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ASU students contribute to gaming exhibit at Phoenix Art Museum

"Purity" board game
August 13, 2013

A painter picks up a brush and creates art with paint. Likewise, a game designer can use games as a medium to create art.

That’s the philosophy of Theresa Devine, a faculty member in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences on ASU’s West campus. Devine and more than a dozen of her students are participating in "The Art of Video Games," an exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum that runs through Sept. 29. They are displaying both video games and board games, and will present special showings at the museum on two upcoming weekends, Aug. 24-25 and Sept. 21-22.

“We hope to show museum visitors that not only are games a medium, but the same premises that can be communicated in other media can be expressed in this one as well,” Devine said. “Games go beyond ‘interactive art’ into ‘participatory art’ and communicate on an intimate level with the audience because the viewer is immersed, shares in, and is sometimes complicit in the outcome of the game.”

“Theresa and I have worked to design easy-to-use examples of tried-and-true game mechanics for people to practice in the museum to look at art and further their understanding of that art,” said Christian Adame, assistant curator for education at the museum. “In this sense, visitors get to practice a mechanism that game designers use while slowing down and taking time with artworks at Phoenix Art Museum. And they’re fun!”

Among the attractions Aug. 24-25 and Sept. 21-22 are several board games designed by ASU students, as well as the game “Go See the Museum,” created by student Tyler Norquist, which sends participants to different art pieces in the museum based on their differing reactions to the previous piece they viewed.

An additional attraction Aug. 24-25 is “A Fitting” by Amanda Dittani, a former student of Devine. “A Fitting” asks participants to imitate the poses that female characters in video games are commonly placed into, displaying the results on a video screen. “The poses are very uncomfortable, which is an effective way to make the participant think about gender images in video games,” Devine said.

Norquist’s “Go See the Museum” was first presented during July. The site-specific game is designed to engage museum visitors with its various artworks, according to Norquist. “Rather than walking by and saying, ‘Oh, that’s a nice painting, the game makes people think a little deeper about the art,” he said.

Norquist said the experience has helped him learn about working with a client. “I have to please the museum, not just myself,” he said. “I also am learning about what it’s like to create something that is presentable to the public – making something, getting feedback and revising it until it is perfect.”

Adame said feedback was positive when “Go See the Museum” was introduced last month. “It’s a fun, interactive and personal way to see the museum by yourself or with your friends and family. It really capitalizes on the social nature of interactions in the museum and gets [people] to look more closely at the art object.”

The board games to be presented Aug. 24-25 and Sept. 21-22 were created by Devine, as well as several of her students. During those weekends, museum visitors will visit a table at which Devine will display games she designed. They will then be given a map showing locations of other games that have been paired with works of art, based on conceptual similarities.

Student Ever Rivas designed a game called “The Front,” which he will offer museum-goers the opportunity to play.

“Using chess as a foundation and taking my experiences to build from there, ‘The Front’ became a strategy-building game that adds competition and real-world aspects such as limited resources and limited soldiers,” Rivas said. “Having my game in the museum is a great honor and I am grateful to Theresa Devine for recommending my game to the museum. I hope this gives me the chance to talk to people, explain what I was trying to achieve with this game and hopefully make a positive change in people’s outlook.”

“Theresa and her students have definitely added a human face to the game design process, as well as additional interactive opportunities around the exhibition,” Adame said. “People love being able to speak to artists, to students, to see the process in action; it provides a holistic experience of a game. And I think it’s exciting for people to see new games in the works. I think there’s a sense that every game we play is already out there, which is totally untrue. Games are personal and game designers continue to push their ideas in new directions.”

Rivas credits Devine and New College faculty colleague Patricia Clark for providing several major design lessons that shaped his process of creating “The Front.”

Devine, who arrived at ASU in 2010, teaches New College classes including Digital Graphic Technologies and Fundamentals of Interdisciplinary Art, which are offered through the college’s bachelor of arts degree in interdisciplinary arts and performance. She also runs the Studio for Gaming Innovation on ASU’s West campus. Devine has experience working in the technology departments of small startup, medium size and large corporate companies. She has worked as a programmer, technical lead, analyst, designer and architect. Her fine arts background includes earning a master's in painting from the University of Houston.

Information about The Art of Video Games exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum can be found at