Avant-garde Videogames

Avant-garde Videogames

Playing with Technoculture

By Brian Schrank

Foreword by Jay David Bolter

An exploration of avant-garde games that builds upon the formal and political modes of contemporary and historical art movements.





An exploration of avant-garde games that builds upon the formal and political modes of contemporary and historical art movements.

The avant-garde challenges or leads culture; it opens up or redefines art forms and our perception of the way the world works. In this book, Brian Schrank describes the ways that the avant-garde emerges through videogames. Just as impressionism or cubism created alternative ways of making and viewing paintings, Schrank argues, avant-garde videogames create alternate ways of making and playing games. A mainstream game channels players into a tightly closed circuit of play; an avant-garde game opens up that circuit, revealing (and reveling in) its own nature as a game.

We can evaluate the avant-garde, Schrank argues, according to how it opens up the experience of games (formal art) or the experience of being in the world (political art). He shows that different artists use different strategies to achieve an avant-garde perspective. Some fixate on form, others on politics; some take radical positions, others more complicit ones. Schrank examines these strategies and the artists who deploy them, looking closely at four varieties of avant-garde games: radical formal, which breaks up the flow of the game so players can engage with its materiality, sensuality, and conventionality; radical political, which plays with art and politics as well as fictions and everyday life; complicit formal, which treats videogames as a resource (like any other art medium) for contemporary art; and complicit political, which uses populist methods to blend life, art, play, and reality—as in alternate reality games, which adapt Situationist strategies for a mass audience.


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262027144 232 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 88 b&w illus.


Jay David Bolter.


  • Like the multiple avant-gardes he so skillfully articulates in this much-needed treatise, Brian Schrank's Avant-garde Videogames radically challenges the status quo of how we see games, their place in art and culture, and provides a conceptual map of the many potential futures of this vibrant aesthetic form.

    Tracy Fullerton

    Associate Professor and Chair, USC Interactive Media & Games

  • In Avant-garde Videogames, Schrank shows us how the cutting-edge of games and the cutting-edge of art can be fashioned together into shears that cut holes into our perceptions of reality. This far-ranging examination of the relationship between games, technology, culture, and art serves as an excellent guide to the past, present, and future of avant-garde games.

    Jesse Schell

    CEO, Schell Games; Distinguished Professor of Entertainment Technology, Carnegie Mellon