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I gave a talk at this years Canadian Game Studies Association conference about play as a cultural and ontological category. Using conceptual arguments drawn from Eugen Fink’s essay “The Oasis of Happiness” and Hans-Georg Gadamer’s discussion of play in his “Truth and Method” I argued that play, as an ontological category, underlies that which individualises us. The same ontological qualities that allow play as a cultural form to occur, also allows for a universe of differentiated objects.

Briefly, this underlies the importance of play as liberating as it allows us to realise ourselves, as Gadamer, Fink and Huizinga argue. This same argument for at least relative freedom also suggests to another conclusion that can be drawn from this argument. This argument is that play begets both art and games and that the delimited nature of art, though over determined in the writing by thinkers such as as Clement Greenberg, is more a subset of games than a distinct category in play.

Prof. Lynn Hughes questioned whether I wasn’t conflating the terms of play and creativity; if so what would be lost by such a move. I had not intended this, so this reflects a rhetorical weakness in my presentation. Although I am not ready to reply, the relationship of play to creativity should be a fecund source of questions.

I was also asked about the relationship of Heideggerian tool use to play and briefly mentioned Fink’s discussion of play as implying tools or toys. As I replied, in the back of my mind were thoughts of Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, as well as discussions of objects- Gilbert Ryle’s account of Le Penseur, Heidegger’s discussion of a silver chalice and painting of a peasant’s boots by van Gogh, and Merleau-Ponty’s essay on Cezanne.

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To illustrate my argument, that play could occur without requiring a metaphysical origin, I appealed to Kasuo Ishiguru’s book and the movie made from it, Never Let Me Go(2005 & 2010).
The plot concerns an alternate reality where cloning is used to create organ donors. At one school, the clones are educated, play, and encouraged to create art as is revealed in the film’s third act, to determine whether the clones “have souls”. Politically, the advantages to naturally-birthed humans meant the answer was of no interest. To the audience, the clones seem as human as we, and we have little problem believing we are watching beings much like ourselves. As Fink writes, they play, love and work. This idea that a synthetically created human would be as we acts as a counterfactual example that high-lights our own experience by presenting them as individuals. This suggests that we cannot sacrifice our individuality to become commodities, and that that our individuality stems from fundamental qualities of being.

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This conference was stimulating and enjoyable on many levels. The calibre of papers presented were very high, and often produced by relatively junior scholars, which speak well to the discipline’s future. I occurred to me that more undergraduate students should be encouraged to attend their discipline’s conferences. this would go a long way towards focussing their attention on prior scholarship, and also letting them understand much of what advanced studies entails.

A special thanks to my old friend Donna Dowling, her husband Dr. Larry Aspler and their son Gideon, who hosted me at their home. Their very kind hospitality was most appreciated.

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Day one at the Mini Maker Faire Montreal 2012. The Bisarro Game Controllers team was there, along with Arcade Royale & Wylde Collective Ltd.

Visitors laying “Pong” with the PushMe/PullYou controller.

Our poster for the Pushme/Pullyou controller.

Vansendorfer with Team Bisarro Controllers felt beanie

Our first public presentation of our controller was quite successful. People enjoyed using the controller to play pong. They eventually began interact with each other(or not) through the controller. The relative lack of indexicality didn’t impede the enjoyment of play for most people, but it did impose anticipatory movements as players synchronised their movements.

As a research tool, it meets the original, hypothetical goals: it had to be fun, because my research centers around the philosophy of play as a phenomenological and epistemological ground to study intersubjectivity. If the device wasn’t fun, then it would not offer much insight into play.

Briefly, my theoretical forbears for this series of exploration are Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and specifically his concept of the chiasm. At its simplest, this is the experience we have when we clasp our own hands together. Which hand touches which? Which do we feel to be touching the other? Merleau-Ponty’s studies are indebted to Edmund Husserl, and in my case especially, his concept of the epoché. This is the state of mind where we attempt to push aside (“to bracket”) the social and culture filters and examine our experience directly. This characterisation of epoché sounds similar to the “magic circle of play”, where we are at least mentally free from instrumental cares and concerns.

It was in the epoché that Husserl thought he could find a philosophically grounded account of intersubjectivity. And it is in the mediated touching of a game that I hope to add to this school of thought.