Site-Specificity and Game Engines

FTP is an ongoing meetup and series of events at Phoenix, Leicester.

For our October session we looked at the use of game engines as a site for the production of artworks.

Below I will summarise some of the areas investigated and links to additional sources. As well as looking at the ways in which game engines are being used, we hoped to identify several strategies for accessing and exploring game engines.

Photo by Juan Gomez on Unsplash

Game engines can provide an interesting site for the creation and investigation of new modes of art making.

Game engines are the pieces of software created to build and run a game. In the past, access to game engines was more difficult, with software more restricted and expensive. In recent years this has flipped and there are many, industry-standard options available with no upfront licence costs. Unity, Unreal and CryEngine are all important examples. There are also, increasingly, alternate and experimental engines available with their own focuses and strengths. Bitsy and PICO-8/Voxatron are essentially examples of this.

Using a game engine to develop art, that might be engaged with in an exhibition context, or directly to the audience devices — offers unique opportunities (as with all media).

Game engines can be used to create interactive situations, simulations and VR projects. They can also be used as a tool for creating videos. This technique is known as machinima — particularly when using pre-made games and assets.

Creating work within a game engine also provides a unique set of platforms for publication. Unity makes it easy to create work that can be shared locally and online. is a key online resource that provides individual creators a place to publish work.

Simulation IRL

Game engines are often very good at simulating physical properties and interactions.

This can be employed to present something that might not be possible IRL but can be simulated. It can help a non-programmer find a solution. It can sometimes be simpler to create an game-based environment rather than creating specific programming to achieve an effect.


Games are created from rules. Using a game engine is an efficient way of creating an opportunity for the engagement with a rule-set and the creative play that is afforded by that.

Pippin Barr’s chess —

Baba is You —

Generative Film/Animation

As in much of Ian Cheng’s work, the game engine can be used as a method of creating a space for things to occur within, autonomously. The audience interacts with the piece much as they would a film, yet the events unfolding on the screen are the constant result of algorithms and programming — it is closer to watching a live stream.

Reframing the real

There has always been a trend towards replicating the format of real world galleries within digital spaces. Recently this has been explored by the game Occupy White Walls, which uses the format of a MMO to put players in the role of gallerists.

At Two Queens, we recreated Leicester’s Cultural Quarter within a FPS game for the show LAN Party (2012). In this representation of the gallery space and neighboring cultural spaces, we were more interested in the collaborative aspects of building the space and occupying the representation within the same space.

Published games as a site for appropriation and expression

A rich mod culture is always increasing the opportunity for artists to use existing game worlds creatively. Developers often provide the tools for users to make films within these worlds. Alan Butler’s On Exactitude In Science (2017) uses the world of GTAV to recreate the film Koyaanisqatsi (1982).

Doubling of reality

In Jon Rafman’s seminal Codes of Honor (2011) the narrative works across several distinct perspectives.

Next month the session is about generative art. Details about the session can be found here.