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I attended a talk by some folks from Odyssey Works (the inaugural talk of the Adventure Design Group Meetup). O.W. presented about their art: situations, each with an audience of one. It works like this. O.W. announces that they're considering doing some art. Hundreds of potential audiences (a.k.a., "people") fill out a long survey. One person is chosen as the audience and is subjected to further study. Months later, for 30+ hours some weekend, Odyssey Works puts the audience through a series of crafted experiences. It was an interesting talk; it was recorded. If the recording ever shows up, maybe I'll jot down some notes about it. But now I'm going to jot notes about something that wasn't recorded, some of the after-talk conversation. I'll forget if I don't write this stuff down.

After the talk, I clumped together with other puzzlehuntists who attended. (Fans of meetups would point out that I wasted an opportunity to talk with folks with other hobbies, to broaden my horizons. They'd be right; but on the other hand, I don't get to see puzzlehuntists in non-frantic-running-around and/or exhausted-post-game settings so often. I have no regrets.)

Someone guessed that Odyssey Works was anti-intellectual. The O.W. folks described one performance in which they'd had their audience start the weekend contemplating maps and symbols; but as the weekend wore on, they wore him down: had him carry a rock for some miles; chased him; tied him up; fake-kidnapped him; subjected him to a dionysian revel… Are they anti-intellectual? It's hard to say. We heard about one performance and fractions of others. For this audience, they bypassed the intellect, went for the viscera. Did that reflect a favored method? Or was this rare for them?

Some groups want to bypass the intellect, take the easy route to getting an emotional reaction. The puzzle-huntist who'd brought up the question of anti-intellectualism had gone to some est (nowadays, we'd call it a brain-washing "self-help" group) meetings back in the day. Was this rare for Odyssey Works? Maybe there was something special about this audience. It's hard to know; for this short talk, they gave a sketch of his personality. Did he need a psychological jolt, or was it gratuitous, a cheap shot to make more strongly-affecting art?

Maybe both were true? Was OdysseyWorks more likely to choose an audience that would appreciate the art that O.W. already wanted to make? One member of Odyssey Works likes to work with meat. The audience was put through a Dionysian revel replete with dancing and the rending of flesh. Was the revel her idea? Was it the part of the art which kept her interested in being a creator? If the audience had been a vegetarian and OdysseyWorks had decided not to use meat, would this artist have sat out that performance?

Hundreds of people apply to be the audience of a performance. Do they choose an audience that will react well to the art they wanted to make anyhow? Put aside the applications from the vegetarians; they won't appreciate the meat. If you're working with a sound designer, then by all means include a sound bath into the art, but make sure you choose an audience who will find this moving.

Why even go out of your way to create an emotional experience? Once someone's been through anything for 30+ hours, it will become an emotional experience. If you feel like you've achieved a higher state of existence while struggling through the sunrise to solve a Penrose-tile-grid minesweeper puzzle printed on a huge piece of onion-skin paper, does that mean there's something amazing about minesweeper? Or does that mean that your brain was ready to be amazed after having been kept awake and stimulated for umpty-ump hours?

Why the fake-kidnap? Having ceded so much control over their work to the audience's whims stated on a survey… do the artists want control back? Is it a way to keep a frame around the world? "While he's caged in this van, we control what he sees; when he's out in the world, he might be looking at anything." Does it give more control over the experience? Or just a comforting illusion of control?

If we're not trying to inspire a feeling of epiphany, but instead a sense of challenge and fun, which of these ideas can we rip off?

Tags: art echo chamber puzzle scene

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