Art museums, particularly modern and contemporary art museums, pose as game worlds. Game worlds, according to Montola, exist in contrast to the “ordinary world” (19). The museum world operates by different rules than the ordinary world, which is crucial in demarcating it as a game world (10). There are, for one, limitations to codes of conduct within museums that do not apply to human object interactions in the world at large. Objects are generally not “allowed” to be handled or otherwise superficially affected, and if they are, such as in the case of Franz West’s Passtucke (1970s and beyond), there are certain rules according to which one may handle the object. There are strong restrictions in place upon how one “uses” objects. The museum space is at the same time metaphorical, much in the way of pervasive games (12). “Virtual museums” exist as aura and context around works perceived of art even outside of the formal museum space. For example, a work of art found in a home will likely be treated in line with codes of conduct similar to those in place in the museum, proper. The social behaviors sparked by entities perceived as art suggest that they exist within or emit boundaries of “portable” game worlds
Events, actions, and objects that occur within the museum world are filtered by what Hofmann refers to a “metaphorical interaction membrane,” which selects and filters stimuli from “outside the game” (9). When in the museum, one perceives the world as if in a pervasive game, wherein affordances are unlimited in that any “object” (entity) can hold game significance (18). For example, in 2016, two teenagers left a pair of glasses on the floor of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. According to a New York Times article, “How a Humble Pineapple Became Art,” “several visitors stood transfixed, staring at and photographing the Burberry glasses, which soon became a cause celebre.” The visitors’ inability to distinguish the “ordinary” glasses from a work of art yet eagerness to assign it the status of art is epitomic of the mentality of players in pervasive games, wherein anything in one’s environment can be relevant to the “game,” which in this case is art. Moreover, the tendency of viewers to assign the glasses art status in a museum demonstrates how the museum world operates as a type of game space that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.
The art game, as it plays out in museums, is often more mental than it is physical. Huizinga defines play as a ritual activity that takes place under rules that are separate from everyday reality (7). Entities encountered in museums are regarded with a different mentality than those encountered in the world at large. Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box (1964), for example, is a replica of an “everyday” Brillo Box. Encountered outside of the museum context, today, it would merely exist as a vintage item; at the time of its creation, it would be indistinguishable from everyday household goods. Its function is utilitarian, even if its utility must be considered ornament, as the utility of vintage items often is. In the museum, however, one prepares to encounter “deeper meaning” in the work and emancipate it from its utilitarian leanings. In speculating about the work, one engages in improvisation and world creation, which are characteristic of play (Jagoda et al. 77). This conception of how one encounters a work of art is not far from Kant’s conception of the “free play of the imagination” (Critique of Judgement).
Art play exists somewhere between “paidia” and “ludus.” On the one hand, it is widely if not commonly acknowledged that art, specifically modern and contemporary art, is open to interpretation due to the prevalence of abstraction, which emancipates it from mimesis. On the other hand, art history as a field thrives on contextualizing and interpreting the form and content of these works, as if to assert that there are certain guidelines according to which it should “rightly” or even possibly be seen. These interpretations, which curators often assimilate into wall labels, form the basis by which many viewers feel obliged to mentally engage with the work of art. Rather than looking at the work of art alone, visitors feel obligated to read and then interpret, or read and then re-interpret (study needed as evidence). These wall labels, then, involve spectators in “ludus,” as they operate as a sort of formalized game by which the viewer’s imagination must try to locate or guide the perceived form and content of the work.
While museums posit environments in which art may exist as a pervasive game within its bounds, “art” as a body games spectators pervasively, even outside of museum bounds. Street art is a prime example of art in the world at large. Street art, as Riggle notes in “The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces,” often appears unexpectedly and, is moreover, often either located in non-obvious spaces or is at times, not even recognized as art. Initial encounters with street art are emancipated from occurring in clearly delineated times or places, such as in the museum. Rather, street art creates bleed between the realm of art and the realm of the ordinary. Invader is an artist who places tiled renditions of video game characters on architectural spaces such as ledges, blurring the line between virtual, “art” space and real space. Street art forces art in general into the space of pervasive games, by complicating notions of what visual entities do and do not hold relevance for art, as a game (13). Street art neither ascribes to a rigid aesthetic nor always makes itself obvious as art. As in pervasive games, spectators who are unaware that the works are indeed art will perceive them according to the semiotic domain of the ordinary, which is a less plausible outcome in museums (17).