Monday, January 25, 2010

Follow the Bouncing Ball

As I've been exploring the concept of Win-Win games in the arts, I've also been slowly attempting to articulate a definition of what is a win-win game. In my mind I've been developing a list of "rules" to distinguish what is and what isn't a win-win game. After many conversations and considerations I've come to the conclusion that "participation" is not enough for me to identify something as win-win. Though participation is essential, and the introduction of participation can often be the catalyst for transforming an experience towards being Win-Win, I think there is a particular type of participation that is actually of the nature of Win-Win.

In a way, this is an affirmative response to a post JP made a while back. I would argue that a good Win-Win game doesn't have a hierarchical structure - a conductor or facilitator leading a group in a form of group play. If that role is built into the game, it has to be absolute permeable and interchangeable - the role can be spontaneously assumed by anyone according to flow and inspiration. For simplicity sake I would call this Horizontality.

This is especially crucial to fulfill another characteristic of Win-Win Games that I also think is essential - Reproducibility. A good Win-Win game can spread as a meme, being instantly transferable through experience, and ideally easily and affordably reproduced by anyone. This is where the dependency upon an expert, a leader or a person with a specific knowledge base becomes a critical dysfunction of the game. If we take the example of Bobby McFerrin (already much celebrated on this blog), while his examples of spontaneous group composition suggest a potential form of communal play that perhaps could be replicated under other circumstances, its performance only allows for One person to conduct, and raises the question of whether just anyone actually could conduct in this way.

Though I wish I could make this point with an affirmative example of Horizontality, for now I'll resort to a reductionist example of the opposite of what I believe ought to be a critical part of a Win-Win Game.

Win-Win games work when they have nothing but participants. Perhaps the best examples also allow for non-participation as an act of participation, but in my mind successful play is co-created and co-organized by the players and doesn't leave anyone out, nor does it situate any one player in the role of leadership.