The Breaking of the Circle

Playing with, through, against medial boundaries.

This article is based on the presentation on September 29th 2011,
„Designs on eLearning DoeL – Future Spaces for Learning“, Helsinki

Picture: DoeL 2011: „Circles within circles“


Digital-networked games are created to foster a desired pattern of behaviour in their users, beyond the mere delivery of content; this is a trait shared with many innovative digital media developments.

This can be seen as an opportunity for creating better learning – or rather teaching – media, but there will also be ideological, propagandistic or commercial (mis)use. What is necessary is a broad approach in arts, ethics and aesthetics to target and tackle the permeating structures behind the obvious content, and hint on playing with medial borders – named here higher order gaming – as an anarchistic, radical counterpart in contrast to rule-conforming, more conservative gaming and game design.

Game design may follow two roads. The classic path of first order game design would be to deliver the content as challenging and as balanced as can be, to draw the player smoothly into the confines and safety of the ‚magic circle‘ of play. Alternatively it may point to the ‚magic circle‘ as a place of manipulation and the player’s power over this manipulation as player/designer. Weiterlesen

The absence of a sign is the sign of an absence

It may seem counter intuitive, but an empty space may be as expressive in specific circumstances as would be a present object. Of course there are obvious taboos in a society that deliberately lead to an absence of a sign, although the object, process, system itself is present, maybe even formative for the culture. This is more a conscious renouncement, like the omission of specific politically uncorrect expressions (see? I did it – no examples given).

The categories are sometimes blurred, but the more dire version of an absence of signification is the one one can not see from within the system of signs one uses to handle the world. These absent signs lie in the blind spot of cognisance that Heinz von Foerster describes as metaphor for things we won’t know and systemically won’t know that we won’t know them – thus, with this metaphor, creating a sign for something not easily expressable before. You can find the physiological phenomenon and an experiment described here.
For culture, this may be the omission of systemic forces in political discourse in a liberal market society, with a demand of a  high degree of autonomy and responsibility from its ‚free‘ participants; or the seemingly wide spread notion of persons of wealth and power in our societies, that they just shape the ‚content‘ – e.g. power, money, concrete decisions – by entitlement of ‚hard work‘, ‚expertise‘ etc.; and not the ‚rules‘ within these decisions are made; or how ‚hard work‘ or ‚expertise‘ is defined. A good example to render this kind of blind spot visible is Garry Shirts‘ 1969 famous game of „Starpower“. Weiterlesen

Unusability: You don’t want to play it again!

“Unusable games“ sound like a contradiction: Who would want to play a game that doesn’t work? And why are there designers – educators, of all the people with already a reputation for bad game design – that create these unusable games?

If in a game we regret acting like we did, usable games give us a chance to do better next time.
Unusable games force us to repeat the same regrettable action over and over, until we regret playing the game as it is, without alterations of its rules or its narratives to do better.
Its a game-genre about awareness: Stop playing by the given rules, laugh at them – or change them.

Games demand from the player blind trust that they, as a medium, behave in a stable, foreseeable and conventional way. For example a game is usually accompanied by the exciting suspense of who may win in the end; a game that ‘cheats’, by subtly sabotaging this balance in favour of the game, of one player or a group of players, may turn gameplay into a frustrating experience.

So, if given a game the player expects it to be balanced, to be fun, to contain a coherent contextualisation. She expects it to be either culturally and traditionally tethered and proven like chess, or, with contemporary games, created en bloc by a competent and benevolent game designer for her entertainment.