Concept and production: Michaela Davies

Electronics & hardware: Leigh Russell

Max/MSP programming: Alex Davies

Set fabrication: Ed Horne

Costume making & design: Michaela Davies

Sound Design: Michaela Davies

Custom EMS device: Richard Allen

Joystick fabrication: Damian Martin, Odd Studio

Documentation: Boris Bagattini

Installation and damage control: Reuben Alexander

Boxers: Lea Simpson, Mark Simpson, Tenley Gillmore, Claire Conroy, Sam Pettigrew, Matte Rochford, Kerri Ambler and Louise Maloney.

photo credit: Claire Conroy

photo credit: Alex Davies

GAME ON interactive performance and installation, Cockatoo Island (2013)

Video: Boris Bagattini

This project was supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

Documentation of installation. Rear projected onto a screen inside the enclosed stage, the images of the boxers continue to fight. Freed from the players’ control they take on lives of their own.

Video: Boris Bagattini

Players from the audience use joysticks to control the movement of two boxers (human performers) via a MIDI-controlled electric muscle stimulation device. This device sends electrical impulses to specific muscle points on the boxers via electrodes connected to their arms, causing them to punch their opponent involuntarily. The way the players control the boxers in Game On is similar to the way a gamer would move a joystick to control an avatar in a virtual fighting game. When the player moves the joystick, the boxer moves involuntarily and throws a punch.

GAME ON is a creative enquiry into the nature of agency within a system where cognition is distributed across people, objects and environment through technologies of connection. Our sense of agency is created through actions, and the actions of others influence our understanding of ourselves as separate from them. In the GAME ON system, the boxer is connected to their player by an electrical network (akin to neurological signals) such that the player’s embodied experience extends to include their boxer. This expansion of agency entails a form of cognition that exceeds the boundaries of the nervous system. GAME ON explores what happens when embodied experience and sense of agency is disrupted or extended, and the implications of this for locating a responsible agent within this system (i.e. whom, or what, is actually boxing?).

Questioning both the motivations of the players (who are subjecting the boxers to punches and electric shocks) and the culpability of the boxers (who are complicit in the violent act by relinquishing control of their limbs in order to be remotely controlled to punch their opponent), the work references Stanley Milgram’s 1960s psychological experiments on obedience. These experiments demonstrated that participants were prepared to administer increasingly painful electric shocks to another human if instructed to do so by a figure of authority. GAME ON explores the role of the artist, who occupies a position of power not dissimilar to the experimenter in the Milgram study, and conceptions of artistic activity which may permit the artist to explore practices in direct tension with society’s norms.

The GAME ON installation design is based on a scene from the 1970’s cult classic Future World, where human players control android boxers. Replacing avatars/androids with real people, GAME ON challenges the disassociation from violent acts that players experience within a virtual game environment and the ethical challenges faced by society as technology advances to a point where the level of realism in ‘games’ becomes indistinguishable from reality. GAME ON makes real the speculative science fiction of Future World and in turn asks questions about the spectacle of violence & entertainment in the future.