New Forms of Games – Zak Owens

Posted by zowens on Tuesday Feb 28, 2012 Under Alternative Game Movements, Blogpost Assignments

Until relatively recently, study of the why and how of games was generally unknown even to the players of these games. Games are played because of different reasons for different people: Some like to be challenge and hone skills, and others just want to revel in a ‘cheap fun’ that demands no brain power or physical activity to enjoy. Fluxist, Dadaist, and Surrealist artists around the 1920s began to experiment with what it is that defines a game, and how far can those definition can be taken before participants no longer consider it a game. I think the most basic consensus on games is that they offer its players good clean fun. When games cease to be fun, its players are tempted to stop playing.

‘Senses’ Chess

Variations on chess by Fluxist Artist Takako Saito throughout the 1960s demonstrate a game interpretation with a good balance of classic conventions with a new twist. As far as the actual game is concerned, Saito’s sense-based chess mods do nothing to change the fundamental rules of chess: Players alternate turns, pieces retain their movement options, and there is still a winner and a loser. However there is an important play mechanic introduced, specifically players can no longer rely on their sense of sight (the one we happen to rely on the most). Players have to consistently remind themselves of the piece orientation with smell, feeling, or hearing. I suppose then, a new logical process (or a new brushstroke on a Duchamp ‘chess strategy’ painting pre 1912, if you will) would be the player’s assumption about his opponent’s memory. Does he remember that his piece there is a rook? If I smell this particular piece, will he think I’ve lost my focus? The process of ‘reading the player’ is upgraded in sense chess, because each player can tell which piece his/her opponent is focusing on.

New Games Movement & Broken Picture Telephone

It’s easy to understand that anti-Vietnam peaceniks in the 1960s and 70s drove the New Games Movement. New Games promote cooperation rather than competition, and a shared fun experience, rather than one team winning and one losing. Stewart Brand, an integral influence in the development of New Games, seems to have a similar view on these activities as he does on the computer hacking ‘meta-game’. In both mediums, players are cooperating, and competition really only exists in an abstract sense. Both activities can be tied to larger cultural and political ideologies. New Games, anti-war motives are easy to spot, but hacking’s larger ideology is more challenging. A great example of hacking’s community-driven political ideology is the notorious online guerilla group, Anonymous. Collectively, Anonymous seeks to utilize advanced hacking techniques in order to take power away from corporate and government establishments and place it back in the hands of the common man. Anonymous has uncovered and made public incongruencies in large online systems, ambiguous and unlawful government practices, and has removed hundreds of child pornography sights.

A great example of an online game with the ‘New Game spirit’ is Broken Picture Telephone. In this cooperative game, the first player receives a description of a scenario and must attempt to draw it to the best of her ability. The second player analyzes the first player’s picture and is challenged to write a new description. The third player brings the process around full circle and draws what the second person described. Players can only see one description/drawing at a time and can only view the entire sequence after the game has ended (after 15 or so pairs of descriptions/illustrations). Broken Picture Telephone evokes DeKoven’s guidelines for play (Willingness, Trust, and Familiarity, etc.) even though the participants rarely meet or communicate outside the game. Viewing the final picture/description sequence makes the player aware of each individual’s efforts while at the same time creating a totally unique work of art as a whole. Broken Picture Telephone’s reinforces the fundamental goals of New Games: create a community in which each player is having fun together.

Game MODs – Castle Blood Auto

Game Modding is a movement that has seemed to have spawned from the intersection of large game manufacturers and individual game enthusiasts. Game Mods function on a cyclical system that brings enjoyment to both players and game studios. Gamers have to buy the game to play on the game engine-derived mods, so both parties win. While some mods attempt to make artistic statements and remove almost all the original functionality of the game engine ([domestic]), others are designed to closely simulate the parent-game while presenting it in a new context (Counter-Strike).

The first game mod that I played, which also happened to be the first online game I ever played, was a competitive (up to 8 players) mini-game based on the Age of Empires 2 framework called Castle Blood Auto. Each player started with a unique civilization and a walled base. At the beginning of the game, each player can amass only one specific unit that is distinct to its civilization (Japanese – Samurai, English – Longbowman, Persian – War Elephant, etc.). During the course of the game, players would often collaborate without directly communicating, teaming up to take down a particularly strong or weak civilization. I found this game incredibly intriguing as it combined several play mechanics such as strategy, diplomacy, chance (civilizations were assigned randomly), and unequal starting conditions (some unique units of civilizations are stronger than others).

Brand, Stewart. “SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone, December 7, 2001.

DeKoven, B. (1978) The Well-Played Game: A Player’s Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books. (1st or 2nd Edition)

Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2005). “Sustainable Play: Towards A New Games Movement for the Digital Age.” Digital Arts & Culture Conference Proceedings, Copenhagen, December 2005. Download here:

Pearce, Celia. “Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Interactivity.” Visible Language: Special Issue on Fluxus. January 2006.

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