The limits and possibilities of play.

Thanks to Networked Performance for some serious thoughts about the nature of play: whether it gives rise to a different psychological state, and how this might be used to transform lives through artistic practice, or misused to market Microsoft products. These ideas might apply to all games and many types of simulation.

This piece was written by Anne-Marie Schleiner (see here, this interview, and her website.)

It starts with a brief literature survey of ludology, covering Debord, Huizinga, Callois and Wark, but then focuses on the Situationists, ie Debord and Chtcheglov, about whom Wikipedia tantalisngly says “He tried to deconstruct the Eiffel Tower and was arrested in Paris and committed to a mental hospital by his wife”. (Material for a novel there… theres already a book-length poem).

It then identifies six lessons:

1. Situationists and others identify a different mental state we enter during play,or carnivals, or other time off. This has been called limnoid state: very little on Google about that word. (Writer Chuck Palahniuk, quoted in the Las Vegas Weekly(!), calls them “moments that lift you out of your daily humdrum, making fresh perspectives possible”.) Situationists seek to capture and repeat this as “a more general approach, a way of doing and being in the everyday, in order to transform material life with ludic actions.”

Is this similar to flow, Csíkszentmihályis idea of a “mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity”, or is it more of a turning away from focus?

Is there a link with Parkour, of which Chau Belle Din claims: “Lart du déplacement is a type of freedom. It is a kind of expression, trust in you. I do not think there is a clear definition for it. When you explain it to people, you say: yes I climb, I jump, I keep moving! It is the definition! But no one understand. They need to see things. It is only a state of mind. It is when you trust yourself, earn an energy. A better knowledge of your body, be able to move, to overcome obstacles in real world, or in virtual world, thing of life. Everything that touch you in the head, everything that touch in your heart. Everything touching you physically.” and Kalties says: “To understand the philosophy of parkour takes quite a while, because you have to get used to it first. While you still have to try to actually do the movements, you will not feel much about the philosophy. But when youre able to move in your own way, then you start to see how parkour changes other things in your life; and you approach problems — for example in your job — differently, because you have been trained to overcome obstacles. This sudden realization comes at a different time to different people: some get it very early, some get it very late. You cant really say it takes two months to realize what parkour is. So, now, I dont say I do parkour, but I live parkour, because its philosophy has become my life, my way to do everything.”

Compare also Bakhtins idea (as paraphrased on Wikipedia): “all were considered equal during carnival. Here, in the town square, a special form of free and familiar contact reigned among people who were usually divided by the barriers of caste, property, profession, and age. The carnival atmosphere holds the lower strata of life most important, as opposed to higher functions (thought, speech, soul) which were usually held dear in the signifying order. At carnival time, the unique sense of time and space causes individuals to feel they are a part of the collectivity, at which point they cease to be themselves. It is at this point that, through costume and mask, an individual exchanges bodies and is renewed. At the same time there arises a heightened awareness of one’s sensual, material, bodily unity and community.”

2. competition in games is “the wretched product of a wretched society”: “The only success that can be conceived in play is the immediate success of its ambiance, and the constant augmentation of its powers” (Debord). Notice that Parkour practitioner Erwan says: “”Competition pushes people to fight against others for the satisfaction of a crowd and/or the benefits of a few business people by changing its mindset. Parkour is unique and cannot be a competitive sport if it ignores its altruistic core to self development. If parkour becomes a sport, it will be hard to seriously teach and spread parkour as a non-competitive activity. And a new sport will be spread that may be called parkour, but that wont hold its philosophys essence anymore.”

3. cities themselves (architecture) should not be seen as immutable buildngs but as “psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.” We should strive to increse this transformation by a new architecture (or game design): “Architectural complexes will be modifiable. Their aspect will change totally or partially in accordance with the will of their inhabitants”. (Chtcheglov) Blast theory claim that “new communication technologies are creating new social spaces.” See also Wikipedia on unitary urbanism, and a good explanation of the derive: “the dérive, or drift, where they would wander like clouds through the urban environment for hours or sometimes even days on end. During their wanderings in the Summer of 1953, an “illiterate Kabyle” suggested to them the term “Psychogeography”, to designate what they saw as a pattern of emotive force-fields that would permeate a city. The dérive would enable them to map out these forces, and these results could then be used as a basis upon which to build a system of unitary urbanism.”, or another definition: “Rather than being prisoners to their daily route and routine, living in a complex city but treading the same path every day, [Debord> urged people to follow their emotions and to look at urban situations in a radical new way. This led to the notion that most of our cities were so thoroughly unpleasant because they were designed in a way that either ignored their emotional impact on people, or indeed tried to control people through their very design. The basic premise of the idea is for people to explore their environment (“psychogeography”) without preconceptions, to understand their location, and therefore their existence.” Debord himself said: “In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.But the dérive includes both this letting-go and its necessary contradiction: the domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities.” Is this a limnoid state of free drifting, or a response to hidden but nevertheless real constraints?

4. Situationist games should extend beyond the game space into the city. This happens not just with Situationist derives or modern versions like Blast Theory but even by such high priests of commerce as Microsoft, for an advertising campaign, an elaborate alternate reality game or ARG, which publicised their computer game Halo 2. Fascinating: ARGs have not only become a developed culture with their own rules and jargon, but even a part of the capitalist/ advertising complex. As soon as you have a good idea, it starts to deteriorate. Freshness and the limnoid state become just another set of rules.

5. Illegality: extending Dadas anti-establishment tone to artworks which consist of illegal acts (eg Yo Mangos work, based around acts of shoplifting. (Spanish site here.) Yes, well. Chtcheglov was arrested in 1959 for conspiring to blow up the Eiffel Tower, “on no other grounds than that its lights were shining through his bedroom window and keeping him awake at night”.

6. games within games: playing computer games but changing their meaning.

Her conclusion: “We are bored with the suburbs, the stale imperialist sexist engineering biased corporate game industry, and with new academic ludology that reifies existing superstructures. We are ready to play reality TV off camera. We are frustrated with our governments and the military superstructures that control gamespace. We don’t want to play by rules we never agreed upon in the first place…. If big players are intervening in gamespace, then it is time for Situationist gaming.”

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