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Participatory Art


Assuming participatory art as an unfamiliar and rare concept is surely a temptation but wrong at the same time. Contrarily, these are not uncommon artworks. Theoretical writing also overlooks this concept. I will prove that inability to recognize both the prevalence and importance of this type of art, not only cause a distortion our perception about art but also our understanding of the same. Furthermore, it also distorts our capability to comprehend the influence art has over us, thereby, affecting our perception, as well as, our actions. We can create a strong case – though I will refrain from making it here – for commenting that early European period and its culture, had participatory art, which was the norm then and highly wide-spread in comparison to the current period.

As pointed out by Sedgewick (Issue in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance), it’s a matter of argument that non-participatory art and its rise caused a distortion in our recent theories related to art. It has also prevented us from appreciating the works of art. The obvious form of participatory art, in the first sight, according to me, is architecture, with few variant of drama, music, monuments and public gardens. However, through an argument, we can embrace larger form of participatory art, which is capable of grasping renowned imagination, reinforcing or conveying beliefs or exploiting values. Participatory art form, I believe is a whole deal public in nature, like, semi-official or official art that is state funded or funded by organizations for sufficing aims, irrespective of their nature, whether malicious or benevolent of people who either aim to govern them or who govern.

Few gardens, such as, fountains and public squares, cathedrals, presidential buildings, churches, presidential homes or palaces are in my sense, public and participatory. However, not every public art and official painting, poetry, sculpture, etc. for example, are in the sense, participatory, which has been outlined by me (Bogost, Persuasive Games). They are not even participatory art public. Though few works of art are participatory, as per my opinion, cannot be appreciated via the action and presence of the viewer within them.

How participatory encourages participation

You can also appreciate them “from the outside”, which means,, without having any physical presence in the works and participating in the activities that are prescribed by the works. A building is a work of art, is appreciable through sheer admiration of its proportions or facade. However, a more comprehensive appreciation needs stepping within and engaging in the activities, for which the building was created and designed. For participating in the work, through this way helps in heightening one’s appreciation of the same and making others gain awareness that of the various deficiencies and virtues of the work; and the way it fails or succeeds in sufficing its architectural function.

Keeping in mind Hospital de la Santa Creu Sant Pau of Domenech I Montaner in Barcelona, whose beautiful domes, gardens, turrets, colourful ceramic tiles are worthy of appreciation from the exterior by a casual tourist (Bogost, Unit Operations). However, if you look at it as a sheer hospital, you will be left with wonderment about its structure and its suitability for patients, nurses or doctors. Complexity and its appreciation, demands participation of a person not as a patient, doctor or nurse but also as a cleaner or visitor (Stubbs, Art and the Internet). A comprehensive appreciation of the same, calls for both internal and external responsiveness of the work, with the exclusion of the two from each other.

Unless and until, it acquires an appropriate sense of participatory response, it will solely not function as a regular hospital. Rudimentary account is provided through the above mentioned example, that of the participatory form of art, it also disguises the phenomenon’s extensiveness. The best way to comprehend it is by differentiating between the compound and discrete works of art. A compound work of art is a product of various forms of discrete works, whereas, discrete work is made up of other forms of art, for example, a poem or painting sculpture. Most participatory form of artwork is compound, for example, Westminster Abbey. There are numerous good reasons for considering it as a work of art, more like a highly complex and multifaceted work. It’s a clear embodiment and exemplification of values, which should have been taken seriously designers. In spite of this, a considerable, painstaking and delicate level of artistry that has got into it for conveying the values, which are inclined towards the point of view that the Abbey is an artwork. It’s a work of art, consisting of numerous discrete works, which are in invitation of physical presence of viewers, who need to respond – under the normal circumstances – to it in a religious manner (the true intension of the designers), without which, the Abbey will lose its functionality.

The participation form that participatory art work needs, is public, instead of private, and actual more than purely imaginary or virtual (Bishop, Artificial Hells). There is a need for physical presence of viewers that in context to the performance or work, and prescribed behaviour that helps in enhancing perception of viewers. Then, literature cannot be considered as participatory art form, for a viewer or reader and have a literal presence, which means, physical presence in the literary work of art. For cinema and painting the same is applied. Opera might be a participatory art form but not in a matter of fact sense. Having said that – theatres, opera houses, and museums are often participatory and compound works of art (Bishop, Participation).

There might be a physical presence of a person that within the spatial confinement of the individual and he/she might need specific behaviour for appreciating, for the appropriate functioning of opera houses, museums, or theatres. Viewers, can have a literal presence in the performance that can (and does) take place everywhere and conventionally need responsiveness in a close and specified manner that to the play’s action, where the responses boost clearly the person’s appreciation of the same and enable the play to acquire the intended responsiveness.

From participatory design to participatory culture and beyond – Henry Jenkins through Textual Poachers (1992) – in his ethnographic form of studying cultures of fans – made the introduction of the participatory culture’s concept. As per the fan cultures of Jenkins, acquire resources that from commercial media culture, as well as, rework for serving the alternative purposes. Cultural studies tradition, in a large scale, has emphasis on the activity that of media audiences, which has been happening for decades. It also made the suggestion that rather than talking about the reception, and consumption of popular culture should be comprehended that in terms of production. Thus, the modders have a peculiar place amongst media fans and it is possible because of the mutually beneficial relationship present with the game developers.

Jenkins has borrowed the  term ‘poaching’ from de Certeau for characterizing the relationship present between  corporate producers of media texts and fans as -an ongoing struggle for the possession of control and text over its meanings – (Jenkins 1992, 24). In 1992, John Fiske suggested in his seminal article that all media audiences have an engagement in some semiotic productivity degree but fans turn their productivity often into textual form. Petty production and fan fiction give a materialistic form to actions of media fans. Fan cultural texts, traditionally, are not produced for the mass market for making profits and they are not circulated normally outside the community of fans. With its own sets of distribution and production rules, this system, is known as, a ‘shadow cultural economy’ according to Fiske.

John A.L. Banks critiqued the theory of Jenkins, claiming that the notion behind participatory culture, encompasses difficulty when discussions of development is undertaken that of petty producers to the professional and semi-professional distributors and producers. He admits that he is overstating the position of Jenkins here, though he is successful in revealing the participatory culture’s landscape and the fact that it has moved in the past decades. Fan activities before were discussed mostly in textual copies and conventions that were circulation within the fan community. However, in recent times, the internet is used in an extensive manner for discussions and material distribution. Lately, the corporate media production enterprises have become interested in bringing petty productions of fan culture from the arena of subcultural shadows that to the large and mainstream light.

Participatory Theory, Communication, and Interaction

The corporate media companies organized competitions, which are apt examples of fan culture’s production’s institutionalization.  Star Wars Fan Movie Awards is a famous example. It’s an annual competition organized by the Atomfilms, along with the partnership of the producer of official Star Wars movies – Lucasfilms. Awarded fan filmmakers are provided with a commercial distribution contract, which offers them the guarantee of getting legitimate royalty payments. However, no attempts are made or allowed for the expansion of Star Wars universe but films must be a documentary work of the Star Wars fan experience or a caricature of the existing Star Wars (Bateman, Imaginary Games).

As my proposal exhibition demonstrates the importance of art as a commodity and the role of art in challenging the pre-existing judgments made about video games. Upon reading examination of my proposal, it becomes clear that video games are a useful medium to demonstrate art. Specifically, the age “Journey” demonstrates that games as objects have unique features (Kirkpatrick, Aesthetic Theory and The Video Games). The audience participates in interacting with the game by being in a position of control of the performers.

As per the rules, making use of Star Wars video or music that is within the realms of copyright is forbidden. However, a “Production Kit” can be gotten through the internet, complete with audio clips and action figures. The rules also have control over excessive swearing, graphic violence and nudity as ineligible and invalid content. The nature of the competitions is clearly highlighted as a controlling and regulating tool. In the 2003 summer Epic Games, a million-dollar modding competition was announced – “Make Something Unreal” for the generation of new mods that for the popular 1st person shooter ‘2003 Unreal Tournament’. The company by offering considerable number of prizes and a significant amount of publicity opportunities for the winning mod groups, it obviously has the expectations for good and positive publicity, as well as, a boost in UT2003 sales. It is naturally expected of high quality mods extend both the life span and popularity of the game title. Furthermore, the competition provides a vital opportunity for the management of fan production that is ‘unruly’.

If we make a close examination of the word – in this context – ‘participatory’, it might seem to make a reference that to the two varying directions. Participation, first and foremost, is an indication that someone is being involved in an active manner – a participating person, in comparison to nonparticipants, takes his or her part after thoroughly contributing. The second point is that the power of a participant is partial in nature. He or she is never completely independent as far as, his or her actions are concerned, but the participant operates via negotiation and collaboration in a thorough manner. Thus, it is completely apt to recall – in this context – the term ‘subject’ – dual meaning – as a subservient and agent that to something (145 – 147, Lehtonen 2001). The modders make contributions to games but they have limitations. The companies of the games address the modders in an active manner for governing and supervising mod productions.

While giving a description of the participatory culture’s mechanisms, Jenkins makes an observation that there is an absence of direct accessibility of fans to commercial cultural production and they also have limited resources for influencing decisions of the entertainment industry. The advancement made in computer hardware, lobbyists have the availability of inexpensive machines. Amateurs can also experiment, edit and mix media content, courtesy the user-friendly software available today. Furthermore, internet distribution is providing worldwide audience the potentiality of homebrew productions.

The media industry, simultaneously, is developing actively   new ways for retaining its control that over the types of petty production, in order to ensure protection of intellectual property and maximization of profits.  The game companies proceed towards the organization and maintenance of websites, which help gamers to have discussions with other gamers, as well as, share gamer-made contents and keep in touch with representatives of the company. Companies also hire ‘community managers’, especially who thoroughly navigate the internet for the collection of comments, feedback, and ideas originating from consumers. Mod-specific regulating methods are inclusive of the “official” modding tools, which were both developed and then distributed by the companies only and the EULAs – end user license agreements governing the creation and production of modifications.

EULAs make us go experience the Doom again. Back in the year 1993 a user license that with Doom was not provided by the Id Software. Therefore, weren’t any possibility of governing early mods’ distribution. The business manager of Id later posted an agreement in respect to the Doom, modders’ prospective. It was an inclusion of a request, which requested that the mods should solely work only with Doom from a registered version. Reading via the EULA of almost every contemporary game makes the revelation the humble wish over a decade transformed into a standard requisite of the game industry.

The development of modifications, is basically supported, however, within the limitation of the fact that the homemade contents shall not experience any confliction that with the companies’ commercial interests. Jenkins, recently made an attempt for updating the understanding of participatory culture and framing different categories for explaining the results due to the intersection of media convergence driven by the corporate ladder and participatory culture. The continuum is inclusive of the following levels:


  • Conflict – as in the sense of ongoing legal battles, for acquiring accessibility or regulatory power of the intellectual property rights.
  • Critique – like in case of culture jammers’ political activism, who make use of participatory culture for breaking down the media industries’ dominance.
  • Challenge – like in case of blurring of the lines occurring between amateur and professional products that might compete for acquiring interest of viewers and not revenues.
  • Collaboration – like in the sense of numerous plans for incorporating materials that are viewer generated.
  • Recruitment – like when commercial producers make use of amateur media as a testing ground or training ground for emerging talent and ideas.


You can find these levels and many more in the gaming cultures. It was only a few decades ago that a single amateur enthusiast was capable of writing a game within weeks and developing his or her hobby that into a business.



Currently, a significant number of professional designers of games hail from the   background mod scene. A mod-themed feature article published in the Edge magazine, and issue #126 (August 2003) made forecasts that of the lone-wolf modder’s end. Extensive detailing in the next generation games will boost mod developers’ workload. We’ve already witnessed the surge of large global development teams. With the facilitation and coordination of these types of team sets new challenges not only on the mod community members but also on the game studios.

It might seem that complexity in symbiosis that between individual media producers and media companies will increase. From the perspective of a player, the constantly maturing and developing gaming industry has paved the path for potentials and new possibilities. There are few cases, where a shift of the gaming that from being a simple hobby to a perpetual job, is prevalent. Video game tournaments offering numerous prizes and national teams, like that of the sport circuit are capable of transforming the gaming industry into a full-fledged serious venture. Furthermore, with the transformation of a modder from being an amateur professional to a skilled specialist, there will be more capital relationship dependence in the market.

(Sotamaa 2003) From the viewpoint of the game industry the mod community is capable of serving as an inexpensive source of research and development team. Like, for example, in the year 2002, top mod teams and their members from around the globe were flown to the Electronic Arts’ Westwood Studios,   Mod College for a full day, with the aim to inform the new C&C’s mod community: Renegade engine. The mod-savvy developers’ activities can be interpreted as a completely  alternative design philosophy, where, rather than analysing needs of users and validating their requirements, with user-centred design, the tools are provided that to the fiddling and users, along with the encouragement of undertaking experiments.



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