Readings: Patterns of Transformation / deep play

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Read these two texts by next week:

Patterns of Transformation by Ida de Benedetto
Deep play (introduction) by Diane Ackerman

And write a short response as a comment below here. I don’t want a summary or an Amazon review, just some original thoughts.

Some starting points:

Wait what is “Deep play” again? What’s its relationship with ritual? Can you think of some more examples.

How would you design your funeral/ your best friend’s wedding/a fraternity initiation ritual/a sex party/a survivalist adventure to be truly transformational?

18 thoughts on “Readings: Patterns of Transformation / deep play”

  1. It feels accurate to say that Ida de Benedetto and Diane Ackerman would agree that play in its various forms either is or has the potential to be everywhere, and de Benedetto’s “case studies” are compelling examples of Ackerman’s notion of “deep play” in action.

    I am intrigued by the overlap of this presence of play that exists always and everywhere, in every thought we have, every move we make, every moment of every day, and play that exists, as Ackerman writes, as “a refuge from ordinary life, a sanctuary of the mind, where one is exempt from life’s customs, methods, and decrees.” The later is somehow couched in the former – within the customs of everyday life, we find moments and magic circles which lift us up for a finite amount of time into another environment with new rules, a new order – an ecstasy in the Greek sense: a standing outside of oneself

    Play’s tradition of establishing order is also compelling to me, as its order seems to have a unique potential to emerge from the players (in the broad sense) rather than being imposed from the top and downward. de Benedetto’s experiences with the sex party, the funeral, and the outdoor adventure are fine examples of a type of order or rule structure that in each case feels organic, useful, and cultivating to the humanity of those involved rather than dictatorial and oppressive. The rules seem to have the potential to open up the players to something new, and to evolve as their needs evolve, rather than being firmly established as something against which the players must push.

    de Benedetto’s experiences also give credence to Ackerman’s notion that play frees one from one’s preconceived notions of oneself, allowing for the potential of participation in new, unclear, frightening, or unexpected circumstances, or, in her words, an “invincible, immortal…ideal version of oneself.” I like her idea of a sort of play-instigated “brainwashing” as a tool of personal liberation.

    A large part of my interest in this class and in gaming in general is in a curiosity about how the traditions and forms of play can be utilized in the creation and audience experience of live performance. I am excited to begin exploring ways that this idea of deep play as an omnipresent humanizing, connecting, and liberating force might re-position audience and performers not as two separate entities but as a cohesive group of players, the potentials, needs, and desires of each giving rise to a unique and transcendent experiential environment.

  2. The importance Patterns of Transformation put on the participants being able to fully leave the “magic circle” was something I previously hadn’t thought of as being part of having a fulfilling/transformative experience. I think if I were to re-design a funeral (my funeral?) I would want to play videos people have of the deceased, creating a place for people to mourn and cry, but with some sort of genuinely uplifting bookend. When I’m at the end of a multi-week experience (summer camp, study abroad), I always wish they ended a little more sweetly. In the final moments of saying good-byes to people I probably wouldn’t see again, I wish there was something uplifting to make it just a little bit less depressing at the end. I think funerals are a kind of extreme version of saying a final goodbye to someone you’ve really bonded with.

    I understood deep play to be when you’re in the midst of play, but you’re so involved in it that you’ve lost sense of how things were before play began. I imagine if you’re in the midst of bungee jumping, your mind wouldn’t wander to how your morning tea was. Or in the 200 meter sprint, at least my mind completely blanks until I hit the finish line. A similar experience might occur at a funeral, where the focus is mourning someone that’s usually a loved one. There’s a sense of ritual with most forms a play. Ritual gives structure, and structure (as said in Patterns of Transformation) is needed to create transformative experiences. These experiences are the ones that become forms of deep play.

  3. Diane Ackerman defines “Deep play” as a sort of intense immersion, where the players utterly and almost unknowingly commit to an activity. Deep play is apparently a hallmark of being human because it defines why we seek thrills, why we believe in causes, and how we are passionate. Ackerman believes that a ritual is a form of deep play since you can see many elements of play them. Participants go to a sacred place in which special clothes are worn, rules are followed, and rituals are performed, just like in sports.

  4. Deep play is the feeling you have when you are so engrossed in what you are doing that you are almost lost in it. It is heightened by danger and emphasized by a feeling of clarity of one’s humanity and purpose. Deep play is what Olympic sprinters feel as they close in on the finish line, high on endorphins, pushing their body to its physiological limits all for a taste of victory. The sensation of throwing all of your essence into one action, one move, or into experiencing one moment in time is what this kind of “play” is about and it is often found in adult life under the guise of other hobbies or competitions.

    That said, I think deep play can also be found in moments in life that are full of excitement, wonder, fear, or some similar intense feeling. The feeling people have when they ask someone out on a date for the first time, that feeling of ultimate potential and giving someone else complete control over your happiness for that one moment is emblematic of deep play. Another example could be the experience of buying a ticket on a whim and finding out you have won the lottery. Or even when someone has a near death experience with an illness or injury. This feeling that your life could change completely and a moment where your entire life flashes before your eyes and you know in the next moment that things could be completely different for you, this feeling is a mark of the height of deep play.

    Ackerman discusses this kind of feeling in terms of ritualistic behaviors in different adult versions of “play spaces.” She discusses the essence of deep play when describing the way people reacted to a sudden death and funeral. As a third party looking in, Ackerman is able to view how people were trying to situate and center themselves in this kind of grief stricken moment, heightened by the presence of so many other people, some who may not have seen each other in years. This setup pushes people to an intense emotional state mixed with the calmness and clarity found in accepting the loss of a loved one and facing ones own mortality so directly, which is a similar intense feeling to that found in deep play. Ackerman’s experiences suggest that ritualistic behaviors help people ease into a state that draws out intense emotions, and places mental or physical stress on the body to help create this perfect storm of chemical confusion and clarity of the mind. This can be seen in the way other situations that bring about deep play are set up and staged, be they huge ritualistic competitions like the Olympics or the World Cup, or more low key ceremonies that are just as emotionally intense and just as rule-oriented (like being wed, winning the lottery, being arrested, etc.)

  5. I thought Benedetto’s article was especially interesting, as she establishes herself as an experience designer and talks about what she does, then catapults the conversation into an extremely awkward experience about a funeral. I can kind of feel second-hand what that weirdness is like, though definitely not to the degree of the death of a parent (I got invited to the wedding of someone I was interning for, a day after I met them. It was a Malaysian wedding, with very different set rituals than what I was used to). But that’s what got me thinking, for all that Benedetto says about experience building, she does nothing but passively observe at the funeral – not taking it as an opportunity to design an experience but stymied by something, discomfort, embarrassment, social anxiety? It’s interesting to think about what are the boundaries we are willing to cross to directly affect other peoples’ experiences, and what we deem taboo. A trip to the grocery might seem simple enough, and a funeral off limits, but why are they these things? What falls into what categorization, and what interventions can we accept doing with even the basest vestiges of human morality, and what are abhorrent to us?

  6. Deep play is an intense form of play in which the player is so absorbed in its rapture, that they enter a transcendental state. It’s related to rituals because they have many similarities, such as both are ecstatic and absorbing. Both also sometimes involve risk and uncertainty. One example of deep play I can think of is programming. Sometimes when I try to write something really complicated and interesting, I enter an funny state in which everything else but the code before me is forgotten, and I no longer feel my body or my existence in the surrounding.

    According to the author of “patterns of transformation”, to design a transformational experience, we need to find some worthwhile risks and impose them on the guests. Then, we place the guests in a magic circle and move them through it according to certain rules. So, if I want my funeral to be transformational, I could set up a set of huge screens, around which the guests gather. Then, my final seconds before death is played repeatedly, like a looping GIF of me dying (but with sound, of course). Thus, the “risk” is the fear of death invoked by witnessing my death over and over again; the “magic circle” is enhanced by the large-screen immersive experience, and “experience structure” is the way guests gather and chat and walk around all the while watching video. Alternatively, this event can be designed to be a VR/AR experience.

  7. Patterns of Transformation was a fascinating read for me. As someone with a background in mostly science, I so often see studies based on data and readings and numbers. The author’s approach was rather scientific in that she searched for patterns that peristed across many different studies, but the goal of producing fulfilling emotional experiences is so far removed from what experimentation in my field seeks to accomplish that it really stuck with me. The goal of producing profound emotional responses in people who consume our art/games/etc. is not novel per se, but focusing on making that emotional response into a complete and fulfilling overall experience is far less common in my experience. This isn’t to say that all projects should strive to do this or that there isn’t value to projects leaving a consumer in a bit of an emotional lurch, as these are interesting experiences as well. This idea is one that I think will stick with me as I create my own pieces, however.

  8. Regarding Patterns of Transformation by Ida de Benedetto, experience design plays a large role in creating transformative experiences. Being able to control and or facilitate an experience where individual perspectives are forever changed seems rewarding and is something that every game designer has the opportunity to do. Although Ida regards these instances solely as experiences, they can also be categorized as games, in which players interact in a personal manner – maybe not obviously personal, but personal enough to where someone can learn lifelong lessons. I think the development of a vocabulary was very important for better understanding how these transformative experiences function and is something I will reference in the future.

    Deep Play by Diane Ackerman reminded me a lot of last week’s readings on animals and how they engage in play. It is even more apparent that our lives, the lives of every organism for that matter, is centered around play. Diane explains that play is deeper than we may expect and arises in situations of high intensity (i.e. – psychotherapy sessions, journey’s in which young men prove their manhood by surviving in the wilderness, etc.)

  9. I understand deep play as the power of the moment. It is what brings you ecstasy and the actual form of activity that is carried out does not really matter. I was really inspired when the author Diane Ackerman points out that “To play is to risk: to risk is to play” and thus danger and uncertainty become essential to the notion of play. Even though play is almost always associated with delight and relief, I can also see how it can be risky at the same time. People don’t always play what they have already mastered. Not only because this makes the play itself less interesting, it also takes away the “Make-believe” away. Once you know something so well that it become almost automatic, you no longer take on the role of a player and you are just your normal self again. The only difference is that you had absorbed the play as a part if yourself. The play then loses its life when its ability to evoke satisfaction is lost and it also lost its chance to become deep play. Other than this, the article seem to stress so much hon the importance and preciseness of deep play. However, I would argue that simply play is also just as important. Because almost everything that we do can be essentially understand as play, this means these almost trivial happenings in our life will be also likely to impact us profoundly even just through the amount of exposures that we have to them.

    Moreover, I think it is also really interesting to see how Ida de Benedetto is even able to precociously categorize different kind of risks/magic circles/etc. But I do want to know a little more about how she comes up with these categories and weather a event can categorized into multiple groups at the same time. For example, since there are physical risk, emotional risks, and social risks, wouldn’t social risk itself contain both emotional risks and some degree of potential physical risk too? Moreover, if experiences are actually designed according to the given vocabularies in attempt to be truly transformational, I think there could be a possibility that they will be limited by the terms and thus not able to become truly transformational.

  10. I found the Patterns of Transformation Reading very interesting, in that it brought these three sort of events that appear to have very little to do with each other except perhaps shock, and brings them together in the context of games in a way that makes a lot of sense. This is a reading that may inspire my work. Not many do, but this one might.

    What really grabbed my attention with Deep Play was the way that different cultures thought of play, from a danger zone to sensuality. I find great interest in world cultures and how people across the globe perceive life, so it was fascinating to me that something so basic and primal has so many different radical interpretations.

  11. Deep Play really provides me a new perspective on human’s mental world. As a foreigner in this country, when I first arrived in Pittsburgh and walked on the street in downtown, I felt everything is so strange and so far away from the world which I can recognized. Without any connection with this place, I was able to focus on my sensations and intrinsic thoughts. This status reminds me the puppet world I created on my bed when I was a child. I ruled my imaginative world and ignored everything in the outside of this world. As the author’s saying, because we cannot return to childhood, deep play becomes a alternative way to rebuild this system.

    Also, there’s a thought comes to my mind that if mankind is social animal, like the writer’s mentioning, why people present some anti-social characteristics in deep play? Why lovers would like to invent their distinct language? Though confronting reality is inevitable for everyone, we should not be critical to those people who live in their own fantastic imagination. They may understand ecstasy more deeply than us.

  12. As I understand it, deep play is a kind of intense immersion. It involves embedding oneself in a “magic circle” the the point of becoming unaware to the outerworld. Ackerman explains that the feeling of being in deep play is akin to feelings of ecstasy or rapture. After deep play the participants will feel the “transformation” that Ida de Benedetto describes in her writing. In this way, de Benedetto and Ackerman’s writings are complementary in that Ida de Benedettos is essentially explaining to use how to facilitate deep play.

    When reading Ackerman’s essay it is hard not to think of the more basic concept of “flow”. The rituals essential to deep play could also be explained as complex and intense rules and patterns to keep a person in a state of immersion. If we take out the needed intensity for deep play, the ways of achieving it seem similar to flow. Flow does not always cause a change in a person, and I don’t think it’s every been described as leading to a state of ecstasy. However it is generally described as trance like and it has been explained to a part of some spiritual practices. So, I wonder if deep play is a very heightened version of flow.

  13. The concept of Deep Play reminds me of a book I read recently called Flow. The author points out that Deep Play is categorized by a mindset as opposed to any particular condition, and that mindset is complete involvement and enthusiasm. Games and Play often put us into a Flow state, where we experience complete involvement in the activity. This sense of complete immersion is what makes Flow, and correspondingly Deep Play, such a valuable part of the human experience. The author didn’t restrict Deep Play to games, she even mentioned that Psychotherapy could be Deep Play. This state of laser focus is what we are after as game designers, and it’s what we crave as humans.

    Similarly, in Patterns of Transformation, the author is talking about designing experiences in a way that meaningfully engages people and can even be life-altering. She points out that intimate experiences such as sex and death can be times that people are brought together in strong and meaningful ways. The idea of making people feel comfortable in a new environment and helping them open up to their most human inner components is something that’s complicated to design for. I wonder how games can design for that, and how as a designer in general I can work to facilitate those sort of deeper explanations of humanity. It reminds me of a movie I recently watched called “We Live in Public,” this artist named John Harris created a secret fully underground society where cameras were constantly watching people. Consequently, people became very comfortable exploring their deepest desires in public: having sex on camera, shooting guns, showering, going to the bathroom in front of other people. John Harris really nailed Transformation Design in this project – he managed to make all of these people feel willing to alter their definition of society and live differently than they ever had.

  14. I thought the way Ackerman approached Wilderness Trips was interesting, especially in regards to “renegotiate their relationship with the natural world and their own sense of control and comfort back in civilization”, since they are, for a short duration embracing nature and disregarding civility. I think making a trip like this truly transformative lies highly in the disregard of civilization, as without that the trip is less of an experience and blends more into the everyday life of the participant. It becomes neither out-of-the-ordinary nor extra-ordinary. The focus on cooperation I think, can be very powerful but in not necessary in making something truly transformative, as isolation can also achieve this, but Ackerman makes a point in the article that though we are all becoming increasingly accessible through technology, we are losing the feeling of closeness by relying too much on these devices, a lack of physical contact, and comfort amongst stingers.

    “A well-designed wilderness trip can enable people to arrive for each other in ways that they don’t in their day-to-day lives”

    The transformative powers of group reliance lie within trusting others, perhaps strangers, to help with survival, as “sustained group living” isn’t something we are used to. The closest our society comes to widespread group living is confined to households, generally nuclear families or roommates, thought the latter is far more independent as individuals. Group reliance thus also finds its transformative powers in the fact that it is uncommon, it is not a normal aspect of our everyday lives and is sometimes very foreign to individuals.

    To make a survivalist adventure transformational, it must deviate substantially from everyday life, either through actions, location, company, consequences, or preferably all the above

  15. To me, reading about deep play actually reminded me of organized religion. I am a practicing Jew, and attended a Jewish day school growing up. That said, I have a healthy amount of cynicism/”stand back and look at it” about religion (my own and others). I think a lot of the value of more intense religious practices approximates deep play — being so engrossed in an activity that it becomes, well, spiritual. Consider the list of “truly transformational” scenarios at the end of this post. Most religions have major contributions/traditions/”thing to say” for each of those — especially weddings and funerals.

  16. Reading Patterns of Transformation made me think of the time, in this class, a large amount of us decided to get into the bad CFA lift. I remember us excited to see what would happen, and the excitement slowly turning to fear (or fear of fearing the worst) as the lifts linear movement seem to turn asymptotic. The lift approached the third floor, the 3 light turning on – but the door remaining closed. The lift slowly edged itself up, and in the sudden quiet we finally noticed how fifteen of us were tightly packed in the humid, quickly warming lift. Everyone looked around at each other, daring the other not to imagine the worst and keep their cool. When the door finally opened, we poured out into the corridor, each overcome with laughter and relief. The length of time in the elevator built up the perfect feeling of risk, and the delayed, unexpected relief and collective joy was transformational of our relationships with each other.

    The patterns outlined by Bendetto and the enthrallment/absorption into the play-mindset described by Ackermann seem to have very intuitive connections – the risk taking absorbs us into the play such that we can let down our “guard” and be open to directly expressing our emotional responses to each other, the transformation happening during the relaxation from our wound up state as we reabsorb, reassess and respond to emotions expressed by us and the others around us.

  17. From what I understand, deep play is the ultimate sense of immersion in a game, a task, a state of being. I suppose it can even be the goal, or when you know you’ve succeeded as a developer, for instance, when your audience becomes so immersed in your creation. Deep play is a state of being so focused that you loose track of the world around you, like where you were before you started this play, or sense of time around you, etc. In a way this can also happen with really immersive movies as well. I’ve personally only had that happen to me with one movie, Avatar (2009).

    As for games and activities, I have been “through” deep play many times, which I’m happy for, because that means I reached the pinnacle of immersion in something i do. I don’t have any experience being a part of a ritual but from what I understand, they are also a form of immersion, or absorption, by participants.

    As for designing a game or event to be truly transformational, I think one key factor is the type of person/people participating, as their enthusiasm can often make-or-break the moment. However, if one such event must be designed, I would choose to make an “escape the room”, and I suppose meticulous planning, almost unnecessary detail and “false hopes” or misleadings can help truly immersive, “deep” situation. Those extra details and false hopes can create a lost feeling, or a sense of urgency or anxiety, and these extra, more powerful emotions will help fuel the “reality” and immersion of the game into deep play.

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