American Go E-Journal

GO SPOTTING: Go, Poker and the Sublime

Sunday July 10, 2011

When Frank Lantz thinks about games, he doesn’t play around. Lantz teaches game design at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, the School of Visual Arts, and the New School. He created games for Cartoon Network, Lifetime TV, and VH1 before becoming becoming the co-founder and creative director of Area/Code. His writings on games, technology and culture have appeared in a variety of publications. In a recent lecture on “Go, Poker and the Sublime” at a game developers’ conference (click here to view online), Lantz declared that games are an art form on a par with music, literature and film, perhaps even “the most important art form of the 21st century. Describing go to his mostly non-playing audience, Lantz comes up with some remarkably well-turned phrases, explaining how “Go is good at teaching itself to you,” “. . . at the border of the discrete and the continuous,” “. . . thought made visible to itself.” I especially enjoyed his riff explaining why “light” is better than “heavy,” yet “thick” is better than “thin.” Lantz goes on with a similarly eloquent description of poker, which he finds to be about “the alchemical transformative power of greed.” Looking at both games together, Lantz sees a contrast with video games that dominate today’s market. Go, poker and similar pastimes are more abstract, less reliant on make-believe – in short, they are games that grownups also play. They are infinite – players do not reach an end point as in narrative-based adventure and role-playing games. He exhorts the game developers in the audience to think big: “I want a game that I can play my whole life, that I can teach my son, and he will play his whole life.” Mostly known for the iPhone app “Drop7,” Area/Code has pursued other innovative “social gaming” ideas such as Macon Money,  an alternative currency “game” conducted in “RL” (real life) in Macon, GA; and Budgetball, a physical sport that also requires a certain degree of fiscal planning.  In January, Area/Code was acquired by Zynga, the social gaming giant behind Facebook megahits such as Farmville and Mafia Wars, giving Lantz an even bigger arena in which to realize his dream. With its emphasis on building, cooperation and balance, go has much in common with social media games like Farmville and Cafe World (another Zynga biggie) with the added spice of life-and-death struggle. If Zynga’s next games have bit more of a competitive edge, perhaps we’ll know why . . .
- Roy Laird

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