Bad News- M. Antohi

            Something that really struck me after the Bad News gameplay session was James Ryan’s comment that, to him at least, the lives of all the people in the computer-generated “towns” used in each session of Bad News were real lives. Tiny computer lives, but real lives all the same. This made me wonder what a valid definition of “real” would consist of, especially in the context of attributing this quality to a life. To Ryan, and the other people running Bad News, it seemed that the lives of the computer characters in their game possessed the characteristics necessary for them to qualify as “real” lives.

            Thinking about what might qualify these computer lives as “real”, I tried to think of all the qualities that these computer lives have in common with the lives of real people. For one thing, it seemed that the lives of the characters created by the town generator were just as if not more complicated than the lives led by real people. The tens of extremely detailed variables that the town generator set for every single character included variables about the appearance, relationships, and occupations of each character. Of course, these aspects of the lives of the computer characters were much better documented than they would be in real life, as a real person’s private information, such as their love interests and the degree of strength of their relationships with given friends, would not be accessible by anyone except for the person themselves, and probably would not be as well defined by even that person as they were in the gameplay session.

            Another important quality of the computer character lives was the impact that they had on the audience, including myself. As the gameplay session went on, I found myself becoming more and more invested and caught up in the lives of the people in the fictional town and the connections between them, including their friendships, work relationships, and love interests. Hearing the delivery of the bad news seemed to impact the audience to a greater degree than I would have expected at the beginning of the session. Seeing the townspeople and their history be created and then destroyed before our eyes, and learning the details about the realistically intricate lives of the characters, helped us all develop a sense of intimacy and empathy with the characters. Perhaps the emotion that we felt upon hearing the delivery of the bad news is also a testament to the “realness” of the lives of the computer-generated characters.

            With regard to two of the theorists from past readings, I believe that this gameplay session incorporated elements of gamification of traditionally nongame events, as well as elements of games designed for prosocial causes. As discussed in “Worlding through Play: Alternate Reality Games, Large-Scale Learning, and The Source” by Patrick Jagoda, Melissa Gilliam, Peter McDonald, and Chris Russel, “gamification—the use of game mechanics in traditionally nongame activities—has come to influence areas as diverse as business, personal leisure, and social life” (75). Bad News brings an aspect of gamification to a situation of trauma which is not playful, even within the game. However, I believe that this gamification helps the audience learn about how to act in this sort of situation, and develop their social awareness by making them adopt new perspectives as they watch and attempt to help the single player navigate the imaginary town. In relation to games designed for prosocial causes, the Bad News gameplay session forced the players and audience to think about ways in which to delicately navigate the aftermath of a traumatic event, and to consider how best to deliver the titular bad news to a person who will most likely be very affected by it. I believe that Bad News therefore helped us develop our readiness to interact with people who have been affected in the aftermath of trauma, as Geoff Kaufman and Mary Flanagan discussed in “A Psychologically ‘Embedded’ Approach to Designing Games for Prosocial Causes”, using “a direct, explicit approach to engage players with serious real-life scenarios and present information about key societal issues.”

** reference and apply at least two of the theorists from the readings

Blending the Ludic and the Ordinary–marjantohi

In the Pervasive Games reading from this week, Montola discusses how, in today’s stage of gaming, the magic circle is often hard and sometimes nearly impossible to perceive. In order to designate game-related actions from ordinary actions, pervasive games make use of a magic circle that consists of “a secret agreement” rather than “an isolating barrier”, which can lead to confusion for both players and bystanders, who may be unaware that a game is being played (21). Montola argues that the ludic and the ordinary can feed off of each other in pervasive games in order to create more engaging player experiences, as shown in the examples from Killer. However, should there be a limit to the permeability of the magic circle?

Initially, the way that Montola framed his argument was a little bit surprising to me. He states, “Pervasive games can take the thrill of immediacy and tangibility of ordinary life to the game.” (21). It seems counterintuitive to label ordinary life as “thrilling” here, especially since games, which are often associated with thrill or excitement, are often regarded as a reprieve from ordinary life. However, as discussed in class and in this week’s “Worlding through Play” reading, gamification is becoming more and more common and influential in aspects of daily life, including business, leisure, education, and social life (75). According to the reading, it seems that part of the fun of participating in pervasive is the suspense which results from the potential of incorporating any seemingly ordinary or formerly useless object into the game, because, as discussed by Montola, anything in the real physical world can be appropriated into the game (12). Montola includes an example from the game Killer, in which, as Montola states, an ordinary object such as a player’s favorite food could be employed in the game in order to “poison” the player (18). Another part of the appeal of pervasive games is their function of binding the players together because of their common knowledge of the rules of the game and the significance of their game-related actions, which would probably seem arbitrary and meaningless to bystanders who are not participating in or have no knowledge of the game. Interestingly, Montola includes a quote from John Huizinga which states that one of the main aspects of play in general is that it “promotes the formation of social groupings, which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means. (Huizinga, 1938)” (7).

So, using examples and arguments about the pleasurable aspects of gameplay, the authors above seem to show that the blending of the ordinary and the ludic can indeed enhance a player’s experience. As Montola states, “The ludic and ordinary powerfully complement each other.” (22). However, might there be harm in making the separation between the world of the game and the ordinary world too thin? Is there a point at which the possibility of incorporating any mundane object into the game becomes tiresome or dangerous for players, who might become unreasonably suspicious or attempt to alter their routines in real life because they are trying to win the game? An example of the danger of this can be seen in I Love Bees, when a player attempted to engage in a payphone call during a hurricane, at which point a Puppetmaster broke character to tell the player to run to safety. Additionally, is there a danger that the relationships and communities formed within a game that is heavily tied to the ordinary world may adversely affect a player’s ordinary life after the completion of the game, either by continuing or ceasing to exist? It seems like this would harm the player’s experience instead of enhancing it, which calls into question how beneficial it is to thin the magic circle that separates the ludic and the ordinary.

Are ARG’s truly Pervasive? Sila U.

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).

Blog Posts

Over the course of the quarter, you will contribute to a class blog (located on this WordPress site) through original posts and responses to your peers. These posts are intended to influence and extend the conversations we have during our shared meetings. You are required to post at least 4 entries over the course of the quarter. Each entry should respond to that week’s digital narratives or theoretical reading, expand substantively on an ongoing topic of class discussion (without simply reproducing or documenting an exchange), or call our attention to articles or media about related phenomena. The 4 minimum entries can be posted anytime over the course of the quarter but you may post no more than one post a week for credit (so plan ahead!). Each post must also comment on a topic from the week in which it is posted (so you can’t, for instance, return to a topic from Week 2 on Week 9 unless it is in some way related to a current discussion). While the content of these entries can be wide-ranging and less formal than your essays, you should observe formal citation standards and be mindful of your prose. You are also required to read posts by your classmates and respond briefly to at least one entry per week.