My purpose here is to acknowledge culturally constructed aspects of Will Wrights Videogame Spore embedded within Layers of Performativity. As a substantive case study Spore exemplifies and expands at least seven definitions of “Performativity.” The theoretical underpinnings come from sociology, linguistics, and anthropology as one might expect, but significantly, also, from theatre and dramaturgy, which, in my own work, I apply to games as “Gamaturgy.” Methodologically I have approached Spore as an experiential system, using Salen and Zimmerman’s taxonomy, looking at events within the game, obviously, but also social, emotional, and even industrial factors outside the game; what Mayra refers to as the core and the shell representations. Research Question is simple: What can I discover about Spore, and maybe even the genre of God Games/Simulation Games, by investigating its meanings in terms of performativity? Might there be further implications/applications to this interpretive inquiry?
Slide #2: Who has played Spore? You’ve played it all the way through, I presume. Spore, designed by Will Wright was released in 2008 and features gameplay based upon the model of evolution and scientific advancement. The player enters into this galaxy as a single-celled organism, grows into a more complex sapien, forms a society and then, if skilled and patient, explores the galaxy in a spaceships and eventually emerges as a god. This video shows the creature stage where I have evolved from a single cell into a creature.
Screen 3: In the next 15 minutes or so I will spree through these semantical definitions of performativity in Spore. Inspiration, The Industry, Spectacle, The Sacred Sphere, Transformation, Doubling and Duality, and Omnipotence.
Slide #4: As with all art, Performance and hence “performativity,&quot; starts with Inspiration. At the heart of the Spore experience is Will Wright, an auteur who has the courage to explore his inner dreams with this creation -- full of mystery. Wright is interested in making games that help us discover for ourselves the principles of life and nature through play, much in the style of the “Montessori Way.” Wright was Montessori schooled and in a TED talk from March 2007, he described his games as being “Modern Montessori Toys.” Clearly in Spore we discover connections with… the origin of life, and the mystery and beauty of creation. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says. “At the heart of creativity is an experience of the mystical union; the heart of the mystical union is an experience of creativity.” In Spore, Will Wright makes a significant contribution to the genre of “God Games,” or simulation games where the player, an entity with divine powers, is in the position of controlling the game as. A major objective in Spore is to become a god.
Slide #5: Will Wright was cofounder of Maxis, now part of Electronic Arts. SimCity brought Wright to prominence and he built on the theme of computer simulation with SimEarth and SimAnt and of course The Sims. Wright&apos;s greatest success is The Sims which, as of 2009, is the best-selling PC game in history. (Read Screen). In an interview with Celia Pierce, Will Wright discloses that (Read Screen) “I’ve always enjoyed making things. When I started doing games I wanted to give the player a tool so that they can create things. and then give them context for that creation. To really put the player in the design role.”
Slide # 6: Read Screen. Taking the auteurial nugget of creative inspiration and getting it produced is also an action of performativity, in this linguistic sense. Often taking place in boardrooms with CEOs of industry organizations, in this case Electronic Arts, this linguistic act of performativity takes the active form of “Let’s put the money together and make it happen!” Packaging is also a kind of industry performativity where executives solicit the performatives “I persuade you” so they can entice consumers t utter “I buy you, I buy you.”
Slide #7: “Spectacle” as Aristotle described it, and as Brenda Laurel reminds us of in Computers as Theatre, is a fundamental material element of drama and is “all that is seen.” In Poetics, Artistotle also refered to this as “Performance.” Games as Theatre. In Spore, before the characters appear on stage, 3d character artists mapped and modelled their performances, including physicality and emotional relationships with each other. Level designers – scenographers -- provide the visual and emotional look and feel or Mise en scene. The musicians, notably Brian Eno in the case of Spore, provide an aural sound design, also contributing to a sensuous emotional text. I am very interested in the study of multimodal textuality – visual, physical, aural, and literary (verbal) and how this sensuous textuality helps bring about a rich emotional experience. In previous research I discovered that Creative Gamaturgy is a way to infuse sensory discoveries into the game-making process as a creative tool for game designers. This includes sparking up creative teams through improvisation, mapping and modeling of characters and relationships, and ways that visual, physical, and aural texts can work together to assist in the creation of emotionally rich games. Creative Gamaturgy is a way to infuse sensory discoveries into the game-making process as a creative tool for game designers. Within the game, as we saw in the video, are performances. We saw the characters singing, dancing, posing, charming each other to form alliances. This forms a conceptual bridge between this layer of Spectacle and Layers 5 Transformance and Layer 6 Doubling.
Slide #8: As we saw in the video example of the creature phase, the characters enact a ritual with each other in order to form alliances so they may evolve from creature to tribal stage. This draws us into a discussion about the ritual of sacred play, as iterated by Johan Huizinga. Read Modified Screen. “The play-element was present and significant from the beginning ... some serious, some playful, but all rooted in ritual and production of culture.” Johan Huizinga, who is renowned as a scholar of the play element in culture, and who coined the phrase “Magic Circle” in reference to play and games, maintains that ritual and human play reside in a sacred sphere that holds significance as a cultural function satisfying communal ideals. Also, “in the sphere of sacred play the child and the poet are at home with the savage” (Huizinga: 9).
Slide # 9: Regarding the Sacred Sphere and Ritual. First, Excitingly. In the game. When my creature becomes sapient, I can gather members for a more elevated tribal community living. Marshall McLuhan felt that the twentieth century encounter with the electronic faces of culture creates a “return to the Africa within,” or a global village of space resonant with tribal drums — a primitive ritualistic audile-tactile sensorium (McLuhan, 1962: 59). In From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play, Victor Turner describes ritual’s liminal phase as being “a time and place where cognitive schemata that give sense and order to everyday life no longer apply … and room for play abounds” (Turner, 1982: 84-85). Secondly, a sadder situation exists in the In the user/player tribal community. I have had a tough time getting patches and updates for the game and even had to file a grievance with VISA against Electronic Arts when they failed to deliver the product. Dozens of Google pages come up on a EA Sucks Spore search ranging from flawed Digital Rights Management to bad service and this tells it all. “God i just wish maxis was back by itself like the good old days of SimAnt.” Hopefully this doesn’t put you in a bad mood, it’s just the fact of the matter.
Slide #10. (Read Screen). In Performance Theory, Richard Schechner says: “Rite of Passage” is a transformance, changing status of relationship and identity. In “rites of passage” something happens during performance. … both symbolizing and actualizing a change in status. We have already talked about a transformation of character from imagination into Spectacle in Layer 3. Further to this Schechner describes how social drama and ritual provide “transformance.” Firstly he refers to a kind of transformation of real behaviour into symbolic behaviour and then defines “rite of passage” as a transformance that actualizes change of status within the valence of relationship and identity. In Spore, this rite of passage takes place as transformance from low level life in cell stage to intelligence sapience in creature and tribal stage, and eventually to salience in the space stage. The music and special effects of the game greatly enhance this transformance, especially in the space level when you are in a spaceship exploring the galaxy. Ideologically, this takes on the semiotics of imperialism and American “transformational” domination but let’s leave that for another paper, another time. See next how transformance includes a gender issue. See here how my character, even though displaying masculine characteristics of hunter/gatherer is the one to lay the egg. I like this!!
Slide #11: Significantly here you will notice that even though I am the hero of the story and fight the battles and hunt and gather, I am also the one who lays the eggs.
Slide #12 (Read slide) Richard Bauman says “All performance involves a consciousness of doubleness, through which the actual execution of an action is placed in mental comparison with a potential, an idea, or a remembered original model.” Central to this phenomenon of doubling is the sense that an action is carried out for someone. The difference between doing and performing is framed in the attitude that when we think about them, observe them, it gives actions a quality of performance. A player tapping the keyboard or thumbing a console executes an action in the game world that is carried out for another in-game character. Richer and deeper than “Doubling”, his implies a kind a “Tripling” activity. A human as puppetmaster of an in-game character (avatar) performing for another in-game character (who, if played on Internet, will have yet another human puppeteer.)
Slide 13: (Read Screen) “God Games” are a sub-genre of Simulation Games where the player is in the position of controlling the game as an entity with divine powers. Having looked at scenes from Spore ask yourself these questions ... Who or what does the camera represent in this scene? How does its pervasiveness ramify into our culture and social fabric? Is the camera you? Could it also be a “Godcam”? Further to that, and consideing that the goal of the game is to become a god, here are Will Wright’s philosophical musing in a 2005 TED broadcast… “What kind of god will the player become? They might be a nurturing god, an incorrigible god, going out and conquesting, or a networking god, building alliances ...” – Will Wright
Slide # 14: A goal of successful game design is the creation of Meaningful Play where the actions and outcomes of a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game. According to Salen and Zimmerman, Meaningful Play, especially as an experiential system, can occur on larger stages of culture and in conflating and synthesizing the layers of performativity we can discern a philosophical extrapolation.
Slide # 15: Interesting connection with the Montessori Educative Method. “The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” – Maria Montessori “If there is one difference I might be able to make in the world, I’d like to give people a better calibration in Long Term Thinking. – Will Wright Implies a serious game educative factor to the methods and methodology of simulation games. “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed. When the children are able to do things for themselves there is an increase in their self belief and even self confidence and esteem“ The aim of the children who persevere in their work with an object is certainly not to “learn”; they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life, which must be recognized and developed by its means.” Give your child the freedom to choose what he wants or needs to do and act on his own. Children make mistakes, There is no need to blatantly point out a child’s mistake, there is a way to make them realize it. Giving the child the freedom and the choice, supporting them in their choice by making sure they are safe, feeding their inquiring minds in a way that they can understand/concretely and observing their needs and fulfilling these can be the key to helping your children develop themselves to their full potential. This sparked her idea for the “absorbent mind’. For children under the age of three they do not need to have lessons in order to learn, they simply absorb everything in the environment by experiencing it, being part of it.
Slide #16: Doubling gets amped up as tripling where characters perform for each other – singing, dancing, posing, charming – and layered over that is the player, immersed in the action as a “puppeteer,” a performative action of performing for “other”, the other being a) the other virtual character and b) intriguingly, others humans in the spore online community. Further to Bauman, this implies that Spore is a performance involving a consciousness of triple-ing, through which the actual execution of an action is placed in mental comparison with two sets of potentials – Central is that the action is being carried out for someone.
Slide #17: Immersion and trying out new Gendered Experiences. A venue where players can hunt and gather, execute battles, form strategic alliances, and then when returning to the next, lays the eggs too. The term “embodiment,” as it is encountered in both drama studies and in game studies, is heavily indebted to the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who claimed that one discovers the essence of something as it is experienced. How does this make you feel … I have been immersed as an embodied participant in the game, discovering the essence of something as it is experienced. It makes me feel … Overburdoned. Hence, the inherent capability of Meaningful/ serious games to help us recognize our philosophical values and moral beliefs.
Layers of Performativity
Layers of Performativity
Lorene Shyba MFA PhD
University of Calgary,
School of Creative and Performing Arts
In Will Wright’s Videogame Spore
The Layers of PERFORMATIVITY
2. The Industry
4. The Sacred Sphere
6. Doubling and Duality
Layer 1: INSPIRATION and The Auteur
“Each of us has an inner dream that we
can unfold if we just have the courage to
admit what it is. And the faith to trust our
– Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity
“I’ve always enjoyed making things.
When I started doing games I wanted to give
the player a tool so that they can create
things. and then give them context for that
creation. To really put the player in the
– Will Wright, interviewed by Celia Pearce
Will Wright, Auteur: The Sims, Sim Earth, Spore
“Linguist philosophers J.L. Austin and
J.R. Searle distinguished between two
kinds of utterances: ‘constantives’ or
statements, and ‘performatives’ like
“I bless you” that perform an act in their
– Marvin Carlson,
Performance: A Critical Introduction
Layer 2: THE INDUSTRY and making it happen
Creative Gamaturgy is a way to infuse sensory
discoveries into the game-making process as a
creative tool for game designers. This includes
sparking up creative teams through improvisation,
mapping and modelling of characters and
relationships, and ways that visual, physical, and
aural texts can work together to assist in the creation
of emotionally rich games .
—Lori Shyba, Beyond Fun and Games:
Interactive Theatre and Serious Videogames
Layer 3: SPECTACLE: Performance, Music, Mise-en-scène
“The play-element was present and significant
from the beginning ... some serious, some
playful, but all rooted in ritual and production of
culture by allowing in the innate human need for
rhythm, harmony, change, contrast and climax
to unfold in full richness.”
– Johan Huizinga
Layer 4: SACRED SPHERE and Ritual
Layer 5: TRANSFORMATION
“Rite of Passage” is a transformance,
changing status of relationship and identity.
In “rites of passage” something happens
during performance. … both symbolizing and
actualizing a change in status.
– Richard Schechner,
Layer Six: DOUBLING and DUALITY
“All performance involves a consciousness of
doubleness, through which the actual
execution of an action is placed in mental
comparison with a potential, an idea, or a
remembered original model.”
– Richard Bauman
“All the world is not, of course, a stage, but the
crucial ways in which it isn’t are not easy to
– Erving Goffman
Layer 7: OMNIPOTENCE and CAMERA’S EYE
“God Games” are a sub-genre of Simulation Games
where the player is in the position of controlling the
game as an entity with divine powers.
“What kind of god will the player
become? They might be a nurturing god,
an incorrigible god, going out and
conquesting, or a networking god,
building alliances ...”
– Will Wright
Findings and Implications
According to Salen and Zimmerman, “Meaningful
Play,” especially as an experiential system, can
occur on larger stages of culture.
Conflating and synthesizing these layers of
performativity leads to the conclusion that Spore is
The Montessori Way
“The environment must be rich in motives
which lend interest to activity and invite the
child to conduct his own experiences.”
– Maria Montessori
“If there is one difference I might be able to make
in the world, I’d like to give people a better
calibration in Long Term Thinking.”
– Will Wright
TRIPLING (Further to Doubling)
“Doubling” gets amped up as “tripling” where
characters perform for each other.
Layered over that is the player, immersed in the
action as a “puppeteer,” a performative action of
performing for “other,” the “other” being:
• the other virtual character, and
• intriguingly, others humans in the Spore online
Immersion and Gender Shapeshifts
Subjectively, I have been immersed as an embodied
participant in the game, discovering the essence of
something as it is experienced.
It makes me feel … Overburdened.
Hunting, Battling, Forming Alliance AND Laying Eggs!
Hence, the power of meaningful/serious games
and recognizing one’s values and moral beliefs.