myself to very precise direction about where to stand, where to put my feet, and how to move. A new agential mode is likewise easier to find through precise directions about what goals to pursue and which means to use. In this way, we can find our way to a greater flexibility with our agency, by temporarily submitting ourselves to strictures on that agency. Games are yoga for your agency.