Archives for posts with tag: phenomenology

Sean Gallagher writes extensively about phenomenology and together with Alva Noe, Kevin O’Reagan and Dan Zahavi, Gallagher’s work informs both the theoretical basis for my question- “How do we know there are other minds?” and a methodology of using embodied and digitally mediated interactions to playfully explore this question. It is a bit too general to add to my list for my comprehensives, but it seems a good resource, all the same.

Gallagher, Shaun (2013): Phenomenology. In: Soegaard, Mads and Dam, Rikke Friis (eds.). “The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed.”. Aarhus, Denmark: The Interaction Design Foundation. Available online at

Reflecting on my choice game, I was thinking I should have made reference to “Options” a song by Gomez, as well as “Freedom from Choice” by Devo. Ian Bogoste mentions Scribblenauts, a game that offers a broad range of choices to solve puzzles, but few real goals, in his book Alien Phenomenology. He obliquely refers to “thickness” when argues that his “Object Oriented Ontology”(OOO) emphasises the “messiness” of the world. In this Bogoste juxtaposes OOO with attempts by metaphysicians to create unambiguous, coherent descriptions of worlds. 

Scribblenauts allows you to call forth thousands of objects to help you achieve the goal of retrieving ‘starites’. Obstacles will present themselves, and the player calls forth objects to overcome them. However, and this is perhaps the nub of my curiousity, the goal cannot really be changed, although the player can attempt many possible solutions to solving the problem presented.

If play represents ontological possibility, as it may be interpreted in light of Eugen Fink’s writing on the topic of the ontology of play, then games represent a degree of thinning, as these define the meaning of limited actions in terms of narrow goals. One must accept the goals to play the game, but to change the goals “to move the goal posts?” is to cheat, or to break or to spoil the game. Perhaps we accept freedom from choice because we are granted highly defined options.

This seems to me to offer a ‘thinness’, in contrast with the ‘thickness’ of broader lived experiences. The interactions in Scribblenauts must be programmed and in Bogoste’s other work, he would argue that this means those  relationships are subject to procedural rhetoric. That is to say, those interactions are delimited by what the underlying code of the machine will allow. As yet, that experience only poorly emulates the thickness of “real life”.


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

ImageWhen we look at a die, we see an object. We also see a simple device for playing a game; perhaps for gambling. But as a game, it carries with it a complex history for each person viewing it. Obviously, at any given moment my experience of a die(or any phenomena) will be different from another. You could object that this difference is not significant. After all, a die carries only so much significance. But you could also consider that if something as apparently simple as a die can be experienced so differently by different people, then how can we examine more complex phenomena? For much of his life, Edmund Husserl carried a die in his pocket, and in unoccupied moments pulled it out to regard it. He considered how he was experiencing it, visually and tactilely, how his mood affected his perception, how this perception differed depending on time and space, from one day or location to another. Most of all, he thought about how we could regard the thing itself, unencumbered by history or social pressures. The final goal of his work was to know that most hidden phenomena, another’s experience.

My thought on these problems pervades my thinking about my dissertation. Husserl’s questions inform my thoughts. The use of a die as the object of consideration drew me for several reason’s. It is an object of play and almost a game unto itself. It has an element of chance in its use, and that element, which play theorist Roger Caillois refers to as alea, is personally interesting to me.

Husserl introduces his work as approaching a kind of neo-cartesianism, but obligated to abandon most of Descartes’ doctrines(Husserl p.1). However, like Descartes, Husserl turns to the subject(Husserl p.2). He describes Descartes as embarking on a radical doubting of all foundations, and rests on the ego as the sole sure thing (Husserl p.3) . Husserl challenges this approach, arguing that the positive sciences, rather than embracing this approach, simply ignore it(Husserl p.4). Husserl suggests that the diversity of philosophical thought reveals a weakness in need of correction; of a field in need of unification (Husserl p.5). The upshot is that Husserl embarks on what he calls a transcendental subjectivity (Husserl p. 4) that avoids the contradictions and aberrations of other lines of thought (Husserl p.6)


Husserl, Edmund. Cartesian Meditations: An introduction to phenomenology. Dorian Cairns, Trns. Dordrecht, Martinus Nijhoff, 1988(1960).