15 February 2008

Constructive Games

I’m interested in the gamesmanship (game-iness) of the Oulipo movement and have come to questions about using this idea of games in a positive, constructive way. This is something that I’ve been working out over the last several months, and this seems like a useful place to try to get it down. First, I’d like to think a little about art-in-a-box or ‘gaming art’ and games in general, then see if we can’t find a way to apply it to theory.

One of the primary concerns of Oulipo is this idea of creating a set of arbitrary rules around your art. With If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler you’ve got a single sentence/poem that will make up the chapter titles and a host of other constrictions cataloged elsewhere. Stephen King says about writing fiction that a lot of great storytelling comes from the question, “What If?” and Oulipo must have anticipatorily plagiarized this idea, creating art that says, “what if we make a _________ that only _________?”

In my introductory creative writing class in college, an introduction of the textbook suggested that writing (and I would say just art generally) should be something akin to playing tennis, rather than solely the realm of ‘professionals.’ “I write” (or make art) wouldn’t mean you necessarily do so well (in the same way that “I play tennis” in no way gives me delusions that I could be a professional tennis player {though I’m sure I could have, had my high school had a team}). I wonder if this isn’t somewhat what Oulipo is after, democratizing art creation, making art creation possible for everyone (by doing creative writing exercises as a jumping off point). That being said, those in the actual Oulipo movement likely don’t want everyone to necessarily display all of their Oulipian art (just as my backhand slice should remain largely unseen).

What this notion of democratizing art might do, though, is create a lot of ‘potential art’. The more bad art being made out there and the more our culture becomes one that encourages participation in art creation, the more opportunity there is for great outside art to actually be discovered.

I feel as though I have strayed somewhat from my initial thought with this post… I was going to say something about the idea of the difference between rules and laws, rules being arbitrary and artificial, while laws theoretically come from moral or ethical considerations. Also the difference that you can’t actually break a rule (this notion is one of Baudrillard’s, I think), because once you do, you’re no longer playing the game, strictly speaking. Whereas a law can be broken (ethical and moral standards can change, which should force laws to change), and sometimes should be broken in order to line them up with the changing moral/ethical standards. You can change the rules of the game (say, you get to use doubles lines when we play tennis), but then you’re playing a slightly different game (so you still didn’t beat me at tennis, really).

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