Forget About Your House of Cards

Tomorrow morning ushers in a blunt reality: my last year at college has officially started. There’s not much room for reminiscing nor idle hands, but there is the potential fortune of applying the aggressiveness of my summer work ethic to my studies and projects.

Let’s play.

I’ve been having numerous discussions via G-Mail chat with peer artist and friend Lawrence Michel on my thesis project ideation. He suggested I write about a conversation we had on game theory and some of my BFA proposal ideas from earlier this month. Larry is also a  featured guest on our group’s latest podcast, which is available here. Here’s the summary of our talk:

What designates our doors into play? Playpens? Courts? Arenas? Theater stages? Videogame Console Gamepads? Mouse & keyboard? Usernames and passwords?

There’s a certain phenomenon that occurs when ordinary objects transform into platforms – where strict rules and codes turn table decoration into a strewn mess of cards, dice, and tokens. What’s most perplexing is our willingness to recognize, accept, and engage with these events seamlessly from even the most practical activities we’d normally partake in. Reason turns into cognition as spoons try their best to impersonate trebuchets.

This sort of philosophy is one of the many rooted in game theory, referred to as “the magic circle” in the books Rules of Play and Homo Ludens, and is also at the crux of my BFA Thesis ideation. What is the magic circle exactly? It’s both physical and mental really – it’s the boundary between play and real life states of activity and mind. What is significant about crossing over and back through this peripheral wall of culture? At what moment is play acceptable, when does it start, when does it end? The magic circle helps frame these questions, and gives significance to identifying when something is a game, when is not, and sometimes when it’s rather hard to gauge. I’m not looking to reinvent to the wheel/circle for my project, but re-imagine it’s role in game design through live play-tests to start the bulk of my constructive research.

Here are some of the raw bullet points I’ve jotted down for this process, and the broader goals:

  1. If a game is arranged in a very visual way, but the rules to the traditional “game” accompany it, would people play or disrupt the “decoration”? If one has a house of cards, with rules on how to play poker, would people tear it down to do such? How does the line defining these “magic circles” of play become blurred and talk about people’s relationships with games as art & design?
  2. What can disrupt/breach that circle’s border?
  3. Taking advantage of familiarity and constants in games.
  4. Developing and design a game model where the circle is not something we enter, but more it envelopes us – it takes a hold of social atmosphere and expands…positively includes more individuals.
  5. Tangential to the above thought: a model that grows from a single player experience, towards a multi-player one…so the circle grows on its own in a way, like the game telephone for example. With each person whispered to, the circle of play expands, and becomes more complex with each person observing it. What is it like for that person in the room who is observing the game the entire time, but last to be included, and the pressure of an entire strand of communication and play is suddenly in their midst?

Some are more specific than others…and some ideas far more concrete ideations of a game model sorted out, but it’s only being enriched and revised by the things I’m discovering above.


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