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Object and Identity in a Digital Age



Colin B. Price, June S. Moore, University of Worcester
The Role of Art in Computer Game Design

Computer games are significant since they embody our youngsters’ engagement with contemporary culture, including both play and education. These games rely heavily on visuals, systems of sign and expression based on concepts and principles of Art and Architecture. We are researching a new genre of computer games, ‘Educational Immersive Environments’ (EIEs) to provide educational materials suitable for the school classroom. Close collaboration with subject teachers is necessary, but we feel a specific need to engage with the practicing artist, the art theoretician and historian. Our EIEs are loaded with multimedia (but especially visual) signs which act to direct the learner and provide the ‘game-play’ experience forming semiotic systems. We suggest the hypothesis that computer games are a space of deconstruction and reconstruction (DeRe): When players enter the game their physical world and their culture is torn apart; they move in a semiotic system which serves to reconstruct an alternate reality where disbelief is suspended. The semiotic system draws heavily on visuals which direct the players’ interactions and produce motivating gameplay. These can establish a reconstructed culture and emerging game narrative. We have recently tested our hypothesis and have used this in developing design principles for computer game designers. Yet there are outstanding issues concerning the nature of the visuals used in computer games, and so questions for contemporary artists.

Currently, the computer game industry employs artists in a ‘classical’ role in production of concept sketches, storyboards and 3D content. But this is based on a specification from the client which restricts the artist in intellectual freedom. Our DeRe hypothesis places the artist at the generative centre, to inform the game designer how art may inform our DeRe semiotic spaces. This must of course begin with the artists’ understanding of DeRe in this time when our ‘identities are becoming increasingly fractured, networked, virtualized and distributed’

We hope to persuade artists to engage with the medium of computer game technology to explore these issues. In particular, we pose several questions to the artist: (i) How can particular ‘periods’ in art history be used to inform the design of computer games? (ii) How can specific artistic elements or devices be used to design ‘signs’ to guide the player through the game? (iii) How can visual material be integrated with other semiotic strata such as text and audio?

Colin B. Price is Principal Lecturer and Subject Chair in Computing at the University of Worcester, UK. His first degree is in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and his Ph D. was obtained at the Catholic University of Leuven Belgium, in Electronic Engineering. He has researched and published in many areas including the use of art in teaching computer programming, the formation of patterns in natural systems, the use of computer games to provide virtual installation galleries, and more recently on the use of computer games in education and training.

June S. Moore is a graduating student at the University of Worcester. Her prime interest is in the construction of EIEs for primary and secondary education and has proposed a novel development methodology closely integrating the classroom practitioner. She has produced trialled and tested EIEs to support primary school literacy and mathematics education with acknowledged success. June’s expertise is in education and instructional design theory.


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