The Secret (Art) History Of Games
John Sharp teaches at the Savannah College of Arts and Design, splitting his time between teaching about games and art history. In this talk, Sharp went back in history, beginning at the Renaissance, exploring how cultures through the ages have been shaped by games, and how those same cultures viewed games.
Sharp noted that some cultures valued games more than others. Feudal Japan used the ancient game Go as a way of mitigating conflict. Instead of Samurai battling on the field, honor in conflict would be attained by Go masters.
In 18th and 19th century Europe, games were used as a way to skirt the social rules of the era. Rules for interactions between young single women and men were highly formalized and restrictive, but various games would allow more flirtatious behavior and even physical contact, something that was forbidden in high society.
Modern electronic gaming grew from a tiny subset of hardcore computer nerds. The first real computer game, Space War, was built on the PDP-1 minicomputer, and existed only in computer science departments. This quote from the creators of Space War should sound familiar to anyone playing modern PC or console games:
“It should show off as many of the computer’s resources as possible, and tax those resources to the limit. Within a consistent framework, it should be interesting, which means that every run should be different. It should make the viewer a participant.”
Today, games are both highly integrated into the culture, yet apart from it. We clearly see conflicts between the growing gaming culture and those who consider gaming a waste of time, or in the case of some news networks, even dangerous.