Issue 2: Making Conversation

Limitations and Possibilities in the Dialogue between Art and Gaming

This essay delves into the intricate relationship between art and games, critically examining their intersections, conflicts, and symbiosis in aesthetics, culture, and technology. It seeks to explore additional possibilities through a reflective approach.

In the digitized 21st century, art and games have gradually emerged as two of the most prominent facets of the cultural domain. However, the dialogue and interaction between the two are often overlooked or confined to specific art forms. The relationship between art and games is not a simple dichotomy but rather a complex dialogue encompassing creativity, interactivity, storytelling, and various other dimensions. This paper aims to explore the essence of this dialogue through critical reflection, delving into its significance within the context of contemporary society.

Why Choose Gamification

In the context of gamification in art, it has been a significant component of my planned approach since well before I commenced my master’s degree. The initial inspiration for exploring gamification stemmed from a critical reflection on my earlier work, “AI Apocalypse 2100.” This piece utilized gaming as a medium to convey its worldview and background story through visual output and game positioning.

Upon further reflection, I realized its shortcomings in understanding gamification and fully leveraging digital technology. The concepts introduced by Douglas Davis (1991-1995) provided new insights that prompted an in-depth investigation into the process of gamification. Eventually, in the third phase, I opted to use a computer game engine to develop my project.

Through preliminary explorations of the gamification process in the first and second phases, I recognized its profound impact on the transformation of interactive methods and the enhancement of overall interactive experiences, marking a departure from traditional approaches to engaging with art. It can be said that this constitutes an unprecedented new interactive mode in the realm of pure art.

In the gamified mode, visitors are guided to adopt the perspective of “players,” no longer confined to their previous roles as mere “observers.” This means visitors can directly engage with the core content of the artwork, interact with it, and even induce changes, allowing them to evaluate, criticize, and appreciate the work from the standpoint of “creators.”

The effect of this mode is evident: the immersive experience as “players” enables visitors to truly eliminate external distractions and fully immerse themselves in the world presented by the artwork. They can attentively listen, experience, and contemplate the comprehensive content presented by the artwork. This immersion is akin to earnest participation in a game, representing a primary advantage inherent in both games and the gamification process. As gamified content deepens, this advantage will continue to strengthen.

Furthermore, creating gamified artworks and subsequent retrospective reflections have shown me another key function of games: the ability to simulate the real world. This simulation of the real world extends beyond typical representations of real phenomena in games through game design and balanced experiences. It involves genuine contemplation of the existence and popularity behind games, stemming from the essence of games – interactivity (Espen J. Aarseth, 1997).

As we know, the principles of light reflection led to the emergence of puzzle games centred around this phenomenon. Similarly, the advent of firearms and historical forms of warfare led to games themed around war and shooting. The popularity of these thematic games arises from their ability to trigger human attributes such as curiosity, greed, and cruelty. The formulation of game rules further reinforces this effect. This means games can easily engage in dialogue with humanity and evoke resonance. Moreover, through metaphor and implication, they have the potential to alter human thought processes. While this may sound somewhat daunting, from a different perspective, it endows games with the ability to contribute more prominently, constructively, and suggestively to the transformative, influential, and cautionary aspects of human societal development through dialogue.

Pitfalls of Gamification

The ability of gamification shares the fundamental purpose of art, and due to its immersive advantages, it often yields better promotional outcomes. However, in comparison to art’s direct conveyance of visual thinking through images, gamified content often requires viewers, or “players,” to explore it through interactive operations. This process is more intricate and complex compared to traditional art presentations. In this journey, viewers adopting the role of “players” require guidance, similar to how artworks are perpetually displayed in designed galleries. Gamified content also needs to be designed, giving rise to the existence of game rules. This implies that gamification inevitably intersects with the field of design. Balancing game design and artistic expression will become a major contradiction hindering the development of this field.

Critical Reflection on Personal Work

The primary contradiction mentioned above permeates my exploration during the MA course, perplexing the development of my projects. In terms of results, the conclusions drawn from a year of exploration are not perfect, and my Unit 3 personal project still has many issues. To better understand the lacking aspects, I critically reflect on my work in five dimensions.

  1. Uniqueness and Originality: Evaluating whether the work possesses uniqueness and originality.
  2. Emotional Resonance: Examining whether the work can evoke emotional resonance.
  3. High-Level Technical and Artistic Skills: Assessing whether the work demonstrates advanced technical and artistic skills.
  4. Consistency with the Theme: Considering whether the work harmoniously aligns with its intended theme.
  5. Interaction with External Context: Evaluating how the work interacts with a broader context.

In my practice, I have endeavoured to integrate the essence of gamification with artistic practice, not just applying a simple gaming framework. This fusion, relatively unexplored in my previous artistic attempts, aims to dissolve the boundaries between game design and artistic expression. In terms of originality, I effectively fused existing resources from both artists and game designers into a creation driven by personal imagination. For example, I drew inspiration from the design principles of the game “Into the Breach” (Justin Ma/Matthew Davis, 2018), establishing an entirely new game system based on core rules.

It is noteworthy that inspiration drawn from artists’ works is driven by this core principle. A significant divergence lies in the use of digital media versus traditional paper media. The former allows for extensive experimentation and expands the constraints of composition, providing me with greater freedom in unleashing creativity. However, my work failed to achieve groundbreaking originality and essentially relies on the reutilization of existing resources.

In terms of artistic expression, my work effectively portrays the visage of a futuristic world through vibrant colours and diverse depictions of units/buildings. Concerning the theme, the work exhibits high consistency, featuring a tightly constructed world background and factions designed with scientific precision. However, in conveying ideas, the work overly relies on textual descriptions or sound. It falls short of presenting a complete narrative through visual expression. This issue becomes a crucial factor affecting the interaction of the work with the external context and requires attention.

In summary, my work provides an exhilarating experience in conceptualisation, thematic depth, and content presentation. However, significant shortcomings exist in terms of originality and the work’s interaction with external dialogues.

As previously proposed, the lack of originality in the work is largely triggered by the challenge of balancing game design and art, specifically manifested in issues related to content presentation in the work. In simple terms, the images presented in my work and the medium of expression used are quite “traditional.” This “traditional” feel is a result of the “constraints” of game design (Justin Ma/Matthew Davis, 2018, p.) brought about by the contradictions.

Reflection on Pippin Barr’s Artistic Integration of Gaming

Pippin Barr’s works have prompted contemplation on issues within this realm. Renowned as a game designer and artist for his ability to engage audiences through gameplay, Barr is acclaimed for creating art games with unique mechanics and thought-provoking content.

One of his notable works is “Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: Edition” (Pippin Barr, 2012). In this game, players assume the roles of characters subjected to various punishments from Greek mythology, offering a firsthand experience of ancient punitive practices.

The gameplay and rules of the game are relatively straightforward. Players embody different mythological figures undergoing specific ancient punishments and control their actions using input devices such as a keyboard or mouse. For instance, in one scene, players take on the role of Prometheus trapped in a giant rock, simulating Prometheus’s struggle and efforts through keyboard inputs. The rules of the game are not overly complex, primarily requiring actions corresponding to each character’s situation. Through this game, the artist aims to provide players with a direct experience of Greek mythological narratives, creating an artwork with a unique experiential and contemplative quality. The game’s simple mechanics and distinctive theme allow players to gain a more intuitive understanding of ancient culture and history.

Many, myself included, perceive Pippin Barr as an artist skillfully combining art and gaming. However, debates about the artistic aspects of his works persist to a considerable extent. The focal point of these debates often revolves around the discussions on the originality elicited by gamification based on computer programs and its perceived “constraints” on visual art presentation.

Pippin Barr’s Game “Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment”
Reflecting on the Core Objectives of “Into the Breach”

“Into the Breach” is a highly acclaimed turn-based strategy game available on platforms such as Steam, co-developed by two independent creators. It distinguishes itself from other games in the genre by placing its core objective on defence and salvation rather than destruction and devastation. What is particularly intriguing is the game’s remarkable success solely based on its unique gameplay centred around the concept of defence, without relying on extensive content, narrative, or high-quality visual art resources. In my critical reflection, I highlighted a detailed discussion by the game developers during a presentation, where they shared the entire process of creating the game.

“When discussing our game design process, the concept of ‘limitations’ cannot be overlooked,” emphasized the game developers. As an illustrative example, the introduction of a health bar system in game design inevitably necessitates the design of a combat system. “For us, the initial and fundamental limitation was designing gameplay focused on defence,” emphasized the game developers. In essence, “limitations” represent principles that cannot be compromised or essential elements that cannot be removed. All other factors should serve this constraint, irrespective of their excellence. This prompted my contemplation on the concept of “limitations” in the games I create and established the foundation for my methodology in game design moving forward.

In summary, despite the apparent utilization of game engine technology and digital techniques in my work, it essentially represents a simplistic amalgamation of art and game design. This amalgamation overlooks the inherent constraints introduced by game design and the inherent conflict between the artistic pursuit of uniqueness and innovative concepts (Zhaoyuan Du / Shigang Jiao, 2023). Consequently, I found myself continuously constrained and compelled to alter my artistic expression, ultimately resulting in deficiencies in both originality and artistic merit within the work.

Reflection on the Issue of Artistic Originality in the Work

Due to the irreconcilable conflict between game design and art, this has led me to contemplate the bias in my work (Le Li, 2013). Pippin Barr’s works effectively balance this bias, showcasing merit in both game rules and artistic expression. I began to reflect on and uncover the potential biases in the process of creating my work.

I believe that subconscious biases toward inclination are generally based on personal interpretations of the relationship between games and art. To delve deeper into this difference, I conducted an in-depth investigation into the personal works of the artist Ian Cheng, including his philosophy and methodology.

The core concept of artist Ian Cheng’s work can be summarized as “ecosystem art.” His creations aim to explore dynamic, ever-changing ecosystems and provoke audience reflection and emotion by simulating and depicting the characteristics of these ecosystems.

Ian Cheng’s works typically revolve around virtual worlds or artificial intelligence entities with autonomy and decision-making capabilities. He employs complex algorithms and programs to simulate the behaviour of these entities, presenting a process of self-evolution and self-adjustment.

In this manner, Ian Cheng seeks to delve into the uncertainty, variability, and interactions within ecosystems. His works emphasize the intricate relationships between various factors in the natural world and reflect this complexity in the virtual domain, prompting contemplation on dynamics akin to those within ecosystems.

I observed that the gamified elements used in Ian Cheng’s works are not merely presented as games in the form of art. Instead, to achieve visual effects consistent with the artist’s conceptual intent, he employs a range of technological components required for creating computer games, such as game engines, 3D modelling, animation, interactive game forms, and visual effects. While visual elements in traditional games can be classified to some extent as art, Ian Cheng’s approach differs because all visual images in the game serve the game itself, while the gamified essence of art continues to serve artistic expression. This thematic difference results in distinct ideologies and visual effects. Therefore, an inevitable reality is that emphasizing artistic quality inevitably sacrifices some gameplay, and vice versa. If both are desired simultaneously, there is a possibility of falling into the mutual constraints between artistic quality and gameplay (Le Li, 2013,). Hence, since we cannot avoid the contradiction between the two, we must make choices. In the face of artistic gamification, we must first determine our bias or, in other words, recognize where our interest lies in gamifying art. This interest can be based on story, imagery, or a standout gameplay feature. Regardless of which, it must be highlighted, expanded upon, and extended in the creation process to ultimately reflect its role as the most important creative content in terms of artistic value.

The integration of urban and architectural depictions with gamification has opened up a new avenue for the exploration of novel content. Examining the creative process of my art piece “Golden Age,” it becomes evident that it lacks a unique advantage in terms of creativity. Despite employing AI-assisted painting for iterative image generation in the realm of new technologies, the basic process remains rooted in image rendering, lacking integration of interactivity or impactful technology, thereby limiting the scope of surprising effects. In terms of content quality, while rich, it lacks creativity and breakthroughs in architectural form, content presentation, and overall composition. Consequently, it lacks sufficient narrative charm and novelty from any perspective, with no prominent features.

In contrast, the game “Monument Valley” (Ken Wong, 2014) provides a delightful response to this content challenge. “Monument Valley” is a puzzle game leaning towards gameplay. The game skillfully utilizes pseudo-3D optics and visual illusions to manipulate, weave, deform, and perspective-shift various architectural structures. Paired with a vibrant and harmonious colour scheme, it presents strong artistic allure visually. This easily brings to mind the works of the artist Paul Noble.

Video Game “Monument Valley”
Paul Noble’s “Nobson Newtown”

Paul Noble is a prominent contemporary artist from the United Kingdom, recognized for his distinctive painting style and body of work. His creations are celebrated for their intricate and complex details, infused with absurd humour and offering profound insights into contemporary society.

Noble garners acclaim for his meticulous attention to detail, frequently incorporating intricate cityscapes, architectural structures, or enigmatic fantasy worlds into his works. Each piece is replete with precise and subtle details, encouraging viewers to attentively savour and explore the intricacies.

Furthermore, his works consistently convey a sense of absurd humour and exaggeration, delivering a distinctive and entertaining visual experience through amplified forms and scenarios.

While based on different purposes and philosophies, “Monument Valley” and Paul Noble’s architecture both provide viewers with a strong visual impact. This visual impact stems not only from the quirky architectural appearance and complex structures but also from viewers’ rational imagination of these non-existent buildings. This paradigm has significantly guided my theoretical framework, making me realize that in some areas where the relationship between art and the real world is most intimate, such as realistic nature, architecture, etc., game rules can be better integrated with art. For example, embedding clues and puzzle elements in vast and complex artistic images, unfolding gameplay similar to scenes in Albrecht Dürer’s monumental woodcut “Triumphal Arch of Maximilian I” (16th century), adopting a unified dramatic structure, or progressing through an interactive question-and-answer format. This approach seems to be an effective means of blending gameplay and artistry, rooted in gameplay but not devoid of artistry.

Albrecht Dürer’s “Maximilian Triumphal Arches”
Reflection on the Dialogical Issues in the Work

On the other hand, after undergoing the MA course, I realised the importance of exhibitions in artistic expression. Generally, artworks can achieve better visual effects and publicity through well-arranged exhibitions, providing a crucial means for artworks to engage in a dialogue with the audience. The significance of exhibitions in the context of art gamification should not be overlooked. However, as a trade-off for gamification, artworks in exhibitions often struggle to convey all key information through simple two-dimensional images. Moreover, such a presentation style can undermine the overall visual coherence of the artwork. This is a critical reason for my reflection on the lack of external dialogue in my Unit 3 project.

During the final exhibition of the third unit, I realized the oversight in the initial planning of the exhibition layout. Initially, I planned to showcase the works through large-scale digital printing, hoping to convey my ideas in this form. However, after discussing it with my supervisor, I decided to use television screens to display the work. However, regardless of the method I chose, there were still issues and shortcomings. Using digital printing would lead to an incongruous appearance of the works in the exhibition due to issues of scale and content. On the other hand, using television screens posed problems such as inaccurate colour rendering and limited screen size. Additionally, exhibiting the works fell short of fully conveying the content of gamified pieces. These shortcomings directly resulted from the media I chose. I overly relied on two-dimensional, static media, while gamification tends to utilize three-dimensional and dynamic media.

Rebecca Allen is a renowned artist who has made groundbreaking contributions to the field of digital and interactive art, particularly in creating immersive and interactive experiences using 3D environments. Born in the United States, Allen has played a crucial role in new media art, exploring 3D environments in her works.

What attracted me most about artist Rebecca Allen is her use of 3D environments in creating personal works. Her works resemble a “level” in a game, allowing visitors to navigate freely within a pre-designed 3D space, much like players in a game. The entire 3D environment is constructed by the artist herself, and when combined with music and sound effects, it immerses visitors through various means such as projection, room enclosure, and virtual reality. Furthermore, using 3D technology significantly reduces repetitive labour when working with dynamic media. For example, artist Ian Cheng’s recent work “Life After BOB” (Ian Cheng, 2020) uses a game engine and 3D modelling to create a 3D animation resembling a game demo. The vivid animation tells the story of an artificial intelligence existing in a virtual world created by virtual reality technology. This artistic presentation brings a significant breakthrough in visual effects. Therefore, I plan to delve into the field of 3D content, aiming to break away from dependence on traditional media by learning 3D modelling, computer programming, and other emerging technologies.

Moreover, I also see the potential of the emerging VR field in the direction of artistic gamified exhibitions. Because VR can fully immerse people in a virtual space different from reality, the existence of VR devices can greatly reduce the requirements for exhibition venues. Viewers no longer need to physically go to the area where the exhibition hall is located but can create an “exhibition hall” space by simply wearing VR glasses in a virtual space. This means that gamified content can also be directly presented in front of the audience in the form of a virtual space, just like a VR game. Furthermore, I have learned that there is now technology that allows 3D drawing in VR space by wearing VR glasses. Through such technology, creators can freely create 3D paintings without worrying about the “limitations” generated by procedural processes, thus overcoming the biggest contradiction between game design and artistic value. Similarly, viewers will also have the opportunity to leave their marks in the scene, which I believe is the best way to increase interaction and dialogue between the work and the audience.

Rebecca Allen’s “Bush Soul”
Ian Cheng’s “Life After BOB”
Final And Conclusion

In conclusion, as I have consistently upheld throughout this entire dissertation, I tend to unfold my imagination and points of interest without constraints. Engaging in activities that I genuinely desire is more crucial than succumbing to external influences. I believe this is paramount. The master’s course has provided me with this opportunity. From the outset, the interdisciplinary nature of the course, particularly in fine arts and printmaking, emphasized the importance of discovering personal interests and aided me in exploring and defining my fascination with gamification and the gaming process. Discussions with mentors and critical reflections further strengthened these ideas. Through continuous critical reflection on my work, I gained a clearer understanding of my desires and expectations. Looking back, I have a strong inclination toward the field of game design. I plan to systematically study game design theory in the future to enhance my proficiency. At the same time, I have not abandoned my intention to leverage the skills and knowledge acquired throughout the entire printmaking master’s course. I believe these skills are invaluable to me. As mentioned earlier, by elevating artistic sensitivity and critical insight, I can gain stronger creative impetus, leading to the creation of more valuable works. In my future endeavours, I still aim to explore gamified content, seamlessly integrating gameplay and artistic elements while leveraging my strengths to the fullest.


[1] Noble, P. (1998-99). Nobson Newtown [Pencil Drawing]. Retrieved from

[2] Dürer, A. (16th). “Dürer Maximilian Triumphal Arches” [Woodcut]. Retrieved from

[3] Cheng, I. (2020). Life After BOB [Video]. Retrieved from

[4] Wong, K. (2014). Monument Valley [Video Game]. Retrieved from

[5] Barr, P. (2012). Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: Edition [Video Game/Digital Print]. Retrieved from

[6] Allen, R. (1999). Bush Soul [Video]. Retrieved from


[1] Aarseth, E. J. (1997). Cybertext-Perspectives on Ergodic Literature.

[2] Li, L. (2013). Exploration of Concepts and Aesthetics in Electronic Games [Dissertation]. Southwest University.

[3] Ma, J., & Davis, M. (2018). Into The Breach. Subset Games.

[4] Du, Z., & Jiao, S. (2023). The Aesthetic Contradiction between the Independence of Games and the Technical Utilitarianism: A Case Study of the Adaptations of The Wandering Earth 2 and The Three-Body Problem into Films and TV Series. Beijing Cultural Creative, 2023(04), 24-30.

[5] Davis, D. (1995). The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction (An Evolving Thesis: 1991-1995). Leonardo, 28(5), Third Annual New York Digital Salon.

[6] Wong, K. (2014). Monument Valley. Ustwo Games.

[7] Barr, P. (2012). Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: Edition.

About the author

Ruixiao Zhang is currently enrolled in the MA Fine Art: Printmaking program at Camberwell College of Arts for the academic year 2022-23. He is passionate about creating personal artworks through digital and gamified approaches. His focus lies at the intersection of emerging technologies and the gaming industry, expressing a keen interest in the potential societal impacts of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence. Employing mediums like game engines, digital painting, and AI-generated art, his works aim to challenge conventional media paradigms and bring about innovative developments in the realm of interactive artistic experiences.

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