(con)juncture was lawson fletcher's thought pile. Now blogging at soundofruins.net
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gamer theory

Reading Wark's Gamer Theory (print version, 'original' online version GAM3R 7H3ORY is here) and finding it entirely abstruse. Thus this is very much a preparatory sketch for ideas that might be filled in at a later stage:

- Allegorithm as 'allegory' and 'algorithm'; the possibilities encased withing the arbitrariness of algorithm as Benjamin theorised it are nullified by the digital, which presents a parade of superficial differences with an underlying uniform binary code. All the skins in The Sims are just that. What comes next is the articulation of this logic to experience 'outside' the game (attached to that, what is the inside/outside here? Clearly, Wark isn't just arguing that games 'represent' or are a 'metaphor' for how society now operates (or vice versa), but that there is something more dynamic going on - what?)

- The shift to the 'topographical' and it's couching within a certain kind of media theory of space. Very interesting; needs teasing out.

And bringing these two points together, this quote, from card/page 59:
If the novel, cinema or television can reveal through their particulars an allegory of the world that makes them possible, the game reveals something else. For the reader, the novel produces allegory as something textual. The world of possibility is the play of the linguistic sign. For the cineaste, the world of possibility is a play of light and shade. For the gamer, the game produces allegory as something algorithmic. The world of possibility is the world internal to the algorithm...
- What the fuck is 'atopia'? Seems to be a kind of key.

That's it for the book itself, what I've found quite productive is approaching it through secondary and commentary texts and reviews. A few interesting points from that:

- This testy 'non-review' of the book by Julian Kücklich- raises interesting points regarding the book's production as a mirror for how it doesn't actually gesture towards ways 'out' of the game. Wark himself responds to this in comments and argues that we may need to "abandon" the notion of play as critical response - where that leaves reading against the grain and critical 'transgression' etc. is interesting, and connects with wider concerns I have with the 'genre' of cultural studies and critical theory writing, in which often a kind of utopian gesture is made after a generally depressing or revealing critique; embeddedness and disembededness (with perhaps a lack of respect to these terms existing academic application?) - e.g. "this is a product of capitalism, but it complicates and problematises these conditions of production in particular ways". A pitiful kind of 'way out' of a totalised system. But then this seems to be just how criticism operates. Yet Wark seems to argue in his comments on this review that gamespace is precisely universal and there is no way out - thus what becomes the new goal of criticism?

-Just a great comment on World of Warcraft that sums up my thoughts on the new digital political economy, as a game where "where gamers pay for the privilege of their own labor".

-Psycholudology and affect - Christian McCrea's entry into the discussion. Needs far more teasing out.
Sticking with McCrea's review above (and also another review he wrote here), we return to the problems of the 'performativity' of Wark's text - what it's actually doing and whether or not it is operating as a 'strategy guide' not for playing but escaping 'gamespace' (by which Wark means the way in which the wider social morphology is made over as game). I think the key here is McCrea's comment:
There is a ongoing sense that Wark is fearful what the encroachment of gamespaces may mean for potential ways of working against capitalism. Namely, that games offer escape but deliver us into the hands of the enemy.
That last sentence is crucial, and is the motivating drive of Gamer Theory in a way. The difficulty for me is parsing out the trajectory and causality, even if Wark would probably be unwilling to map his ideas onto something as crude as 'causality'.

And again, to drive home this question of how Wark offers a way out (or is it maybe just a map? A map with no real routes, however...), Wark himself again commenting on the initial snarky review says:
Making totality go away is not a task for thought. It doesn’t yield to a merely conceptual labor. Its an historical task. A remaking of the world.

Continuing with Wark through McCrea, we have this massive idea of the relations between (and collapse of) labour and leisure in gaming, and arguably in 'creative economies' more generally. McCrea notes that clearly this dialectic is something that theorists have been chipping away at for decades, and the Marxist idea of leisure as the necessary form of consumption that necessitates labour is not just one - but even say work on collecting, which emerged in the 19th (?) century as a quintessential bourgeois pastime, and which many scholars have argued is basically training for 'proper' forms of work, social organisation and taste.

Nevertheless, what seems qualitatively different in the new configuration of leisure/labour is that leisure itself is contemporaneously commodified or made into labour (distinct processes, I know, but bare with) - we actually perform productive (i.e. profitable) work whilst leisuring on the net on blogs, social networks, etc. - crowdsourcing etc. - but single-player / non-networked games seem to me to fit back into that non-contemporaneous and not directly profitable realm of leisurely labour - where there is still a kind of training going on but only implicitly.

In this regard, of course, World of Warcraft stands out as operating on both levels of games so described (literally pay to go on there and 'have fun', whilst this fun basically consists of remembering how to labour), but even far more obviously so with something like Pokémon - a point that Buckingham and Sefton-Green debate in their article 'Gotta catch 'em all: structure, agency and pedagogy in children's media culture', referencing the way in which the game basically trains children into being good consumers, 'collecting the whole set', etc.

- McCrea's post/review also discusses this idea of whether Wark's book makes for good 'games theory', and of course it doesn't - it has little traffic with the concerns over design, aesthetics, remediation and modalities of games that traditional (is it a tradition already? Seems so) games studies does, in its constant harping on about narratology and ludology. Having said that though, a more fruitful approach might be a combination of the two - rather than simply using each game as a cipher, as Wark seems to me to be guilty of, how can we cross his philosophy with articulation of the material realities (materialities) of games? This to me is a question that should confront all forms of critical/theoretical media studies, and one I am beginning to grapple with in terms of music media. And here I think I am only really echoing McCrea's point that he makes much more vividly, of the possibility of a 'theory-through-games'.

Finally, then, to try to give these notes a sense of closure or recall, I guess this idea of a 'game-aware' theory (of games) might be contradictory with Wark's larger point I referenced earlier - that to play the game in any way (even 'resistant') is, to be blunt, to lock oneself into playing the game.


CBards said...

From what you described, Wark's inclination seems to be to treat the games themselves as a nothing more than a cipher, as you commented. I would suggest this is taken to the point that his theory effaces the qualities supposedly intrinsic to games as a medium.

Specifically with regards to the first idea of his that you noted: the idea of an array of superficial differences superimposed over or masking a binary is broadly applicable to just about any contemporary media form that has been digitized. The infinite malleability of binary code (i.e. video/image editing, word processing etc programs etc) in fact recast in this light could posit any form of digitized media as an algorithm of inherent possibilities in much the same way as a game.

I immediately find myself leaping to extrapolate from this the wild speculation that "the medium" as we know is dead, or possibly dying, but it does make me think that form and structure of intellectual commodity is, in a modern digital sphere, a necessarily fluid and increasingly undefined thing.

Lawson said...

I'm sure this was your point, but I find it interesting you begin with the admonition that Wark effaces the medium specificity of games before you mention the interchangeability of the digital. The argument toward the end is very similar to the one Kittler makers in the introduction to Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, in which he argues fibre optics and digital data will bring an end to the history of media due to their universality.

Personally, I think this is complete bullshit. And I don't think one needs recourse to SCOT theories in order to maintain that mediums retain a kind of semi-autonomy or self-consistency, digital or analogue. Digital is a modality, a medium is far more than just its modality. Furthermore, the digital itself is differentiated, often incompatible, etc.

CBards said...

Yeah, I agree that there's a definite medium-specificity there. Mediums are much more than the binary code that constitutes the raw content, necessarily so because we continue to define them using extraneous, real-world paradigms and market forces.

I should have declared my intent in playing the devil's advocate with the "medium is dead" thing. Nevertheless, think I got sucked in by the possibilities of the idea at the same time...