[-empyre-] Ludic loops and vertiginous compulsions

Patrick Keilty p.keilty at utoronto.ca
Sat Oct 31 02:55:57 AEDT 2015

Thanks for this great post, Luke. I especially like that you picked up
on the relatively simply interface of Grindr and Tindr. I am trying to
think through the visual genealogy of rows and columns right now. It's
very objectifying, but also one that I think create juxtapositions and
invites comparisons between seemingly static objects. I think part of
the way this particular form of display as an aesthetic contrivance
solicits us is through the performance of juxtapositional events,
creating differential relations between embodiment and technics by
placing body and machine, sensation and concept, in ongoing relations
of discordance and concordance with each other. Yeh, rows and columns.
They're everywhere. It's simple but deceptively so.
Patrick Keilty
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Information
Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies
University of Toronto

On Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 7:58 PM, Luke Stark <luke.stark at nyu.edu> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi folks,
> This has been an amazing dialogue thus far - my apologies that I'm coming a little late to it. It's inspiring to be a doctoral student in an area where so much compelling *ahem* work is being done, and to have the chance to bounce ideas off of so many great people.
> My dissertation project explores how psychological tools, theories and techniques have been built into the interaction design of the digital device we use on a daily basis, through a genealogy of human mood tracking from the 19th century to the present. Like Natasha and Katie, I'm also part of a body of scholars who are explicitly thinking about questions of values and design - how tools and objects (particularly digitally-connected ones, in my case) are designed to elicit or prompt different kinds of norms, ethics, habits, codes, or what have you. I'm also starting work on a longer history of the concept of the "visceral," which is one way of classing the  the embodied mechanisms through which we feel compelled to tap a Grindr profile or play another level of Candy Crush.
> Natasha, I love the phrase "ludic loops." This semester I'm teaching an undergraduate course on game studies, and in reacquainting myself with some of the seminal literature in that field, I've been struck by what Roger Caillois, in his 1960s classic "Man, Play, and Games," calls the qualities of "alea" and  "ilinx" in games. "Alea" distinguishes games of chance; Caillois describes games featuring ilinx as ones which:
> "...are based on the pursuit of vertigo and which consist of an attempt to momentarily destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind. In all cases, it is a question of surrendering to a kind of spasm, seizure, or shock which destroys reality with sovereign brusqueness."
> So, spinning, bungee jumping, and the like - seemingly far away from the measured nature of digitally designed feedback designed for "juiciness" and repeated compulsive use. Natasha, we'd both connect the "machine zone" of the gambling addict or the "ludic loop" to Caillois' concept of "alea" "a negation of the will, a surrender to destiny," in Caillois' poetically Gallic turn of phrase.
> I'm beginning to wonder, though, if compulsion and its appearance in the machine zone is as much about ilinx, vertigo, as it is about the aleatory. The etymological dictionary reminds me that the word "compel" stems from a Latin root that involves driving cattle into one place - a surrender, yes, but a surrender through movement. As Caillois points out, truly aleatory games are ones in which all players are equal in the face of Fate, a condition that you've brilliantly exposed as completely inoperative in the face of digital gambling systems, and which I'd say extends to all digital media (our devices are designed, they don't appear sui generis). Natasha, one of your gambling interlocutors describes the machine zone thus: "It's like being in the eye of the storm...your vision is clear on the machine around you but the whole world is spinning around you, and you can't really hear anything. You aren't really there -- you're with the machine and that's all you're with."* It's as if vertigo has somehow been frozen, tamed so that embrace of aleatory quietism seems all the more appealing. As you suggest, maybe it's the switching between that certainty and uncertainty, between ilinx and alea, which produces the compulsiveness of digital media. "Fragmentation feels like flow," indeed.
> And of course sexual desire is one of the most vertigo-inducing, compelling sensations an embodied human can have - no wonder hook-up apps like Grindr or Tindr have such success with such (comparatively) simple interface. No gamification is necessary when the devices and desires of the heart are involved.
> Just a few thoughts - can't wait for more!
> *For those who aren't the author, the quote is on page 2 of "Addiction by Design"
> Best,
> Luke
> Luke Stark
> Ph.D. Candidate
> Department of Media, Culture, and Communication
> The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
> New York University
> 239 Greene Street, 8th Floor
> New York, NY 10003
> tel: (1) 646.530.0400
> fax: (1) 212.995.4046
> email: luke.stark at nyu.edu
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