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This pleasure arcade puts instant gratification to the test


As part of a new exhibition exploring hedonism, the Pleasure Arcade 5000 shows how easily gratification can come at the push of a button – and asks us to consider whether it should.

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“Can we simulate pleasure? And should we?” director of the University of South Australia’s  MOD. (Museum of Discovery) Dr Kristin Alford asks, from inside the Pleasure Arcade 5000.

Illuminated by a dim wash of fluorescent lights, with a slight buzz in the background from numerous machines, she adds: “What is real pleasure, anyway?”

Hedonism is the theme of the museum’s latest exhibition, which explores how young people can practice self-indulgence that will last for an eternity instead of a weekend.

“Despite our wealth and health, our happiness is not guaranteed in modern affluent communities,” says Dr Alford.

The exhibition is spread over seven gallery spaces. While HEDONISM’s Biophilic Fantasies explores how you feel in the presence of nature, and the Hedonometer translates the Twitter public feed into a happiness sporting ground, Pleasure Arcade 5000 is all about games that tickle you pink, and explores the ethics of getting there.

The Pleasure Arcade 5000 is a games room for adults and includes six interactive artworks designed by South Australian artists. Each work aims to bring viewers face-to-face with gratification and the issues surrounding it.

A trio of Reward Booths by Joshua Bernardi and Kale Phillipson are a nod to philosopher Robert Nozick’s thought experiment the “Experience Machine”, pulling a historic idea into a modern setting.

Nozick argued that hedonism doesn’t work because if people had the option to be hooked up to a machine that generated fake experiences over authentic ones, they would opt out because it’s not real. The modern iteration of this idea is Bernardi and Phillipson’s 2m-high booths, which resemble ATM machines and are designed to offer participants different scenarios that generate fake senses of pleasure.

The Reward Booths: Compliments, satisfaction and silence.

One capsule provides a finite stream of compliments, and the other cuts out all noise. The final booth allows users to mainline satisfaction into their system without doing any grunt work; they can do this by witnessing the final seconds of someone winning the last level of the mobile phone game Candy Crush.

Dr Alford says that while it’s important to interrogate pleasure in a philosophical context, there is value in understanding what gratification means through a future-facing lens.

“There are significant questions surrounding artificial pleasure. Young people are always told ‘No’, but here we want to explore ‘Yes’.”

One version of modern but highly artificial pleasures is offered by the NaturePod.

Dubbed “a revolutionary new way to deliver nature to the workplace” by its founders Situation Lab, the NaturePod™ allows working professionals to log into a natural world by wearing a virtual-reality headset.

In the Pleasure Arcade 5000, visitors are shown a three-minute video of the product where the Situation Lab – who are really artists Stuart Candy, Bergur Ebbi Benediktsson, Nourhan Hegazy, Jennifer McDougall, Prateeksha Singh – cleverly market nature through portable technology.

The QueerZone.

The Pleasure Arcade 5000’s QueerZone, by Danny Jarratt, aims to attack the normative narratives surrounding desire.

The QueerZone is a cage lined with pink fluorescent bulbs, and houses a version of classic arcade game Ms Pacman, reinvented as Mr Pacman. Mr Pacman has a thick moustache and wears pink leather booties. He is the avatar inside the Mr Pacman game and chases after his soulmate, Pacman.

“This artwork challenges all those stereotypical notions,” says Dr Alford.

Other artworks in the Pleasure Arcade 5000 include Orlando Mee’s virtual world Scene Thru, Jess Taylor’s virtual environment Magic Mountain, and It’s my pleasure by Owen Churches, Hannah Keage, and Simone De Dyne.

 The Pleasure Arcade 5000 is part of the HEDONISM exhibition on display at MOD. until November.

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