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Game-Based Learning for Art and Art History Education

Are video games and art classrooms an intuitive pairing – or like oil and water? At first glance, video games and art education may seem like unlikely companions. But when we looked further into the combination of pixels and paintings, we found a vibrant, creative nexus with exciting possibilities for learning! Today’s blog will explore some of the ways game-based approaches are making an impact on art and art history education.

via Giphy

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Game Creation as Artistic Expression

Why not start this investigation into games and art education where the two mediums converge most fully – in the act of game creation itself? Student designers can explore personal themes and aesthetics through game mechanics, narratives, and sound, mirroring core artistic practices of experimentation and analysis. 

While this might seem like a little bit of a stretch at first, stay with us! According to researcher Ryan Guillard-Patton, the metaphorical and systems-based nature of crafting games connects to avant-garde art traditions. Guillard-Patton had students ages 8-13 design physical, digital, and tabletop games incorporating complexity theory. Months later, participants continued seeing interconnections between game rules and real-world systems.

The process helps students playfully engage with layered meaning-making, not unlike Dadaist works, asserts Guillard-Patton. Testing gameplay dynamics builds critical thinking by linking components in unexpected ways, similar to assemblage sculptures. Framing game design historically this way enriches students’ appreciation for rule-based creation as self-expression. It also allows students room for failure and experimentation, free from some of the constraints of traditional education.

And students don’t need to participate in a study to start designing games on their own. Many young people already love tinkering with game engines such as Unity or Roblox to actualize their imagination. These platforms provide the perfect creative sandbox – no prior coding or artistic skills required. What’s more, as young designers playtest and refine based on feedback, they organically develop communication abilities and other soft skills key to artistic growth. That’s the power of game creation as art education!

Simulated Galleries: A Proxy for Real Spaces

Of course, not every art educator will have the capacity or comfort to facilitate hands-on game design. That’s where simulated gallery spaces come into play. As we’ve touched on in previous blogs, virtual galleries like Occupy White Walls, ArtSteps, and Full of Birds offer intuitive gateways for democratizing access to art – students unable to visit the art museums of New York or Paris can still wander through 3D facsimiles.

Virtual art galleries go beyond walking simulators, too. A specific example of this is Tate Worlds – the Tate Gallery’s bespoke Minecraft experience allowing players to explore reimagined spaces tied to specific artworks in their collection

Launched back in 2014, Tate tapped into the gaming zeitgeist early by commissioning a series of custom Minecraft maps. Each digitally rendered environment offers an imaginary landscape inspired by a painting or sculpture from the museum’s archives. Users can download and inhabit these vivid spaces on their PCs, tablets, or phones.

What sets Tate Worlds apart is how gameplay mechanics connect back to artistic themes and composition concepts within featured pieces. Challenges and puzzles scattered throughout environments prompt critical thinking about materials, contexts, and stories underlying the works.

By wrapping education in playful adventures, museums can sidestep young learners’ perception of them as stuffy, boring, or exclusive. Simulations provide young people with galleries where they can not just see great culture, but inhabit and recreate it. Video games bridge physical and digital engagement, priming new creators to imagine their own works on those storied walls! 

Immersive VR Museum Adventures

Taking it an immersive step further, VR offers engaging enhancements to virtual gallery experiences. Exhibitions like the Dalí Museum’s Dreams of Dalí deliver hyper-immersive opportunities to explore installations.

Such VR museum adventures don’t just dazzle the senses. Curated voiceover reflections on aesthetic choices prompt the audience to think critically about the art in front of them. Blending VR showcases with active creation pushes programs beyond passive appreciation into intimate connoisseurship on par with art schools. 

Art History, Digitized

We’ve previously covered how VR recreate archaeological reconstructions too fragile for widespread physical access. The same principle applies for fragile artifacts representing humanity’s artistic legacy. Advanced 3D scans of paintings or statuary decaying in sub-optimal storage can find renewed life in digital form. Students can walk around breathtaking assets previously reserved for a handful of researchers with no risk to the original pieces.

Imagine professors zooming fluidly between microscopic examinations of chisel work and 360-degree placement in original architectural contexts, or students digitally investigating the revisions underlining masterpieces. With VR, emerging generations can understand artwork as malleable data first and static objects second.

But let’s not just talk hypotheticals! The video below details Indiana University Ph.D. candidate Matthew Brennan’s research and work so far implementing VR art history into classrooms.

Art Games and Creative Sandboxes

Finally, in discussing games and art education, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate titles specifically embracing art education. In Arté Mecenas, for example, players explore the Italian Renaissance while uncovering hidden stories around iconic artworks. Rather than dry textbook recitations on Donatello and Da Vinci, players experience the economic and political contexts shaping famous artists’ creativity firsthand. Players also identify how artistic schools developed in response to available materials as well as client taste, traversing territories importing unique marbles and pigments to inspire revolutionary techniques. 

Video games on art aren’t just for middle schoolers and high schoolers – younger learners can benefit from them too. In the mobile game C.O.O.L. Kids Coloring that we created with our client SR1, players guide Ardie Art through a colorful museum left muted by art thieves. They can also unleash their own creativity on blank canvases and templates. The game’s integrated dashboards help parents and teachers track players’ mastery over both motor control and artistic concepts.

As hotbeds for creativity, art classrooms should embrace video games as tools for art education. Structured experimentation in these spaces builds bridges to artistic practice. Ultimately, the malleable nature of gaming and art fuse together in educational harmony!

Hopefully, this tour across various intersections has shown you how game-based approaches meaningfully augment art and art history education. From simulated gallery spaces providing access to vulnerable assets, to bespoke game design activating self-direction, this pair shows no shortage of vitality. 

Hey, before you go, if you’re feeling creative, don’t hesitate to reach out for our help in designing your own educational game! We have 18 years of experience creating award-winning learning games, and we want to hear about your project. 

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