[ISEA2011] Panel: Graeme Kirk­patrick – The dis­cov­ery of ‘game­play’ and the for­ma­tion of com­puter gam­ing’s aes­thetic

Panel Statement

Panel: Playing the non-playful: On the critical potential of play at the overlap of videogames and electronic art

This pre­sen­ta­tion ex­plores the play of the video game as a kind of blunt­ing of the promise of the play in art­works as the lat­ter was un­der­stood by Adorno. In his ‘Aes­thetic The­ory’, Adorno sug­gests that a func­tion of art is to ‘bring to light what is im­ma­ture in the idea of ma­tu­rity’. The art­work in­vites the sub­ject to play and in so doing cre­ates an open­ing to prac­tices and urges that are kept out of view in the adult psy­che, under the con­ceal­ing rubric of  being a ‘grown-up’. This open­ing leads us to aware­ness that adult­hood and its re­al­ity prin­ci­ple are il­lu­sory or de­cep­tive and ex­plor­ing the art­work makes us sen­si­tive to other pos­si­bil­i­ties by al­low­ing the en­er­gies of our own child­hood selves a tem­po­rary, per­haps mo­men­tary ex­pres­sion. This leads to an al­to­gether more ma­ture sense of thwarted pos­si­bil­i­ties and of pre­sent self­ness as a shell that could be bro­ken in the di­rec­tion of ful­fill­ment. In con­trast to this pro­gres­sive-utopian play of art, I will argue the com­puter game of­fers a kind of play that, while it sum­mons the same en­er­gies, freezes them and pre­vents us from grow­ing through the ex­pe­ri­ence. Play with a com­puter game re­sus­ci­tates some­thing of child­hood but then holds it up to ridicule and blunts its utopian po­ten­tials. This po­si­tions it some­where be­tween the art­work and the en­ter­tain­ment com­mod­ity, in a cul­tur­ally spe­cific space of in-ad­e­qua­tion and in­de­ci­sion.

  • Graeme Kirk­patrick‘s work com­bines phi­los­o­phy, so­cial the­ory and so­ci­o­log­i­cal re­search meth­ods to ex­plore tech­nolo­gies, es­pe­cially dig­i­tal ar­ti­facts, in so­cial and cul­tural con­text. He is con­cerned to re­tain and de­velop in­sights from the Frank­furt tra­di­tion of crit­i­cal so­cial the­ory in the era of in­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies. He has pub­lished sev­eral books in­clud­ing ‘Crit­i­cal Tech­nol­ogy: A so­cial the­ory of per­sonal com­put­ing’ (Ash­gate 2004) and ‘Aes­thetic The­ory and the Video Game (Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­sity Press 2011). At pre­sent, he is writ­ing a ?so­ci­ol­ogy of the com­puter game, to be pub­lished by Polity Press in 2012, and es­says on the pro­ject of a re­con­struc­tion of crit­i­cal the­ory by way of con­tem­po­rary phi­los­o­phy of tech­nol­ogy, to be pub­lished by Blooms­bury Aca­d­e­mic.