I was trying to isolate the feeling I had while playing R-Type Final. There was the usual frantic twiddling of controls as I dodged bullets and racked up combos, and that always-ineffable sense of flow as I fell into the dance between player ship and enemy patterns that is the mark of all good shmups. But there was something else there, a quiet, reflective feeling as I simply took in the experience of playing the game, letting it wash over me as I looked and listened and responded. I just now realized what that sensation was: it’s the same feeling I get when I see a really good exhibit at a museum.

Good art in a good museum draws you in and engages you in an unspoken dialogue as you stand in front of it, taking in its different aspects, formulating different responses. One of the best arcade experiences I’ve ever had was to be found wandering through a Bruce Nauman retrospective at the Tate Gallery. Nauman’s video loops and neon signs flashed and shouted at me just as loudly as any DDR machine could, and sucked me into their hypnotic, repetitive patterns until I was completely in sync with the patterns on the screen. The only thing missing was a joystick and a slot for the quarters to go into.

Art doesn’t have to be as aggressive as Nauman’s sensory assaults, though, to be game-like. Just standing in front of a Chinese literati landscape or a paint-splashed Robert Rauschenberg canvas or a gently wobbling Calder mobile are just as absorbing, as the viewer explores their nooks and crannies, finding different paths and different conclusions on every viewing. Whatever the media, the goal of art is to draw the viewer/reader/player into the work and draw a response out of her, and when any work of art does that, it’s a great feeling that makes you forget your sore museum feet or button thumb.

Sorry for the disjointedness — this is one of those things where I wake up from sleep with a thought in my head and write it down — er, type it up — hastily before I forget it. I’ll probably re-read this in the morning and wonder what the hell I was talking about.