Stenner, Jack Eric (2009-06). Critical reflection in a digital media artwork - Playas: homeland mirage. Doctoral Dissertation.
The introduction of digital media into the working practice of artists has produced challenges previously unknown to the field of art. This inquiry follows an atypical model of artist-driven research derived from disciplines such as social science and education. Here, an artwork functions as a model that is self-reflective, integrating methodologies in a form that benefits art and science. Using Naturalistic Inquiry, including semi-structured interviews of fifteen participants, the work illustrates a process of creation, analysis and evaluation that places the values of the artist on equal footing with the needs of science. Recently, artists have begun using video game engines as a tool to produce 3D navigable spaces. Using the hybrid video game/installation Playas: Homeland Mirage as a case study, this research examines the impact of technology on the artwork and identifies a number of key issues related to the function of critical reflection in this environment. Rules-of-play were a fundamental pre-requisite to the stimulation of critically reflective experience. The human interface with software and hardware was also a primary factor in reflective experience. Based on participant evaluation and observation, the interface was altered in response to its effect on critical reflection, illustrating how choices in this area impact aesthetic experience. Those with experience in visual art were more likely to engage the work in a critically reflective manner than seasoned video game players who tended to be more interested in scoring and winning. These findings and others inform our understanding of the stimulation of critical reflection in immersive environments and show how we can sensitively integrate technology with meaningful evaluative methods. By repurposing a video game in this manner, we learn about the nature of the video game and the nature of art. This research enables artists to gain a better understanding of the medium to more fully integrate technology within a meaningful practice. Conversely, other fields will benefit from a better understanding of the stimulation of meaning in immersive spaces and gain a comprehensive view of a work that strives to contribute to our culture on a deeper level than as simple entertainment. Ultimately, more fully understanding critical reflection in virtual environments will enable us to create enriched experiences that transcend space to create "real" or "virtual" place.