The Derive and Spatial Storytelling

In “Theory of the Derive”, Guy Debord defines the situationist practice of the derive as an activity during which “one or more persons during a certain period drop…all their…usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there” (Debord). It is distinct from a stroll or other types of wandering, because it is not, as it may first sound, entirely random, but rather driven by a space’s “psychogeography”. In other words, going on a derive involves taking a walk, but it is a walk based upon a high level of awareness of your surroundings in a way that allows them to guide your wandering as certain spaces lead into others and encourage different paces and means of entry and exit.

I think that the concept of psychogeographical contours, that something about a space’s affect dictates the way you interact with and through it, is both intriguing and somewhat intuitive in a weird way, as well as very important to consider in creating ARGs or other games that make good use of spatial storytelling. If spaces have a unique psychogeography that draws your attention to certain aspects of them and not to others, or leads you into another space naturally or encourages you to enter it at a specific point, those are all things that would be useful to know when designing a game to fit inside that space. If a designer knows how players might be drawn to interact with a place the game is taking place in, they can arrange the puzzles and the gameplay and the engagement that happens within that place to utilize players’ natural inclinations, laying sequential trails and clues that lead players through a terrain in a way that is driven by its layout. To that end, it might be useful for game designers to take a derive through the areas their games will primarily take place in before the design process, to get the fullest idea of how to make the best use of the space.

I also wonder, however, how much of the perceived affect of a space is inherent to that space and how much is brought in by the person who is interacting with it. How much would different people agree, when making a situationist map, for instance, on how the spaces feel laid out and are experienced? Debord seems to posit that a place’s psychogeography is inherent and it is how much of it is perceived that is variable, mentioning different “levels of awareness” in different people. But it feels to me that at least some of the perception is always created through the act of perceiving and I think this would be interesting to explore as a game designer as well, seeing how spaces affect different people differently, based on different associations they may or may not have with various aspects of it or any other factors.

Manifestations of Bleed

Watching the two documentaries, along with revisiting the Bowman article “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character” and Tuesday’s discussion got me thinking more about the different kinds of bleed that can exist, even outside of non-game contexts and how more everyday bleed-like phenomenon creep into and affect our daily lives all the time. The distinction between the kind of “bleed-out” in which the character’s personality mingles with the player’s outside of the game (ie, immersing oneself in an assertive or aggressive character translating into the player becoming more assertive or aggressive in their own lives, such as in Jim and Andy and the Great Beyond, or leadership skills gained by leading things in-game translating to the application of those skills in post-game “real life” situations) and the kind of bleed-out in which the player continues to see the world in a more gamified way after the game is over and is unable to break out of the kind of thinking set up by the mechanics of the game is a pretty clear one, yet they are both examples of the game pushing out of its boundaries and affecting the player out of game.

Both of these types of bleed-out also have the potential to provide the player with positive effects or negative, and I wonder what some strategies for dealing with negative experiences of each might be and if they would be different. The first kind of bleed, the one Bowman is concerned with, since it is related to the personality or behaviors of the character bleeding into that of the player seems like it might be helped by things like an intentional separation of character from self during a debriefing session post-game. The second kind of bleed seems to be more about the way the character must view the world as a game bleeding into the player’s own view of the entire world outside of the game, and about the disorientation of switching back to the “real” world after the game is over. This would also probably be helped by a debriefing session, but it feels like there would be a difference in the mindset shift needed  between bringing yourself back into the self and bringing yourself back into an environment. Is there? Or is viewing the world in a gamified way/investing more in the game world than the “real” one just another part of the character a player takes on?  I’m interested in knowing other people’s thoughts on how far apart or not different forms of bleed might be and potential strategies for managing them. Conversely, how different (if at all) would the positive impacts of either kind of bleed be? And at what point (if any) are you able to say that immersion has gone “too far”?

In-Character Play in “Ask Again Later”

Some things that caught my attention during the gameplay session of the LARP “Ask Again Later” were the pre-game exercises we engaged in before starting and the differences in engagement with them and engaging with the actual LARP. One of these was a role-playing exercise intended for us to test out role-playing emotionally high stakes scenarios and evaluating the feelings associated with doing so. One thing I noticed, however, was that really role-playing—and feeling­ anything at all about the high stakes scenarios we were meant to be engaging with—was significantly easier during the game than during the exercises. When we were told to role-play, for instance, being fired/firing someone from a job, my group, at least, mostly didn’t feel like we were really engaging with the scenario on an emotional level—rather it felt somewhat contrived and almost silly. During the game, it was much easier to stay “in-character”, and it also felt easier to have big or dramatic reactions and throw myself into the scenes being played.

I think that a part of this difference was definitely due to the fact that the exercises occurred first so that by the time I was in the game, I’d had practice being in character and also to the way the characters in the game were at least moderately fleshed out people we’d put a lot of thought into creating and considering the possible behaviors of as opposed to scenarios we’d been presented with two minutes earlier. However, this response also reminded me a little bit about the reading on embedded design, and its description of the way people are more receptive to experiences “that are not overly explicit in their goal[s]” (Kauffman 3). While Kauffman and Flanagan were discussing the significance of this in relation to attempting to influence people’s beliefs on serious topics, the idea also feels relevant here in that doing something with an explicit purpose in mind (ie, roleplaying with the goal of practicing managing character emotions) is different from doing that same thing in the midst of play, really driving home the impact embedding within games could have.

Another thing I noticed in relation to behaving in-character vs out-of-character during the game was the different situations in which players made use of the “out-of-character” signal, a fingers-crossed gesture we were taught at the beginning that was used to indicate to other players that we were stepping outside of the world of the game and speaking or acting as ourselves. Some reasons to use it included if the player needed something from the real world (such as information as to where the bathroom was) or a break from the mental pressure of being someone else for an extended period of time. However, another use of it that I found more unexpected was for reacting to in-game experiences in out-of-character ways (like stepping out of character to laugh). My first reaction to this breaking of character was to assume it detracted from the improv aspect of the game experience as it was a return to the world outside the game. However, thinking about the purpose of “yes, and” in improv and the description of it as “aligning with another person’s energy and redirecting it instead of blocking it” and “viewing resistance as a gift” (Vickers 1), it feels like another way to look at it could be as both a way of acknowledging the energy present in a scene and sharing in that out-of-character enjoyment as a group as well as a strategy to not block the in-game energy and explicitly stepping out-of-character to avoid any cracks in the performance affecting the in-character feeling of a scene.

The Role of Consent in Manipulations of Reality

My immediate reaction to “Derren Brown: The Push” was one of revulsion. Despite the  cautionary point Derren Brown claims to be illustrating in the end, I do not believe that the trauma enacted on Chris and the other three subjects in the show was either ethical or justified. We touched in Tuesday’s class on the dubious nature of the manipulation that occurs in many reality TV shows, and I agree that those, too, are often unethical; but I think that “The Push” takes this one step further for the primary reason that it lacks any process of consent. Many reality TV shows put their subjects in pretty terrible situations to see how they would react and even try to manipulate them to respond in certain ways, but (presumably) their participants choose to take part of their own volition and are aware of the basic nature of what they are participating in when they do so. To make the participants on “The Push” cognizant of what they had signed up for, on the other hand, was made impossible by the show’s very premise.

The arc of “The Push”—as well as the point it was trying to make—is very similar to the obedience study by Stanley Milgram which we also read about this week, the conclusion and controversies of which sparked new regulations on the treatment of human subjects in research, requiring that all such studies obtain informed consent from their subjects and must be reviewed by an Institutional Review Board weighing the dangers of deception. None of these restrictions exist for unofficial social experiments or games, including Derren Brown’s endeavors and also, most ARGs. Because of ARGs’ “This Is Not A Game” aesthetic and the way they skirt the line between play and deception, I think it is important to examine what separates an ethical alternate reality from Derren Brown’s questionable manipulation of it in order to ensure players’ emotional safety.

Much like in “The Push”, straight up informing players what they are getting into in an ARG would ruin the game. How, then, does the designer provide room for player consent and manage potentials for harm? I think that one angle to approach this is simply ensuring that a rabbit hole remains an invitation and not an imperative. When Chris sees a man “die” at a charity event, he has no option to simply walk away from the situation, but is immediately pressurized into making a high stakes and morally fraught decision. Most rabbit holes, on the other hand, are merely clues to something out of place that anyone, after stumbling upon them, can choose to either ignore or pursue. Another is through a signaling of gamification, alerting potential players to the possibility that, if they decide to accept the invitation the rabbit hole extends, they are entering into something that is, if not definitely unreal, at least in some way out of the ordinary. Incorporating a debriefing session post-game, like the one we had in the LARP Ask Again Later, could also be useful in helping players untangle the strands of reality from the world of the game. What other ways might there be to build safety mechanisms into ARGs and prevent them from going in a darker direction?

(To clarify, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with deception in ARGs. In fact, I think that the way an ARG plays with your perception of what is “real” can be one of the most enjoyable and meaningful parts of playing one. Rather, I just think it is important to think critically about and continually keep in mind any risks involved, because I think any situation involving a manipulation of a person’s idea of reality, no matter how well-intentioned, holds the potential for harm, and it is part of the responsibility of the game designer to try to keep that harm from happening.)

The Affective Space of ARGs

In “Navigating Movements: A Conversation with Brian Massumi,” Brian Massumi and Mary Zournazi begin by discussing the concept of affect, and its differences from that of emotion. Emotion, according to Massumi, has more to do with an individual response in the moment, while affect as I understood it, is both about all of the potentials that could be felt from the multiple affective fields acting on a body as well as about something that emerges in an ongoing way from a collective that an individual is then affected by at a particular moment, as opposed to something emerging from the individual. It is “the virtual co-presence of potentials” (213). I think that many of the characteristics of ARGs provide them with enormous potential to create and intensify spaces of affect within games, and that this potential could be especially important in serious games.

            To begin with, ARGs, because they are inherently massively collaborative, have many opportunities to create collective experiences that are both contributed to and felt by many. Just the act of coming together to accomplish something that couldn’t be solved individually, no matter how “important” or not, or of collectively entering into and building a world, bring about  certain kinds of affect. And any form of storytelling has the ability to hold multitudes of potential within it, not being confined to clearly defining a singular point and instead leaving room to present contradictions and posit contradictory ideas as equally valid within a narrative. But ARGs, as a form of storytelling produced by the joint many forces designers and players alike shaping them, have a special capacity to produce potential, the outcome and even overall point of the game all having the potential to emerge in an infinity of ways depending on the player interactions with the world the game designers began with.

            Massumi also discusses how, increasingly, the politics of capitalism have evolved from an imposition of disciplinary power to a politics of affect; it is “intrinsic  to our formation” because “we actualise it as it in-forms us” (223). Rather than being imposed upon society from somewhere above, it is so insidiously a part of our society that it permeates it from somewhere within, brought to reality by the members of society rather than forces of “power” outside it. He and Zournazi posit that resistance against it then struggles because of its inability to also play within this politics of affect. By removing the boundaries of the realities that bind us, I wonder whether serious ARGs might provide more room to intervene in affective ways. Instead of falling back onto judgement that has an “anti-affective affect” (236), would a resistance through ARGs that seek to create change instead be able to create spaces to experiment with alternate ways of being that then translate into real world change?