Aesthetics of Play: Locating the Ludic in Interactive Art

Ragnhild Tronstad

The borders between games and art have always been blurred. Several theorists have made connections between art and play, from conceptualizing the reception of art objects as an interpretative play (Gadamer) to arguing that computer games should be seen as an art form (Crawford). Phenomena such as interactive art on the one hand and ubiquitous games on the other, make the connection between art and games even tighter. What is the essential difference of a game such as Cruel to be kind and one of Allan Kaprow's 1970ies happenings? If there is no essential difference, why is the first termed a game while the latter is thought of as art? And what does this difference in terms do to our perception of the phenomena? Already Kaprow realized that framing his works as play instead of art would make them more available to people, and thereby more likely to affect people's lives. Could the act of framing them as games also make the works more 'fun' to people, providing them with a more intensely engaging experience?

In this paper, I want to examine interactive works of art that require the audience to interact with machines or technology, much in the same way as we are required to when playing a computer game. Comparing these interactive experiences with the way intensely engaging interactive entertainment (e.g. Tetris, Dance Dance Revolution) may make us forget time and place, quite literally "concentrating on what is appearing"(Seel), I want to investigate further into the relationship between play and aesthetic experience. My focus will be on one characteristic of play, namely when it is experienced as 'fun', or 'intensely engaging', which, I want to argue, can be seen as the optimal state of play.

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