walking games

In reflecting on our reading and the games we played this week, I’m thinking a lot about the role of walking as exploration and the theory of dérive. I’m interesting in putting these ideas together primarily because I wonder if we can think about these two games – and others like it – as a kind of digital, solo dérive.

As Debord notes in the introduction, “Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.” It strikes me that games also involve this kind of psychogeographical awareness, especially in something like Obra Dinn. In the game, the time warp mechanic takes us deeper into the past and the character’s lives, but also changes the way we interact with each space. One thing I experimented with while I was playing was to just keep going farther and farther into the past, passing from one memory into a deeper one, even if the memories were from different chapters of the game. This left me profoundly disoriented in terms of time and location, and made it harder for me to piece together the identities and events I was watching. This also reminds me of the quote that notes that a dérive might be “precisely delimited or vague” depending on the participant’s goal (Debord). Since I took a vague route through this game, it seems like my goal might have been to “emotionally disorient” myself rather than studying the terrain closely.

Playing something like Tacoma or Obra Dinn also speaks to the way that the dérive involves a “letting-go” and a “domination” of space – in some ways, we let the games guide us where to go, but we also make choices about what we want to see next. Both of these games also allow us to experience the content in different orders, depending on what paths and areas we travel to first. Again, I sometimes find this disorienting because I’m faced with so many choices and rooms to explore. In a sense, I’m overwhelmed and have to take a moment to decide where I’ll go next, or I’ll try to make a plan that makes going through the space easy. In Tacoma, I often start in the farthest rooms and work my way back, which is perhaps not how the developers intended the journey to happen. For my play through of Obra Dinn, I started by trying to follow patterns with the bodies, but then I devolved into randomly choosing paths and going as deeply into memories as I could.

Other times, though, I might base my exploration off of the first thing that attracts me, or the first thing made available to me. In Obra Dinn, the tutorial portion leads us to particular bodies, but then we can choose to explore memories from bodies around the same areas. This ties into the quote that states that “the first psychogeographical attractions discovered by dérivers may tend to fixate them around new habitual axes, to which they will constantly be drawn back.” In my first experience of Obra Dinn, I definitely felt more tied to those first bodies, but then my play style made it difficult for me to locate the “firsts” of the next chapters to tie myself to,

I suppose in connecting the these two games with this theory of the dérive, I’m trying to think about the various ways that these experiences turn walking into a game – whether in the “real” or a game space. When we have this expansive spaces to explore coupled with the freedom of choosing what to interact with and in what order, it creates a really fascinating mix of random play and organization/strategy. This strikes me as especially applicable to these two games, which ask us to piece stories together despite sometimes encountering these parts out of order. Though games with walking often get insulted, I do think it’s interesting to gamify our experience of exploration, asking us to look at the world we travel through in new ways.

Works Cited

Debord, Guy-Ernest. “Theory of the Dérive.” http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/314

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.

AAL: procedural rhetoric, tropes, and ready-mades

When I look at games, I always ask myself about the systems and processes being played out and what the design of those processes is attempting to say about the game’s message or its world. With this, I am inspired to look at “Ask Again Later” in terms of its procedural rhetoric.

In terms of design, Bogost argues that procedural rhetoric allows designers to “[author] arguments through process” and affords them “a new promising way to make claims about how things work” (emphasis his,Bogost 29). Looking at the set-up of Ask Again Later, we see the storytellers already making arguments about the fictional world of Oshtigwanegon as well as the “real” world around it. In the setting information on the site, there is an apparent attention to social and political issues, including things like inequality and changing economic structures. Other parts of the AAL “system” include the stats, challenges, and “true selves” features that affect our gameplay. Notably, these would also affect the design of our characters and their abilities. Other than that, though, we had a lot of freedom in terms of our personal narrative and perhaps some potential objectives.

In play, the main mechanic that affected our decisions and abilities was the act of drawing cards. This would likely qualify as a “procedural trope” – a “common” form of interaction that players would be familiar with (Bogost 13). Rolling a dice would be another example of this, in terms of LARPs and table-top games. Notably, drawing cards is largely based on chance, unlike almost all other parts of the LARP. Our stats were decided based on our character profiles, but our activities could be severely limited by the cards we chose. There was no way for us to “game” the system by controlling the cards we choose, so we were at the mercy of the deck and the storyteller. This already sets up a sort of argument about how much we can control in our narrative and, more importantly, what we choose to do when faced with failure or obstacles.

This sort of procedural rhetoric also sets up a space where no one can be “good” or “bad” at the game, since it is down to chance. Lastly, it adds an element of surprise and instability to the narrative. For example, during one part of the game I had wanted to conjure a storm. Unfortunately, my drawing was bad, so I had to make a different plan. Other constraints appeared in the form of formal processes that the storytellers asked us to complete. If I wanted to create a poisonous potion, I had to go through the steps of foraging for materials, going back to my home, mixing the potion, and then coming back. While these constraints might seem limiting – especially since it would perhaps take too long to finish the potion – it added an element of realism that would stop the LARP from devolving into free play. In these two examples, I think the procedural rhetoric of AAL included a balancing act of giving players enough freedom to experiment while also providing constrictions that would keep the narrative on-track.  

Even with those constraints, though, the LARP format still allows the player a lot of freedom, enough to create completely new and divergent storylines. Bogost notes on page 37 that “the player of a videogame is usually not allowed to change the rules of play. Many critics have objected to this, tendency, calling for games that allow players to alter core simulation dynamics to allow alternative perspectives.” While it is true that we could not alter the rules of play during AAL, we could still decide what our objectives and activities would be within those constraints. We could choose to side with the devil, or we could keep our souls and turn away from our supernatural family members. The constraints would then kick back in to add structure to our plans, but we could still make decisions that would spin the narrative into different directions. This form of play gives the player a lot of agency over their character and storyline.

Lastly, I have already mentioned the role of tropes in terms of procedural rhetoric, but I also think that AAL demonstrates a lot of Sawyer’s points about the role of cliché and the ready-made (157). Since we were playing a theater-style LARP, I think his discussion is especially relevant. Sawyer notes that “all improvisers draw on ready-made motifs or cliché as they create their novel performance” (157). In using a fantasy/mystery genre, AAL is able to pull players in with an expectation of how to proceed: in order to solve the mystery, most of our actions included some kind of investigation. The presence of clichés and figures like vampires, witches, and other supernatural characters afforded players the ability to step into well-known tropes while also making unique contributions to gameplay. In addition, due to the collective and collaborative nature of the game, all of the players took part in taking clichés and making them into something new, just by virtue of forming fictional relationships with each other.

For me, since I was a bit nervous about participating in my first LARP, stepping into a Witch character allowed me to more easily create and act out my character. It also gave me room to experiment in interesting ways, since I ended up killing my beloved black cat. Overall, ready-mades and clichés add an accessibility to the gameplay, since all of the players can pull from narratives and characters that are familiar to them. The fact that these tropes were built into the system of Ask Again Later perhaps speaks to the storyteller’s goals of mixing magic with realism, encouraging us to inhabit figures that we normally would not. With this, I think the rules and tropes within AAL contribute to an effective blend of freedom and constraint, which afford the player space to play and opportunities to think through “failures” and situations that do not go with our plans. These skills, I think, could be some of the things we take away from this LARP.

Works Cited:

Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric” in Persuasive Games, 1-65.

Sawyer, R. Keith. “Improvisation and the Creative Process: Dewey, Collingwood, and the Aesthetics of Spontaneity.”

the affective potential(s) of ARGs

In this post, I’d like to think about how ARGs can demonstrate many of Massumi’s ideas about affect. My fellow classmates have already posed the question of how ARGs fit into the post-truth era, which inspires me to think more about ARGs and the the role of affect.

As we talked about in class, the McIntyre reading sort of comes to conclusions that seem a bit too optimistic. She ends the final chapter by arguing that we take a few tactics: challenging falsehoods before they can “fester” and diversifying the information we get on newsfeeds (157). As we talked about in class, these means just seem overly simple and ineffective. In addition, McIntyre doesn’t account for the times when people do attempt to challenge lies, but it doesn’t matter – the lies take root anyway, and it oftentimes seems like a futile battle. The blindspot in her analysis, I think, is that affective quality – the way that politicians have mobilized affect for their campaigns is not something we can fight by emphasizing the facts, if we’re sure we even have them. I think the documentary showed this, both in Roger Stone’s campaign style but also in his presence as a political figure. Across the documentary, I was shocked to see people addressing him and thanking him for his “service,” which is usually a term saved for military officials. The affective quality of “service” implies a sort of solemn, self-sacrifice, right? It holds a kind of weight that is hard to describe, especially within American patriotism. Even if I tried to explain to Stone’s fans some of the facts about what he’s done, that kind of support would act as a barrier. I often feel the same way in regard to Trump.

So if affect makes a difference, how can we understand it better and mobilize it to our own use? I think ARGs are an excellent case study for this, since as a designer you are creating affective experiences for players within your narrative. In addition, the player/designer relationship in ARGs sort of mimics the kind of “doubling” that Massumi talks about (213). Since the players are at once being affected by the narrative but also play a role in affecting it, they have a lot more room to experiment. In this way, players may learn about their ability to influence things outside of the magic circle, too. Within the fluid nature of the ARG, there is an enormous amount of potential.

In addition, ARGs are a sort of manifestation of the radical belonging, immersion, and participation that Massumi outlines as a part of affect. Thinking more about potential, Massumi says, “But no matter how certainly we know that the potential is there, it always seems just out of reach, or maybe around the next bend. Because it isn’t actually there – only virtually. But maybe if we can take little, practical, experimental, strategic measures to expand our emotional register, or limber up our thinking, we can access more of our potential at each step, have more of it actually available” (215). In a sense, playing an ARG (or even a LARP, if we’re thinking particularly about expanding our emotional register) allows players to “limber” their thinking, experiment in a safe space, and then take those lessons with them elsewhere. This, theoretically, can help them understand and access the amount of potentials available to them.

Moving from that, the other aspect of ARGs that maps nicely onto Massumi’s discussion is the idea of belonging. On page 224, he says that a “politics of belonging” would include a kind of “correlated emergence instead of separate domains of interest.” If we think of the collective and collaborative nature of ARGs, we can see how they might encourage this kind of thinking. Later, near the end of the chapter, Massumi also discusses how “you would have to abdicate your own self-interest, up to a point, and this opens you to a risk” (241). However, some of this risk of placing oneself in a “fairly indeterminate, fairly vague situation” might be mitigated by the safety net provided by an ARG, where giving up one’s self interest is better for reaching one’s goals, especially when working with other players (241). In addition, this is a good mindset to take when creating. Earlier in the text, Massumi talking about “inhabiting uncertainty” together – is this not also a part of an ARG (219)?

I want to end by pointing to the importance of participation (243). This is where the interview stops, on a note that affirms that our participation, in some ways, is what makes something real. This notion works really well when thinking about ARGs, since they are voluntary experiences. However, I also think we might be able to push on this a bit if we’re thinking about politics. In many ways, we do have a choice in what systems we participate in, but the penalty for not participating often is too high to really even call that a choice. (Choice, of course, is a whole other concept that we can complicate, as well as the idea of “feeling” like something is a choice or not.) Aside from using affect in the construction and play of ARGs, I do wonder how these kinds of tactics would manifest in systems that don’t have a sort of safe space around them. The end of the chapter, much like the McIntyre, ends on a positive note. Massumi states, “…lived intensity is self-affirming. It doesn’t need a god or judge or head of state to tell it that it has value. What it means, I think, is accept the embeddedness, go with it…and that’s your reality, it’s the only reality you have” (243). If we’re thinking about multiple realities – with many potentials – how does participation operate as a sort of political move? Can it, or is it difficult to say if we’re already sort of embedded in the flows of power and capitalism that Massumi describes? It’s sort of hard to imagine a way around, which is in part what makes fiction so attractive. I do wonder how much of the affective potential of ARGs can be brought with us back to one version of our reality.

the ‘imagination’ in ARGs and improv

In my class on Gender, Sexuality, and the Imagination, we spent this week developing our conception of what “imagination” and “imagining” mean. This concept is also intertwined in our conversations and readings about alternate reality games and improvisation, especially since words like “imagine” seem to come up a lot.

In Haiven and Khasnabish’s writing on the imagination, they provide a sort of history of the concept as well as different theorist’s opinions on it. For philosophers like Kant, imagination is the thing that separates humans from all other life – our ability to “make up” things in our minds and then bring them into reality seems really unique to us (vi). (As an aside, Yuval Noah Harari also discusses this idea in his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which I really recommend especially in thinking about the environment and climate change.) Their article goes on to discuss how other theorists and disciplines have included different conceptions of the imagination in their thinking, from Marxists to radical feminism. Interestingly, imagination becomes both a source of exploitation – in that the systems that perpetuate oppression are often thought of as imaginary – but also a source of revolution and change (vii). Picking that thread up, Haiven and Khasnabish question how we can mobilize the imagination and create social movements. That’s why, in their piece, they call it the “radical imagination.” Certainly the role of art is clear here, as art is often thought of as both radical and a manifestation of our imagination.

A key part of this is also that any radical imagination includes using the past, present, and visions of the future. This brings up important questions of how we can use the existing tools and conventions around us to create new things, or whether it’s possible to “use the master’s tools” to create a revolution. While that in itself is a worthwhile debate to pursue, I’m going to focus on how the idea of using the past and present relates to our reading on improv and our discussions of ARG cases.

As we talked about in class, the Sawyer reading contains a section on the role of “ready-mades” and cliches in improvised performance (157). To me, this part maps really well onto Haiven and Khasnabish’s conception of the imagination: imagining new things and inventing skits involves using what we currently have. As Sawyer notes, all art includes ready-mades in some way. Even though some may say that cliches might limit or dampen creativity, I think that using these shared icons, symbols, situations, genres, and characters actually allows for a lot of space to play with these things in new ways. In my film classes, we often talk about how genre films use their own conventions to create interesting narratives based on the subversion of tropes. I think we could make the same case for ARGs and cliches in general.

In things like ARGs and improv, cliches and genre become an opportunity for clever subversion as well as a way to seek connection with the audience. Using those things that are familiar to people might foster a kind of shared experience between the players and designers or audience and performers. They become part of a shared language, something that people can easily tap into. When we see certain actions – like the pantomime of lighting something – we can already start to guess that it’s a “cigarette.” While Sawyer’s questions about originality still stand – as pieces can pull more or less from these cliches – I do think they afford the players, audience, performers and designers a lot of room to experiment.

As for the “radical” part of the imagination, I think this fits well in many of the cases we read about and ARGs that deal with public health issues. I’m thinking here about the cases in Reality is Broken – Quest to Learn, Superbetter, etc. Using our imagination, we’re able to come up with narratives and puzzles that invent new ways of doing chores, taking care of our health, or pursuing education. Using both what we had, have, and want in the future, we’re able to create new roles within these games. As players, we can take these roles on and imagine how we can help with problems that we normally feel unable to intervene in. Our capability to imagine, in this case, seems central to ARGs, especially with how improvisation on both the player and designer’s part comes into the experience. It would be interesting to think further about how the imagination figures into the design process but also encourages the player to use theirs, as well.

Works Cited

Haiven, Max and Alex Khasnabish. “What is the radical imagination? A Special Issue.” Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, vol. 4, no. 2, 2010.

Sawyer, R. Keith. “Improvisation and the Creative Process: Dewey, Collingwood, and the Aesthetics of Spontaneity.”