[-empyre-] The Playsthetics of Experimental Digital Games: Week 2 subtopics and questions

Bart Simon simonb at algol.concordia.ca
Fri Mar 14 01:33:31 EST 2014

Well just to mix it up and generate some week 1/2 cross talk I thought I 
would tussle with Sebastian just a little bit

On 3/11/2014 9:50 PM, Sebastian Deterding wrote:
> But finally to Sandra’s question regarding the relation of 
> experimental games to gamification and the ludification of culture. If 
> we take the analytic conception of “experimental” as “deviating from 
> existing conventions”, then odd as it may sound, both experimental 
> games and gamification present two instances of the same deviation – 
> namely of our culturally prevalent conception of what games are *for*. 
> If we take scholars like Huizinga or Caillois as representatives of 
> the dominant modernist discourses about the “proper” social place or 
> function of games for adults, then “we moderns” considered games to be 
> “outside ‘ordinary’ life” and “with no material interest” (Huizinga 
> 1955, 13), “separate” and “unproductive” (Caillois 2001, 9-10) – a 
> space free from the demands of social norms and uses. Somewhat 
> paradoxically, the expected, demanded, normalized social function and 
> purpose of games in modernity has been to be without function and 
> purpose. At most, we tolerated their value for childhood development 
> or as leisurely restoration for work, but even in that, we reproduced 
> very specific, modernist rhetorics of play and games. In Brian 
> Sutton-Smith’s terms, our dominant modernist rhetorics of games were 
> those of frivolity (they’re worthless) or progress (they support 
> productivity through learning or rest).

This has got to be the strangest defense of gamification that I have 
ever heard (and don't get me wrong I love strange defenses). So 
gamification as the functional extension of of game processes into 
everyday lifeword (or maybe vice versa) is usually the critical 
marxist's nightmare.  Henri Lefebvre wrote passionately of just this 
sort of thing in terms of the colonization of everydayness (which has a 
lot in common with play) and poor Huizenga who tried in vain to argue 
that the essence of play as culture could resist modernist 
rationalization and all its iron cage consequences. Suddenly, 
gamification as the functionalization of play in the face of the 
conservative play romanticists (the play theory equivalent of 
tree-huggers perhaps) gets to be experimental and avant-guard. That such 
an argument (everything has a function) is consistent with the logic of 
capital itself is enough to make me try hugging trees again (I know, I 
know... nothing is sacred, but honestly...  must we throw in the towel 
so easily).  I am not yet ready to give up the idea of experimental 
games as more than a matter of anything goes or even "deviation from 
existing conventions."

While I am on this though I thought I would mention something I never 
got to last week which is the sense that experiment is also sometimes a 
form of practice without commitment or responsibility, as in "don't 
worry... its just an experiment. no harm, no foul." Such a phrase often 
serves as a justification for "anything goes" simply because it is an 

In this sense one can experiment (with games or otherwise) without a 
commitment to the consequences of one's experiment or experimental 
attitude. In this mode, an experimental game is just a matter of doing 
things differently (deviating from norms)  but I think we are trying to 
suggest that experimental game design is predicated on some other 
social, cultural and maybe even material commitments to specific 
consequences of these experiments.  And so, I disagree with the 
others... trying different things in game design is not the same thing 
as experimental game design and I would try to stand with Huizenga and 
keep gamification at bay as well. Function creep and the impulse to see 
what we can make games do to us is definately experimental (with almost 
no ethical oversight I might add) but it is not experimental game design.

Maybe we can also take on the art function question that Sebastian is 
using as leverage for gamification but I'll save that for later


Bart Simon, Associate Professor of Sociology
Director, Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG)
Concordia University, Montreal

bart.simon [at] concordia.ca

More information about the empyre mailing list