Posted by: Stenros | March 10, 2010

Frames of Play in Ludic Society

VR helmet that brought to my mind the doll in Fincher's The Game.

Game designer Eric Zimmerman and director David Kaplan’s short film Play is now available online.  (Again, you need to go there as WorpPress doesn’t allowe embedding.) It is an epidose in the Futurestates series, which “explores possible future scenarios through the prism of today’s global realities.” The synopsis for the episode states the following:

Play imagines a not-too-distant future where video games have become indistinguishable from reality. These fully immersive games are nested inside each other like Russian dolls — each new game emerging from another and connecting backwards with increasing complexity. One moment, a player is a Japanese schoolgirl embroiled in a pillow fight with her girlfriends — and the next moment, the player has suddenly morphed into a scandalized state senator defending himself against a throng of angry reporters.

Synthetic experience competes with real experience as dream, fantasy, and memory begin to collapse into each other. Identities become elastic as the players consecutively inhabit completely different genders, ages, and ethnicities. They must confront a new state of “play” where the distinction between the real and the virtual blurs and their true selves are called into doubt.

I quite enjoyed the film. It is able to describe quite evocatively something that many people (researchers among them) have been strugling to put into words.

That said, I cannot help but think of sociological theory and that this is all old hat. Different social situations have different rules and we play different roles in them. This is nothing new. However, what games do, is that they expand the boundaries of what is possible, and – more importantly – they make these rules visible. (Games also, unless the game is pervasive or gamemastered, limit our affordances, the choises we can make.) The long con that Harviainen wrote about last week, or the double lives of closet gays are extreme examples of these multiple roles. Games have a way of expressing these longings in a new way.

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