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No Fun at All

Jun
06

MoooThis spring I had a chance to sit down with Ian Bogost and talk about Cow Clicker. Like a lot of people, I find Cow Clicker fascinating. Like a lot of people, I don’t think Cow Clicker is fun, at least in any ordinary sense. Perhaps unlike a lot of people, I think that Cow Clicker is fun in a deeply ironic way because it was designed not to be fun.

I am not sure that I peeled this onion to the core idea I was after, but the folks at Edge Magazine were kind enough to let me try. See for yourself: http://www.next-gen.biz/features/poking-cow-clicker

Whatever you think of Cow Clicker, it’s a brilliant tool for thinking about the limits of games and the nature of fun.

Minecraft Urbanism and Taking the Fun Out of Place

Dec
17

Minecraft has become a recent obsession. A sort of SimCity meets Lego meets Dungeons and Dragons, the emphasis is on building and exploration. And all the while you click away at the endless landscape of blocks, you have a feeling that the game is more important than just your latest game habit.

This video walks right up to that question and offers some tantalizing answers:

By connecting Minecraft to history of playful architecture and urban intervention–from Cedric Price and Constant to Archigram and the Situationists–the author grounds Minecraft the game in an environmental impulse that has been around a lot longer than videogames.

And while I think he has opened up a great line of thought, the rhetoric of the presentation is pitch perfect to remove the fun from these games and urban speculations and turn them into design tools and critical theory. I think the impulse is a good one. But it’s also a perfect illustration of how we rationally dissect the ambiguity in play and games, and yank out the fun in the process.

Art Gallery Game

Dec
03

From the always remarkably smart and interesting Life Without Buildings blog:

A sculptor with a sense of humor (“postmodernist fun,” some have said), Chris Saucedo creates site-specific work that transforms galleries into gameboards and back again. In the above image, a small scale-model of the New Orleans art gallery, Good Children, has been built in the form of one of those get-the-ball-through-the-hole games. Installed next to the model is a scaled depiction of the game’s “ball.” Thus, space becomes an unplayable, implied version of the carefully crafted “game” where visitors actually occupy the board. Saucedo’s installations repurpose and reprogram architecture without actually building anything or changing the space.


What's most interesting here is the implication that a place can be turned into a play space through the manipulation of spatially anchored signs, and even more odd, that the final space becomes "playful" even though you can't actually play with the space, only in the space. This isn't a particularly unusual move, either. When someone decorates their home office after Disney's Haunted Mansion, for example, you don't turn your desk into a ride, but a sign for the ride. The desk becomes playful even though you can't ride it.
The implication here is that we have a set of signs for play and for fun. And despite some notion that play and fun are activities, it seems pretty clear that they are also strong concepts. Putting a poster of some idyllic beach on your office wall isn't just about daydreaming, it is also an invocation of the fun, an invitation to let the mind play at the notion of leisure.
This also reminds me of an event a few years ago promoting Second Life. We were at a bar in San Francisco. On screen was a virtual version of the bar, recreated in Second Life, with various online avatars partying along side in parallel. The superimposition of the real and the virtual was a happy co-incidence rather than anything jarring or stupidly fake.


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Public Art WTF? Part 2

Nov
10
Viewed from a distance, the pile of big read beans, or bags, on the east end of the 16th street pedestrian bridge, looks sort of like a pile of frosting or a Dr. Suess Christmas tree. Once you get closer, the color is a deep red that makes you think of blood and the limp elements look like sand bags, or melted candy. It's an image both disturbing and funny.

Lacking any other context, at the moment, than police tape, it's not clear whether the piece is a temporary exhibit, still unfinished, or some well-intentioned comment about the war. As I looked at the sculpture a man walking by muttered, "Body bags?".
Public art can serve a number of functions from creating beauty and repose in a busy place to asking questions and engaging citizens. And at this point, while I don't care for the piece much on its own, nestled in the looping concrete and steel ramp of the pedestrian bridge, it provides a jarring moment in the otherwise cleanly modern city stroll. It just gives you something to look at (in fact the color and shape demands that you look at it) pulling your eye way from the shops, apartments and city traffic all around you. This is active public art that demands a dialog. Not surprisingly, then, graffiti has already appeared, a sort of aesthetic comment left on the base of the piece like some urban blogger answering the boisterous argument of the original work.
I don't know if the bloody beans sculpture is any good. But it is fun!

See and download the full gallery on posterous

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Public art WTF?

Nov
08

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of public art. But this piece sprung up over night on my path to downtown and just remind me of….well, the mind sort of boggles doesn’t it? Bloody beans would be a generous description. Really, it just looks like a pile of crap.

Who knows, maybe it will grow on me. I ‘ll end up seeeing it about twice a day 5 days a week.

See and download the full gallery on posterous

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