Bodies, rhythms and digital games

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This talk will cover Henri Lefebrve's rhythmanalysis technique and discuss how it may be applied to digital, non-digital and pervasive games. As well as his methodology, his work on bodies, gestures, …

This talk will cover Henri Lefebrve's rhythmanalysis technique and discuss how it may be applied to digital, non-digital and pervasive games. As well as his methodology, his work on bodies, gestures, traffic, exchanges and daily rhythms all bring insights to the practice of game playing.

Rhythmanalysis, in its original formulation, can be used to describe the way games fit into society and the larger patterns of how play fits into everyday life. It is also well suited to explore the lower level detail of gameplay itself in a physical and embodied manner. Because of this it gives a tool that can describe gaming from the second to second button-mashing dance of gameplay, though game structures, to play sessions and ultimately how games fit into the wider, cultural and societal cycles of our lives.

Many discussions of gaming describe it as a break in the everyday or an escape into an alternate world of fantasy and the virtual spaces of digital games make this separation appear more stark. However the fundamentally physical, repetitive and rhythmic characteristics of games are intrinsically a reflection of their quotidian nature. Exploring the interactive eurhythmia that games create through the specific linear and cyclic rhythms of gameplay opens up these cybernetic texts to a physical and embodied analysis. It provides a way to understand certain game patterns in ways that narrative and ludological approaches cannot.

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  • Dionysus looks more like a gamer than apollo

    Introduced in the Birth of Tragedy
    Intertwined but separate
    Not simple, equal, binary opposites

    Described variously as principles, urges, attitudes not properties

  • Not implying that Computer Games or any other form of game is like Greek Tragedy

    Movement is an intrinsic part of thinking about play, one that is often ignored when discussing computer games.

    Pathways and patterns in rhythm action games, 2D shooters, platform games, etc.

    Gaming is the pleasure of figuring out rules, understanding the system, the enjoyment of information and knowledge, the pleasure of mathematical beauty

    Interestingly narrative is part of the Apollonian element and complex narrative is a new comer to games, really only emerging with computer games.

    Apollonian is probably most evident in PC based RPGs, especially the turn based RPG where the flow of action is, or can be, interrupted by the player.

  • Rhythmic - conversational, dialectic,

    Fuzzy areas
  • His Rhythmanalytical project took a long time to develop
    Flows/Flux from Marx.
    Marx is economics/politics, big power

    Influenced by Bergson, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Marx.
  • Rhythm is something that we all get, but it is difficult to put one’s finger on it.

    Bear in mind that this is French philosophy. So we’re not going to get definitional here.

    Rhythm is a "movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions." While rhythm most commonly applies to sound, such as music and spoken language, it may also refer to visual presentation, as "timed movement through space. (WIkipedia, 2010)
  • Works at a physical and affective level

    it is musical

    utilises repetition and difference
    not simply mechanical but also organic
    cyclical and linear
    at once continuous and also discrete
    unites the quantitative and qualitative

    Bergson’s duration... goes on to Lefebvre’s moment

    Waves on the Mediterranean

  • Cyclical come from the heavens
    From the massive scale of galaxies, suns, planets, down to the scale of cells, molecules and atoms
    Not afraid to bring in some scientific metaphors or similes

    Linear come from the social (not the internal biologically human)

    Isorhythmia - in frequency
    polyrhythmia - many rhythms going on at once
    Eurhythmia - symphonic rhythms - the body - the rhythms working together
    Arrhythmia - rhythms breaking down
  • A successor to the psychoanalysts

    Maybe to all social and psychological investigators

    Sense through using eurhythmia and arrhythmia

    Data from all the senses

    Must step outside the experience and evaluate

  • Humans break themselves in like animals

    Again metaphors of organs, to society.

    The rhythms of dressage are not the totality of rhythms
  • Linear and cyclical rhythms in games linking into our cyclical and linear rhythms

    The game designer is a rhythmanalyst. Tying into our rhythms.

    Game play is choreographed

    Controller dances, popular dance form
  • The successful pervasive games have a rhythms borrowed from other rites

    But also explore and play with those rhythms.

    In many cases they need to inflict dressage to get you to play

    In other cases they need you to break out of the cultural dressage, cf Garfinkel’s breaching experiments.


  • 1. “Everywhere there is an interaction between a place, a time and an expenditure of energy there is a rhythm.” - Lefebvre
  • 2. Bodies, Rhythm and Digital Games An introduction to Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis and its relationship to digital, traditional and pervasive games. Dan Dixon University of the West of England Digital Cultures Research Centre | Pervasive Media Studio
  • 3. Aims ➡ “Gameness” and aesthetics ➡ Why rhythmanalysis? ➡ The elements of rhythmanalysis ➡ The rhythmanalyst ➡ Dressage ➡ Digital games ➡ Pervasive games
  • 4. rhythmic aesthetic tactical aesthetic • physical • cognitive • ecstatic • individuating • chaotic • understandable • intoxicating • astounding • interaction • simulation • rhythm • rules • dialectic/conversational • narrative • “playing” • “gaming”
  • 5. movement systems/rhizome & rhythm understanding autotelic lay ful pla yfu p Twirling Pervasive Lego l gaming RPGs rhythm-action PnP RPG esMMORPGs sensation rhythmic gam tactical FPS Dancing Gambling eve Ballroom Navigation ryd Walking Dancing Stockmarket ryd ay eve Sports ay Dionysian earnest Apollonian Lefebvre / Gadamer de Certeau
  • 6. Henri Lefebvre • Reacting to Marxist focus on Big and Time. • Le Quotidien • mundane, everyday, repetitive • Intro to Modernity constructed like a symphony • Rhythmanalysis specifically mentioned in POS (1974) • Rhythmanalysis published posthumously in 1992
  • 7. “Is there a general concept of rhythm? Answers: yes, and everyone possesses it [...] Yet the meanings of the term remain obscure.” - Lefebvre
  • 8. Rhythm according to Lefebvre • Repetition • Reprise • Measure • A sequence of movements • Time + Space... Rhythm • dialectic • “An organ has rhythm, but the rhythm [...] is not an organ” • “... it is an interaction” Rhythm of Black Lines, Piet Mondrian • Not just a beat or a waveform
  • 9. Types of rhythm • Cyclical • Cosmic • Natural • Linear • Begining and end • Human and Artificial • Isorhythmia • Polyrhythmia • Eurhythmia (symphonic) Violin strings vibrating • Arrhythmia
  • 10. The rhythmanalyst • “The body produces a garland of rhythms... a bouquet” • An aesthetic quality to rhythms • “At no moment have the analysis of rhythms [...] lost sight of the body.” • Rhythm is a tool of analysis, not the object to be analysed • The body is not just the subject, but also the tool of Form is the Language of Time analysis Robert Horowitz • The Rhythmanalyst listens
  • 11. Dressage • Gestures are not natural • We are “broken in” by society and culture • Personal gestures are manipulated by external rhythms Construction: Black and White Counterpoint Burton Wasserman
  • 12. Digital Games • Traditional, digital and pervasive games all different • Player forms a eurhythmia (or isorhythmia) with the cybertext that is the digital game • There is a specific rhythm of gameness, which is different from the rhythms of other cybertexts Broadway Boogie Woogie, Piet Mondrian • A form of dressage
  • 13. Pervasive Games • Social space and rhythms • Not cybertexts • Artistic spatial practice • Explore rhythms of social space • Explore dressage • Breaching experiments Personal Domain of Freedom and Ecstacy • Turn the player into a Robert Horowitz rhythmanalyst
  • 14. Summary ➡ Rhythms are a route to “gameness” ➡ Time, Space, Rhythm ➡ Cyclical, Linear, Eurhythmia, Arrythmia ➡ Rhythmanalysts uses the body to listen to the aesthetics of social space ➡ Dressage - Culture breaks us to certain gestures ➡ Digital games - break us into certain gestures ➡ Pervasive games - artistic spatial practice that can explore gestures