Instructor Spotlight: Sophia “Phi” Day

The ExCollege caught up with Phi Day, the Visiting Lecturer behind EXP-0001: Video Games as Visual Culture.
Sophia Day

Tell us about your background and what inspired you to teach this course

I’ve loved art ever since I was a child and am currently getting my MFA at Tufts. I remember getting my first Game Boy when I was 10 and realizing “oh man video games are art” – there was a direct link between what I loved and what I was playing. As I’ve progressed further in my studies, I realized that the question isn’t “are video games art” but rather “how are video games art?” We live in an extremely visual society and images are not only powerful, but are constantly in dialogue with each other and every image that came before it. I see video games as part of this artistic and visual lineage and thought it would be interesting to explore how they fit into these dialogues.

You make connections between video games and art movements and practices (The New Baroque, Cubism and cross-stitch, etc). How does looking at these connections influence how we look at both art and how we interact with video games?

I believe that every piece of art is in dialogue with each other either consciously or unconsciously and that has a tangible effect on the viewer or player. We implicitly play and treat a 200-hour RPG differently than a sandbox game like Minecraft and differently than an 8-bit side-scroller, even if we are not sure why. If a player can concretely recognize how what they’re playing is inspired by different art movements and the intellectual implications that come with them, then they can have a more meaningful gaming experience.

What trends have you noticed in how art styles within video games have developed? What do you think this means for the future of the medium?

It’s hard to say if there is a distinct artistic trend happening in games right now because the field is so vast. Major developers are leaning more and more into photorealism as technology progresses whereas independent developers are still fond of pixel-art styles and cell-shading. A lot has to do with the limitations of the medium itself as well as the intended gameplay effect but I think it’s a really exciting, diverse visual field and as gaming continues to expand, I believe we will see an even greater variety of artistic expression.

Do you have a favorite video game?

As cheesy as it sounds, my favorite video game is Kingdom Hearts 2. The franchise has gone in some convoluted directions, but that game was such a rich and exciting evolution in the series. I loved the combination of JRPG characters with Disney characters and how simultaneously seamless and bonkers it was. It was one of the first video games, for me, that meaningfully combined visuals, narrative, gameplay, and music.

What do you hope that students will take away from your course?

I hope students are able to see connections across artistic media both historically and currently and to learn how to critically analyze visual art not only on a 2D plane, but with an expanded consideration of aesthetics that takes into account bodied experiences such as gameplay. I also hope that they learn that every piece of visual media is made with great consideration and that nothing is frivolous.

Sophia Day is an MFA candidate at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Her work spans multiple mediums and approaches. When she is not researching or creating art, she can be found at home with her PS4 and Nintendo Switch.