Arc explores the future of fun

16 May

Simon Ings writes:

Arc 1.2’s essayists have ignored the rotten spring weather and are gamboling about like a flock of spring lambs. We asked them to think about pleasure and fun, and they scampered off in all directions.

P D Smith throws off Blade Runner-ish gloom  to celebrate the city as carnival. “Weirdly, science fiction writers have often imagined human needs being met in dystopian cities, such as the glass surveillance society in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We,” says the author of City. “There is far more optimism and even fun to be had in the urban visions of architects. Most of Constant Nieuwenhuys’s Situationist city, New Babylon, was given over to public space which people could subdivide however they wanted and use for ‘radiophonic games, film games, psychoanalytical games, erotic games, games based on chance and on coincidence’. Ron Herron’s robotic megastructure could actually walk: this city could really follow the good times.”

(Here it is: from Westminster University’s beautiful Archigram archive)

Games designer Holly Gramazio, meanwhile, is waiting for a break in the weather so she can get back to her work, organising treasure hunts and letterboxing competitions, urban football games and free-for-alls: games that engage entire communities. “The idea that play is private, and that games are for children, is an historical anomaly that is already almost dead,” she says.  “It had its decades of ascendancy, during the peculiar time when radio and television were the dominant forms of entertainment; those decades reached an end; and quite soon we’ll be rid of the idea entirely.”

It can’t happen too soon, as far as Holly is concerned: “When people ask what I do, and find out that I design live games, perhaps one in four of them respond with something like, ‘It must be mostly weirdoes who play, right?’ or ‘I don’t get why adults do that sort of thing.’ That’s to my face, from friendly good-hearted people, so goodness knows what they say behind my back.”

In New York, meanwhile, Kyle Munkittrick is playing video games, and wondering why the best games keep putting him in the last place he would ever want to be. Games are about pleasure, sure: they are also about discomfort and anxiety. They are, for everyone but the lucky winner, about losing. How can this possibly be a good thing? Kyle has an answer:  

“I, the reader, am not culpable for the destiny of Romeo and Juliet simply because I turn the page. Games demand that we choose to take the action that gives the story weight. In that moment of confrontation – of ‘This is unfair! The game only gives two options and I don’t want to take either!’ – we realize that our only way out is either through the narrative, or via the power button.

“By throwing these rules in our way – rules we know to be programmed and designed – video games call our attention to the constructed narratives in our everyday lives. When we are presented with two choices and neither is desirable, we see the rules of the system laid bare.”

Games, according to Kyle, enrich our moral life. A stone’s throw from central London, Peter Smith reckons he already lives on a gameboard.  And if he’s wrong, Holly Gramazio means to ensure that he’s not wrong for long.

What’s your move going to be? I’ll tell you (all the best moves are the forced ones…): visit http://arcfinity.org on 28 May to get your copy of Arc 1.2, available for tablets, phones, screens, e-readers, and in a collectible print edition. Meantime I’ll spin some more mouth-watering announcements. You’ll be transfixed, I tell you: TRANSFIXED.

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