Avant game is my work-in-progress, a political perspective with a beta manifesto, a set of research methodologies and design principles in flux, a dissertation in the making, an art historical moment unraveling towards the past and the future at the same time.

In other words, avant game is the term I've coined to describe my research in digital game studies as well as my creative practice in the area of play.  It identifies both the body of contemporary play works that I study and the philosophy of game design I am forging.

Read more about the derivation and deployment of "avant game."

   Avant game sometimes means using digital technologies to capture playful interventions in everyday spaces.  (Napa Valley, October 2003)

What is avant game?

Obviously,  the phrase "avant game" alludes playfully to the historical avant garde, the tradition-breaking art movement.  An avant-garde group or avant-garde artwork is by definition innovative or inventive on one or more levels: subject, medium, technique, style, or relationship to context.  An avant-garde work pushes the known boundaries of acceptable art, sometimes with revolutionary, cultural, or political implications.  So at one level, avant game gestures toward game design that is experimental and cutting-edge.  On my more enthusiastic and optimistic days, I would say that avant games have the potential to provide personally empowering experiences and impact everyday socio-political networks and habits.  On even more enthusiastic and optimistic (and also on my most cynical and apocalyptic-leaning) days, I would definitely say that avant games are also potentially mind-altering and reality shifting.

But while I enjoy the semiphonic word play of avant game's allusion to avant garde, I actually prefer to work with a more literal interpretation of the phrase:  "avant game" as "before the game."  So what do I mean when say that I am studying something that is "before the game," or developing a play experience that is "before the game?"  The play experiences that I write about and create are similar to games, often having agreed-upon goals and structure, but also very unlike games, which tend to be more codified, formal and bounded and less playful.  I am interested in play that stops short of becoming a game, play that never takes on a game's official rules, official spaces and official outcomes.  In that sense, what I am studying and producing is "before the game," that is, the level of order and structure and boundedness that is situated on the play --> game spectrum just before game.  Avant game is free play developed and formalized to some degree, but halted before official and complete codification.

Finally, I also intend avant game to describe a specific historical period in the development of networked game play.  All emergent genres and art forms undergo a period in which the rules, formulas and standard practices are not yet agreed upon by any majority of creators. We can observe in the development of the modern novel or the feature film, for example, what seem today to be very unusual and non-standard attempts to discover the best practices or optimal structures.  I believe that the fields of networked and pervasive play are now in this liminal zone. Innovators are currently experimenting with choice of media, design and distribution strategies to both spectacular success and dismal failure, and I am interested in tracking, analyzing and archiving the great range of experiments in networked play before these genres "settle down," which I presume they will sometime in the next five years.  In this sense, my objects of study and experiments in game development are avant game, that is, they are being created in the specific historical period before the rules of the game for developing networked and pervasive play are decided collectively by the gaming community.