Game Engines Beyond Games

deadline for submissions: 
February 24, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Parsons School of Design/Abertay University
contact email: 

Game Engines Beyond Games is a one-day event that will bring together artists and scholars to explore an expanded concept of game engines.

Recent shows such as the Open World: Video Games & Contemporary Art at the Akron Art Museum, Game Changers at Somerset House, and Game On! El arte en juego at Centro Cultural de la Ciencia in Buenos Aires indicate increasing crossovers between fine arts and digital games. These range from well-funded works by established artists such as Hsin-chien Huang and Laurie Anderson’s To the moon, to independent communities of practice creating ‘trashgames’ and ‘flatgames’ with speedier, leaner development cycles that enable responsiveness to very different values, materials and techniques. Similarly creativity in youth is increasingly mediated by game worlds such as Minecraft and Roblox.

Common to these very different worlds is the game engine which facilitates increasingly fertile crossovers between digital games and artistic practice. Historically, there were no video game engines. Videogames were their own engines. They were bundles of code that enabled a specific idea to run on specific hardware. But throughout the 1980s and 90s, functional parts of these bundles - audio processing, video rendering, input handling - were stripped off and repurposed and recombined with other bundles in new projects by new people on new hardware. Today, millions of these bundles have recombined together as the engines we know today, Unity, Unreal, Lumberjack, CryEngine, etc.

While some of these engines enjoy star power in their own right, they are largely overlooked as the mere form of videogames: it is the games produced using them are the main event. But what does it mean to consider the engines as content once again? What do we stand to gain from studying, pulling apart, or building engines in our artist studios and scholarly labs? Does the game engine transform our understanding of games from the possibilities of spaces to a space of possibilities, and how can we chart out the common assumptions we’ve made about what games are and can be?

However when posing these questions we must also consider what and who has been left out, be they players, audiences, or creators: the military provenance of the term ‘engine’ may point towards problematic issues. To work efficiently, engines presuppose infrastructure: the road for the internal combustion engine, the railway for the steam engine. And these engines have often entailed colonialism and imperialism, enclosed commons and uncontained emissions. Are there similar considerations at work with game engines, for example in the exploitation of vernacular creativity or the environmental costs of streaming technology? How can artistic work illuminate these concerns? What does it mean for artistic practitioners and theorists to work with, build, and modify game engines today? What can creative works tell us about the nature of contemporary game engines? 

We invite 20-minute presentations from artists, scholars and curators working at the intersection of game engines and art practice, theory, and history. We envisage the term ‘engine’ broadly, not just as technical or commercial product but as culture, practice, affordance or ‘stack’. The symposium will take place at Parsons School of Design on April 4th 2020. It will be followed by the launch of “Teckle”, a showcase of independent Scottish games at Babycastles Gallery. Please submit 300-word proposals via http://gameartengines.com by February 24th 2020. Inquiries may be directed to gameartengines@gmail.com

Possible topics include:

  • Digital game artworks and practice

  • History of game engines and exhibition of computational artworks

  • Art historical perspectives on game engines

  • Game engines and aesthetic theory

  • ‘Engine’ as concept, metaphor and object

  • Engines as sub-components (graphics engines, physics engines)

  • Cultural presuppositions and potentials of game engines

  • Speculative design with and of game engines

  • Performance in-engine

  • The materiality of game engines