7-2 | Avant-Garde Videogames: Playing with Technoculture

Book Review

Avant-Garde Videogames: Playing with Technoculture

Brian Schrank
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014. Notes, references, index, images. 232 pp. $32.00 cloth. ISBN: 9780262027144

by Patrick Jagoda

First Paragraph:

In his 1991 book The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde, Paul Mann declares, “The avant-garde, we know, is dead; nothing could appear more exhausted than its theory, its history, its works.” This provocative claim warrants reevaluation in the early twenty-first century, which has brought with it numerous experimental art movements, many enabled by the increased centrality of digital media. Brian Schrank’s Avant-Garde Videogames, declares that the avant-garde is alive and well, especially in what are often called art, serious, and “DIY” games. An avant-garde game, for Schrank, is one that “opens up the experience of playing a game or expands the ways in which games shape culture” (p. 3). He argues that unlike mainstream games that strive for universal literacy, avant-garde games seek to foreground their medium, defamiliarize conventional mechanics, and disrupt play flow. They also interrogate the ideologies, technologies, and systems that are central to contemporary culture.