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  • A Pleasure Framework
  • Brigid Costello

As an interactive artist I dread the type of audience participant who spends very little time with my work and who then says, "that they 'got it' but that it didn't 'do much' " [1]. My work focuses on producing an experience together with audience participants, and "getting it," in the sense of understanding a message, is not really the point. I want my participants to engage with and explore my artworks, because if they don't, they won't help produce the experiences that I have tried to create opportunities for.

One strategy that I have been working with lately is to focus on the stimulation of play as a method of achieving engagement and exploration. Not only are players very engaged when at play, they also shift between the states of play and exploration. In Lieberman's description of play, exploration is seen as a precursor to playful behavior. Through exploration the unfamiliar becomes familiar and only then does play occur [2]. Other studies of playful behavior report an oscillation between the states of exploration and play, with the player switching back and forth between the explorative goal "what can this object do" and the playful goal "what can I do with this object" [3]. Player boredom is the common trigger for the switch back to exploration, with the player then seeking new features or possibilities to play with.

The interplay between these two goals of play and exploration has also been seen to occur when an audience participant encounters an interactive artwork [4]. While an interactive art experience will usually involve a certain amount of explorative unfamiliarity, it may not necessarily lead to playful familiarity, and indeed in some cases this may be quite undesirable. If it does, however, the oscillation between play and exploration may drive audiences to experience deep levels of engagement with the work. With a hope of tapping into this deep engagement I, therefore, decided to focus my interactive art practice on the stimulation of playful behavior.

To develop practical strategies for stimulating play I decided to examine in detail the experiential qualities of play. One of the features that all play has in common is that it is pleasurable or "a source of joy and amusement" [5]. I chose to focus on pleasure as an experiential goal, and this led me to develop a framework of thirteen categories of pleasure that could be experienced during a playful experience. My aim was to develop a tool that could be used to aid my design of such experiences; a tool that could be used for conceptual development, for reflective practice and for participant evaluations.

This framework of the thirteen pleasure categories of play was developed as a synthesis of the ideas of six theorists, all of whom approach play and pleasure from different perspectives. Firstly, the framework was inspired by the theories of philosophers Karl Groos and Roger Caillois whose ideas arose out of their desire to accurately define a play experience [6, 7]. In contrast, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was more concerned with play as a type of pleasurable experience, while psychologist Michael Apter focused on the stimulation of play [8, 9]. Lastly, the framework drew on the ideas of game designers Pierre Garneau and Marc LeBlanc, who were interested in delineating the types of fun in games [10, 11].

The synthesis of these different ideas was influenced by my focus on interactive art experience, and some aspects of these theorist's ideas were not included in the framework because I felt they did not suit this art context. The names of each category were also carefully chosen to suit both this context and with an eye to being easily understood within participant evaluations. Although exploration, as we have seen above, is sometimes characterized as a separate process to play, it was included in the framework because of the entwined nature of play and exploration and the importance of exploration within an interactive art context.

Once developed, the effectiveness of the framework was tested, firstly by using it to analyze the descriptions of thirty existing interactive artworks. These were all well-known artworks that I judged to be playful...


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pp. 370-371
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