Transformation Games 101
Playing as a Political Act, as a Method of Knowledge Production and as Work of Art
1 - Introduction
2 - Playing as a Political act
3 - Playing as a Method of Knowledge Production
4 - Playing as Work of Art
5 - Reintroduction
Starting statement A: On a cognitive level, the human body can distinguish between ‘fiction’ and ‘reality’. Starting statement B: On the level of experience,the human body does not distinguish between ‘fiction’ and ‘reality’.
‘Transformation Games’ is the name chosen to describe the forms of works that arose during my 2-year practice-driven research at the Master of Film programme. Transformation Games occupy a liminal territory between the practices of rituals, games, storytelling performing arts and everyday life – appropriating all, but committing to none. By design, they put the emphasis on creating conditions for their participants, through the alibi of playing, initiate and undergo powerful experiences (alone or as a group), that they might not dare to have otherwise. In such, Transformation Games enable a practice that exercises its influence beyond the conventional margins of art.
As a child
At the heart of Transformation Games is the act of playing.
As humans, playing is one of the most natural activities we can engage in. It can be done by anyone, practically anywhere, and can be shared and shaped to fit any situation. Playing is a free-spirited experimentation in getting to know our environment. Through its' many forms, play brings us closer to the world of infinite possibilities, teaches us how to navigate in it, how to rule it, how to shape it. Playing is a gentle, yet brave way to approach the unknown.
PLAYING AS A POLITICAL ACT
Playing is an exercise in autonomy. What sets ‘gaming’ apart from ‘playing’, is that latter is a self-fulfilling act. Playing does not need to justify itself to the outside world: there is no higher purpose, or hidden agenda outside playing for playing’s sake. It does not need to tie into any pre-existing social-political structure.... In a sense, playing is the constant creation of anti-structures ‘where the boundaries of normal behaviours and of the ever-day reality are extended or even dissolved’.
In a political light, these anti-structures - since the rules of playing require them to be idiosyncratic in their inner logic – can be seen representatives and prototypes for alternative governing systems, ways of living and culture production. Communities created in temporary autonomous zone of playing are self-governing and self-transforming societies.
And this transformation does not apply exclusively within the ‘magic circle’ of the play-time and play-space. Once the borders of the circle are wiped and players return to their everyday lives, they carry the experience of play into it – and inevitably transforming its structure. Thus playing precisely because of its complete independence from the governing socio-political principles bears the ultimate potential to transform the latter.
playing as a method of knowledge production
What is required for these utopias to arise is freedom.
Freedom from and freedom to. Freedom from the tasks and responsibilities of everyday life, which the alibi of playing allows one to temporarily suspend ( ‘No worries, are only playing!’ ).
And freedom to do and explore what the conditions of playing allows. But most importantly the freedom to do all this without being judged, or ridiculed.
The voluntary nature of play and the suspension of everyday allows engagement and empathy to develop in a uniquely powerful way. Engagement and empathy are a part of playing, and principles that serve the understanding of behaviours, emotions and inner motivations. The empathic person is able to overcome all, to experience belonging with others and realise when she needs to change her outlook on reality.
The openness and the access to different perspectives on an experiential level makes play a good tool for knowledge production and education. Though the nature of this is can be controversial.
In my understanding playing can be understood as a tool for knowledge production if we treat playing as a tool that purely creates conditions of engagement, openness and empathy, which subsequently can lead to powerful experiences, which in turn can lead to newly gained insights once those experiences are distilled and verbalised by the player(s).
This might sound extremely vague, with a lot of 'what-if's along the way, but I truly believe that anything more concrete agenda will ultimately corrupt the autonomy, freedom and field-of-possibilities nature of play. If there is a hidden message that the design is geared to transmit to the player, we again fall out of playing and enter the realm of 'educational games' or 'learn-as-you-play' programmes, which in their paradox nature feel like a cheap trick.
Why is this beneficial?
Where is this in society?