Moving into the Magic Circle

[:nl]

or

What is the threshold for an audience to step in and/or out of the interaction in performative interactions in public space?

Imagine, one day you’re walking in the woods and see a branch sticking out of a tree. On it a sign that says: if you’re in for an adventure, pull me. Of course you’re in for an adventure, adventure is your middle name, but you hesitate. What if somebody spots you? You did see other people in the woods and you might look ridiculous if something weird happens. But your curiosity wins. You look around to see if nobody’s watching and when you see all’s clear, you pull. All of a sudden the ground under your feet changes. It seems to blur. You step aside, but now the earth starts to shake. You look down and see a crack under your feet. You start to move forward. The hole under your feet widens, so you have to jump to the other side. In the meantime you hear the fluttering of wings. Eagles! They’re trying to attack you! You start to run and wonder what you have gotten yourself into. Is this really the adventure you were looking forward to?

The aforementioned scene is only a figment of my imagination. This kind of performative interaction we won’t see in real life (yet), but the possibility of interactivity and play has become more normal in everyday life; be it an installation in a museum, interactivity through gameplay or interactive information displays. Spectators are invited to join the interaction; if they don’t nothing might happen. Personally, I’m drawn to interactive installations because I enjoy the feeling of magic when something changes because of the public’s participation, but I am reluctant to join. Because of this dualism in myself I want to research the phenomenon to answer the question: what is the threshold for an audience to step in and/or out of the interaction in performative interactions in public space? I will focus on performative interactions in public streets, since I presume this kind of interactions will likely provoke the most thresholds.

The example I choose is the street level interaction game from sports and entertainment network ESPN. In the shop windows of a big store enormous moving adds are trying to catch the attention of the passers-by. The text on the window says: Is it Monday yet? Referring to Monday night football. In one of the windows a round touchpad lights up that says: ‘Touch here to play’ A clear invitation. Pushing the button means you are willing to step into the ‘magic circle’ (Salen & Zimmerman, 2005); the place where reality ends and playtime begins. Does the public accept the invitation and if so, why?

Performative Interaction

Let’s first look at the definition of a performative interaction. Both Erika Fischer-Lichte (2008) and Jerzy Grotowski (1968) talk about performance as a continuous interaction between performer and observer. Whatever the performers do has an impact on the participating spectators; and whatever the spectators do influences the performers and other spectators. Fischer-Lichte refers to this mutual process of action and reaction as the ‘autopoietic feedback loop’:

Performances rely on autopoietic processes involving participants, performers, and spectators alike and are characterized by a high degree of contingency. The exact course of a performance cannot be foreseen at its beginning. Even if performers set the decisive preconditions for the progression of a performance (…) they are not in a position to fully control the course of the performance. Many elements emerge during a performance as a consequence of certain interactions.  (Fischer-Lichte, 2008)

She also refers to it as ‘role reversal’; the spectator becomes a performer. This same mechanism happens in a performative interaction. In fact, in a performative interaction the spectator is a necessary element. Spectators ‘can no longer be seen as just “users” but have to be understood as acting assemblages of bodies and technologies in the space they inhabit.’ (Williamson, Hansen, Jacucci, Light, & Reeves, 2014) So whether a performative interaction truly will succeed depends on the public that has to step in. To make that happen is not easy.

Stepping in 

Stepping in a performative interaction means you have to cross a line. Studies show that whenever public interaction is being asked for – especially when nobody is playing yet –  there is a feeling of resistance. Most of the time it’s because people experience a feeling of social embarrassment, so they are ‘wary of volunteering, not knowing what exactly will be required from them, especially if it entails making them look foolish in the eyes of the on-looking audience’ (Brignull & Rogers, 2003, p. 18). Other members of the audience will have an impact on the decision to step in or not. Are they enthusiastic? Do they look at you strangely? Do you feel embarrassed by them looking at you? Can you participate with friends? Social environment and social norms plays a large part in the question whether or not to participate. These norms can be implicitly imposed (by what your parents used to do) or explicitly (you’re instructed to do so). (McCarthy, Ondaatje, Zakaras, & Books, 2004)

Thus, whether or not you will participate in a performative interaction depends on your social ‘frame’. (Goffman, 1963) Somebody that grew up in Japan will have another set of standards than a person that grew up in Cambodia or the Netherlands. Therefore a performative interaction will have different responses in different countries and with different people. But in every given case you’re likely to behave according to the set of rules that apply to the setting. In Western culture for instance it is not suited to dance, jump (as is done so in the ESPN-game) or sing in the middle of the street. If you do so you might be considered mentally ill. The person who, in spite of these social norms, does step forward and into the performance will become the centre of attention. And not everybody is willing to step out of the shadow and into the light.

Goffman refers to this as the shift from unfocused interaction to focused interaction. In the case of unfocused interaction ‘there is no official centre of attention’. (Goffman, 1963, 34)

You’re just one of the people in public and nobody is paying attention at you. Focussed interaction is when clusters of individuals ‘extend one another a special communication license and sustain a special type of mutual activity that can exclude others who are present in the situation’. (Goffman, 1963, p. 83)

By stepping into the performance you shift from unfocused to focussed interaction. This automatically means you step out of your own comfort zone. You leave your normal behaviour pattern and choose to undergo the unknown. In this kind of situation you cannot ‘react automatically”, that is to say according to a set of given rules.’ (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p. 48) In the case of the ESPN game the participator is being asked to jump in the middle of the street to catch invisible balls. Something no person in his right mind would do normally.

Still in the ESPN-video you see that a lot of people DO step in. How does this work? Brignull and Rogers (2003) analysed the flow of public interaction and identified three ‘activity spaces’: (a) peripheral awareness activities (in our example these are the passers-by), (b) focal awareness activities (the people that stop and watch the screen out of curiosity) and (c) direct interaction activities (the person actually gets involved and plays)

If their curiosity is aroused, people will move from space A to B. They can choose to step further in and interact in space C. I would like to say that by stepping in you choose to step into the ‘magic circle’. The reason of moving between the spaces depends on different factors, according to the researchers:

How long an interaction takes, what they [the public] will get out of it, what steps are involved, if it will be a comfortable experience [and[ if there is a quick let out, where they can walk away gracefully, without it disturbing the ongoing public activity. (Brignull & Rogers, 2003, p. 23)

Length of the interaction

The first threshold Brignull and Rogers mention is time. In their experiment people were concerned the interaction ‘would take too much time or effort, or that it would involve looking stupid in public’. (Brignull & Rogers, 2003, p. 19) Time is, besides money and distance, a known constraint that cultural participation faces (Ranshuysen, 1999). A person must have the time to participate, have the money for the entrance fee (it the performance is in a museum) and have the opportunity to travel to the place where the performance is being held.

In the case of the ESPN-windowgame each of these obstacles have been taken by a gathering of people, since a lot of people walk by, do stop and some of them participate.

Reward system 

Still, there are more thresholds to consider. The second factor Brignull and Rogers mention is: ‘what people get out of it’. If you think you’ll be ‘rewarded’ you’re more likely to step in. That can be because you might win something – for instance a Samsung Galaxy by pushing a button for 55 minutes – but it might also just be because you’re curious to see if you can score a goal as in the ESPN game. But there’s more at stake.

According to McCarthy and Jinnet (2001) people feel attracted to art (and I would say performative interactions) because they think they will get smarter, find pleasure or get emotionally stimulated by the art form. In their opinion – and I second that – it has to do with personal perception: what’s in it for me? Will it be fun? Can I learn something by participating? In some cases – if it is a performance with real actors involved – it also might be a feeling of empathy that causes somebody to participate: you can feel sorry for the performers if nobody is willing to do so, so you step forward instead. In this is case you’re reward is a feeling of social satisfaction.

But the reward can also be pleasure. People can decide to join in just for the fun of it. They think they will be entertained and they can play a little. Playing a game means making choices and taking action. If a performative interaction looks fun to do, people are inclined to join, because people really feel a need to play. (Huizinga in Salen & Zimmerman, 2005)

In the case of the ESPN video I would say this last reason is definitely the reason to join. People get curious, see that it’s about a football game, read the word play and decide to have fun. But somebody who watches football every week will more likely join than someone who doesn’t like sports at all.

Expectations

Thirdly Brignull and Rogers say spectators decide to join in if they know what is expected of them. Will it be difficult? But also does it involve something that’s embarrassing? And I want to add to that: will it be ‘meaningful’? In the case of the ESPN-game the participant doesn’t have to take a lot of steps. He just has to push the button and then gets clear instructions to ‘stand 5 feet back and get ready to catch’. In front of him a football player has arrived on the screen and starts throwing balls. These steps are easy to follow and won’t make interaction difficult. Whether you will catch the ball or not, is a whole other story.

Comfort

People do want to feel comfortable during the interaction. Comfort can be both felt physically and emotionally. By having clear instructions people might feel at ease about the possible successful outcome. But not everybody feels comfortable catching balls in the middle of the street. In the video of ESPN we see a man, with what appears to be a laptop case under his arm, pushing the button. I doubt it if it was physically comfortable to catch the balls. But I can’t be sure because I couldn’t interview him.

Emotionally the audience can give you an uncomfortable feeling. And that already can be the case if it’s only one other person, as a study of Luke Hespanol and Martin Tomitsch (2014) proves. In their experiment, participants said they did feel comfort or pleasure ‘when they were left alone in the space’. People were more likely to step in and stay in of the performative interaction when they were alone or with someone they knew. Then they saw the performance as a way to have fun and play. But if the second participant was somebody they didn’t know they felt ‘socially awkward, as if they were invading each other’s private spaces’ (Hespanol & Tomitsch, 2014). The social constraints they felt were ‘feeling self-conscious, shy, uncomfortable, or not wanting to disrupt anyone else’s experience.’ I do have to point out that the installation they’re referring to was not in a public space, but in a closed environment. It might be this context that made it more necessary to be alone.

The beautiful part is, that if you do feel comfortable and others can see that, you might cause a chain reaction. Other spectators can look at what you are doing and see it’s not embarrassing at all. So the first participant breaks down the barrier for the next one. This is what Brignull and Rogers refers to as the ‘honey pot effect’. (Brignull & Rogers, 2003, p. 20)

Staying in

When you’re in the performative interaction the fun really begins. You decided to push the button and then the sign says ‘catch the ball’. What if you’re a lousy catcher? Do you decide to stop immediately? Or are you going to try? Stopping will surely give you the feeling you’re losing face.

So when you’re in the performance you’ll not automatically stay in the interaction. That also depends on a couple of factors, one of them is the ‘autopoietic feedback loop’ from Fischer-Lichte I earlier referred to. By acting to the performance the participant gets feedback. Feedback from the interactive system itself, but also from the bystanders. By catching the ball, you score a goal! You did the right thing. So you keep trying. The public might cheer you on as in a real football game. Both of these are positive feedback issues. By scoring you also give feedback to the technological device: yes, throw me another ball! As long as this feedback loop is not interrupted, you’ll likely to stay in. Unless you run out of time because you have an appointment.

Zimmerman and Salen state somebody will stay in a game (and in my opinion, therefore in a performative interaction) when there is ‘meaningful play’, that is if ‘relationships between actions and outcomes in a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game.’ (Salen & Zimmerman, 2005) The result of the game action has to be communicated to the player in a perceivable way. If you don’t get the right feedback, you won’t know if you’re on the right track, and then your action doesn’t have any meaning.

Being in the performance might also heighten perceptual sensitivity, so Fischer-Lichte says. You’re really involved. You want to win, you don’t want to miss a ball. You’re really into the game. You’re perceptual about what happens in the game, but also aware of what the audience is doing. You feel self-conscious as you know you’re being looked at. And you don’t mind. You feel happy and comfortable. As long as everything is going well.

Stepping Out

If it’s not going well you might want to step out, and then the fifth threshold Brignull and Rogers mention arises: is there a quick let out? The social constraints participants felt in the experiments of Hespanol and Tomitsch could be a reason to step out of the performance. (Hespanol & Tomitsch, 2014, p. 11) They actually said they decided to step out because they ‘did not really get it’ and had the impression they ‘had entered in the middle of someone else’s experience’. Other reasons that were mentioned were lack of time, or embarrassment when somebody else stepped in the room.

Thus, stepping out of the performance can have thresholds as well. You might say it’s easy to step out, if you’re not interested anymore, if your curiosity is fully satisfied or if you totally understand what has happened. Or maybe time has run out and you have to catch a train. But it’s not that easy. In the case of the ESPN-players it probably was easy to step out if they had a successful game and scored a lot of points. They may be reluctant because the experience was so joyous and momentarily had the feeling they were really a successful football player. For a brief moment they might have felt they were in a stadium being cheered at. According to Fischer-Lichte (2008) this means the spectator has been transferred into a state that alienates him from everyday life. In that case it’s difficult to return to reality. Still, they have to step out. The spectators were captivated by the performance, were shortly in another world and now have to go back to reality. Not wanting to go back to everyday life due to the nice emotional state they were in, could be a threshold.

In some performative interactions nothing may have happened at all, and that’s why you want out. But if you feel the performance is really fulfilling and meaningful it’s difficult to step out.  Also, you have been a part of the performance and by stepping out you will focus the attention again on yourself, as being the individual that quits. Which is even more difficult if you were the one that didn’t catch the ball. You failed. That could make you want to try again. And again. Until you can step out proudly.

Conclusion

We’ve seen that the decision to step in or out of an performative interaction depends on different factors. For performers it is important to know beforehand what these factors are so they can make sure their installation will tackle a lot of these thresholds. At the beginning of this essay I quoted Erika Fischer-Lichte and said that the exact course of a performance cannot be foreseen. But I think a performer is able to have a little control of whether or not a participant might step in, to make sure his performative interaction will succeed. He can choose where he will put his installation, and he’s responsible for the interactive level. According to Fischer-Lichte staging strategies or game instruction constantly play with three processes: role reversal, community building and ‘modes of mutual, physical contact that help explore interplay’. (Fischer-Lichte, 2008)

Creators of performative interactions can also use these staging strategies to ensure their installation will not be ignored. They have to considerate place and time before they act. They have to ensure their installation will arise curiosity and playfulness. They must build an interactive that arises curiosity, that is easily understood and that takes not too much time to get involved. And that might encourage social interaction (or community building). If they do so, then passers-by might step over their possible feeling of embarrassment and self-awareness, and step into the game. At that moment play can really start. And maybe – when technology is really immersive – the scene in the woods from the beginning of my essay really will become a possibility. I will be the first person to plunge into that very adventurous magic circle.

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REFERENCES

Ajzen, I. (991). The Theory of Planned Behavior. In I. Ajzen, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (pp. 179-211). Amherst: Academic Press, Inc.

Brignull, H., & Rogers, Y. (2003). Enticing People to Interact with Large Public Displays in Public Places. Human-Computer Interaction, 17-24.

Fischer-Lichte, E. (2008). Shared bodies, shared spaces: The bodily co-presence of actors and spectators. In E. Fischer-Lichte, The Transformative Power of Performance (pp. 39-74). London and New York: Routledge.

Fischer-Lichte, E. (2010, august 11). Interweaving Cultures in Performance: Different States of Being In-Between. Retrieved from www.textures-online.com: http://www.textures-platform.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/interweaving-cultures-in-performance.pdf

Goffman, E. (1963). Behavior in Public Places: notes on the social organization of gatherings. New York: The Free Press.

Hespanol, L., & Tomitsch, M. (2014). Understanding the effects of contextual constraints on performative behaviour in interactive media installations. Pers Ubiquit Comput (18), 1651-1665.

McCarthy, K., Ondaatje, E., Zakaras, E., & Books, A. (2004). Gifts of the muse, Reframing the debate about the benefits of arts. Santa Monica: Rand corporation.

Ranshuysen, L. (1999). Handleiding publieksonderzoek voor podia en musea. Amsterdam: Boekmanstichting.

Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2005). Game design and meaningful play. In J. Raessens, & J. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of Computer Games Studies (pp. 59-79). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Williamson, J. R., Hansen, L. K., Jacucci, G., Light, A., & Reeves, S. (2014). Understanding performative interactions in public settings. Pers Ubiquit Comput (18), 1545-1549.[:en]

or

What is the threshold for an audience to step in and/or out of the interaction in performative interactions in public space?

Imagine, one day you’re walking in the woods and see a branch sticking out of a tree. On it a sign that says: if you’re in for an adventure, pull me. Of course you’re in for an adventure, adventure is your middle name, but you hesitate. What if somebody spots you? You did see other people in the woods and you might look ridiculous if something weird happens. But your curiosity wins. You look around to see if nobody’s watching and when you see all’s clear, you pull. All of a sudden the ground under your feet changes. It seems to blur. You step aside, but now the earth starts to shake. You look down and see a crack under your feet. You start to move forward. The hole under your feet widens, so you have to jump to the other side. In the meantime you hear the fluttering of wings. Eagles! They’re trying to attack you! You start to run and wonder what you have gotten yourself into. Is this really the adventure you were looking forward to?

The aforementioned scene is only a figment of my imagination. This kind of performative interaction we won’t see in real life (yet), but the possibility of interactivity and play has become more normal in everyday life; be it an installation in a museum, interactivity through gameplay or interactive information displays. Spectators are invited to join the interaction; if they don’t nothing might happen. Personally, I’m drawn to interactive installations because I enjoy the feeling of magic when something changes because of the public’s participation, but I am reluctant to join. Because of this dualism in myself I want to research the phenomenon to answer the question: what is the threshold for an audience to step in and/or out of the interaction in performative interactions in public space? I will focus on performative interactions in public streets, since I presume this kind of interactions will likely provoke the most thresholds.

The example I choose is the street level interaction game from sports and entertainment network ESPN. In the shop windows of a big store enormous moving adds are trying to catch the attention of the passers-by. The text on the window says: Is it Monday yet? Referring to Monday night football. In one of the windows a round touchpad lights up that says: ‘Touch here to play’ A clear invitation. Pushing the button means you are willing to step into the ‘magic circle’ (Salen & Zimmerman, 2005); the place where reality ends and playtime begins. Does the public accept the invitation and if so, why?

Performative Interaction

Let’s first look at the definition of a performative interaction. Both Erika Fischer-Lichte (2008) and Jerzy Grotowski (1968) talk about performance as a continuous interaction between performer and observer. Whatever the performers do has an impact on the participating spectators; and whatever the spectators do influences the performers and other spectators. Fischer-Lichte refers to this mutual process of action and reaction as the ‘autopoietic feedback loop’:

Performances rely on autopoietic processes involving participants, performers, and spectators alike and are characterized by a high degree of contingency. The exact course of a performance cannot be foreseen at its beginning. Even if performers set the decisive preconditions for the progression of a performance (…) they are not in a position to fully control the course of the performance. Many elements emerge during a performance as a consequence of certain interactions.  (Fischer-Lichte, 2008)

She also refers to it as ‘role reversal’; the spectator becomes a performer. This same mechanism happens in a performative interaction. In fact, in a performative interaction the spectator is a necessary element. Spectators ‘can no longer be seen as just “users” but have to be understood as acting assemblages of bodies and technologies in the space they inhabit.’ (Williamson, Hansen, Jacucci, Light, & Reeves, 2014) So whether a performative interaction truly will succeed depends on the public that has to step in. To make that happen is not easy.

Stepping in 

Stepping in a performative interaction means you have to cross a line. Studies show that whenever public interaction is being asked for – especially when nobody is playing yet –  there is a feeling of resistance. Most of the time it’s because people experience a feeling of social embarrassment, so they are ‘wary of volunteering, not knowing what exactly will be required from them, especially if it entails making them look foolish in the eyes of the on-looking audience’ (Brignull & Rogers, 2003, p. 18). Other members of the audience will have an impact on the decision to step in or not. Are they enthusiastic? Do they look at you strangely? Do you feel embarrassed by them looking at you? Can you participate with friends? Social environment and social norms plays a large part in the question whether or not to participate. These norms can be implicitly imposed (by what your parents used to do) or explicitly (you’re instructed to do so). (McCarthy, Ondaatje, Zakaras, & Books, 2004)

Thus, whether or not you will participate in a performative interaction depends on your social ‘frame’. (Goffman, 1963) Somebody that grew up in Japan will have another set of standards than a person that grew up in Cambodia or the Netherlands. Therefore a performative interaction will have different responses in different countries and with different people. But in every given case you’re likely to behave according to the set of rules that apply to the setting. In Western culture for instance it is not suited to dance, jump (as is done so in the ESPN-game) or sing in the middle of the street. If you do so you might be considered mentally ill. The person who, in spite of these social norms, does step forward and into the performance will become the centre of attention. And not everybody is willing to step out of the shadow and into the light.

Goffman refers to this as the shift from unfocused interaction to focused interaction. In the case of unfocused interaction ‘there is no official centre of attention’. (Goffman, 1963, 34)

You’re just one of the people in public and nobody is paying attention at you. Focussed interaction is when clusters of individuals ‘extend one another a special communication license and sustain a special type of mutual activity that can exclude others who are present in the situation’. (Goffman, 1963, p. 83)

By stepping into the performance you shift from unfocused to focussed interaction. This automatically means you step out of your own comfort zone. You leave your normal behaviour pattern and choose to undergo the unknown. In this kind of situation you cannot ‘react automatically”, that is to say according to a set of given rules.’ (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p. 48) In the case of the ESPN game the participator is being asked to jump in the middle of the street to catch invisible balls. Something no person in his right mind would do normally.

Still in the ESPN-video you see that a lot of people DO step in. How does this work? Brignull and Rogers (2003) analysed the flow of public interaction and identified three ‘activity spaces’: (a) peripheral awareness activities (in our example these are the passers-by), (b) focal awareness activities (the people that stop and watch the screen out of curiosity) and (c) direct interaction activities (the person actually gets involved and plays)

If their curiosity is aroused, people will move from space A to B. They can choose to step further in and interact in space C. I would like to say that by stepping in you choose to step into the ‘magic circle’. The reason of moving between the spaces depends on different factors, according to the researchers:

How long an interaction takes, what they [the public] will get out of it, what steps are involved, if it will be a comfortable experience [and[ if there is a quick let out, where they can walk away gracefully, without it disturbing the ongoing public activity. (Brignull & Rogers, 2003, p. 23)

Length of the interaction

The first threshold Brignull and Rogers mention is time. In their experiment people were concerned the interaction ‘would take too much time or effort, or that it would involve looking stupid in public’. (Brignull & Rogers, 2003, p. 19) Time is, besides money and distance, a known constraint that cultural participation faces (Ranshuysen, 1999). A person must have the time to participate, have the money for the entrance fee (it the performance is in a museum) and have the opportunity to travel to the place where the performance is being held.

In the case of the ESPN-windowgame each of these obstacles have been taken by a gathering of people, since a lot of people walk by, do stop and some of them participate.

Reward system 

Still, there are more thresholds to consider. The second factor Brignull and Rogers mention is: ‘what people get out of it’. If you think you’ll be ‘rewarded’ you’re more likely to step in. That can be because you might win something – for instance a Samsung Galaxy by pushing a button for 55 minutes – but it might also just be because you’re curious to see if you can score a goal as in the ESPN game. But there’s more at stake.

According to McCarthy and Jinnet (2001) people feel attracted to art (and I would say performative interactions) because they think they will get smarter, find pleasure or get emotionally stimulated by the art form. In their opinion – and I second that – it has to do with personal perception: what’s in it for me? Will it be fun? Can I learn something by participating? In some cases – if it is a performance with real actors involved – it also might be a feeling of empathy that causes somebody to participate: you can feel sorry for the performers if nobody is willing to do so, so you step forward instead. In this is case you’re reward is a feeling of social satisfaction.

But the reward can also be pleasure. People can decide to join in just for the fun of it. They think they will be entertained and they can play a little. Playing a game means making choices and taking action. If a performative interaction looks fun to do, people are inclined to join, because people really feel a need to play. (Huizinga in Salen & Zimmerman, 2005)

In the case of the ESPN video I would say this last reason is definitely the reason to join. People get curious, see that it’s about a football game, read the word play and decide to have fun. But somebody who watches football every week will more likely join than someone who doesn’t like sports at all.

Expectations

Thirdly Brignull and Rogers say spectators decide to join in if they know what is expected of them. Will it be difficult? But also does it involve something that’s embarrassing? And I want to add to that: will it be ‘meaningful’? In the case of the ESPN-game the participant doesn’t have to take a lot of steps. He just has to push the button and then gets clear instructions to ‘stand 5 feet back and get ready to catch’. In front of him a football player has arrived on the screen and starts throwing balls. These steps are easy to follow and won’t make interaction difficult. Whether you will catch the ball or not, is a whole other story.

Comfort

People do want to feel comfortable during the interaction. Comfort can be both felt physically and emotionally. By having clear instructions people might feel at ease about the possible successful outcome. But not everybody feels comfortable catching balls in the middle of the street. In the video of ESPN we see a man, with what appears to be a laptop case under his arm, pushing the button. I doubt it if it was physically comfortable to catch the balls. But I can’t be sure because I couldn’t interview him.

Emotionally the audience can give you an uncomfortable feeling. And that already can be the case if it’s only one other person, as a study of Luke Hespanol and Martin Tomitsch (2014) proves. In their experiment, participants said they did feel comfort or pleasure ‘when they were left alone in the space’. People were more likely to step in and stay in of the performative interaction when they were alone or with someone they knew. Then they saw the performance as a way to have fun and play. But if the second participant was somebody they didn’t know they felt ‘socially awkward, as if they were invading each other’s private spaces’ (Hespanol & Tomitsch, 2014). The social constraints they felt were ‘feeling self-conscious, shy, uncomfortable, or not wanting to disrupt anyone else’s experience.’ I do have to point out that the installation they’re referring to was not in a public space, but in a closed environment. It might be this context that made it more necessary to be alone.

The beautiful part is, that if you do feel comfortable and others can see that, you might cause a chain reaction. Other spectators can look at what you are doing and see it’s not embarrassing at all. So the first participant breaks down the barrier for the next one. This is what Brignull and Rogers refers to as the ‘honey pot effect’. (Brignull & Rogers, 2003, p. 20)

Staying in

When you’re in the performative interaction the fun really begins. You decided to push the button and then the sign says ‘catch the ball’. What if you’re a lousy catcher? Do you decide to stop immediately? Or are you going to try? Stopping will surely give you the feeling you’re losing face.

So when you’re in the performance you’ll not automatically stay in the interaction. That also depends on a couple of factors, one of them is the ‘autopoietic feedback loop’ from Fischer-Lichte I earlier referred to. By acting to the performance the participant gets feedback. Feedback from the interactive system itself, but also from the bystanders. By catching the ball, you score a goal! You did the right thing. So you keep trying. The public might cheer you on as in a real football game. Both of these are positive feedback issues. By scoring you also give feedback to the technological device: yes, throw me another ball! As long as this feedback loop is not interrupted, you’ll likely to stay in. Unless you run out of time because you have an appointment.

Zimmerman and Salen state somebody will stay in a game (and in my opinion, therefore in a performative interaction) when there is ‘meaningful play’, that is if ‘relationships between actions and outcomes in a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game.’ (Salen & Zimmerman, 2005) The result of the game action has to be communicated to the player in a perceivable way. If you don’t get the right feedback, you won’t know if you’re on the right track, and then your action doesn’t have any meaning.

Being in the performance might also heighten perceptual sensitivity, so Fischer-Lichte says. You’re really involved. You want to win, you don’t want to miss a ball. You’re really into the game. You’re perceptual about what happens in the game, but also aware of what the audience is doing. You feel self-conscious as you know you’re being looked at. And you don’t mind. You feel happy and comfortable. As long as everything is going well.

Stepping Out

If it’s not going well you might want to step out, and then the fifth threshold Brignull and Rogers mention arises: is there a quick let out? The social constraints participants felt in the experiments of Hespanol and Tomitsch could be a reason to step out of the performance. (Hespanol & Tomitsch, 2014, p. 11) They actually said they decided to step out because they ‘did not really get it’ and had the impression they ‘had entered in the middle of someone else’s experience’. Other reasons that were mentioned were lack of time, or embarrassment when somebody else stepped in the room.

Thus, stepping out of the performance can have thresholds as well. You might say it’s easy to step out, if you’re not interested anymore, if your curiosity is fully satisfied or if you totally understand what has happened. Or maybe time has run out and you have to catch a train. But it’s not that easy. In the case of the ESPN-players it probably was easy to step out if they had a successful game and scored a lot of points. They may be reluctant because the experience was so joyous and momentarily had the feeling they were really a successful football player. For a brief moment they might have felt they were in a stadium being cheered at. According to Fischer-Lichte (2008) this means the spectator has been transferred into a state that alienates him from everyday life. In that case it’s difficult to return to reality. Still, they have to step out. The spectators were captivated by the performance, were shortly in another world and now have to go back to reality. Not wanting to go back to everyday life due to the nice emotional state they were in, could be a threshold.

In some performative interactions nothing may have happened at all, and that’s why you want out. But if you feel the performance is really fulfilling and meaningful it’s difficult to step out.  Also, you have been a part of the performance and by stepping out you will focus the attention again on yourself, as being the individual that quits. Which is even more difficult if you were the one that didn’t catch the ball. You failed. That could make you want to try again. And again. Until you can step out proudly.

Conclusion

We’ve seen that the decision to step in or out of an performative interaction depends on different factors. For performers it is important to know beforehand what these factors are so they can make sure their installation will tackle a lot of these thresholds. At the beginning of this essay I quoted Erika Fischer-Lichte and said that the exact course of a performance cannot be foreseen. But I think a performer is able to have a little control of whether or not a participant might step in, to make sure his performative interaction will succeed. He can choose where he will put his installation, and he’s responsible for the interactive level. According to Fischer-Lichte staging strategies or game instruction constantly play with three processes: role reversal, community building and ‘modes of mutual, physical contact that help explore interplay’. (Fischer-Lichte, 2008)

Creators of performative interactions can also use these staging strategies to ensure their installation will not be ignored. They have to considerate place and time before they act. They have to ensure their installation will arise curiosity and playfulness. They must build an interactive that arises curiosity, that is easily understood and that takes not too much time to get involved. And that might encourage social interaction (or community building). If they do so, then passers-by might step over their possible feeling of embarrassment and self-awareness, and step into the game. At that moment play can really start. And maybe – when technology is really immersive – the scene in the woods from the beginning of my essay really will become a possibility. I will be the first person to plunge into that very adventurous magic circle.

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REFERENCES

Ajzen, I. (991). The Theory of Planned Behavior. In I. Ajzen, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (pp. 179-211). Amherst: Academic Press, Inc.

Brignull, H., & Rogers, Y. (2003). Enticing People to Interact with Large Public Displays in Public Places. Human-Computer Interaction, 17-24.

Fischer-Lichte, E. (2008). Shared bodies, shared spaces: The bodily co-presence of actors and spectators. In E. Fischer-Lichte, The Transformative Power of Performance (pp. 39-74). London and New York: Routledge.

Fischer-Lichte, E. (2010, august 11). Interweaving Cultures in Performance: Different States of Being In-Between. Retrieved from www.textures-online.com: http://www.textures-platform.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/interweaving-cultures-in-performance.pdf

Goffman, E. (1963). Behavior in Public Places: notes on the social organization of gatherings. New York: The Free Press.

Hespanol, L., & Tomitsch, M. (2014). Understanding the effects of contextual constraints on performative behaviour in interactive media installations. Pers Ubiquit Comput (18), 1651-1665.

McCarthy, K., Ondaatje, E., Zakaras, E., & Books, A. (2004). Gifts of the muse, Reframing the debate about the benefits of arts. Santa Monica: Rand corporation.

Ranshuysen, L. (1999). Handleiding publieksonderzoek voor podia en musea. Amsterdam: Boekmanstichting.

Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2005). Game design and meaningful play. In J. Raessens, & J. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of Computer Games Studies (pp. 59-79). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Williamson, J. R., Hansen, L. K., Jacucci, G., Light, A., & Reeves, S. (2014). Understanding performative interactions in public settings. Pers Ubiquit Comput (18), 1545-1549.[:]

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