This paper discusses my experience as an instructor in offering an optional GBL (game-based learning) component for beginning art history students in a western art history survey course. Two computer games designed by the Triseum Company, Mecenas and Lumière, were assigned to students in my course (of 100 to 375 students) over the past several years. This presentation will foreground my qualitative analysis of the response of students to gameplay within the disciplinary framework of art history. The Triseum games channel significant aspects of the student learning experience in that they heighten student interest and enhance students’ skills of visual identification and analysis. A historical persona and the first-person perspective featured in Mecenas and Lumière is a surprisingly effective motivator for students. Many students unexpectedly find themselves to be fully engaged with a historical period they have never studied before. Economic competition is foregrounded in each game—within the commerce and finances of a Medici-like circle in Mecenas, or, within the transactions of the impresario “Horace Browne” who inhabits the Parisian studio/gallery system in Lumière. The traditional art history lecture and textbook strive to inculcate the essential art history skills of visual identification and careful visual analysis. Yet students often find a participatory, first-person game-narrative based in a historical time period to be more engaging as they work toward these same goals. The economic transactions completed by the first-person player within each game level push students to become more attentive to detail and incentivize the correct identifying of artworks. Some students comment that they are better able to attend to visual information after gameplay. Student feedback further evidences that the modality of gameplay and the mechanics and incentives of the games enable art history students to become more confident in their visual, and finally also art historical, skills.
Claudia Mesch is an art historian and critic who writes on developments in 20th-century and contemporary art. Her publications examine modern art’s cultural exchanges across national, disciplinary, and other borders, as well as modern art’s engagement with politics and with games and game structure. Her books include the anthology Joseph Beuys the Reader (2007), Modern Art at the Berlin Wall (2009), Art and Politics: A Small History of Art for Social Change since 1945 (2013), and Joseph Beuys (2017). She is a founding editor of the Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, which has been in publication for over a decade (jsa.asu.edu). She is at work on several projects including: an essay on the Italian art critic Carla Lonzi; an essay on Charles Wilbert White’s artistic activities in East Berlin in the 1970s, part of a book about trauma and community in art after 1970; and work on an exhibition that considers the activities of Surrrealism and Surrealists in Arizona and the Southwest. She is Professor of Art History at Arizona State University and lives in Phoenix, Arizona.