Play beyond flow: a theory of avant-garde videogames
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Videogame tinkerers, players, and activists of the 21st century are continuing, yet redefining, the avant-garde art and literary movements of the 20th century. Videogames are diverging as a social, cultural, and digital medium. They are used as political instruments, artistic experiments, social catalysts, and personal means of expression. A diverse field of games and technocultural play, such as alternate reality games, griefer attacks, arcade sculptures, and so on, can be compared and contrasted to the avant-garde, such as contemporary tactical media, net art, video art, Fluxus, the Situationists, the work of Pollock or Brecht, Dada, or the Russian Formalists. For example, historical avant-garde painters played with perspectival space (and its traditions), rather than only within those grid-like spaces. This is similar in some ways to how game artists play with flow (and player expectations of it), rather than advancing flow as the popular and academic ideal. Videogames are not only an advanced product of technoculture, but are the space in which technoculture conventionalizes play. This makes them a fascinating site to unwork and rethink the protocols and rituals that rule technoculture. It is the audacity of imagining certain videogames as avant-garde (from the perspective of mainstream consumers and art academics alike) that makes them a good candidate for this critical experiment.