Games and Transgressive Aesthetics: A Manifesto

IMG_6105Because games often evoke strong emotions regardless of their aesthetic quality, we want to offer a distinction that can make it possible to discuss the aesthetics and poetics of disturbing and provocative games without resorting to normative or moral arguments.

In order to gather our thoughts before starting to write out our research, active partner Torill Elvira Mortensen and I present here Games and Transgressive Aesthetics: A Manifesto:

  1. Transgressive game aesthetics is an aesthetic of combined experiences, where each element of a game and its use can evoke a sense of transgression. This can be through the overwhelming and sublime, but also through the emotionally unbearable, shock as much as awe, terror as much as titillation.
  2. Games evoke intense emotion in players and society at large, to the point of being experienced as repulsive, taboo, or transgressive.
  3. Transgression oversteps boundaries, breaks norms, and can be both sought after and actively averted. Transgression in this case takes two forms: profound transgression implies offense, shock and repulsion, transgressive aesthetics is an artistic practice of intentional disturbance.
  4. The paradox of transgression is that the profoundly transgressive negates the transgressive aesthetic, while the transgressive aesthetic mitigates the profound transgression.
  5. Transgressive aesthetics works through overwhelming the senses, it is sublime in the romantic sense, immediately experienced and then turned into aesthetic through appreciation and awe.
  6. At the core of the aesthetic experience of games, we find the resistance of the game. Games will at some level offer a challenge and a risk, which creates an aesthetic resistance or discomfort.
  7. Play is a practice we engage in before we understand that we play, but we do not need to leave it behind as childish and banal; play is a source of creativity and invention throughout human achievement. Playfulness is not as simple as a yearning towards a simple escape, it can also be a tool for reworking experiences that disturb and overwhelm.
  8. Games play by other rules than society, and the fiction created by rules, structure and content changes the severity of a transgression. The sense of playfulness can still be broken if the transgression is experienced as severe or profound.
  9. Transgressive aesthetics are expressed on several levels in games and play:

    • Transgression against the popular understanding of games.
    • Transgression against the norms in society, from politeness to taboo.
    • Transgression against acceptable content depending on point of view.
    • Transgression against rules and design.
    • Transgression through game mechanics.

By Torill Elvira Mortensen and Kristine Jørgensen.

About Kristine Jørgensen

Professor in Media Studies at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen. Project manager and principal investigator of the Games and Transgressive Aesthetics project.

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  1. Pingback: The death of a cleric – Games and Transgressive Aesthetics

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