Headshot Brian Schrank, PhD
Associate Professor, Chair of Game Design, DePaul University
bschrank@gmail.com / 404-281-4282

CV & Bio

Games & Book AR & VR Games Animation & Acting Comics & Design


Avant-garde Videogames

Hey! Play! Games in Modern Culture - Co-curated Exhibition at Chicago Design Museum from Oct 2017 - Feb 2018 - ChiDM link

“The path that is best for you is the path that keeps the best of you in play.”

This quote from Bernie De Koven, one of the featured artists, captures the spirit of Hey! Play! Games in Modern Culture, a new exhibition showing at the Chicago Design Museum. All games in the exhibition are playable, inviting museum-goers to risk enjoying themselves as they cultivate a more layered and nuanced appreciation of games. The featured works present a broad range of play experiences, many that may be new to visitors. The pieces take diverse physical forms from cardboard-box interfaces, virtual-reality headsets, entire hallways, and parachutes. The exhibit demonstrates how game design is a medium of expression with unique formal aesthetics as well as a vehicle for social change.

Games are a rich, dynamic medium that live in consoles and controllers as much as they do our own bodies, minds, and social relationships. The gaming industry is worth more than $100 billion and stretches far beyond what we typically see. Artists and designers are creating games about personal challenges, games that facilitate spiritual cybernetic awakening, and games that challenge, edify, and critique our societies and cultures. This exhibition will showcase a cross-section of compelling examples from this diverse medium and demonstrate that at heart, we are all gamers.
There is a political avant-garde who provoke, hack and challenge the status quo with their games, while there is also a formal avant-garde of artists who are content exhibiting works in museums or online, focusing on advancing the medium’s aesthetic or experiential potential. There are other artists who extend literary traditions, advancing a kind of narrative avant-garde of games. This exhibition explores the possibility space of games, presenting a range of approaches to game design.
Hey! Play! shows how the medium of games extends through a number of continuums: digital to analog, introspective to social, curated to collaborative, sedentary to sweaty, serious to silly. If you prefer, consider this exhibition a “tasting” of some of the most compelling flavors that have emerged in the world of games. Curated to build off one another like dinner courses, their experiences complement and contrast while returning to themes, leaving the impression of a complete meal of play—of which something fresh should appeal to even the most stubborn palate. Just like when we were children we judged things before trying because they seemed odd, green, or bitter, so please try what you find there, remaining open to appreciate new flavors and textures of games. The curators hope people leave with a renewed excitement to embrace games in a more multifaceted way and carry the sense of playfulness into their everyday lives. In our current political climate, we need play more than ever as it can heal, motivate, attract, enrich, compel, unify, and help us move forward.

Avant-garde Videogames
Avant-garde Videogames

Chain Yankers

Chain Yankers is a physical two-player brawler. Each player wields a metal stick with large pads on each end (similar to those featured in the 1990s television show American Gladiators). The top padded end of each stick is a clown head with LED eyes and the bottom end a torso with LED nipples. A short chain is magnetically attached to the bottom of the torso and a large nose is magnetically attached to the clown face. To win a player must knock the clown nose off her opponent’s stick as well as yank off the chain, turning off the LED lights. Co-developed with Brian Gabor Jr.

Avant-garde Videogames
Avant-garde Videogames

Bust A Cup

Bust A Cup is a physical two-player puppet brawler. Coffee cups are placed on top of attack puppets made of hammers, chains, locks, and wood. The player who busts her opponent's cup wins. Co-developed with Brian Gabor Jr.

Video of gameplay: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcUi9wFI28k

One purpose of play is to question our usual ways of acting and being in the world. Play reintroduces variability in the face of rigid, successful adaptations. Play allows us to push past hard-won patterns that have become fixed because they have ensured pleasure or survival in the past. Play in contemporary culture has become so safe, ruled, and manageable that it has lost much of its true purpose. A player fully engaged in play does not simply place herself at risk she places her world at risk by giving herself up to play’s dynamic and unpredictable flow. We need to recall that the value of play is how it incorporates actual risk; that it allows players to question the patterns in which we think and interact. Through play we can open up new ways to live, be, and perform in the world. Bust A Cup enables players to put themselves at varying degrees of actual risk that has been lost in contemporary games. Swinging chains and whirling hammers whiz by tottering cups that fall and break at the players’ feet. How fast dare you move? How can you control this flailing instrument? What kind of movements can you invent with this strange medieval puppet?

Avant-garde Videogames

Avant-garde Videogames: Playing with Technoculture (MIT Press)

more info at MIT Press

The avant-garde challenges or leads culture; it opens up or redefines art forms and our perception of the way the world works. In this book, Brian Schrank describes the ways that the avant-garde emerges through videogames. Just as Impressionism or Cubism created alternate ways of making and viewing paintings, Schrank argues, avant-garde videogames create alternate ways of making and playing games. A mainstream game channels players into a tightly closed circuit of play; an avant-garde game opens up that circuit, revealing (and reveling in) its own nature as a game.

We can evaluate the avant-garde, Schrank argues, according to how it opens up the experience of games (formal art) or the experience of being in the world (political art). He shows that different artists use different strategies to achieve an avant-garde perspective. Some fixate on form, others on politics; some take radical positions, others more complicit ones. Schrank examines these strategies and the artists who deploy them, looking closely at four varieties of avant-garde games: radical formal, which breaks up the flow of the game so players can engage with its materiality, sensuality, and conventionality; radical political, which plays with art and politics as well as fictions and everyday life; complicit formal, which treats videogames as a resource (like any other art medium) for contemporary art; and complicit political, which uses populist methods to blend life, art, play, and reality--as in alternate reality games, which bring Situationist strategies to a mass audience. Brian Schrank is Assistant Professor at the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University. One-liner: An analysis of avant-garde videogames that draws on the formal and political modes of the historical avant-gardes.

Pedandeck plays with peer pressure


Pedandeck is an experimental card game about peer pressure and harmony. Players give cards to other players and people who are not playing the game. For example, if a player hears someone incessantly correcting another person’s grammar, then the player can walk up to them and relieve the situation to win points. The artistic goal of the game is to foreground the peer-pressure we impulsively and often unconsciously exert over one another. Playing the game renders visible the trends we use to collectively regulateeach other so that we then have an opportunity to better understand and improve them to achieve greater social peace and harmony. I designed and illustrated the game, published by The Game Crafter in 2012.

Pedandeck won jury selection in IndieCade at E3 in 2013!

Riverleap, an iPhone game. A fast-action platformer jumper for the iPod.
Riverleap Boy

Riverleap - an iPhone game

Riverleap is a fast-action, graphically lush, 3D platformer that showed off the graphic potential and speed of the iPhone 3Gs when it was released in 2009. You burst as a mutant minnow from an irradiated egg into a treacherous river. Bob, weave, and leap incredible heights over bears, hilly boys, gar, and harpies of a Mutant South. The procedurally generated world is different each game offering hours of pleasure! Near-instant load times make quick, exciting game sessions. Built with Unity3D.

Published by videogameo, a small game studio I launched specializing in experimental mobile games.

Riverleap Fish Face Riverleap Horses Riverleap Horses

Draw the Flow is a prototype

Draw the Flow - a game prototype

Game difficulty is controlled by the player who steers a man through space by tilting the iPhone. Before flight begins, the player draws out the flow line (level of difficulty over time) they wish to play. After they die or win they may redraw it to make it easier or harder in places. The intent is to explore the concept of flow: How does making difficulty so visible and fungible change the nature of play?

Mashboard Games

A research project started with Jeremy Rogers where we "affordance mine" the common computer keyboard for its play-enabling properties. These videogame prototypes ask players to rub, twinkle and mash the keyboard instead of typing on it. They are awkwardly liberating to play as players renegotiate their relationship to the keyboard on a more physically playful, body-friendly terms. I coined the term "affordance mining" which is the process of researching a technology to determine underutilized actionable properties and leveraging those properties into innovative forms of interaction between the actor and the technology. The term "affordance" was popularized by Donald A. Norman.

www.MashboardGames.com - original brainstorm

Kotodama: The Power of Words

n educational RPG I presented at GDC
in which students learn Japanese (using a PlayStation2 controller and microphone). The core agency of the player is expressed through her voice in speech recognition. The better the player can speak and understand Japanese the more power she has in the game. I organized the team of graduate students working on it and was the creative director of the project.

FAQs, website, gallery

Japanese Promo:
PeaceMaker, the internationally‐acclaimed sim game on the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict PeaceMaker (cocreator of original game concept)

While at Carnegie Mellon University, together with Asi Burak, Ross Popoff, and Shanna Tellerman, we fleshed out the original concept for the internationally‐acclaimed government simulation game on the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict.

Intellectual Property Theft Simulator Intellectual Property Theft Simulator

A game parody about the legal confusion surrounding the creation of remix works. The player can create a remix work by adding sound loops and place dancing imagery on top of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Continuous feedback indicates what laws are being broken and the degree of the violation (trademark, copyright, or right of publicity). The aim is to stimulate interest regarding the chilling effects artists face when creating composite works due to ambiguous copyright laws.

Play online (load takes a minute)
It may run faster if you download it (30 mb) as a .rar or .zip and launch it in a web browser.

Gamespace is an unfolded hypercybe.

Space in Asteroids

7D Asteroids - a prototype

A 3D adaptation of Atari's classic Asteroids game. Gamespace is recursive like the original game (exiting through the top means entering up from the bottom). There is a central cube of space, which is repeated six times, extending from each of its own faces: up, down, right, left, back, and forward. The player's ship exists in each of the seven cubes, so the player can always watch her own back, no matter which direction she is facing. Disorientation mixed with new empowerment.

Download prototype - instructions - plays in browser but you need to install 3DVIA player

Atomic Platformer - a prototype

A platformer prototype where all matter consists of pulsing spheres. Objects, floors, and walls are atomized and must be physically manipulated to traverse space, entrap enemies, release items, defend oneself, and so on.

Download prototype - instructions - plays in browser but you might need 3DVIA player

Game Poems


Created with Processing.

Click thumbnails to play. Please allow a moment to load.


Eyes of the Emperor

A physically dangerous dice challenge game, Eyes of the Emperor, pits two players in an escalating series of battles. You win when you pluck out the eyes of your opponent.


game instructions (PDF)


Moon Checkers

Moon Checkers is a two player spherical board game. Each player begins with seven pieces clustered on either pole of the sphere. One piece is indestructible and is used to leverage a shifting forward position of attack or defense. The most challenging aspect of gameplay is to think in terms of spherical space because there is no edge of the game board to visually "lean" against.