Seriously Reflective now.

May, 2014


In my last reflective statement I was talking about using the process of automatic drawing as a form of portraiture to excavate my methodology, and attempt to excavate and aggregate in order to transform, in the attempt to construct a particular video game. Although this seemed initially useful, I have begun to open the range of what play can reveal when used as a practice directly.

Firstly, I continued to make these automatic images, and probably will continue to make them - in order to throw grass to reveal the wind, in choosing a particular direction. I felt that in making these I was excavating, but not reconstructing - seeing where the wind was going, but not resolving into something. The image I felt had hit a kind of bedrock.

Slightly frustrated, letting off steam was obviously really important to me at this time, being tied in particular to my identification with necessary “experience breaks” - from my last reflective statement. An automatic ‘maker night’ using Unity was helpful and resulted in constructing a new artifact — “Fun” - a simple touch/tablet/mouse play experience in which you could pop bubbles. Together with several others we recorded sounds, and on each bubble pop, a sound was randomly chosen to play. There were also particle explosions on bubbles popping. It was an extremely simple, playful process, and helped me identify creative values in this stage in creating. It should be easy to do, simple to create - with simple interactions. It should also encourage reflection on mystery, and childlike reverence of magic. When I used to play games as a kid there were a whole bunch of urban legends that encircled them, and I want to make these kinds of experiences for others.

Additionally, other play has helped me begin to reconstitute an overall diagram of my process. One example was through a playful practice in another paper - Research Methods. In this exercise we were asked to try and physically model our research design process using plastercine, popsicle sticks, paper, and other craft materials. This was incredibly helpful and helped me identify an initial view of flow through the process, and helped identify a certain performative action in some stages. Incidentally, the plastercine itself was great to play with, mould and dissect. Since there were multiple colours which I squished into a ball, when cutting it with a knife produces 2 dimensional slices remarkably similar to my first paintings. Intuitively I recognised the connection, and noted consciously the suggestion that my 2d paintings could also be folded and extruded through to produce form. I also recognised that due to the materiality of the plastercine, the separate colours would merge into a fleshy pink if played with “too much”. All of these were not new realisations to me, but served as kind of helpful reminders - a parallel dialogue with a physical material that feeds information about my digital processes back to me.

I decided to merge “Fun”, (the previous artifact) and this new diagrammatic process into a new work-in-progress, that I titled “Drop!”. In doing this I was looking at one stage in the diagram that had emerged from the play experience with the craft materials, one in which I had to “drop and catch” bits of plastercine through a rolled up piece of paper. “Drop!” used the same popping bubble component of “Fun”, but included more dropping bubbles that the player could hover a mouse over a swirling vortex of scanned-plastercine, which I’m aligning to the “automatic drawing out” part of my process. The title “Drop!” , and even the action itself was informed by reading Richard Serra’s verb list (and seeing some of his video work), and seeing that one verb in particular stand out. Noted games such as Katamari Damacy, whose primary verb (in K.D.’s case, “rolling”) becomes amplified to produce and experience the verb in a new way, and on a new scale. This was my attempt to resolve an artifact in a similar way. I employed psychedelic imagery (rainbow patterns, depth buffer clearing/unclearing, and particle ‘catsplosions’) as the external skin of the artifact to encourage this childlike wonder.


As a necessary trauma for the ‘work-in-progress’ I demonstrated the artifact at the NZ Game Developers monthly meetup. There was a mix of interesting interactions that I partially documented with photography, and whilst also performing an ‘antagonistic observer’ role (approaching people and pretending I didn’t know what it was, asking them to speculate on what it was, and what parts of it “did”) - I enjoyed the played outcome as a kind of performance. The game doesn’t conform to usual standards of game design, with no imperatives (save for the poetic verb title) or goals, and so participants offered several different views of “what was going on” in that limited possibility space. Some thought they were saving cat souls, others thought they should maximise the number of ‘catsplosions’, and others still were visibly concerned with the physics simulation, and the ‘strange fishes’ that followed your cursor.

I don’t think it actually resolves the intention, that is - my ‘process diagram’ as a whole, and so I think the next step is to make a similar artifact which does it’s best to communicate mystery, and at the same time communicate the kind of overall process description as I intend it to. I’ve already made some symbolic diagrammatic drawings which could be leads into the space of this next artifact.


The external space is also a concern, and hopefully I can address this somehow too. Recently I’ve been playing and ‘looking into’ a standup arcade booth, and am interested in the kind of relationship it has with the video game and in making a connection to a participant. This is connected with reading Walter Benjamin - ‘The Arcades Project’ - not as a misinterpretation of ‘arcade’ as a literal link, but something that has revealed itself to me through a Literature review, of Psychedelic and Ritual texts. Benjamin talks about the architecture of the Paris Arcades and how they helped create the ‘dream’ spaces of modern capitalism and consumerism through the populations traversal of and in these spaces. This relationship between movement and the childlike aspects expressed at the meet up and the artifact itself is fertile territory.

I had this idea of melting something out of the screen, oozing into the space. Broken LCD crystalline liquid pouring out from under a screen as you pop bubbles. But perhaps that’s more helpful as a poetic vision than a physical artifact - a certain understanding of metaphysics rather than literal materiality. I can’t resolve that dream yet.

The other thing that’s been immediately helpful is going for meditative walks. I walk in a large circular path that surrounds the Panmure Basin, which is ringed by streetlights, and has a multiple stage fitness trail for the public. I used to run frequently and, when training for a half-marathon I had an internal mantra. It was “Not gonna give in, never going to fall down.” A 4/4 rhythm, it matched my gait. Whilst repeating this I ran past people, and I usually would avoid them entirely and quickly. There’s a kind of confrontation that happens when you meet people in the dark whilst running, and it absolutely depends on the temperament of the person you meet. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy to make that ‘I’ contact.

Early in the morning, and halfway round the lake I found myself repeating this old mantra, but it changed.

“Not gonna give in, never gonna fall down”

“Not gonna give in, never gonna fall down”






“Love, Hope, Compassion, Trust — Love, Hope, Compassion, Trust…”

At this same time my fingers reflexively reacted. Arriving at each thing, each finger touched the thumb, in turn. Then the reverse, going back through the nouns. I played with different combinations of this, as well as trying to feel those concepts, and not say them or see them as words. I walked the rest of the lake circle as the sun rose and made the world lighter. I dropped all of this when I reached the end of the circle, and finished off the walk singing “All you need is love” by the Beatles - internally, and still to the gait rhythm as I climbed the hill and exited the park. I’m on the edge of laughter mostly whilst doing this – and elation, the non-serious-seriousness of it all.

It wasn’t as if this play ritual made it easier when I came into contact with people, and there’s still a high apprehension in the darkness, in the morning as shadows bloom into view. ‘I’ was dilated, and felt drastically, increasingly more exposed as I approached people, and felt the need to keep up my defences, lest they see the openness in my eyes. I didn’t want to pop my self-bubble, and let my insides spill out on the same walkway where I had seen discarded, cracked eggs on a walk, the week earlier.

I’m embracing this return to intuition after confronting texts talking about having a reverence for ritual, not necessarily compartmentalising it into it’s components, and in my playful/performative/ritualistic/artistic practice this reflection has been helpful in mapping my previous path, seeing the streetlights turning on from afar, and finding space and place for all these seemingly disparate texts and artistic residue.

Texts and Bibliography

Benjamin, W., Tiedemann, R., Eiland, H., & McLaughlin, K. (2002). The Arcades Project. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press.

Bell, C. (2009). Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions—Revised Edition (Reissue edition.). New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

Taito (1986) Bubble Bobble [Arcade Various videogame]

The Jellyfish That Holds a Key to Immortality - YouTube. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2014, from

Jim Crawford on Making Games More Mysterious | Post Product Dev on (n.d.). Retrieved April 07, 2014, from

Phil James
TAGGED IN Writing, Journal, Reflection