John Sharp

John Sharp is Associate Professor in the School of Art, Media, and Technology at Parsons School of Design at the New School. He is the author of Works of Game: On the Aesthetics of Games and Art (MIT Press) and coauthor (with Colleen Macklin) of Games, Design, and Play: A Detailed Approach to Iterative Game Design and (with David Thomas) Fun, Taste, & Games: An Aesthetics of the Idle, Unproductive, and Otherwise Playful (MIT Press). Sharp and Macklin are Codirectors of the PETLab (Prototyping Education and Technology Lab) at Parsons.

  • Iterate

    Iterate

    Ten Lessons in Design and Failure

    John Sharp and Colleen Macklin

    How to confront, embrace, and learn from the unavoidable failures of creative practice; with case studies that range from winemaking to animation.

    Failure is an inevitable part of any creative practice. As game designers, John Sharp and Colleen Macklin have grappled with crises of creativity, false starts, and bad outcomes. Their tool for coping with the many varieties of failure: iteration, the cyclical process of conceptualizing, prototyping, testing, and evaluating. Sharp and Macklin have found that failure—often hidden, covered up, a source of embarrassment—is the secret ingredient of iterative creative process. In Iterate, they explain how to fail better.

    After laying out the four components of creative practice—intention, outcome, process, and evaluation—Sharp and Macklin describe iterative methods from a wide variety of fields. They show, for example, how Radiolab cohosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich experiment with radio as a storytelling medium; how professional skateboarder Amelia Bródka develops skateboarding tricks through trial and error; and how artistic polymath Miranda July explores human frailty through a variety of media and techniques. Whimsical illustrations tell parallel stories of iteration, as hard-working cartoon figures bake cupcakes, experiment with levitating office chairs, and think outside the box in toothbrush design (“let's add propellers!”). All, in their various ways, use iteration to transform failure into creative outcomes. With Iterate, Sharp and Macklin offer useful lessons for anyone interested in the creative process.

    Case Studies Allison Tauziet, winemakerMatthew Maloney, animatorJad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, Radiolab cohostsWylie Dufresne, chefNathalie Pozzi, architect, and Eric Zimmerman, game designerAndy Milne, jazz musicianAmelia Bródka, skateboarderBaratunde Thurston, comedianCas Holman, toy designerMiranda July, writer and filmmaker

    • Hardcover $29.95 £24.00
  • Fun, Taste, & Games

    Fun, Taste, & Games

    An Aesthetics of the Idle, Unproductive, and Otherwise Playful

    John Sharp and David Thomas

    Reclaiming fun as a meaningful concept for understanding games and play.

    “Fun” is somewhat ambiguous. If something is fun, is it pleasant? Entertaining? Silly? A way to trick students into learning? Fun also has baggage—it seems inconsequential, embarrassing, child's play. In Fun, Taste, & Games, John Sharp and David Thomas reclaim fun as a productive and meaningful tool for understanding and appreciating play and games. They position fun at the heart of the aesthetics of games. As beauty was to art, they argue, fun is to play and games—the aesthetic goal that we measure our experiences and interpretations against.

    Sharp and Thomas use this fun-centered aesthetic framework to explore a range of games and game issues—from workplace bingo to Meow Wolf, from basketball to Myst, from the consumer marketplace to Marcel Duchamp. They begin by outlining three elements for understanding the drive, creation, and experience of fun: set-outsideness, ludic forms, and ambiguity. Moving from theory to practice and back again, they explore the complicated relationships among the titular fun, taste, and games. They consider, among other things, the dismissal of fun by game journalists and designers; the seminal but underinfluential game Myst, and how tastes change over time; the shattering of the gamer community in Gamergate; and an aesthetics of play that goes beyond games.

    • Hardcover $26.95 £21.00
  • Works of Game

    Works of Game

    On the Aesthetics of Games and Art

    John Sharp

    An exploration of the relationship between games and art that examines the ways that both gamemakers and artists create game-based artworks.

    Games and art have intersected at least since the early twentieth century, as can be seen in the Surrealists' use of Exquisite Corpse and other games, Duchamp's obsession with Chess, and Fluxus event scores and boxes—to name just a few examples. Over the past fifteen years, the synthesis of art and games has clouded for both artists and gamemakers. Contemporary art has drawn on the tool set of videogames, but has not considered them a cultural form with its own conceptual, formal, and experiential affordances. For their part, game developers and players focus on the innate properties of games and the experiences they provide, giving little attention to what it means to create and evaluate fine art. In Works of Game, John Sharp bridges this gap, offering a formal aesthetics of games that encompasses the commonalities and the differences between games and art.

    Sharp describes three communities of practice and offers case studies for each. “Game Art,” which includes such artists as Julian Oliver, Cory Arcangel, and JODI (Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans) treats videogames as a form of popular culture from which can be borrowed subject matter, tools, and processes. “Artgames,” created by gamemakers including Jason Rohrer, Brenda Romero, and Jonathan Blow, explore territory usually occupied by poetry, painting, literature, or film. Finally, “Artists' Games”—with artists including Blast Theory, Mary Flanagan, and the collaboration of Nathalie Pozzi and Eric Zimmerman—represents a more synthetic conception of games as an artistic medium. The work of these gamemakers, Sharp suggests, shows that it is possible to create game-based artworks that satisfy the aesthetic and critical values of both the contemporary art and game communities.

    • Hardcover $20.95 £16.99

Contributor

  • Debugging Game History

    Debugging Game History

    A Critical Lexicon

    Henry Lowood and Raiford Guins

    Essays discuss the terminology, etymology, and history of key terms, offering a foundation for critical historical studies of games.

    Even as the field of game studies has flourished, critical historical studies of games have lagged behind other areas of research. Histories have generally been fact-by-fact chronicles; fundamental terms of game design and development, technology, and play have rarely been examined in the context of their historical, etymological, and conceptual underpinnings. This volume attempts to “debug” the flawed historiography of video games. It offers original essays on key concepts in game studies, arranged as in a lexicon—from “Amusement Arcade” to “Embodiment” and “Game Art” to “Simulation” and “World Building.”

    Written by scholars and practitioners from a variety of disciplines, including game development, curatorship, media archaeology, cultural studies, and technology studies, the essays offer a series of distinctive critical “takes” on historical topics. The majority of essays look at game history from the outside in; some take deep dives into the histories of play and simulation to provide context for the development of electronic and digital games; others take on such technological components of games as code and audio. Not all essays are history or historical etymology—there is an analysis of game design, and a discussion of intellectual property—but they nonetheless raise questions for historians to consider. Taken together, the essays offer a foundation for the emerging study of game history.

    Contributors Marcelo Aranda, Brooke Belisle, Caetlin Benson-Allott, Stephanie Boluk, Jennifer deWinter, J. P. Dyson, Kate Edwards, Mary Flanagan, Jacob Gaboury, William Gibbons, Raiford Guins, Erkki Huhtamo, Don Ihde, Jon Ippolito, Katherine Isbister, Mikael Jakobsson, Steven E. Jones, Jesper Juul, Eric Kaltman, Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Carly A. Kocurek, Peter Krapp, Patrick LeMieux, Henry Lowood, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Ken S. McAllister, Nick Monfort, David Myers, James Newman, Jenna Ng, Michael Nitsche, Laine Nooney, Hector Postigo, Jas Purewal, Reneé H. Reynolds, Judd Ethan Ruggill, Marie-Laure Ryan, Katie Salen Tekinbaş, Anastasia Salter, Mark Sample, Bobby Schweizer, John Sharp, Miguel Sicart, Rebecca Elisabeth Skinner, Melanie Swalwell, David Thomas, Samuel Tobin, Emma Witkowski, Mark J.P. Wolf

    • Hardcover $49.00 £38.00