Games ‘around as long as art and culture’

A three-day workshop that beginsThursday in Atlanta hopes to answer that question.

“The Art History of Games,” hosted by the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Digital Media Program, aims to consider games, their history, creation and application to culture as an art form.

We chatted with John Sharp, a game designer and SCAD professor in the interactive design and game development and art history departments, and game designer Eric Zimmerman, who with Nathalie Pozzi created Sixteen Tons, a large-scale board game for the conference, about the role of games.

Q: How did “The Art History of Games” come about, and why does it matter?

Sharp: The name of the conference, “The Art History of Games,” was conceived by Ian Bogost, who is a co-organizer. We view it as a provocation by combining two ideas that don’t really go together: one, games as art, and two, games might have a history.

I think a lot of people tend to view games as a disposable new phenomenon, but in fact, games have been around as long as art and culture. So it’s exploring all kinds of games and ideas of how games can be considered art, why games are treated differently than art of other cultural phenomenon and looking at ways to most appropriately critique and appreciate games in our culture today.

Q: With games inherently being a competition, can games be both sport and art?

Sharp: I think there are definitely arguments to be made there. I personally think there’s something very artful about basketball and football but that has to do with not necessarily the rules of the game but the performance of the player. ... When we think of art, we immediately think about visual art, sculpture or painting.

If you try to approach a game from that point of view, you’re just going to be disappointed in what you find.

Q: Do games have a designated purpose, whether to educate, promote exercise or just entertain?

Zimmerman: I would never want to reduce the idea of what’s valuable about a game to the fact that you’re learning something or it’s educating you about something. To me, that’s like reducing cuisine to the idea of nutrition. Nutrition is important ... but it’s certainly not the only thing you take into account. It’s the whole experience of the meal, the taste, the culture, the texture, the environment where it’s served ... that make[s] food meaningful as a human experience of expression. I think that games are similarly deeply part of what it means to be human.

Event preview

“The Art History of Games”

Thursday-Saturday. $30, SCAD and Georgia Tech students; $50, other academics; $75, general public. Tickets can be purchased on-site 5-7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. Woodruff Arts Center’s Rich Auditorium, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E. 404-253-2759, www.art historyofgames.com .

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.