Games as Art

As we hurtle toward the monster consumer frenzy that is Black Friday, I thought I’d take a step back and mention three different efforts to create tabletop games that qualify as art.

At TAGIE last week, I met a USC graduate student named James A. Taylor. He’s creating a board game as part of his studies at the School of Cinematic Arts. It’s called The Gentlemen of the South Sandwiche Islands. One of James’s professors is Henry Jenkins, the former director of the MIT Comparative Studies Media Program. Jenkins gives James space on his blog to explain the game and the great deal of thought that’s gone into it.

While James is creating the game as art, he also wants his art to be played and enjoyed. To that end, he’s started a Kickstarter page devoted to raising money to allow him to self-publish a short run of 500 copies. I don’t normally recommend starting a company to push a single game, but since James is essentially selling the game directly to those who pre-order it via Kickstarter, it makes sense in this case. However, if there are any publishers out there who might be interested in helping bring such a game to the wider market, I’d guess that James might be willing to chat.

James’s efforts remind me of those of Lincoln Stoller and his games. Lincoln uses games to explore ideas rather than to entertain. Often these come in the form of one-off installations that couldn’t be commercially produced, but they’re fascinating to play with either way.

(Lincoln also interviewed me for The Learning Project a couple years back, which I’d forgotten about. If you want to read what it’s like to hold a very personal conversation with me when I’m exhausted but running on adrenaline in the middle of a show, be sure to give it a read.)

For a game that pushes the boundaries of game design but was always created with publication in mind, take a good look at Project Donut, from Jared Sorensen and Luke Crane, two rockstars of the indy RPG scene. If you hurry, you can still get in on the beta program and grab a free copy of the PDF. The actual game will go on sale in March, 2010.