Archives for category: Talks

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.

* * * * *
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.

* * * * *

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.

I am presenting my digital game controller, adapted to function with nipple clamps this coming Saturday. This conference presentation is something of a challenge as my work hasn’t touched on sexuality specifically, although it is pretty clear that discussing embodied digital sex play falls under play in general, and more under the particular digital embodied play. So I’m hoping to gain new insights as I observe other’s talks, performances and presentations.


The nipple clamp controller works by having a stretch sensor attached mechanically between two clamps. The change in resistance is registered by an Arduino which sends the digital signal to the computer. The players work cooperatively to control the avatar by pulling together on the respective clamps, and firing the cannon by tapping or clasping their hands. On one of each player’s hands is a glove which when touching fires the avatars weapon, destroying the descending ‘invaders’.

As yet I have no experience playing this version of the game. Our more ‘G’ rated version was quite successful and was played with apparent enjoyment by a broad range of people. I am hoping this will also be true of Sex Invaders.As it stands, this version is a very primitive prototype. However, this initial presentation should suggest how we can adapt and refine the device.











Theoretical Concerns

The nature and variety by which humans stimulate themselves is by turns astounding and appalling to people. Sexual behavior permeates human experience, and we could ask why I would choose this experiment. The answer is that most people enjoy some form of physical stimulation of their nipples. While it became apparent to me that not everybody would enjoy this, some would. So this allowed me to pursue this line of thought. But beyond testing the obvious, what do I hope to learn?

My interest is how we perceive our own experience and how we address the apparent experience of others. Very precisely, my questions are an echo of the reflections of Maurice Merleau-ponty in his essay “The Intertwining-The Chiasm”. His thought there begins by regarding the grasping of our own hands together. Which hand is felt to be touching which? If both are felt to be touching, what then happens when we grasp the hand of another? Provocatively, Merleau-Ponty goes beyond the common sense by asking why this second case isn’t the same as the first. He wrote

“If my left hand can touch my right hand… can touch it touching… Why when touching the hand of another would I not touch in it the same power to espouse in it the things that I have touched in my own?”
– Maurice Merleau-Ponty 
from“The Intertwining-The Chiasm”1964

Last 4th of November a panel convened at the J.E.U.X exhibition, held at Montréal’s Eastern Bloc gallery. The evening included the playing of Doug Wilson’s game Johan Sebastien Joust, which was a big hit.

The panel was framed as discussing how we can use video games to learn. In the course of the discussion, Prof. Bart Simon took the provocative position that a game exists solely as an opportunity or invitation to do something different. He specified that in Western culture that meant something different from work. Simon’s work centers on how a game creates a space to do something more than is required to play it. He suggests it is that excess from which the engagement (fun?) is derived. He explicitly said that this excess can not be accounted for in the underlying code; that it cannot be measured in the flow of information within the game.

This challenges the methodology and the potential outcome of my research. I want to see if there are tell tale signs of the intentionality that underlies the transfer of simple, lean data streams.