Javier Lloret - First trimester essay
In this essay I briefly describe Situationists theories that I’ve annotated previously and try to find connections and conflicts with my creative practice, more concretely with my work-in-progress project Rubik’s Facade. The essay is structured in three blocks. In the first one I describe my project Rubik’s Facade in the context of pervasive games. The second block is a introduction about Situationists theories and how some theorists and researchers see a connection with pervasive games and ubiquitous computing. In the last block I analyze how pervasive games could be considered a “spectacle” and this fact generates a conflict with Situationists ideas. This block uses McGonigal’s (McGonigal, p.178) text of the first known pervasive game “The Big Urban Game” where she analysis that conflict as a reference for applying the same patterns to Rubik’s Facade.
Rubik’s Facade and pervasive games
Pervasive games extend gaming experiences out into the physical world for a more embodied game practice. According to Kampmann B. (Von Borries, p.290) 'It is characteristic of pervasive games that they expand the gaming space, often by reconfiguring the social landscape of cities into a dense grid of game objects, game goals and game worlds, thus obscuring the demarcations between the real and the virtual. Pervasive games play with these demarcations'.
Rubik’s Facade transforms Ars Electronica building in a giant Rubik’s cube, allowing to a participant in the surroundings of the building to solve the puzzle interacting with the small and non-colored cube, the same way he/she would interact with a common one, but visualizing the results of the rotations of the cube on the building.
Reading the characteristics of pervasive games we could include Rubik’s Facade into the pervasive games field. It transforms urban space for creating a playful experience. The participant interacts with the physical interface-cube to solve the puzzle in the architecture of the city, playing with those demarcations between the real and the virtual.
Situationist International (1957 to 1972) was a group of european revolutionaries with their ideas influenced by 20th century European artistic avant-gardes and marxism. They promote experiences of life being alternative to the one created by the capitalist order to achieve a fully lived life. They were against the prefabricated cities, because they saw them as the example of the obligatory absorption of a repetitive spectacle. They fought the rationalism in urban planning in order to achieve a more human architecture.
Situationists used détournement and derive (the urban flow of acts and encounters) to try to lead populace out of the spectacle of capital, party politics and imperialism liberating the workers and creating an cultural sphere out of it. Detournement would permit anyone to take part in the raids on official culture, weakening the polarization between author and reader. They experiments in detournement in literature, political theory and film were intended to be only the start.
Many theorists and researchers (Gold, J. McGonigal, D. Diaz) have made connections between the ideas and practice of the Situationists and pervasive games and ubiquitous computing (a post-desktop model of human-computer interaction in which information processing has been thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and activities). Some of them quoted the text
"Contribution to a Situationist definition of play” that Guy Debord, leader of Situationist International, wrote in 1958: “Due too its marginal existence in relation to the oppressive reality of work, play is often regarded as fictitious. But the work of the situationists is precisely the preparation of ludic possibilities to come".
The Situanionists, through those experiments in urban spaces were trying to break the ordinary way of acting. The idea of “playful interaction” was employed by them seeking to reformulate social structures, moving culture away from mass-produced spectacle and toward more meaningful participation.
The conflict with spectacle
But it doesn’t feel right to only focus on the connections between the ideas of the Situationists and pervasive games and don’t talk about the conflict. “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into representation.” Guy Debord, The society of the spectacle.
Debord defined spectacle as a separate pseudo-world that can only be looked at. With pseudo-world Debord meant a social structure that can’t be directly engaged by the masses. According to Gold, when Debord refers about something that can’t be directly engaged by the masses he is referring by something that can be seen but not touched, not directly experienced. That is why he consider pervasive games as a situation-based practice, they create situations for embodied, social participation.
But Debord also says: 'the spectacle is not merely a matter of images…. It is whatever escapes people’s activity' (The Society of the Spectacle).
And do not pervasive games have a lot to do with sight? Then, could we not consider pervasive games as another form of spectacle?
McGonigal (McGonigal,p.175) defined two different levels for pervasive games: situation and spectacle. The first one allows people’s participation and the second one offers only the perception of someone else playing. She analyzes this conflict in some well-known pervasive games. Taking into consideration her analysis about how those two levels work in Big Urban Game might lead to interesting conclusions that could also be related with Rubik’s Facade.
The Big Urban Game is known as the first pervasive game. It was designed in 2003 with the goal of encouraging the residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul to see their surroundings in a new way. The game is a race that takes place during 5 days between three teams formed by real-world street runners and also online players, each of which moves a 25-foot high inflatable game piece through a series of checkpoints in the shortest amount of time. McGonigal points out the massive change of scale, not only visual scale but also related with the duration of the game and the amount of players, as one of the factors that made in The Big Urban Game the spectacle more dominant than the situation. She considers that even the street runners, those participants who were most directly engaged with the gameplay action, due to the massively-scaled imagery, were transformed into spectators of the game, even in the very moment of active participation.
Rubik’s Facade doesn’t scales up the duration neither the number of players of the traditional experience of trying to solve a Rubik’s cube, but it certainly scales the size up. Based on McGonigal’s conclusion about Big Urban Game we could think that the spectacle will also prevail over the situation. But before arriving to that statement we should check the differences between both experiences.
Rubik’s Facade tries to bring the experience of solving a Rubik’s cube to public space. Using the visual semblance with the Ars Electronica building, it transform the building in a giant Rubik’s cube in the middle of the city. The participant, in the surroundings of the building, interacts with the small interface-cube during he is looking at the building having the visual feedback of his actions. The interaction with the cube is quite similar to a common Rubik’s. The differences are:
- In Rubik’s Facade the cube is split in two, the interface-cube that is connected with the touch, and the visual-cube that is connected with the sight.
- For making this separation between the interface-cube and the visual-cube more evident, the interface-cube has no colour.
- Due to the nature of the building used as visual-cube and its surroundings, the participant is only able to see two sides of the cube at the same time instead of three at it happens with a common Rubik’s cube. This factor makes a bit more difficult to solve the puzzle, but as the participant is able to rotate and flip the cube it is not a crucial factor.
- Because of technical reasons there is a difference in scale in the interface cube (10.2 cm x 10.2 cm x 10.2 cm instead of 5.5 cm x 5.5 cm x 5.5 cm) but the relevant different of scale is the one between the common cube and the building.
- Rubik´s Facade project is an ephemeral project, like a situation, it will take place one or few days. That makes the interaction with it different. The participant will have a limited amount of time to interact with the cube(the time that the batteries last is also a factor to take into consideration) and try to solve the puzzle.
Splitting the cube makes easier to share the experience with more people. The hands of the participant cover the interface-cube but not the visual-one, allowing to the people to see the experience. But the more relevant difference is the change of scale. Solving a common Rubik’s cube, unless is done with some restrictions that make the puzzle harder or in an extraordinary small amount of time, would probably not create an audience. But visualizing it in such a large building would probably generate an audience, spectators, in their surroundings. Not only one because of the size but also because of the unpredictable transformation of the architecture in a well-known puzzle game.
At this point, without having test yet the project on the building we cannot be sure about which will be people’s behavior but we can try imagine. Rubik’s Facade will work at a situation level for the participant that is interacting with it and it would also work at a spectacle level for the rest of the people in the surroundings of the building. Even though I am wondering if the people around the participant will try to participate more actively on the experience, talking, giving hints or suggestions to the participant solving the puzzle. We are going to have to test it to figure it out.
- Sadler, S. (1999) 'The Situationist City'
- Von Borries, F. (2007), 'Space Time Play: Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level'.
- McGonigal, J. (2006), 'This might be a game. Ubiquitous play and performance at the turn of the twenty-first century'.
- Diaz, D. (2007), 'From the square to the chat: analysis of the transformations of public space from the neomedial artistic practice'.