appropriation by mastership

GrindWhen I visited my first LAN-party, the Gameparade back in 2002, the first thing that struck me was that all the common clichés of ‘the dedicated computergamer’ did not at all live up to empirical evidence. During the three days I only spotted two overweight pimpled nerds among the 558 attendees. In consequence the rest of the pack consisted of ‘normal youths’ with an articulate tendency towards the sporty type. This in collusion with everybody’s main interest there—to play together—resulted in a ‘side-event’. The LAN-party was situated on a large school’s premises, the gym converted to something resembling mission control in Houston. Only possible to play computergames there, obviously. But just outside of the main entrance stood a single basketball hoop. Someone organised a ball and an almost never-ending basketball-match began. Those going back to their screens inside the gym immediately were replaced by others and the match went on. As night fell a friendly and cooperative janitor switched on the lights at the forecourt and the ball didn’t come to a rest till very late. Nobody ever bothered to count any points—what for and how? Of course there was competition, but wins and losses only were attributable to instable, ever-changing teams. Playing a game together was the essence.

Morphing the school’s gym into mission control can be seen as a temporal cultural appropriation, manifested in the reversible reworking of the sports hall and its surroundings. But the culture informing this appropriation does not entirely, and not even primarily consist of technophilia. Game and play occupy a prominent place—the above observation is a hint towards that, I guess. Another hint is the engagement of my online-tribe’s people in activities like skateboarding. The latter being not a game, but play—sometimes even competition. For a moment I wanted to stay more at the games-end of the spectrum, not the sports-end, but those activities are perfect examples for illustrating another aspect: the adoration of mastership. Wizard- or even god-like mastership performed in the three spaces (of course including computergamespace—loyal readers meanwhile know that I am fond of Q3A-tricking), and mastership performed in meatspace.

Just recently a hilarious basketball-tricking video rushed through the blogosphere. The appending discussions show that the viewers are of course well aware of the possibilities how to create movies like that, ranging from countless attempts, via the movie-editor’s craft to professional digital manipulation (especially in the light of the clip being a commercial)—the explicitly voiced fascination with skills and mastership remains. It may even be complemented by the adoration of the mastership in the multi-faceted space spanned by the technicalities of making magic clips (or clips showing magic) like that.

Another, far more authentic example, even sporting underground-feeling, features Dances-With-Balls … [.wmv | 8.4MB] (pun half-heartedly intended) showing off artistic football skills. Watch the clip and mind the playful appropriation of public space ranging from the street, via the underground garage, to the supermarket. If graffitti achieves this appropriation in part statically, using means of the fine arts, than this is appropriation by performance—the action caught by a digital movie-camera and the resulting song praising the young master disseminated to an appreciative audience via the Internet. Maybe thereby prolonging and distributing the experience of ‘flow’ made by those physically involved—for sure creating a sense of we-group.

At first glance ‘Dances-With-Balls’ emulates the appropriation by mastership as practiced far longer by skateboarders, inline-skaters and their kin. A perfect example of an appropriated item from urban public space are handrails used to grind on them. No reworking here, you say, only redefintion of meaning and how-to-use? Far from it. In the competition-version of skateboarding and inline-skating normed emulations of ‘real-life’ handrails are put to use. A piece of city-inventory gets completely stripped from the original intentions of how-to-use-it, is completely subdued to the rules of the competitive game, and finally recreated in an appropriate [sic!] form making the emerging of a sport possible. And by the way, the public artefacts also change, though very subtle and only interpretable for those in the know.

The limits for these kinds of performative appropriation are the capabilities of the human body and Newtonian physics—which is a quite trivial statement, valid to everything human beings do in the outside world of material reality.

Back to the balls. Tabletop soccer aka tabletop football aka foosball aka Tisch-/Kicker is, like the pinball machine, a definite meatspace-game, drawing a part of its fascination from the experience of physical, even mechanical objects—and a perfect game-arena to show off expert playmanship. Unfortunately the surreal clip hinterding once pointed to is no more online, but you can get an impression at a world champion’s site (including tutorial videos) and dig more tricking videos at foosball.com. Enjoy.
Balltaenzer via entry at 2R

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