bleed, technique, and defamiliarization

Since the beginning of the class, I’ve been thinking about the way that ARGs can inspire us to think about our lives and daily actions in new, more creative ways. To me, the process of playing an ARG feels very much like it defamiliarizes our surroundings, especially in the mini-one we played for this class. In play, typical classroom objects and operations were gamified and thus made unfamiliar, re-training our perception. A PowerPoint becomes a trove of clues, special guests become “mysterious visitors”, and lecture becomes a constant guessing game over certain suspect phrases. I think often about how we would often message each other to point out particular words and sentences, even if those ended up not being central to the game and more likely just a part of lecture.

It’s really no surprise to me that ARGs operate in this way, since I often think that art is meant to defamiliarize our surroundings. However, in the concepts of bleed and technique, I also think it’s interesting how we can carry our new experiences and perceptions with us, not so much a process of defamiliarization but rather a re-orientation. Because bleed and technique make the boundary between ARGs/games and “reality” more fluid, I think that they can complicate typical understandings of art and defamiliarization. It’s almost like what was unfamiliar becomes familiar, integrated into our lives.

For example, we can think about the article about bleed and the concepts of bleed in and bleed out. While the character-creation process is different in ARGs – since we are mostly playing a version of ourselves, just one that believes in the new reality – much more of our life and self bleeds into the character, almost to the point where there isn’t a distinction. (I do think though that we might grow to “inhabit” a character during an ARG, even without trying, if we realize that we can experiment and try out new behavior patterns. We might find ourselves more willing to play around and change the rules than usual, for example. Our rebellious side might start to emerge.)

Bleed out, on the other hand, could describe the ways in which the ARG is able to foster skills and ideas in the players that they carry over, whether this is a sense of community or more practice with cipher-solving. Bowman also talks about the “bleed feedback loop”, which can make it hard to discern where the player and the character start or end. Perhaps we can think of playing an ARG as a type of feedback loop. However, we also might find ourselves slipping in and out of the ARG world and mentality, depending on how the game interacts with our “real” life. For example, my daily life was often interrupted by new Slack conversations about the hints, which would put me in a different mindset.

Technique, in the Crease and Lutterbie reading, combines the concepts of bleed and defamiliarization in an interesting way. First, the authors bring up that learning how to use our bodies can actually be the way we come to know ourselves as subjects. They note, “in the process of learning to move our bodies, we give form to them.” In this way, learning to use our bodies is a process of formation and familiarization. The authors then discuss how technique can give us new ways of expressing ourselves and our bodies. Once we learn that technique, we then move on to learning new things, since “we can put it in the service of some other performance, using it to deliver us to a situation where […] a new kind of interplay with phenomena becomes possible” (Crease and Lutterbie). This quote very much reminded me of the process of playing an ARG; we reach a clue, acquire the skills needed to solve it, and then move on to the next puzzle that is now possible. In addition, ARG designers can scaffold the puzzles and experiences so that the players are learning new skills and putting them to more difficult tests as the game continues.

Technique is thus a process of defamiliarization. The authors note that when we enter a space or rehearsal, “the body already has technique […] Therefore, a part of the training process is getting the student to “unlearn” ways of moving or speaking” (Crease and Lutterbie). In the process of learning a new technique, then, we must try to abandon what we know in favor of altering the way we speak and act. This also applies directly to ARGs, which often re-train our perception to notice things we don’t usually pay attention to.

This defamiliarization is also asks us to move away from our typical actions and attitudes. The authors mention the idea of “quotidian energy” – everyday energy based on efficiency. The process of learning new techniques is also a process of working against this drive for efficiency and focusing instead on creativity and intensity. (This reminds me of our social experiments, where we tried to get people to approach everyday activities – like walking – in playful and affectively different ways.)

However, most importantly, this defamiliarization again bleeds into our lives and becomes, in a sense, familiar. The authors end the chapter by stating, “the acquisition of a technique necessarily involves self-transformation” (Crease and Lutterbie). It is not like a costume or a character that we can pick up and put down according to our desires; “it has consequences or the way our bodies interact with the world.”

I suppose, in thinking about the concept of technique and bleed, we can come to see how ARGs depend first on a process of re-training and defamiliarization, which then transfers into the player’s life and changes the way they relate to the world. In our design process, we might consider how we will accomplish this defamiliarization, teach the players new skills and techniques, and build a structure that encourages them to take those lessons and attitudes with them outside of the magic circle.

Works Cited

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character.” https://nordiclarp.org/2015/03/02/bleed-the-spillover-between-player-and-character/

Crease, Robert P. and John Lutterbie. “Technique.” In Staging Philosophy: Intersections of Theater, Performance, and Philosophy.

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