Media @ McGill

"Viewer as Player: Audience's Role in Contemporary Art"

Submitted by Media@McGill on



Zoya Dare


Media and communication studies provide a fitting toolkit to study interactivity and I hope to begin to understand it by looking at the ultimate interactive medium: games. Play can be used to develop our understanding of society, our place within it, and even change and question those elements. The same can be said about art. Informed by the parallels between play and art, I will investigate how theories of interactivity in games can be applied to interactions between artworks and their audiences.

 The underlying parallels between play and art have been key in developing this topic. Developmental psychology defines child’s play as a way to explore society and the child's identity within it. Mary Flanagan, in her book Critical Play, proposed that play can also question and critique, potentially even influencing aspects of that society. I was struck by how similar that definition of play sounds to a definition of art as seen through social Art History. Both games and artworks present information in a similar way. They create a system of constraints that allows for a close exploration of a concept, aspect of society, or human experience, without extraneous distractions. This space of exploration is at once separate from reality, in a neutral space without consequence, and also closely entangled with it, able to be both influenced by and exert influence on it.

It is interesting that despite these similarities, play and games are seen as the essential interactive medium and art is so often looked at outside of its interaction with the audience. In art, the focus is most often on aesthetics, formal qualities, conceptual analysis, and socio-political influence. Those are all excellent and necessary aspects but I cannot help but question whether they really exist, or have any meaning, without an audience.