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Exploring the potentials of play as activism and as research

by on June 26, 2013

On July 31st Larry Bogad will lead a workshop on “Tactical Performance” in the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress hotel in Orlando, Florida. After that we will enter one of Orlando’s famous theme parks, Universal’s “Islands of Adventure,” to play a specially designed game in which groups of conferencers will use avatars to carry out actions and win points with the aim of opening up spaces for “real play.”

It’s all part of the Performance Studies Focus Group’s 11th pre-conference at ATHE (Association of Theatre in Higher Education) conference this year, curated by Beth Hoffmann and Barnaby King, titled, “REAL PLAY: Exploring the ‘Reality’ of Virtual Worlds, Games, and Experiences.”

The  pre-conference, taking place in the heart of the US “play tourism” market, investigates the paradoxical ways in which various versions of “play” become pressed into service of the “real” and vice versa. This focus on what might be called the authenticities of play serves as a way of linking together critical issues central to very different resonances of the term: the construction of touristic desires; the dynamics of online gaming cultures; and the relationship between play and efficacy in resistance movements.

The “real play” theme was initially inspired by Jane McGonigal’s New York Times bestselling book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World (Penguin 2011), in which she argues that “games can be a real solution to problems, and a real source of happiness.” She blends performance studies with her experience as a game designer to break down an assumed boundary between play and reality, advocating a broader social application of the technologies and behaviors inherent to play in order to bring about positive social change. But while McGonigal’s focus is ultimately on making play do certain kinds of work, this pre-conference will take a step back to think about how concepts of “play” and “reality” or “play” and “work” historically have been produced in relation to one another.

As a counterpoint to Reality is Broken, L.M. Bogad’s central participation in the pre-conference will foreground a different conception of play’s efficacy: namely, as a powerful tool for distinctly politicized resistance. Bogad will help us explore what he calls “tactical performance,” described on his website as a conceptualization of “serious play” with the aim of producing “performative, nonviolent images to contest and critique power.”

“Play” has long performed a wide range of structural functions in the field of performance studies, appearing as rhetoric, research method, hermeneutic, theoretical concept, practice, and so on. As a nod to this, the pre-conference likewise makes use of a series of different methods of scholarly exchange to conduct its explorations, including a scholarly roundtable, a practical workshop, and a practice-as-research game designed to unlock the multiple and contradictory potentialities of a massively-scaled theme park.

We look forward to a vibrant dialogue and hope that you will be able join us in Orlando!

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One Comment
  1. Jenny Hughes permalink

    I’d love to know more about the Orlando experiment – adventure – serious play trip. What did you do, and how did it go?

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