Research Critique 6 – Destructive Games: DRM Chair

What is the main purpose of the concept of destruction in the arts?

The concept of destruction in the arts is to create value. As with many of the endeavours humans embark on, we, as sentient beings, strive to derive meaning out of our decisions and actions.

“Through the careful design of game mechanics, destruction can create value: It converts material value into social value by generating a conversational artifact that helps the owner to engage with an audience. Destruction is thus not inherently negative, but the generated social value is what gives the destruction a purpose.” 1

This excerpt from the paper “Destructive Games: Creating Value by Destroying Valuable Physical Objects” by David Eickhoff, Stefanie Mueller, and Patrick Baudisch explains the key mechanics behind the value of such an endeavour.

On first glance, I could not comprehend how actual destruction of any physical object can be desirable, much less a valued item for that matter.

On reflection, I realised that a quintessential, socially-accepted equivalent would be the act of cremation. Perhaps slightly far-fetched and not relevant to the arts, I can still draw parallels to the topic on hand. The practice of cremation creates a sense of closure, an ending of sorts, to the lifecycle of a human. Loved ones can either feel relieved, or heartbroken. Either way, there is undoubtedly substantial emotional value being generated here.

What effect does irreversible consequences have on the participants of the artwork?

The researchers initially hypothesised that the fascination of destruction in itself was sufficient to create an interest in participants to… participate.

However, participants remarked that they were deeply affected by their material loss as well. Genuine frustration was also experienced by losers. The researchers had hoped to achieve a ‘positive’ net gain at the end of the experiments.

Interestingly, when these losses inadvertently became conversation starters, the frustration was replaced by fascination and excitement. The sharing of ‘damaged’ memorabilia turned the previously undesirable experience into something noteworthy and memorable. From here, the researchers have found a way to transform the net gain to ‘positive’!

In a sense, this is similar to how we can trivialise embarrassing situations by joking about them, rather than avoiding them like the plague.

What value does destruction bring to the artwork?

In the research paper, most of the value that was derived from the experiments were of the ‘social’ type.

“Since destructed artifacts cause a special fascination, they can cause viral effects when evidence of the destruction is shared online.” 2

The social value is created from the recollection of the destruction process, as such can be labeled as a ‘form of achievement’; a rite of passage per se.

Things Come Apart, 50 Disassembled Objects in 21,959 Individual Parts by Todd McLellan

In the alternative form of ‘destruction’ shown above, we can see that Todd McLellan has managed, through skilful hands, to open a window to the internal workings of modern objects such as laptops, phones and chainsaws. I would even casually surmise that these images could inspire our next generation of inventors.

Returning to the paper’s findings, the conclusion drawn was that the generated social value would not have been possible without the destruction in the first place. Direct causality may be considered cliche here, but a key belief in Hinduism states that with creation comes destruction, highlighting the cyclical nature of the world we live in.

The games that were employed in the research may seem non-consequential and trivial at best, but when these principles are applied to serious issues, its potency cannot be underestimated.

Introducing … the DRM Chair 1

In short, DRM Chair will ‘self-destruct’ after being sat on for eight times.

What?!?? Tell me how does it work?

  • A small sensor detects when someone sits.
  • When he/she stands up, the chair knocks a number of times to signal how many uses are left.
  • Upon reaching zero, the self-destruct system is activated and the chair’s structural joints are melted.
  • The cast-wax block(colored part) is embedded with nichrome wire; which heats up and melts the wax.



Great, so we have a useless chair that destroys itself after eight sittings. What’s the point here?

Let’s take a few steps back and talk about something else. It’s goes by the same acronym: Digital Rights Management(DRM, duh…)

Wikipedia has a pretty drab explanation for nerds and technical people, so I will spare you the torture 😉 .

In a nutshell, it is similar to the following existing implementations:

  • Serial keys for Windows OS or another other applications
  • Region-locked DVDs

So imagine a technology(DRM) that would digitally ‘lock’ the following items:

  • Ebooks
  • Music CDs
  • Purchased online music that has been downloaded to your devices
  • Even games !!!

DRM-Chair is presumably mimicking the region-locked DVDs that can only be ‘unlocked’ in a set number of devices. Imagine you payed for a $50 DVD set(perhaps Lord of the Rings trilogy), that can only be played on 4 of the 20 devices that you own(I think I have about 10, excluding my family members, so 20 is probable). Using DRM, corporations will be able to set additional arbitrary limits on how consumers use the products that they have rightfully purchased and own.

Thankfully, DRM has suffered numerous setbacks, mainly due to significant unpopularity (Wikipedia article, ‘opposition’ section). Prominent setbacks include iTunes’ eventual decision to make their songs DRM-free; games have been pretty much untouched.

So how does this relate to the idea of destruction creates value?

Here, the chair has been aptly chosen to represent the object of choice for eventual destruction. At the start, the chair’s intrinsic value lies solely in its material value. However, because it gets destroyed after eight sittings, I propose that the chair has suddenly taken on more significance.

The now destructed chair symbolises a form of peaceful protest; a reflective meditation, on the idea of appropriating DRM technology for subverting digital duplication. This idea is deemed fundamentally flawed by many, as digital technology is all-encompassing; it is readily available and easily accessible. Duplication should be honored as one of its key strengths, and not as a threat that must be subverted at all costs.

The resultant broken chair did generate significant coverage from the Internet:

The simple, plain chair has now been transformed into an object of debate, stimulating discussions on the once pertinent issue of DRM.


Looking now at the broken chair, we are reminded of the ridiculous nature of our attempts(some of us, not all) to go against the natural order of things.

Additional materials(DRM-free):


  1. Destructive Games: Creating Value by Destroying Valuable Physical Objects, pg 3973
  2. Destructive Games: Creating Value by Destroying Valuable Physical Objects, pg 3973
  3. Les Sugus (Gianfranco Baechtold, Laurent Beirnaert, Pierre Bouvier, Thibault Brevet, Raphaël Constantin, Lionel Dalmazzini, Edina Desboeufs, Arthur Desmet, Thomas Grogan)







Final Project Development: Drawings

Installation overview


  • Load cells
  • Servo(s) / Steppers
  • OLED displays
  • LEDs
  • Hygro sensor (moisture sensor)
  • Capacitative sensors (DIY with aluminium foil), pending usage..


All measurements are most probably highly tentative, subject to materials availability and also subject to change after testing..

Flower and pot details

The mechanics of the flower is TBC as of now. References here:

Botanical Engineering from IDEO labs

Ever Blooming Mechanical Tulip by jiripraus

Participants’ console


How does your audience experience your project?

They will be allowed to do the following, in any order and times they please.

  • Add water
  • Add soil
  • Add fertilisers
  • Remove any of the above
  • Observe flower behaviour and react accordingly.
  • Retry if flower ‘died’

Is it for a single person to engage with your project or for multiple participants concurrently?

It is designed for two participants concurrently.

What is the interaction or situation you are creating for your audience?

The situation I am attempting to create is one of questioning ‘authority’. It is essentially an abstraction of what we are faced with on a daily basis.

Every day, whether at work or in school, we are constantly fed with instructions of all kinds; from people who know better or otherwise. It has come to a point where there is a serious lack of critical questioning.

Schools are increasingly promoting a more inquisitive approach to learning, especially at the tertiary levels.

In this interaction, I aim to re-create the dynamics of the aforementioned problem; participants are given a set of detailed instructions, to nurture a flower into full bloom. However, after repeated attempts, they will realise that even if they follow the instructions to the letter, they will inevitably fail.

The odd individual who chooses to take charge of his/her own destiny and tap into his/her skills of acute observation and reasoning, thereby acting accordingly will be duly rewarded.

What is the intention of this interaction?

The decision to have two participants is critical to the concept. The installation aims to critique prevailing societal norms to not question ‘authority’, especially when it concerns processes that one is not familiar with.


  • How to effectively carry out recycling at a grassroots level
  • How to verify water from the taps are safe for consumption
  • What is the logical stipulated number of hours we should spend at work and if all safety issues are adequately addressed

These examples might seem far-fetched, but in a mature, modern, first-rate society, these are serious issues that everyone needs to consider, not only for their own good but also for people they care about.

In an ideal situation, all these ‘issues’ are ‘well taken care of ‘. But the fallacy of this assumption arises whenever accidents happen and get reported in the news. That is almost always the case when major scandals get unveiled and millions of tax dollars squandered.

The modern society we live in comfortably abstracts many of these processes away for our ‘benefit’, so that we can focus on what we do best, to specialise and contribute economically; and to be in a constant chase for material consumerism and the quest for bigger and better things. I digress..

Final Project Development: Body Storming

Instruction sets


What did you learn from the process?

The extremely fast-paced process of making a paper prototype forces me to condense the essence of my concept to the bare minimum; the absolute essentials that is required for others to understand and interact with. This may feel overly limiting at first glance, but it allows the designer to test out his/her idea with only fifteen previous minutes of his/her life wasted!

Another critical lesson learnt was that having 2-3 variables for participants are more than enough for meaningful interaction. Initially I had the idea of including more variables; like a slowly-spinning platform that forces the participants to either move or use different items as time passed, and more kinds of soil and fertilisers to complicate matters.

Having two players introduces an interesting, albeit unpredictable element to the implementation of the concept, and it is something that I might need to test further with other players.

Rough transcript of received class feedback:

  • Replace soil with something representational(try not to use real soil..)
  • Participants feel obligated to not kill the flower
  • Signage with instructions is sometimes not considered to be important to look at
  • Indicators for current state of flower is crucial for participants to make ongoing decisions
  • Usage of perhaps colors to guide participants with indicators and ingredients to use

What surprised you while going through the process?

It is really surprising how much gaps the human mind can fill when it comes to looking at ‘representational’ motifs and immediately understanding what they each stand for.. For example, participants could tell that the crudely assembled object represents a flower by a satay stick with 5-6 pieces of square papers pierced at the top..

Also, from the direction the pieces of paper are facing; upwards or downwards, participants can imply whether they are improving or worsening the situation.

How can your apply what you have discovered to the designing of your installation?

I will first decide on how many elements participants can interact with; soil, water and fertiliser etc, as well as the form they will be taking on. The visual cues are going to be crucial to allow clear understanding of what is to be done, and how to go about doing it. This can be achieved with colors, and maybe letters and lights.

The concept definitely needs more refinement and simplification. Currently the interaction does not feel fundamentally sound; a clearer final goal and streamlined steps need to be devised.

Originally I have intended to split the process of interaction to different ‘stages’. But seeing the demo test convinced me that it would be more viable to just have a singular stage where users can do any number of things before the conclusion. Simple is better.

Form Making


Wood, though harder to cut, is quite conducive for shaping forms, both organic and hard.

One of the main takeaways is on paper, designing an ergonomic grip can be quite idealistic. When trying to sculpt a shape that feels great in your hand, it is quite a different matter all together and I feel that it probably takes more just one try to get it right.

Here I can see the strengths of a physical model. It can inform the designer the pitfalls that are simply hard to see when everything is just a concept on paper.

Also, precise curves are hard to imagine and draw coherently without going back and forth with a physical model. That said, I must admit that I did adjust the drawing design of the handle after completing the wood sculpt.