Your idea of fun may be having dinner at Casa Bonita in Denver (“Taste the Magic of Mexico!”), while another person would rather play a game of chess.
What’s fun? What’s the magic formula in creating fun?
John Sharp and David Thomas tackled these and other questions during their 10-year journey to publish the book Fun, Taste & Games: An Aesthetics of the Idle, Unproductive and Otherwise Playful (2019, MIT Press).
The book proposes “an aesthetic theory that explains the underlying structure ofimmersive arts. From escape rooms to haunted houses, to no-proscenium theater and virtual reality, the authors argue that their framework connects the immersive arts in a manner that the more traditional beauty aesthetics of fine art cannot.”
The authors spoke on “The Aesthetics of Immersion: Chasing the Heart of a New Medium,” presented by Denver Immersive Summit on March 28 at The Enchantment Society* in Lakewood, Colorado.
Sharp is a professor at Parsons School of Design and Thomas is co-founder ofDenver Immersive Summit and a professor at University of Colorado Denver.
They illustrate their theory in a diagram: one side lists registers of Taste: Play Community, Genre, Play Style. The other side shows Fun: Set-Outside (mindset), Ludic Form (ludic is Latin for “play”), Ambiguity. Between the two sections is Games.
Thomas explained “play style” by saying one person’s idea of fun may be playing agame of chess, while another person’s may be going to Disneyland, which sets you outside reality in a made-up world. Disneyland’s Ludic form (rules) includes no visitor over the age of six is allowed to wear a costume; they don’t want visitors confusing visitors with cast members.
In Russian roulette, there’s no ambiguity: it’s life or death. But in Bob and Doug McKenzie’s Beer Hunter game, in which they shake one can of beer, return it to the six-pack, and the player has to open one of the beers next to his head, the ambiguity is clear: nobody knows which beer can will explode.
One slide in the authors’ presentation (that used an old-fashioned slide carousel in the form of an antique camera) listed examples of immersive arts and entertainment: Selfie Palace, Meow Wolf, games, haunted house, LARP, Disneyland, escape room, Casa Bonita, Rocky Horror, cosplay, AR/VR, interactive theater.
A few highlights from the lecture
- Fake is awesome. Trompe l’oeil is only successful if you know it’s fake. Disneyland is based on mountains that are not mountains, rivers that are not rivers, etc.
- “The idea of fun is even more unpopular among us than the notion of beauty” – E.H. Gombrich. Translation: Don’t undervalue fun.
- Fun is at the intersection of “set outsidedness,” ambiguity, and ludic forms. Ludic is Latin for “play”
- When Sharp mentioned he had never been to Casa Bonita, the audience issued a collective, disapproving groan.
- The authors asked readers to use their theory for good, not evil.
Backstory – John Sharp
- Sharp has a 40-year love-hate relationship with basketball
- He’s from North Carolina, home of Michael Jordan, and has lived in Indiana and New York: three states in which basketball is a way of life
- He doesn’t care about winning. In college he was on the Art History Intramural Basketball Team, and their record was 1-17 over three years
- He and his teammates didn’t get along with Arnie, a new (short-lived) team member who cared only about winning. Lesson: The team and Arnie had different “play styles”
Backstory – David Thomas
- Thomas’ initial attitude when researching the book was, “Fuck art.” But he came to accept that arts and beauty are an integral part of fun and play.
- As a videogame journalist, Thomas analyzed which games were worth customers’ money. He noted that, surprisingly, you rarely hear videogame developers talk about “fun” and “play.” Rather, they’re obsessed with their games being “useful.”
- One of his kids loves Disneyland, as he does, so he took that kid with him to a conference that happened to be near Disneyland. They have the same “play style.”
The Road to Publication
- It took them 10 years to write the book
- They wrote 20 drafts
- It took them 10 years to write and refine these 12 words: “Fun happens when a person playfully engages with a situation or object.”
A Note About The Event’s Unique Location
- *The Enchantment Society is a “private and secretive club of like-minded spirits.” The club, co-founded by installation artist Lonnie Hanzon (best known for designing the gateway sculpture Evolution of the Ball at Coors Field in Denver), is housed in an old strip mall off Colfax and is filled with antiques, vintage knick-knacks, and other curiosities.
- Hanzon was nice enough to tell a couple of curious visitors about the back room, which is an elaborately decorated bathroom with an antique, claw-foot bathtub. It was the setting for an immerse theater production, www.BrokenBoneBathtub.com
Interested in experiencing immersive theater this weekend?
Watch preview videos and buy tickets to AGGREGATE IMMATERIALITY by Control Group Productions. “An immersive journey through an abandoned slaughterhouse. An uplifting rumination on fear, darkness, and death. A last dance made to be viewed in the dark.” In north Denver through April 28.
Lest you’re inclined to a bit of trepidation, fear not. No one will jump out and yell, “boo!” The various guides throughout the experience were kind and patient, and each room offered different visual, auditory and sensory opportunities to meditate on life and death.
The story, visuals, music, dancing (rave!), choreography, and acting are all top-notch. There’s even a bite of gourmet food (vegan/dairy-free/gluten-free) and a drink (absinthe, champagne, wine or cranberry spritzer), if you wish.
Read a full review of this immersive experience at www.KitBaker.com.
Find other immersive productions in Colorado by following the hashtag #ImmersiveDenver and visiting www.DenverImmersiveSummit.com
Katherine Valdez loves to read and write about books, authors, and the writing journey. Read about author events and no-spoilers movie and book reviews by following www.KatherineValdez.com. Type your email address in the Follow box and watch for the confirmation email to complete the process.
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