The inimitable Doug Easterly addressed CCS today on Permeating the Magic Circle – exploring “the physical and conceptual boundaries that demarcate work and real-life from play and game activity”. He’s well known for his artistic practice with SWAMP addressing these very issues. Doug’s research looks into play, drawing on Huizinga’s Homo Ludens and Caillois‘ critiques of it, and of course Czikszentmihalyi on Flow. On that last Doug has formed a beautifully clear exposition of the standard critique of games: that they draw users into a state of Flow not for the high-minded goals of learning or self-actualisation, but instead for the baser purpose of merely keeping them in the game for its own sake, or for the sake of “coin drop” (in the parlance of the video game arcade industry). By drawing out a distinction between flow and device mesmerism, Doug shows that it’s not games, their holding power, or flow itself that is evil – but rather the purposes to which they are put.
The depth of his research is compelling him to dive down into evolutionary psychology, just to find a place to stand… bringing in references from Leda Cosmides [wp], Jared Diamond [wp] and Stephen Pinker [wp]. A PhD is certainly a great excuse to do some absorbing reading.
After the talk we got into an engrossing discussion of hermetically sealed virtual realities (silly) vs. mixed reality (marvellous), mind/body dualism (outmoded) vs. holism (somewhat more sensible) and absolute transhumanism (fun but overblown) vs. whatever is actually going on (much more complicated, and even more fun). Doug saw an early sketch of the mixed-reality piece I’m currently installing down at the Powerhouse Museum, so I’m hoping to get the computer vision part of it working properly before he heads back to NZ at the end of the week. More about that in another blog post