Playing at life in Albert Mobilio's Games & Stunts
"Balloon Bust," the opening story in Albert Mobilio's new collection Games & Stunts (Black Square Editions, April 2017), reads something like the instructions for an esoteric hazing ritual, or perhaps the elaborate stage directions for a downtown play. "Stand with the others in the fenced-in yard," it begins. "Each of us has an uninflated balloon. At a signal, given from someone outside the fence, from someone who used to be in here with us, we all begin to blow up our balloons." The story amounts to half-game, half-stunt: we see a group of "contestants," as well as a clear objective: to be the first to pop one's balloon.
Participation is optional. "One plays only if one wishes to," the epigraph states, taken from Man, Play and Games, an idiosyncratic 1961 work by Roger Caillois, the pioneer of game studies. Part sociology, part philosophy, part cultural criticism, Caillois's study borrows concepts from various world cultures in the elaboration of a number of broad categories of play, ranging from agôn, "a combat in which equality of chances is artificially created," to alea, "in which winning is the result of fate rather than triumphing over an adversary." A tone of benign pedantry and a pleasingly opaque quality predominate—both of which seem to have inspired Mobilio in crafting the unique voice of Games & Stunts, which sometimes hovers above the contestants like an impartial commentator, diving at other times into their midst as a rival and co-conspirator. Like Caillois, Mobilio uncovers echoes of elemental human nature, both pathetic and profound, in the most trivial-seeming of juvenile competitions; unlike Caillois, Mobilio finds sly humor and beauty there as well.
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