Friday, August 29, 2003

Telic vs. Paratelic

Michael J. Apter uses the terms "telic" vs. "paratelic" to describe mindsets that are purposeful and goal-oriented, versus playful process-oriented. Your minute papers in class today demonstrated not only that you have a very good understanding of Apter's theory, but also that you are quite adept at moving between telic and paratelic states in your everyday lives. Each time we do a minute paper in class, I will anonymously share a few of the papers here on the blog to give you the opportunity to see how your classmates are interpreting the readings in different ways. All of you were right on target with your writing today, good work. I'm tempted to post them all, but here are a few that really get across the idea of the difference between telic and paratelic approaches to the same activity, while each making a unique point about play. Please feel free to respond to any of the examples below if you agree or disagree or have a question for its author.

"Lack of a dishwasher... one of the downfalls of Berkeley apartments. Walking up to a sink piled with dirty dishes can be very depressing. I hate washing dishes. Your fingers wrinkle, the water's too hot, then too cold -- not fun. By taking different routes to attain sparkling dishes, my mood can vary wildly. The telic route is to grab the scrub brush and move meticulously through the stack: scrub, rinse, dry... repeat. By using a more paratelic approach, dishwashing isn't always a joyous occasion, but it can at least stimulate mild interest. By pretending each dish is a little creature that has been attacked by the evil lord of leftovers, I can think of myself as their savior. Each soapy scrubby brings the drying dish closer to salvation. Many games can be created with dirty dishes -- the point being to forget the boring task until the job is done."

"In my spare time I paint Chinese brush ink paintings. My parents have always been appalled at the generosity I exhibit, because after I finish painting, I often give the artwork away. The same thing happens with my pottery. I believe this happens because I paint in the paratelic state of mind. To me, the therapeutic effects of the process (i.e. painting to music) is the source of happiness, and not the possession of what I eventually create. However, sometimes friends who like my paintings 'commission' a landscape from me. Once that happens, I revert to the telic state of mind, and produce (in my opinion) lower quality paintings."

"This summer I enjoyed a beginners boxing class that I took at the RSF. Personally, I believe that I am more often in a telic state of mind than a paratelic one. Thus, most activities that I enjoy have some elements of both practicality and relaxation. When boxing in a paratelic state of mind, it is fun to imagine being a pro boxer making millions in Vegas fights broadcast on HBO. There is little consideration of the immense amount of training that goes into preparing the best pro or even amateur fighters. However, during my workouts, wihtout placing some telic purpose to my actions, I won't actually get the most out of my time if I don't take boxing theory and technique seriously. In this case, were I presented wth a wholly telic boxing match (a real-life fight), I would be able to perform only at the paratelic level and most likely lose."

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Secret Study Sites?!

Okay, I admit it -- I'm a sucker for secrets. Discovering them, keeping them, or even better, sharing them. To me, if something is "secret," it's instantly more fun. So a new feature on UC Berkeley's home page today caught my eye: "Secret Study Sites.". Now, I wouldn't usually be excited by the idea of sitting down to study, but this headline really did something for me. I poked around the new interactive Secret Study Sites page and learned about a few spots that I didn't know about before and am not sure I am the kind of person who is supposed to be visiting there. So of course, I am now contemplating sneaking off, and sneaking in, to one of the more intriguing locales for a little "studying." (Although I wonder if all the sneaking and secret-keeping will distract from the studying part!) I am convinced that I might be able to turn studying into play this way, and I invited all of you to join me in this experiment. If you would like to take this weekend's reading to one of the "Secret Study Sites" (pick one that really feels secret to you), I would love to hear about your experience. Did you get any studying done? Was it any more playful or interesting than usual studying? Do you think putting an everyday activity into a new context is a playful thing to do? (That's my hypothesis here, but is it correct? Help me find out!)

Games vs. Play

Kevin Maroney's article "What is a Game?" defines games as "a form of play with goals and structures." The game's structure includes the rules, the official space and time limits, and the kinds of actions that are provided for players to take; the goal determines the winner or successful conclusion of the game. Do you think structure and goals are the only characteristics that make a game different from other kinds of play? What else would you add to the list of criteria for a game?

Brian Sutton-Smith, as we read, also included "Contests and games" as just one of nine forms of play. The other forms are considerably less structured and often, though not always, less goal-oriented. Could you turn the other forms of play into games? Describe how you might go about turning an example of another play form (informal social play, mind/subjective play, i.e.) into a game. Would it be fun? Would it be interesting? Or would it ruin the play form? (Go ahead and make a hypothesis; you may have an opportunity to test this out at length for your first writing assignment.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Play Characteristics

Thank you for all of your great play examples in class today, and I'm looking forward to hearing from those of you who didn't get a chance to share your favorite way to play yet. Here are the play characteristics we came up with as a class so far; these are words and phrases you can keep in mind when thinking and writing about your play experiences.

Fictional/pretend; invitation to others; entertainment/more fun; imagination; social interaction; celebration; storytelling; humor; creative and creating; emotions involved; relaxing; possibilities; stakes or consequences; adrenaline; identity; opening and exploring; curiosity and testing; discovery; escape; teamwork; risk/exhilaration; adventure; competition; analysis; acting crazy; art.

Do any of these words seem to you to describe virtually all forms and examples of play? Do certain characteristics seem to go together a lot? Which characteristics rarely go together? I'd be very interested to hear some ideas about how to create new kinds of play experiences that combine two play characteristics that rarely go together. For instance, what kind of play would include "imagination" AND "adrenaline"? Hmmm. Or maybe there are already play forms for every possible combination we could think of...? Give it a whirl. Pick a pair, or a few, words from our list and see what examples of play experiences fit. How many combinations can you make, and think of examples for, before you get stuck?


Looking for a play opportunity this week? Tele-Twister is a collaborate multiplayer online game, and it offers two different kinds of play opportunities: in-person and online. You can read more about the project here. If you'd like to play online, log onto this site between 3 and 4 PM on Thursday. Play one round or several; rounds take about 5 minutes. We recommend using a high-speed Internet connection and turning up the volume on your speakers!

If you'd like to play in person, come to the Alpha Lab at 1176 Etcheverry Hall by 2:45 PM at the latest. (You can RSVP to me via email, or just show up.) You should wear either as much red as you have (red shirt, red socks, and if you rock, red pants) or as much blue as you have (blue shirt, blue jeans or sweats, blue socks).

Questions to think about: If you participate, in person or online, please tell us about your play experience. Was it fun? Was it playful? What kinds of playful? Did you feel a part of a team? Was it more or less fun than the traditional Twister game-- or was it just a different kind of fun? If you played online, what kind of playfulness did you experience that might be missing from the in-person play, and vice versa? If you played in person, how does having an audience for your play change the play experience? (Or doesn't it?) What could be done to improve the game?

Monday, August 25, 2003

San Francisco Flash Mob #4

For those of you thinking about checking out the Flash Mob on Tuesday evening, you might want to check out this article or this article, both of which describe recent San Francisco flash mobs.

Even if you can’t make it, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the phenomenon based on what you can glean from the articles and the instruction sheet for Mob #4. What do you make of this kind of mass, public play? Why do you think people particpate in the flash mobs? What makes them “fun”?

If you do join Tuesday’s flash mob, please let us know afterwards how it felt and what you observed. Or, you could post your thoughts before the Mob: Why are you going? What do you expect or hope it will be like?

Our Favorite Games

Thank you for sharing your favorite games with the student information you submitted in class today. (By the way, you’ll find my favorite games here. Many of you will find that we have similar tastes!)

Here’s a sample of what you said in class today: “Inner tube water polo”; “Playing Monopoly and actually finishing”; “climbing trees”; “Myst”; “baseball and Cranium”; “Heads up Seven Up”; “poker”; “crazy scavenger hunts”; “golf”; “Strange ‘Game of Berkeley’ games”; “hide and seek”; “mah jong”; and “Mr. Balls, a game my friends and I made up, a hybrid of basketball in which you get to hit whoever has the ball with Funoodles.” I love the range and diversity of games you all are interested in, and am looking forward to hearing more about what you play and why you play them.

Not all of you listed a favorite game, however, and someone considered the possibility: “I think I might be too old for games! :)” I agree that many people outgrow traditional games, and some people are never big fans of games to begin with. But are we ever too old to play? I think that many of the kinds of writing and art forms you listed as your favorites are actually very playful activities. They might not be games proper, but they definitely encourage you to have fun and to be creative, experimental and free in your thinking and doing—all hallmarks of play. Consider, for example the following forms of writing that some of you listed as your favorites: “Descriptive & rhythmic”; “poetry”; “blogging”; “creative writing”; “journal writing”; “1st person writing”; “mathematical proofs”; “free writing”; “instant messaging”; “dramatic writing”; “fiction”; and “screenplays”. These are all playful forms of writing, aren’t they? And consider your favorite art forms: “metal work and iron work”; “musical theater”; “playing piano”; “making movies for friends”; “dance”; “comedy”; “clothing”; and “painting.” These are all playful activities! And many, many of you listed “music” and “television” and “film” as your favorite kind of media, which are perhaps less obviously playful, but which I believe can sometimes create a very playful atmosphere or inspire audiences to respond in playful ways. (Could you consider it playful, for instance, to shout back at the screen during a movie, or to lip sync in front of the mirror, or to burn the perfect mix CD, or to watch and make predictions about your favorite show with the same friends every week?) We’ll be thinking in this class about how something like watching television, or listening to music, or going to a midnight movie might be a very playful experience.

Do you thinks that your favorite forms of writing or art forms are playful? How so? If not, why not?

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Live Human Targets

Here's an interesting new play form developing in New York City. Are live human targets the next big thing?

From the New York Times, August 23, 2003: "Step Right Up, Live Human Target" by Marek Fuchs:

Aiming a ball at a target to drop a clown into a tub of
water is old school at the Coney Island Boardwalk. Now
people eagerly shoot the Freak.

The Freak, as signs and the barker say, is a live human

Coney Island has seen a lot, from real-life crime to the
Painproof Rubber Girl. But even in a place where trouble
and cheap spectacle are the norm, "Shoot the Freak" has
been turning heads.

Up to six customers at a time can stand on the Boardwalk, a
few yards from Stillwell Avenue, and aim their rifles down
an alley filled with trash and concrete bits. There, one
finds the Freak, darting and dodging.

He is dressed in a combination of hockey, baseball and
bicycling protective gear, making him look like a creature
of some post-urban nightmare. Periodically, he stands still
and takes one in the chest, or the forehead. The customers
are firing paint pellets, and as they hit the Freak,
there's a short snapping sound and a small spray of mist.
Think of it as a video game come to life.

Prices range from 5 shots for $3 to 75 shots for $20. No
stuffed animals - the thrill of the pursuit is the only
Read more... (requires free registration)

I've recently performed as a moving target for the Go Game, and I can attest to a lot of gamers' desire to blast (in my case, with water balloons) a real person. The weapons are less lethal than, say, the simulated assault rifles and machine guns in First Person Shooters, but the shock and even occasional pain of impact of "live target" paint balls, tennis balls or balloons is definitely more real. Targeting live humans: Less graphic, more vivid? But is hitting a live target really about violence? I hate conversations about shooting games that center around issues of pent-up aggression and theories of players sublimating their violent tendencies through games. I just don't buy that. I don't think shooters, computer or live, are about catharthis. Of course, people have been debating for ages (since Aristotle!) whether theater is primarily about catharthis of pent-up emotions like fear and pity--that is, we go to the theater to purge ourselves of these feelings. I don't necessarily agree with Aristotle's theory of catharthis, either. I think pleasure underlies both play (games) and plays (theater), and while pleasure is extraordinarily difficult to explain or to understand, I'd rather focus my efforts on pleasure than catharthis. Agree? Disagree?

I imagine most people wouldn't play if they thought the real target was being seriously injured. It's a very playful, pretended violence. So my thought question for today: What makes shooting a live human target fun? What makes it playful?

Friday, August 22, 2003

Welcome to the blog for R1A: Theater and Games, an undergraduate writing course at the University of California at Berkeley. Our syllabus is now online. We'll be using this site to track our investigations of the relationship between plays (theater) and play (games), discussing our readings, our in-class collective play experiences, and our outside gaming and theater-going. Visitors (non-class members) are welcome to post comments or email the course instructor, Jane McGonigal, at jane @ avantgame.com .

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