Monday, September 29, 2003

Theater as Game
A number of theater historians and critics have compared theater to a game, but usually in a very general way. They argue that theater is game-like without connecting the specific elements of a game (rule, objectives, procedures for action, payoffs, etc.) to live performance. What would we discover if we took the analogy further? Does the metaphor of theater as game hold up under scrutiny, or does it fall apart? What do we learn about the interactions of audience and actors by thinking about them as co-players (or competitors, judges, spectators...?) in a game?

As a class today, we set out to perform a very small-scale, quickfire version of this kind of detailed examination. Using Avedon and Costikyan's models for "essential game elements," you worked out two player roles: the actor and the audience. Here's a review of some of what you came up with; reading over everyone's ideas, what do you think so far of the this idea of "theater as game"? Do you expect it to be useful as we start reading plays and talking about live performance? How will it be most useful, and where will it be least effective?

[According to Avedon...]
Audience's purpose or goal: To be entertained; to enjoy a performance; to give actors feedback on their performance; to be enlightened; to be moved emotionally; to be attentive.
Actor's purpose or goal: To entertain, tell a story, present a scenario; to be someone new, to present a personal interpretation of a script; to play a role; to convey the ideas of character and plot; to present renderings of real life in a setting without distraction; to deliver the fun; to enlighten, to make a living; to be believable, to engage the audience; to convince and move the audience.

Audience's rules: Pay attention; participate when asked; no rude behaviors, such as throwing things on stage; limited to observing, cannot invade the stage space; don't interrupt the play; applause when appropriate; no talking, don't disturb other theatergoers.
Actor's rules: Perform the assigned roles; don't break character, stay true to the material; follow the script; can address audience directly and/or invite them to participate; follow rehearsal practice, communicate with other actors; don't antagonize audience.

Audience's procedure for action: Buy ticket and go to "theater" and watch; pay attention and watch for cues to respond (laugh, applaud, sing along, etc.).
Actor's procedure for action: Memorize script, interpret script, follow the director; interpret role, work with other actors; learn lines and blocking, rehearse and perform; act according to the rehearsal plan.

# of required participants: No set #s; at least one actor and one audience member; at least one audience member and as many actors as the script specifies; no limit, it depends on the form of the theater; at least one audience and actor total, since a performer can be his or her own audience.

Roles of participants, audience: Equals; anonymous equals; sometimes to become actors.
Roles of participants, actors: Equals; equal collaborators; according to roles in the play; sometimes to become audience.

Audience's results/payoffs: Learn something new, relief from boredom; enjoyment; entertainment, vicarious roleplay, new thoughts provoked; escape from reality; emotional stimulation; life lessons, fun, joy, imagination exercised.
Actor's results/payoffs: Applause, flowers, sometimes money, critical praise, fame; satisfaction, awards, applause; sense of accomplishment, opportunity to roleplay; control over and impact on audience; fun and experience.

Audience's skills required: None; attention span, emotional depth, knowledge of play's background to understand it; comprehension; listening, perception, ability to tell the difference between what is real and what isn't, to be able to follow a story.
Actor's skills required: Physical ability to perform the role, roleplaying talent; acting skills, imagination, passion; memorization skills, ability to relate to the character, public speaking and projection; persuasiveness.

Interaction patterns: intragroup; intragroup and cognitive domain (intrapersonal); intergroup feedback between audience and actors; aggregate, indirect interaction between audience and actors; aggregate as audience responds together to the actors' performances, and aggregate as actors interact with other actors and modify their performances based on this interaction; actors' interact intragroup, intraindividul, extraindividul, and the audience interacts intragroup.

Materials: Props, costumes, sets, scripts; the five senses, stage, stagehands; makeup; seats.

Physical setting: Ushers to provide formality to space, elements that minimize distraction (darkness), music (optional to emphasize mood, content); lighting (to accentuate either costume, mood, certain actors or movement); a place to watch and a place to perform.

[According to Costikyan...]
Decision-making: Audience must decide to come; actors decide to perform. [Jane's question: What are the decisions made during the theatrical event itself?]
Struggle in game play: Audience struggles to comprehend; struggle to stay awake (!); Actors struggle to perform well; struggle to be comprehended.
Resources to be managed: Audience manages its praise (applause, laughter); Actors manage audience's emotions, attention, etc.
Color: Actors must have color to give an effective performance.
Simulation: An essential part of theater; actors simulate and audience witnesses simulation.
Position identification: Also an essential part of theater; actors attempt to create position identification with their own characters and to create opportunity for audience to identify with the actors/characters.
Narrative tension: Actors create it through their performance for the audience to enjoy.

Rock Concert meets Assisted Suicide

Here's a controversial and somewhat disturbing article on the news wire today. A rock group, Hell on Earth, has been promoting an upcoming concert performance as featuring a "physician-assisted suicide of a terminally ill person, live on stage." The band claims to be staging this "performance" to demonstrate their political support of right-to-die legislation. Read on:

"The St. Petersburg city council passed a law Monday designed to scuttle a rock group's plans to feature an onstage suicide.

The hard-rock band Hell on Earth had said that a suicide by a terminally ill person would take place during a concert Saturday to raise awareness of right-to-die issues.

In response, the city council met Monday morning to unanimously approve an emergency ordinance making it illegal to conduct a suicide for commercial or entertainment purposes, and to host, promote and sell tickets for such an event.

'While I still think it's a publicity stunt, we still couldn't sit idly by and let somebody lose their life,' council member Bill Foster said.

Tampa-based Hell of Earth, known for such outrageous onstage stunts as chocolate syrup wrestling and grinding up live rats in a blender, created the furor by announcing the suicide would happen Saturday at the Palace Theater in downtown St. Petersburg.

But the theater's owner, David Hundley, promptly canceled the band's show, and another venue also turned away the event.

Band leader Billy Tourtelot has vowed that the concert and suicide will still take place at an undisclosed location in the city, broadcast live on the band's Web site.

'This show is far more than a typical Hell On Earth performance,' Tourtelot said in an e-mail last week. 'This is about standing up for what you believe in, and I am a strong supporter of physician-assisted suicide.' " READ THE ENTIRE STORY...

Questions: I am sure many of you find this story offensive, even if you believe in right-to-die legislation. Without in any way trivializing the serious and important issues involved here, I'm interested in thinking about what makes the idea of a staged real or fake suicide offensive in terms of play and performance, if you think those ideas are useful for talking about this story. (If you don't, please feel free to explain why.) If this is a publicity stunt, would you say that this qualifies as a kind of dark play? How so? What would the point of this kind of play be for the band, for the political issue, for the audience? If this is not a publicity stunt, and the band actually wants to stage a live suicide, do you think this breaks the rules of live performance? How so? Or do audiences implicitly accept different rules by attending the notoriously controversial Hell on Earth concerts? Are there any legitimate reasons to consider staging what Hell on Earth claims to want to stage?

UPDATE: From a later news story [10/2/03]:
"Hell on Earth leader Billy Tourtelot told The Associated Press that the the band will defy the court order and that "a select few people" will attend the show at an undisclosed site in St. Petersburg, and that it will be shown live on the band's Web site. He has declined to disclose any details about the terminally ill person. "

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Cal beats USC
In the biggest college upset of the week (so says ESPN, anyway), Cal's football team beat #3 ranked USC in triple overtime. For no rational reason, I felt a surge of pride when I heard the news late last night. I don't know any members of the Cal football team. I haven't actually attended a Cal football game in my 3 years here, although I have watched a few at the Bear's Lair. My undergraduate college was a 3-building campus in midtown Manhattan, with no sports teams to speak of, so I've always been a little cynical about (and mystified by) student fans of varsity athletic teams. So it caught me by surprise to realize how happy I was to hear about Cal's victory. I really don't know why I should feel so connected to, or represented by, a team I have no real personal knowledge or experience of at all.

I'm just curious if any of you have been to, or have been following, any of the games, and what if any connection you feel to "your" football team. Is it on your radar at all? How do you feel about the big win this weekend?

Friday, September 26, 2003

Can We Agree on the Rules?
Something that caught my eye in a Salon article on autistic children today...

Autism. Auto: for "self," or "same." The tendency to view life in terms of one's own needs and desires ... unmindful of objective reality. (Webster's) At one time a generic term applied to children navigating pre-social orientation. Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget noted 6-year-olds playing marbles as completely indifferent to rules, fairness, winners, losers. Two or more side by side yet no group norms emerged. Possibly each child played an entirely separate game. "[Their] relations to the world are autistic -- determined largely by the wishes and preferences of the individual."

What an interesting tool for assessing social competency and psychological fitness. We grow up, we learn to play by each others' rules. We learn to play the same game. Mental "incompetency" is defined as the inability to agree on what is the game. Severe social "retardation" is defined as the complete lack of concern for other players' goals, rules, etc. On many levels, this metaphor/schema appeals to me, makes sense to me. Piaget talks of a literal game (marbles), but if we consider "objective reality" to be society's rules for interpersonal conduct and interactions, then not giving a damn about the game is to be totally unsocializable. Clearly, of course, "not giving a damn" in the case of autism is not a conscious choice, but rather a neurological fact. I don't think this biological basis diminishes the power of the metaphor suggested by Piaget's marbles example. Thoughts?

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Collective Play #2: INSTANT FUN


Here is our collective play activity for this Friday! Feel free to post your thoughts before we play (do you expect it will be easy or hard? what are your strategies going into the game? are you going to conspire with your team via email before the game itself?) And, of course, please post your comments after we play. (What was the best part of the game? What was the hardest? What rule would you change or add to make the game better? Which invention by your team did you like best, and which invention from another team did you like best? What strategies worked well for your group, and which didn't? Did you conspire at all before hand, and if so, how do you think this affected your play experience?)

R1A: Theater and Games 9.26.03
Collective Play #2: Instant Fun
Facilitator: Jane McGonigal

GAME: Instant Fun

Note: team motto, uniform, mascot, etc. greatly appreciated and awarded extra points — I leave it up to you to coordinate this via email amongst your team members.
DEEP PLAY: Sarah Benrath, Kiran Sahdev, Joseph Liu, Kevin Lee, Kevin Platshon
DARK PLAY: H.C. Williams, Andy Vu, Tim Shokair, Duncan Wold
PAIDIA: Allen Choi, Kat Perdiguerra, Blanca Cervano-Soto, Amy Chang
LUDUS: Ewa Pruska, Chris Clavin, Marina Wu, Amy Hui

GOAL: To create “instant fun” by inventing as many new games or play activities as possible in 20 minutes, using the supplied materials for inspiration.

PROCEDURES: · At the start of the game, the facilitator will reveal the three materials your team will have for inspiration. You may send up a representative at any time to investigate the materials, but you cannot take them back to your team. All teams will be working with the same three materials.
· Your team will have 20 minutes to brainstorm and collaborate. Your team may work together as a group, or divide up into smaller groups. Take legible notes on your inventions, which you will submit to the facilitator at the end of the game.
· At the end of 20 minutes, each team will have a strictly enforced maximum of 5 minutes TOTAL to give “quickfire pitches” of each invention. (So if you have 3 inventions, you will want to use about 1.5 minutes to pitch each one.)
· The facilitator will award points for each quickfire pitch based on the following criteria: Sounds Like Fun (1 point), Fits the Team’s Play Form (2 points), Convincingly Explained or Creatively Demonstrated (2 points).


1. You cannot “invent” a game that already exists.
2. Each game or play activity you invent must reflect the special play form your team represents (deep play, dark play, paidia or ludus).
3. Each game or play activity you invent must incorporate at least one of the supplied materials. Bonus points awarded for an invention that incorporates ALL of the supplied materials. Your invention may also involve other materials that you may or may not have with you (i.e., it also requires a car, or a pit bull, or music.)

NUMBER OF REQUIRED PARTICIPANTS: 4-5 players per team, 4 teams total.

ROLES OF PARTICIPANTS: Each team must appoint a secretary to do the notetaking. You may NOT appoint a single pitch person; you must take turns pitching your inventions, using all members of your group, and no one may pitch twice until everyone has pitched at least once.

RESULTS OR PAY-OFF: All teams earning 10 points or more will receive an A for class participation for the week and the title of Instant Fun Masters. The team earning the most points will receive the additional title of Instant Fun World Champions 2003. These truly awesome titles will be posted on our blog for the entire world to admire and revere, and you will of course be the envy of all your friends and peers.

ABILITIES/SKILLS REQUIRED: Creativity, ingenuity, collaboration, artistry, confidence, quick thinking, fast talking, and a solid understanding of our course readings!

INTERACTION PATTERNS: Cooperative (in-team), multi-lateral competition (your team versus the 3 other teams)

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Avedon's Schema

From frisbee golf to the sugar-packet game, skip-it to capture the flag, thumb wrestling to Scrabble, most of you found Elliott Avedon's scheme of game elements to be overall a comprehensive and effective way to capture the essence of any game.

For most of you, the least satisfying element in Avedon's scheme, however, was "Results or pay-off." Many of you felt you were stretching it a bit with a pay-off as intangible and vague as: "Thrill of winning", "psychological satisfaction", "achieving a goal", "glory", "bragging rights", "pride", "gloating", and "a claim to the high score", noting that in most cases, "Winning is just winning." A couple of you suggested that perhaps "motivation" would be a better category than "results or pay-off," as it could encompass both the informal reasons for playing (to pass the time, to have fun, to satisfy a competitive drive) as well as formal motivations (advancing in a tournament, winning a prize, earning money). What do you think? Would motivation be a better element than results or pay-off? Someone else suggested expanding the category to be "Results: Pay-off OR Consequence," because sometimes the winner doesn't win anything, but the loser has to do something (drink, eat a packet of sugar, take off a piece of clothing, e.g.) Do you think expanding "results" to include both payoffs and consequences is a good idea?

Many of you also felt the element of "roles" was a weak category of analysis, arguing that identifying all roles as "equal" is not particularly interesting. Others resisted the usefulness of the roles category by arguing that roles often change during the game, and that the decision to assign roles on a team is an aspect of strategy, not a required part of the game itself. Agree or disagree?

Finally, suggestions for additional categories of analysis include: Strategy, importance of winning vs. losing, cooperative vs. competitive, element of luck or chance, and game boundaries. Thoughts?

Monday, September 22, 2003

Writing Papers: The Game?

In her famous essay on college writing ("A Stranger in Strange Lands"), Lucille Parkinson McCarthy argues that each writing assignment asks its students to play a game, with potentially different aims, rules, roles, and so on.

We've been looking at Elliott Avedon's essential game elements; can you come up with all eight essential game elements for your first R1A: Theater and Games writing assignment? (Bonus points for optional elements #9 and #10!)

Does thinking about the paper this way help you tackle the final draft, or does the metaphor not work for you?

To refresh your memory, Avedon's schemas consists of the following ten elements:
1) purpose of the game, 2) procedure for action, 3) rules governing action, 4) number of required participants, 5) roles of participants, 6) results or pay-off, 7) abilities and skills required for action, 8) interaction patterns, 9) physical setting and environmental requirements, 10) required equipment.

[Also, for a critical take on Avedon's schema, as well as some of Brian Sutton-Smith's related work, check out this article from Game Studies (an academic journal about digital games): "The Repeatedly Lost Art of Studying Games" by Jesper Juul.]

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Tele-Twister Photos!

Check out images from the Tele-Twister project! (I'm easy to find, but bonus points if you spot your classmate in the photos...) Also, just a reminder that we are holding Tele-Twister trials every Friday from noon until 1 PM. You can play online or throw on red/blue clothes and play in person in the Alpha Lab.

Interactive Environments

Here's something new on the mobile vs. pervasive gaming tip. From The New York Times again (those guys are doing a great job this week covering game culture!), an article (free registration required) that speculates on the future uses of cell phones in public spaces. Will we use our cell phones to be more playful and interactive with our environments? Some examples:

(From "If Walls Could Talk, Streets Might Join In" by Jessie Scanlon)

"Waiting rooms are boring. You can call them lobbies or reception areas and populate them with magazines, but nothing changes the fact that you are waiting and you are bored. Yet things are different at the Lisbon offices of Vodafone, the British-based mobile phone company. Step inside and you'll find yourself in a space enclosed on one side by a 260-foot-long glass wall. Visible through the glass is a 13-by-13-foot cube poised above an expanse of water: the side facing you is a liquid crystal display screen programmed with a loop of news headlines, short animations and interactive games. In game mode, the cube prompts visitors to dial a number on their mobile phones or use controls embedded in the furniture to play solo or against one another.
In August 2002, Ideo completed a similar project in the central London offices of BBCi, the BBC's interactive services group, which wanted its street-level windows to serve as a showcase for its interactive mission. The windows now offer a view into the studio's inner workings, and, among other things, allow passersby to see and hear interviews in progress and submit their own questions by using the text-based feature on cellphones known as SMS, or short message service. The questions appear on a large video screen on the back wall of the studio. The BBCi and Vodafone projects reflect a broad misson to build digital interactivity into public spaces.
The impulse toward interactive design extends to groups like the Chaos Computer Club, a community of German hackers with a predilection for public art who wired a building on the Alexanderplatz in Berlin in 2001, transforming the light in each office on the top eight floors into a pixel on a would-be computer screen. Blinkenlights, as the installation was called, allowed people to send in messages by SMS, post animations and play Pong. " READ THE FULL STORY...

These examples seem to blur the line between mobile and pervasive gaming. They are a little more location-specific and context-aware than portable consoles, but perhaps more structured or "framed" than pervasive play. (How would you classify these examples, or the others from the full article?) Would you use your cell phone to engage with these kinds of installations? What similar or others kinds of interactivity would you like to see in public spaces? Does it have to be high-tech, or could you imagine low-tech (or no-tech) versions of playful interactivity in everyday environments?

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Reality Games

The New York Times is running an article today, "Online Games Grab Grim Reality" (Free registration required) about controversial, documentary-style computer games. (They're usually done as high-concept, independently produced art projects.) Consider the following excerpt:

"As flames crackled and the wind howled through a gash in the skyscraper's wall, a gray-suited businessman wandered in a daze through the smoke. Unable to find an escape route, he suddenly strode toward the sky and leaped.

This appalling scene appears neither in print nor on film but in a computer game, 9-11 Survivor, that was briefly available this summer on the Internet. Using a mouse, players could move through an animated, three-dimensional rendering of a burning World Trade Center office. Ultimately one might perish in the fire, opt to jump like the businessman or, if concealed stairs were discovered, flee to safety.

9-11 Survivor provoked an immediate outcry on the Internet. Infuriated e-mail correspondents accused the game's makers of lacking taste and moral decency by exploiting a tragedy. The game depicts only one scene, and although an online description, at www.selectparks.net /911survivor, makes it seem as if a full product were still coming, 9-11 Survivor was never planned for commercial release.

It was created as an art-class project by three students at the University of California, San Diego, John Brennan, Mike Caloud and Jeff Cole. They said their goal was to reinterpret a historic moment by transplanting it to the medium with which they were most familiar: computer games. Inured to the distant televised images of Sept. 11, they hoped an immersive, interactive version would restore an immediacy to the day's horrors. Mr. Cole, who examined photographs to reconstruct the scene, said, "The more I delved into it, the more personal it became."

Waco Resurrection, for instance, is a new computer game in which four players assume the role of the cult leader David Koresh in a virtual re-creation of his Texas compound where more than three dozen people were killed in a confrontation with federal agents. From Oct. 15 to Oct. 25 the game can be played at the Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street in Chelsea, where players must read Koresh's messianic messages aloud and attract followers to advance. The game, to be put online early in 2004, was created by a Los Angeles artists' collective, C-level. Its members intend to produce a series of games about ideologues, including the Heaven's Gate leader Marshall Applewhite and the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski." REAL ENTIRE STORY...

Are you offended by any of these games, or do you think they are a valid form of artistic expression? Can you think of any subject or historical event that should be "off-limits" for game design? Would you ever want to play one of the "documentary" games described above? What appeal do you think they might have to other gamers?

Monday, September 15, 2003

Joe Schmo: Dark Play?

Reality television keeps popping up in our discussion of different play forms: paidia, deep play, and dark play, for instance. Perhaps some of you know a little about Spike TV's Joe Schmo, a new reality tv show that I think offers a fascinating example of "dark play".

Richard Schechner defines dark play as "play based on deception". Dark play, in other words, is a game with no metacommunications (see Gregory Bateson). It is a game in which only some of the players know they are playing, while others (because there are no metacommunications that "this is play") mistake the protective frame for reality. Consider how perfectly Joe Schmo fits into this frame:

[From a Scripps Howard wire story:]

"The Joe Schmo Show is a rip in the fabric of reality TV.

'The show really deconstructs reality programming,' says Albie Hecht, president of Spike TV. 'It can be seen as a parody (of reality TV), but it also asks the question: What is real in reality programming?' In it, an elaborate reality game show has been orchestrated for the benefit of one unwitting contestant, Matt Kennedy Gould of Pittsburgh. Unbeknownst to him, everyone else on the show is an actor. The setting is fake.

Gould, a pizza deliverer who recently dropped out of law school, thinks he has signed up to play a game called 'Lap of Luxury,' on which he is sequestered in a mansion with strangers, all competing to win big prizes, $100,000 and instant fame.

So Schmo is a fake reality game set inside a real reality show. Schmo documents the 10 days the con lasted.

Isn't this trick down right mean to play on someone? 'We were all concerned with the fact we were doing a play in essence for an audience of one — Matt.' " [READ THE REST OF THIS STORY...]

What are the ethics involved in this kind of dark play? What would make this scenario more or less ethical, in your opinion? Do you think dark play is a particularly effective form of satire? Would you have fun participating in dark play as a "knowing" player? What about as the conned player? Feel free to bring in other examples of dark play.


An article in Wired today captured my interest and imagination; it's a great fit for our discussion of deep play. Check out the introduction below, and post your reactions to this new "dangerous art." Notice how the author equates deep play to a kind of beautiful performance, and how corporations are looking to capitalize on the trend with sponsorships and video game tie-ins. What do you make of this "consumer culture meets rebel aesthetics"?

Except from Wired's "Go, Skid Racer, Go!"
"Tony and I are sitting in the welded-steel roll cage of his 1989 Mazda RX-7 Turbo, waiting for the call. Beyond the dashboard, it's a perfect summer night in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the sort of evening custom-made for young men and fast cars. The moon is full and high, and the humid air carries the scent of woods and fields. Threaded through the silhouettes of farmhouses and hills is a single road, a shoulderless country switchback squiggling in the moonlight. Tony's here to ride these curves in an automotive style some people consider a menace, others a miracle. It's called drifting, and it's the biggest thing you've never heard of.

Drifting is the art of controlling a car while it's going sideways. I say 'sideways' because during a drift, the car slips perpendicular to the forward direction of the tires. I say 'art' because cars are engineered not to go sideways, and, as any pro driver will tell you, sideways driving tends to be a bit hard on the tires - not to mention the suspension and frame - and is certainly not the fastest or safest way around a curve.

But drifting is not a race. It's more like surfing, an endeavor judged on style rather than speed. To achieve a drift, you take a light, rear wheel-drive import like an '80s Toyota Corolla or a Mazda RX-7, push it beyond the limit of traction, then surf the unfolding physics, curve after curve. It ain't easy. A proper drift employs dozens of technical factors, and a good drift differs from a poor one as starkly as a Porsche from a Pinto. At its most refined, a stylish drift is a thing of balance and beauty. The unspooling chaos approaches the line of a French curve or the spiral logic of a Mandelbrot fractal.

Also, it's fun. In Japan, where the sport was born, drifting has evolved from a late-night teen scene to a multimillion-dollar, multimedia phenomenon that sells soft drinks and car parts and clothes. Its stars have fat sponsorships and squealing fan clubs and their own superleague called D1. But in the US, drifting is still in its infancy - something like skateboarding 30 years ago, in the Dogtown era. American drifters like Tony Angelo exist chiefly in isolated, suburban tribes, peeking at the drift scene through the keyhole of Internet message boards, videogames, and import DVDs.

All that's about to change. Like skateboarding, drifting is starting to look like the next pop fusion of consumer culture and rebel aesthetics, the perfect vehicle to market T-shirts and toys and Mountain Dew. This coming year, drifting will appear in megastores and multiplexes and family amusement parks. Four new drift-oriented videogames - including the hotly anticipated Gran Turismo 4 - are in the final stages of development. D1 is holding an American star search to bring one lucky Yankee into its ranks. After years of obscurity, Tony's underground street sport is about to go mainstream."

Deep Play

Why do people engage in "deep play" if the dangers and risks are so huge, and the potential benefits seemingly trivial? Many psychologists and sociologists have argued that fans of deep play are, as anthropologist Clifford Geertz puts it, "irrational, addicts, fetishists, children, fools, savages, who need only to be protected against themselves." Geertz himself disagreed with this analysis of deep players and wanted to explore the motivations for and potential benefits of deep play.

In today's minute papers, many of you identified strongly with the drive toward deep play and argued persuasively for its potential rewards, both at a personal level and in the larger community. A few of you resisted Geertz's claims, making compelling cases that deep play is often a selfish and socially destructive activity that should be limited whenever possible. So many of you made such interesting points, that I am posting a lot of short excerpts, rather than entire minute papers.

Please feel free to respond to the points raised here and to challenge or support each others' claims.

Why deep play?
"There is probably some psychological gain. To be in such a precarious situation, to be facing possible death or injury, may make people feel alive. Away from their usual mundane, robot-like existence, they appreciate what they have by being close to losing it."

"The extreme proximity to to trauma heightens the tension, drama and risk of play activities, yet on the other hand, this elevated level of experience brings also a proportionately high level of pleasure at the act's completion. I enjoy snowboarding and riding sports bikes out of enjoyment of the fact that at times I am only at the border between control and disaster. The risk forces me to place all my focus on the activity and be completely confident, even if my skill may not match the confidence. If I were to actually doubt myself at any time, I may not survive, or at best, I won't enjoy the crash."

"Play is used to vent, but deep play is used to vent out frustrations to the extreme. Take the woman at Yosemite for example. The woman had problems with male authority, so she used deep play to let out her frustration."

"To cheat death is a great feeling. It makes us feel we can beat death and conquer anything and have control. Ironically, this is what some of us need to keep our sanity, rather than deep play being proof of our craziness."

"I disagree with the idea that there is no gain to the person engaging in the deep play. Getting nearer to your own mortality and cheating it can be a fantastic feeling."

"I can't find a reason why people engage in deep play. Once I jumped off a 30 foot cliff into a creek in which I didn't know how deep the water was. I gained nothing during the experience but a big splash and a minute in freezing water.... but I jumped off a second time right afterwards."

"Surviving a risky activity, which could be the only goal, forces people to trust others involved in the activity and creates a bond.... This summer I went parachuting in the mountains. I was very scared, nervous, but thrilled that I was doing it. My guide was a stranger and instantly I had to trust my life with him. When we landed I truly felt I could do it all by myself, and trusted my new stranger guide..."

"Deep play opens up a world tht we should only see from behind our safety net. For the community and the public, we look upon those who engage in deep play in awe sometimes. These people become idols for some."

"I don't feel that deep play is irrational. In a way it is a bit childlike becuase it allows you to explore the unknown, and in deep play everything is somewhat new and out of the routine. Children don't always function with routine, and if they do, they use their creativity to make it more interesting. There isn't the same pressure that adults have to follow routine and be more strict in terms of taking fewer risks for the sake of being 'rational'."

"I think what separates the 'irrational addicts' from regular people that engage in deep play is knowing that what you are doing is dangeroues and regretting it at least somewhat... I think the biggest personal benefit of deep play is having a story to tell.... the story makes the storyteller feel more powerful about themselves."

Why not deep play?
"Sometimes deep play can put some innocent bystanders at risk as well. When it comes to this point, I feel that a line is being crossed. I believe people should be able to express themselves as long as they do not harm others in the process."

"I think that Geertz is completely wrong. People who participate in such dangerous acts such as hanging over the side of Niagra Falls to get a loved one in a state of panic are chidlish and selfish. They get off on the idea that people are freaked out over what they are doing. It seems that people who typically participate in deep play do it as a way to prove their strength, and to show they are not weak. Yet deep play only gives the individual cheap thrills, and if something goes wrong, the rest of the family and community has to deal with the consequence of their actions."

Friday, September 12, 2003

Paidia vs. Ludus

In our reading for today, Schechner discussed the differences between Roger Caillois' concepts of paidia, spontaneous outbursts of free or frenzied play, and ludus, a more formal, official and rule-governed kind of play. Schechner suggests that throughout history, in different societies and cultures, paidia and ludus have alternated as the primary and most desirable form of play.

In your minute papers, I asked to you write about which form of play, paidia or ludus, you think is most influential (or is becoming more influential) in contemporary American society, and what cultural values are suggested and reinforced by that kind of play. This was the best batch of minute papers yet! You came up with some great insights, most of you suggesting that while ludus is dominant, as seen most clearly in the popularity of organized sports and the dependence on clearly demarcated spaces for play (like theaters, playgrounds, boards, etc.), there is also a growing interest in paidia, as evidenced by things like flash mobs, the free speech movement, and digital file sharing. I was especially interested in how differently a number of you interpreted reality television as a sign of both increased value on ludus and paidia. (Both positions offer compelling arguments!) I agree that reality tv is a terrific place to look for changing views on play in American society, as well as abroad. A quick example: on the Australian version of Big Brother, contestants are forbidden from ever discussing their voting plans or game strategies with any other players. They can NEVER talk about the game as a game! On the American Big Brother series, however, I would estimate that nearly 80% of each episode is devoted to housemates explicitly plotting with each other. All they do is strategize and try to outgame the other gamers. What do you think that might reveal about American vs. Australian culture?

Here are some excerpts from some of your responses:

"In American society, it seems to me that ludus is absolutely the prevalent form of play. I attribute this to the Protestant work ethic and the individualistic nature of Americans. Everybody today in America seems to work on a schedule. Even the most paidia type of play would have to be fit into someone's plan for the day. Even if someone has the time, they probably wouldn't engage in paidia, unless they were kids or teens. Most adults would feel silly or too tired from working."

"In today's modern American society, I think that paidia is much more influential. Before, ludus seemed to be dominant in American culture, with certain ideas being taboo and policies on informal social play (such as demonstrations and things like flash mobs) being much stricter and governed. However, from the '70s until now, paidia has beomce much more dominant. Things such as free speech are celebrated rather than down as they would have been in the '50s. Today, we live in a society where flash mobs are seen as outbursts of play and where the show Jackass is enjoyed for its humor and shock value. In a ludus society, these things would have been contained instead of celebrated."

"I would consider ludus definitely dominant in our society, especially considering the phenomenon of reality tv. More often than not, we have complex, complicated rules that command the show. Humans by nature, I guess, don't like chaos and appeciate order, but Americans especially. Everything has to be "fair" and "played by the rules"; there's always some sort of referee. Our favorite pasttimes, board games, are particularly less spontaneous and certainly have a structure. I think it all goes back to what we value, such as hard work ("earning your win"), and being clever, and justice even. I think our games have to simulate our life, which would include rules, and without them would be a foreign and possibly decidedly less pleasant experience."

"I think that previously in American society, ludus was more influential, but recently paidia has started to become more popular. In television, for example, "reality," or unscripted, television used to be regulated to game shows that were formal and rule-governed. The current trend in reality television began with Survivor, a game with rules, but more time and freedom to act as one chose. Now, with shows like Paradise Hotel, where there is no real "prize," participants are really free to do anything they like. I think paidia has influenced American capitalism. Though there are still copyright and antitrust types of laws, people are starting to do business and marketing in unconventional ways, the more unique the better."

"Reality television is an evolving form of media that incorporates both paidia and ludus. I think that certain shows, like Survivor and The Real World and Road Rules, have been very influential in contemporary America. Both Survivor and Road Rules incorporate challenges, or the ludus form of play, as well as paidia by constantly videotaping the lives of the players. Recently on The Real World, one of the cast members was on the metro in Paris and turned the train into a 'discoteque on wheels.' He was dancing, singing, flirting. I think it was a very good example of paidia because his actions were completely spontaneous and out of context. Nobody expected him to just get up from his seat on the train and start dancing around passionately. At first I thought it was crazy of him to do something like this in such a serious setting, but at the same time, there's nothing wrong with dancing and showing excitement; he wasn't bothering anyone in the process."

Protective frames

Two years ago yesterday, my partner Kiyash and I spent all day and night marching little wooden men around an $8.99 Parcheesi board from Walgreen’s. It was September 11, 2001, and it was all we could do.

I only vaguely remember how the game started. A few hours had passed since we had woken up to the terrible news, and we had already tried (unsuccessfully) to donate blood at the nearest Red Cross center. Parcheesi must have been on our mind because, having just moved to Berkeley from New York City, the board game was one of our very first West Coast purchases. I don’t know if it was Kiyash or I who suggested the game, but I do recall that whoever it was felt sheepish about the suggestion. It hardly seemed appropriate to whip out a board game in the middle of a national crisis, in the face of such tragedy. But there we were, watching endless hours of news coverage, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to sustain the emotional strength required by the horrifying footage. So whoever suggested Parcheesi, the other quickly agreed. I don’t think there was a discussion. It just made sense to play.

Parcheesi, like Sorry!, is a game that works best with four players. It’s just too hard to effectively chase each other around the board and thwart each other’s progress with only two people. With just two colors in motion, the board becomes a vast ocean, each player drifting alone, and neither able to make much of an impact on the other’s strategy or success. So Kiyash and I decided each to play as two different colors, each color supposedly acting independently of the other. I was red and green; he, yellow and blue. For some reason, that detail I remember.

We soon discovered, however, that two players controlling four sets of wooden men does not necessarily make for more interesting play. The consistent ganging up of the red and green against the yellow and blue actually resulted in a completely unproductive scenario, in which neither Kiyash nor I was making any progress whatsoever to our goal. We kept sending each other’s pieces back to the start, and around and around we went, never getting any closer to a conclusion.

At first, this pattern was frustrating. Soon, it became satisfying. It was rhythmic, inevitable, mindless. The goal became so distant, it was barely a factor in the game play anymore. Roll, advance; roll, undo your opponent’s advances. Roll, advance; have your own advances undone. There was no thinking, no discussion, only acting. It was flow. And it was exactly what we needed.

We played and played and played, and when we were finally able to sleep, we left the board set up, and got up the next morning and kept on playing. Neither of us got any closer to winning, but neither of us wanted to leave the protective frame of the game. We needed the emotionless safety of our Parcheesi flow. It still sounds strange, and I suppose silly, to me to be juxtaposing such a mundane game with such an almost mystical experience. But I can't help the incongruity. It really did happen that way.

This is what I think now, anyway, two years later. At the time, there was no reflection on why. There only was.

Neither of us ever won that game. A few days after 9/11, we glued all of the pieces and the dice to the board exactly where they were when we decided to leave the protective frame. We hung the board in our living room, where it still hangs today. Friends and family who visit admire our handiwork, and assume it is just a creative bit of decoration. We haven’t explained its purpose or meaning to anyone, perhaps because we couldn’t. It took me these past two years, I suppose, to really understand what we were doing those days and nights we just couldn’t stop playing Parcheesi.

I wanted to share these thoughts with the class because our work together this semester, and your own comments on how, and when, and why you play, have helped me understand my own 9/11 experience two years ago so much better. Thank you.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Zen Scavenger Hunt

NEW: See a photo/video report of the hunt, with before and after photos and QuickTime proofs! Note: the videos load automatically on the pages, and this may cause some of the pages to load slowly.

I'm dying to know. How did it go? Was it more playful or more gamelike? What do you think the purpose of playing this game was? What was most difficult about the game? What was most enjoyable? What skills or talents do you think this game might help develop? What was the "best" object/item match that you made as a group? Please share your thoughts on these questions, or anything else you feel like discussing.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

San Francisco Flash Mob #4

Below are the instructions for the next SF flash mob... this Wednesday's mob is part of a triple threat -- New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles are coordinating flash mobs on the same night. A quick note: this mob is going to be a silly one. Highly recommended to those up for a little public make-believe. Anyone who attends, please post your experience!

INSTRUCTIONS - MOB #4: "Lights, Camera, Action"
Wednesday, September 10th, 6:00 pm
Duration: 10 minutes

(1) At some point during the day on September 10th,
synchronize your watch to

(2) For this MOB, it would be useful to bring along
your digital camera. If you don't have a digital camera,
bring a pen and paper.

(3) By 6:00 PM, based on the month of your birth,
please situate yourselves in the meeting locations
below. Act casual, don't mention the MOB. If you are
attending the MOB with friends, you may all meet in
the same location.

January, February, March, April:
Starbucks, on Drumm between Sacramento and California
May, June, July, August:
Starbucks, on the corner of Front and Market
September, October, November, December:
Harrington's Bar & Grill, on Front between Sacramento and

(4) Then or soon thereafter, a MOB representative
will appear. He or she will pass around slips of paper with your
instructions. Do your best to conceal them as you head to the
starting location.

***** We need FOUR brave volunteers to help with
passing out instructions on Wednesday. If you are certain
you can be in the Embarcadero area by 5:30 on Wednesday
and want to get cozy with us mobsters, send a message with
your cell phone number to mobproject@yahoo.com.

-The San Francisco Mob Project

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Writing Assignment #1: The Play Experiment

For the first writing assignment, you will be testing some play concepts in a real-life play setting of your choosing. The goal is NOT to prove or to disprove a particular play theory, but rather to generate some personal insights that help you connect the concepts and theories to your own experiences. What do you discover when you approach your everyday activities with the play concepts we have discussed in mind? Please choose ONE of the following experiments:

1. TELIC vs. PARATELIC. Choose any activity and approach it from both a telic and a paratelic perspective. (EXAMPLES: Baking a cake, writing a poem, taking a walk.) How do the two different frames of mind affect your experience? Describe the specific strategies you adopt to achieve each mindset, and explain why you chose those particular strategies. Discuss the differences that arise as a result of the two different approaches. You may want to consider the differences, for example, in your own feelings during the activity; the end results or final products; and other participants’ or spectators’ reactions to your different states of mind and strategies.

2. PLAY vs. GAMES. Choose two different activities, one that you would normally describe as “play” (more free form and less goal-oriented) and one that you would normally describe as a “game” (more structured and more goal-oriented). Attempt to “game” the play activity and to “make more playful” the game activity. That is, create a more formal and game-like approach to the activity that is usually more playful, and think of a playful way to subvert the formality and goal-orientation of the game. (EXAMPLE: Make Instant Messaging more game-like, and make Grand Theft Auto more playful.) Describe the specific strategies you adopt to transform each activity, and explain why you have chosen those particular strategies. Discuss your experience with each activity. Which is harder to accomplish, gaming play or making more playful the game? Does either approach result in a more pleasurable, or more productive, or more interesting experience? How, and why?

3. FLOW. Choose two different activities, and attempt to achieve “flow” in each. (EXAMPLES: dancing, writing, cleaning.) You may use the same strategies in both activities, or test different strategies in each activity. Which flow strategies prove most effective, and why? Which activity was more suited to producing flow, and why? If you are unable to approach flow in either activity, discuss the difficulties you had and speculate about the circumstances that prevented you from experiencing flow. Is it possible to choose when to experience flow, or does it “just happen?”

4. DESIGN YOUR OWN. Subject to approval. If you would like to design your own experiment, you can submit a proposal similar to the two sets of instructions above. Tell me what concept you will be testing and what questions you will be asking and answering in your paper.

YOU MUST POST YOUR CHOICE (1, 2, 3, or 4), ALONG WITH THE ACTIVITY OR ACTIVITIES YOU PLAN TO INCLUDE IN YOUR EXPERIMENT, TO OUR COURSE WEB LOG BY THURSDAY at 11 PM. I will let you know in Friday’s class if I have any suggestions or need to request a change in your proposed experiment. Please feel free to comment or offer suggestions on your classmates' proposed experiments.


I was really impressed with this week's minute papers on flow, especially considering that we had not yet discussed the idea of flow together in class. Many of you found it easiest to achieve flow in an actitivity that is extremeley physical, such as sports or dancing. Others found the element of repetition to be important. One of you suggested, quite rightly, that the flow state is very similar to a Zen philosophical practice. Some of you found being alone a key ingredient for flow, while others found it easier to achieve flow in a group setting. Many of you weren't sure, of course, that you had ever really experienced a flow state; I hope after our class discussion, you may have a better of idea of whether you have or what activities in your life currently come closest to providing flow.

Here are some of your writings on flow:

"Playing the Microsoft game of Minesweeper is something I do when I'm bored. The object is to clear a 'minefield' of non-mine spaces in the shortest amount of time. My friend and I used to talk about who had the better times and how or when that happened. We realized that the best times (fastest times) came when it seemed like we were not actively seeing each block, not actively aware of our fingers right-clicking and left-clicking, not actively aware of our hands moving the mouse around. It was like our whole body (mind, eyes, hands) acted as a cohesive whole. There was no delay time between clicking the box, looking at the number, and deciding which surrounding boxes had mines. The fingers clicked and moved on. There was an awareness of the game as a whole, but not separated into steps because each action flowed into the next without effort. I'm not sure how or why this happened because it doesn't always come when I play." (One thing I particularly want to point out about this minute paper, by the way, is how seamlessly the description of the activity and its analysis are intertwined. The writer doesn't describe the game and then explain why it was flow; instead, she analyzes as she describes. This is an excellent writing strategy that I would encourage you to try in your first writing assignment.)

"I, probably along with many other people, have experienced flow while playing a sport. One time in my life, I was playing a tennis match for high school. Usually when I play important matches, I'm a nervous wreck, thinking of many things ranging from what mistakes I will make or what I did wrong. However, this one time, I was not thinking about anything. My mind was clear and all I was doing was hitting the ball in. There were no worries in my mind, there was nothing in my mind. It was like hitting the tennis ball was natural to me, an instinct instead of a learned trait. My mind was only in the game and nowhere else. I think in order for players to feel 'flow,' they must have passion and drive for what they are playing. Their mind must also be clear of any distracting thoughts. That is what I did in order to experience my flow."

"One example of flow that comes to my head is when I danced at prom. Something that I can't do very well is dance, but that night, I felt the 'flow.' When I saw everyone around me dancing and having a good time, I couldn't help but join them even if I had made a fool of myself. All I can remember is that when I was in the flow, I had a great time. I didn't think about how I was dancing because it kind of felt like the music was moving me. I would recommend to soemone who wanted to experience flow that he or she should give in to the power of play at that moment."

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Mobile games vs. Pervasive Play

A story on Wired today discusses N-Gage, a new portable game unit produced by Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia. N-Gage (think: GameBoy meets your cell phone) will enable users to take their favorite console games on the go, and to play against other mobile users. In addition to in-house game development and picking up classics like Splinter Cell and Sonic the Hedgehog, Nokia has tapped big time game publishers like Electronic Arts and Sega to develop original single and multi-player networked games for the N-Gage. According to Nokia reps, the N-Gage will be targeted most heavily to college students. Also on the horizon is Sony's portable Playstation device the PSP, which the Wired article reports will "include a processor nearly as powerful as that in the PlayStation 2 and wireless networking using the 802.11 protocol."

There's something that bothers me about mobile console-style units like N-Gage and PSP. Don't get me wrong; I have my own PS2 and dig the XBox, not to mention (as I do whenever I have the chance!) my all-time favorite console, the Atari 2600. But I'm not sure I like the idea of gamers taking their console games with them. I am thrilled, of course, to see more people expressing the desire to put more play into their everyday lives, including their commutes and the time they spend in public spaces. But why should we be playing the same kind of games on the go as we do at home? There is nothing about the N-Gage or PSP games that acknowledges their surroundings. You can play them anywhere, and that "anywhere" may as well not even exisit, as far as the game is concerned. This is pure escapism, a shutting out of one's surroundings. This is the difference, I think, between mobile games -- which are games that can be taken and played anywhere -- and pervasive games -- which are playing "on the go," but which take into account the actual places and people around you as as play. I much prefer the pervasive play model, which encourages people to pay more attention to the space and things they encounter every day, and to approach them in a more playful way. I work, for example, on The Go Game, which is based on the concept of pervasive play. The Go Game, which is based in San Francisco but has been played in nearly 20 different cities so far, sends players on urban missions via cell phones. The missions fall into categories like "Sneak and Snoop," "Performance Art," "Interact with a Stranger," "Puzzles," and "Daredevil." The idea behind the Go Game, as its mission statement reads, is "to encourage players to realize the magic and creativity that surrounds them daily…to see their world as the enriching playground it can be." (By the way, I am trying to arrange a Go Game for Berkeley later this semester; I will keep you posted so you have a chance to sign up, if you'd like.)

I think that play should reflect the physical world and the differences in our potential play spaces, rather than neutralizing them by allowing you to play the same game, the same way, wherever you go. And I get a little angry with Nokia for calling its product "N-Gage"; with whom and what, exactly, are the N-Gage players engaging? To me, the N-Gage encourages the exact opposite of engagement. I think console games are an amazing art form and a terrific way to have fun with friends, procrastinate, and blow off steam. But I would like to see the console games stay at home, and for other spaces to be used to experiment with new kinds of play.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Shitty First Drafts

Some of you may be familiar with the work of novelist and columnist Anne Lamott. Best known for a really biting wit, Lamott likes to serve up down-to-earth dissections of personal dysfunctions (often her own). I wanted to share with you an excerpt from her essay, "Shitty First Drafts." On Monday, we'll be talking about the first formal writing assignment for R1A, and I thought Lamott's ideas about approaching a first draft might be useful for you. I myself find her approach to first drafts to be very helpful. You'll notice, I hope, that Lamott is recommending approaching the first draft in a paratelic frame of mind. For Lamott, the protective frame of promising to herself, "No one will ever see this but me," and "I won't judge myself for whatever I write" lets her approach writing as play. Would this be possible for you? Read Lamott's description of her first-draft practice, and see what you think... I would like to know if any of you plan to approach the writing assignment this way, and if so, how confident or apprehensive you might be about turning the first draft into an opportunity for play. (You'll also have to let us know, afterwards, how it went!) If you disagree with Lamott's approach, why?

"The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, 'Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?' you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go -- but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages." (From "Shitty First Drafts" by Anne Lamott. If you like this excerpt, you can read the entire essay here.)

The Joker in the Deck

Richard Schechner suggests in "The Joker in the Deck" that play can be a subversive act. A recent editorial in The New York Times provides a really interesting example of (potentially) subversive play, in the most unlikely of places: the audience participation (voting for their favorite pop singer) in Superstar, also dubbed "Arab Idol" for its similarity to the American Idol TV series. Check out the excerpt from this article below, and let me know what you think. By playing along with the TV series, are the Arab audience subverting their traditionally un-democratic political cultures? Do you think this could actually have an impact on their national cultures and politics, by giving them a taste of the democratic process? Why would a show like Superstar be so successful in motivating and achieving democratic behavior in countries where it has never flourished before? Do you think the "protective frame" comes into play here? If so, how? Or do you think the "play" of Superstar is too bounded to have real-world consequences? If so, why?

Also, feel free to post here any thoughts on other reality television shows in general, and how they might fit into the models and theories of play we have discussed so far. But do take a look first at the fascinating editorial below...

52 to 48

"If you listen closely to the emerging debate about Iraq, one of the themes you can start to hear is that culture matters - and therefore this whole Iraq adventure may be a fool's errand. Because the political culture in the Arab world - where family and tribal identities have always trumped the notion of the citizen - is resistant to democracy.

I believe culture does matter, although I have no idea how much it explains the absence of Arab democracies. But I also believe cultures can change under the weight of history, economic reform and technological progress, and my own encounters with young people in the Arab world since 9/11 tell me that is happening. Consider what was the most talked-about story in the Arab world in recent weeks. Iraq? No. Palestine? No.

It was the Arab version of ``American Idol''!

The Arab look-alike, called ``Superstar,'' was aired by Future Television of Lebanon. Over 21 weeks, viewers got to vote by fax, Internet or cellphone for their favorite singers. Thousands of singers from across the Arab world were narrowed down to 12 finalists from seven different countries, then two. Millions of Arab viewers voted in the finals.

On Aug. 18, the A.P. reported from Beirut: ``Competition went smoothly until last week, when front-runner Melhem Zein, of Lebanon, was eliminated in the semifinals. Angry fans [in the studio] pelted each other with chairs and anything they could find, and the two remaining contestants fainted. ... Both Jordan and Syria have launched campaigns urging people to vote for their candidates'' - who were the two finalists.

Naturally, the fundamentalist Islamic Action Front condemned it all: ``We urge official and popular parties to put an end to this sad comedy,'' it said, because this show ``facilitates the culture of globalization led by America to change the cultural identity of the people.''

I found out about all this when a Jordanian friend e-mailed me after the finals, saying: ``Yesterday the Jordanian singer won through a vote over the Internet. 4.5 million people voted. People went wild in the streets till the early hours of the morning. ... The Arab basement can change!''

Rami Khouri, editor of The Beirut Daily Star, echoed that theme: ``This was a fascinating example of how the power of technology - in this case satellite television, Internet and cellphones - can tap sentiments and prompt people to action.'' But what was even more striking, Mr. Khouri said, was the Jordanian singer's victory margin. She won by only 52 to 48 percent in a region where presidents always win by ``99 percent.''

``I do not recall in my happy adult life a national vote that resulted in a 52 to 48 percent victory,'' Mr. Khouri added. ``Most of the `referenda' or `elections' that take place in our region usually result in fantastic pre-fixed victories. ... So a 52 to 48 percent outcome - even for just a song contest - is a breath of fresh air.'' He said he thanked the television network ``for allowing ordinary Arabs to show that they are not always willing participants in the political freak shows that are the `official elections' for president and other forms of Great Leader.'' "... read more (free registration required)

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