On The Cybertwee Manifesto

“we are fragmented and multifaceted bbs”

cybertwee

The Cybertwee Manifesto is a fascinating document. Infinitely more tolerable than every other manifesto you’re attempted to read, it is a call for an understanding of the body as an emotional machine without reducing either of those two seemingly disconnected qualities. The coextension of the self into emoji mechanisms willfully, fully going beyond the pale of what can be expected under neoliberalism, is a strange thing.

Instead of becoming more solid in the face of the destructive potential of capitalism–the bloc–or antifragile or a glass cannon of affect filtered through social media, The Cybertwee Manifesto aims at full dissolution into softness.

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Video: Metal Slug

 

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On Video Games, Content, and Expression

 

sheetcake

Frank Lantz recently wrote a post at Gamasutra about formalism. It is fundamentally about the stakes of formalism, what self-described formalists do and do not do, and how he sees the current world of video games. The much-quoted paragraph that has seemed to draw the most positive and negative interest is this one:

So when I see smart young critics complaining about “ludo-essentialism” or “ludocentrism” or “formalism” in a way that implies that being primarily interested in formal qualities of choice and action makes one an ally of the status quo or a defender of ruling videogame conventions I want to speak out and say: No, we feel as disconnected from most games as you do, if for opposite reasons. Everywhere *you* look you see points and goals and competition and puzzles and combat. Everywhere *we* look we see pretend worlds and childish make-believe, imaginary dragons, badly written dialogue and unskippable cutscenes in which angry mannequins gesture awkwardly at each other.

Bracketing off the elision that Lantz makes between the “ludo” terms and formalism itself (which is important but that I’m fundamentally uninterested in), what Lantz seems to be marking here is a bright line between form and content.

Lantz makes a distinction between those two things fairly often. There’s this interview from a few years back where he describes the games he made at Area Code as less “content-driven.” There’s also the fascinating longform interview that he recently did on the Designer Notes podcast where he explains about his procedural-esque fine arts work before games. In that podcast, Lantz is very specific in explaining that he turned to particular kinds of games in order to get away from games or experiences that leaned too much into “content.” By this he means things like the interactive CD promotional material of the 1990s — you create a small set of experiences, you make sure the brand is imprinted on those experiences, and you proliferate prerendered video or 3D model elements. From listening to the podcast, I get the feeling that Lantz doesn’t dislike those things so much as he finds them uninteresting, which helps to put the quotation above into context.

So when I read Lantz saying “pretend worlds and childish make-believe, imaginary dragons, badly written dialogue and unskippable cutscenes,” I’m reading a distaste for content. At the bottom, the fundamental rules that make up the possible interactions, emotional resonances, and readings of those “make-believe” worlds do not seem sufficient enough for Lantz.

That is to say that, for Lantz, the structure that undergirds a game like Skyrim is not interesting enough to warrant as much attention as the structure of a game like Hoplite. And as far as it’s concerned, I can’t blame him–games operate on humans in the same ways that other media do in that they require a certain discipline in order to fully resonate. In other words, its all up to taste, desire, and readiness, and games are so big as to cut across lots of different spectrums of all three of those qualities.

In any case, Lantz is evoking form and content in order to evaluate form and to cull content he doesn’t much care for.

salad

I want to take a moment to evoke Deleuze and Guattari in order to suggest an mode of evaluation that evades form and content distinctions yet still gives access to some formal analysis (formal analysis without form, a bizarre byproduct of language and methodology).

In A Thousand Plateaus, the two authors read Hjelmslev’s strange theory of lingustics reductively in order to push that theory into a larger field than lingustics itself. The specifics of this move don’t matter so much; what’s important is that Deleuze and Guattari suggest a net (rather than a hierarchy or a dialectic) of content and expression.

Content in this case refers not to the dragons and fairytale language that makes up Skyrim, but instead “formed matters” that include both substance itself and form. To unravel the language, content is what constitutes a thing and how that thing is constituted. For Deleuze and Guattari, content is always wrapped up in its form; the systems of Skyrim (mechanics, the plot, the affordances of the controller and the engine, and so on) all comprise the content that is there. There’s no distinguishing between the structure of a thing and the thing’s unskippable cutscenes.

Expression is a term used to describe “functional structures.” Expression also deals with substance and form, but instead of what and how in relation to the object-in-itself like content, expression deals with the what and how of interaction between different objects in the world. To render this a little more clear, expression is a way of talking about the ways that an object can come into contact with other things and “form compounds.”

We’re a little in the weeds right now, and we’re going to get a little deeper, but I promise we’ll come out the other end.

Later in the book Deleuze and Guattari have this to say about content and expression:

The independence of two kinds of forms, forms of expression and forms of content, is not contradicted but confirmed by the fact that the expressions or expresseds are inserted into or intervene in contents, not to represent them but to anticipate them or move them back, slow them down or speed them up, separate them or combine them, delimit them in a different way.

and the next page

The independence of the form of expression and the form of content is not the basis for a parallelism between them or a representation of one by the other, but on the contrary a parceling of the two, a manner in which the expressions are inserted into contents, in which we ceaselessly jump from one register to another, in which signs are at work in things themselves just as things themselves extend into or are deployed through signs.

That’s a lot of wordage, but I’m mostly including those bits just to lead into my end here. Form and content are fundamentally classification techniques that attempt to split objects up into their substrate (form) and everything that rests on top of that substrate (content). It’s the sheet cake of aesthetic critique. Sheet cake is necessary sometimes, and often the simplicity of sheet cake makes it the best and easiest choice during complex crises (aka birthdays and office parties).

Analysis of content and expression is the salad of aesthetic analysis. It’s an attempt to acknowledge the internal workings and forms of an object (content) and the ways that the object interfaces and is altered by the world around it (expression). This form of analysis is an attempt to think the complexity of objects in the world, and I think it is a more interesting way of thinking through video games than the more-static form and content method.

I’m making a similar theoretical move here that Lantz does: I find analytic methods that give me easier access to complexity and shifting relations more interesting than I do the more static modes of analysis, and I think content and expression opens that up a little more than form and content.

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On Cursor*10

cursor10

There’s something about time travel and paving a way for yourself that’s incredibly intriguing. There’s this idea that time travel could, maybe, allow you to go back in time and make your life better in some measurable way. Alternately, you’ve already done that, and where you are not is the outcome of a causal loop that has always been this way.

All You Zombies” and Rant and The Simulacra and Super Time Force all hinge on this simple desire: if we could make our lives, not even the world, in our own image, would it be the best thing for us?

Cursor*10 doesn’t present these issues in any real way. At best it is an abstracted version of plotting out your own life. Maybe less plotting and more snuffing out. Sometimes you have to sacrifice your past cursors, their lives always counting down, in order for the next cursor to proceed a little further. They stand on a switch until they die, and on the shoulders of those dead pokey things you climb up the levels of a mysterious whitebox tower.

 

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I was born

pugabration

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Michael Mann on Technology

You’re always pushing forward with digital technology and use of cameras.  Is there a camera or bit of digital technology for filmmaking that’s right on the cusp of coming that maybe you’ve seen or are excited to use?  Or was there something you used on this that you couldn’t have done in any of your previous films? 

MANN: I’m not that into technology, except when I’m about to shoot a film.  Then I want to know everything about everything, and what’s innovative and what can we grab that’s in some R&D stage and make work that nobody has.  We’ve done that in the past in various different stages.  When I was shooting Insider, we were trying to find small cameras because of how I wanted to shoot it.  When we were shooting Ali, we had to invent a camera that was too silly for words, which we did and it worked great.  Because I wanted to be in there with something about the size of this usiness card and be in amongst Will and Michael Bentt who played Liston, for example, shooting right in the middle of these punches being thrown.

What we did was take two little $900 surveillance cameras, nicknamed lipstick cameras, which have lenses that are like ground down coke bottles or something, and stuck them like a card.  One shot the left side of the frame, this one shot the right side of the frame, and we stitched the two together.  We ran wires to my back where I had a transmitter that sent a signal to a Sony recorder that was above us.  I could get in there with something this big and go like that.  They were lipstick cameras, remember those?

- “Michael Mann Talks BLACKHAT

I love the idea that Mann has the perfect Heideggerian relationship to technology: he doesn’t care, but when it doesn’t work for his needs, he fetishizes the breakage.

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Now You’re John Hammond: Accelerationism and The Lost World

tlw2

1.
John Hammond in The Lost World: Jurassic Park:

Now, after the accident in the Park, Hurricane Clarisse wiped out our facility on Site B. Call is a “act of God”. But; we had to evacuate of course, and the animals were released to mature on their own. “Life will find a way”, as you once so elegantly put it. And by now we have a complete ecological system on the Island! With dozens of species living in their own social groups. Without fences. Without boundaries. Without constraining technology. And for four years I’ve tried to keep it safe from human interference.

Later in the same conversation:

We’ve been on the verge of Chapter 11 ever since that accident in the Park, and there are those in the Company who wanted to exploit Site B in order to bail us out. They’ve been planning it for years and I’ve been able to stop them up until now. But, a few weeks ago a British family on a yacht cruise stumbled across the Island and their wee girl was injured. Oh, she’s fine! She’s fine! But, ah, the Board has used the incident to take control of InGen from me. And now it’s only a matter of time before this “Lost World” is found and pillaged! Public opinion is the one thing that I can use to preserve it! But, in order to rally that kind of support, I need a complete photo record of those animals. Alive and in their natural habitat!

To which chaos theorist-now-hero Ian Malcolm responds:

So, you went from Capitalist to Naturalist in just four years! That’s, that’s something!

2.
John Hammond was the idea man behind InGen Technologies, the corporation that cloned dinosaurs from amber in the novel and film Jurassic Park. He’s a pure technological idealist, and he sees the act of cloning dinosaurs as an industrial achievement, a prime method to make money, and as a way of playing God in the most extreme way.

In both the novel and the film, Hammond is portrayed as a pure product of the Enlightenment and the Heideggerian technologist par excellance. The very material history of the world exists to be harnessed and extracted from, and the resulting dinosaurs are fully knowable all the way down to the genetic level. This allows Hammond’s team of scientists to make the dinosaurs themselves wholly dependent on human intervention in their feeding process.

Jurassic Park is an ode to the folly of Hammond’s hubris. Of course the world cannot be contained by his understanding of it; life is in excess of any technological understanding of it or, as Ian Malcolm says, “life finds a way.”

The Lost World extends that critique into a full political line of thought. The protagonists of TLW are preservationists. They release captured animals, sabotage the weapons of dinosaur hunters, and work to heal the wounds of a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex. In the climax of the film, during which a not-baby T.Rex roams through San Diego, Ian and Sarah even lure it back onto a boat and send it off to sea rather than performing the much easier operation of killing it with guns (this isn’t presented as possible in the film but we can easily imagine this happening).

All of that summary is merely to make the point that Jurassic Park and The Lost World as wholes get embodied in John Hammond himself. To be John Hammond is to unleash oneself fully upon the world to make an ideal material and then, once that idea is sufficiently real, fall in love with it so heavily that one will do anything to preserve it.

3.

We want to accelerate the process of technological evolution. But what we are arguing for is not techno-​utopianism. Never believe that technology will be sufficient to save us. Necessary, yes, but never sufficient without socio-​political action. Technology and the social are intimately bound up with one another, and changes in either potentiate and reinforce changes in the other. Whereas the techno-​utopians argue for acceleration on the basis that it will automatically overcome social conflict, our position is that technology should be accelerated precisely because it is needed in order to win social conflicts.

- #ACCELERATE Manifesto

Critiques of accelerationism from the remaining positions that remain from the 20th century left are always dismissed precisely because accelerationism has been constructed as a response to those positions. There’ve been many wars waged on Facebook (the accelerationist battlefield of choice for obvious reasons) over the precise terms and boundaries of what could and should be abandoned and kept (and over the creation of new, sometimes nonsensical, terms for the bricolage projects to emerge in those comment threads).

I probably have sympathy for the conceptual project of accelerationism itself in that there’s active thinking about the actual positive role that technology could have for a revitalized or augmented left. (I think a honing of that project beyond a 1990s-esque project of cybernetic or algorithmic fantasy needs to be performed and it needs to reconcile itself with Nick Land’s explicit racism among other things.) But no matter where I find myself theoretically allied with accelerationism itself, it is hard to watch and listen to John Hammond without feeling like you’re watching a particular version of accelerationism happening onscreen.

Accelerationism ultimately wants to see the social utopian promises of the ultraleft made real through technological processes that can only be made real and material through the idle sacrifice and/or active destruction of the already-oppressed populations around the globe. However, out of that comes a liveable, currently-unthought political formation that delivers an unprecedented form of better life for those that remain and those that come after, ultimately making the future itself a good through which any number of political violences in the present could be justified.

I think about John Hammond having his cake and eating it too. He uses technology to make the dinosaurs materially real after they languished so long in human fantasy in the same way that the leftist utopian impulse does. They live, they find a way to flourish, and then the company is taken from him. John Hammond becomes a figurehead for a freedom fighting movement that can throw the occasional wrench into the plans of InGen, and in the end helps clean up an urban disaster, but is fundamentally powerless.

John Hammond built future and was cut out of it. John Hammond goes from creating the future to making sure that the present is rendered as static as possible to avoid losing ground.

Accelerationists will claim that this is the status of the contemporary left and that new, unthinkable Panther Moderns would never be caught in the same trap. But the new transforms into the comfortable, and only those who are invested in the politics themselves, the (justified) fantasy of the left, would be around to maintain. Instead of cutting locks they maintain the backends of services; instead of freeing the T.Rex baby they hunt down cybercriminals.

tlw1

4.

The passion that accelerationism mobilises is the remembrance by the people that a future is possible. In disparate fields — from politics to art to design to biology to philosophy — people are working through how to create a world that is liberated from capitalist incentives. Perhaps most promisingly, the classic dream of Keynes and Marx for the reduction of work and the flourishing of positive freedoms, is making a comeback. In the push for universal basic incomes, and the movements for reduced working weeks, we see the people themselves beginning to carve out a space separate from the wage relation and outside of the imperatives of work. When the media stops reporting the automation of jobs as being a tragedy and starts reporting them as being a liberation from mundane work, we will know that the accelerationist disposition has become the new common sense. We have reached a point in human history where vast amounts of jobs can — and should — be automated. Work for work’s sake is a perversity and a constraint imposed upon humanity by capitalism’s ideology of the work ethic. What accelerationism seeks is to allow human potential to escape from the trap set for it by contemporary capitalism.

- “#Accelerationism: Remembering the Future

Near the climax of The Lost World, when the T.Rex is loose in the city due to the actions of John Hammond’s nephew, Ian Malcolm pats him on the shoulder. “Now you’re John Hammond,” he says.

He radically changed the world and had to live with the consequences of personal ruin and the deaths of civilians who never wanted to deal with these unreal-now-real lifeforms. Having brought them to the world, Hammond’s nephew has to live with the changes that he’s wrought beyond his sloganeering and managerial preparation. He recoils from it, despite the essence of his dreams coming violently true.

He’s eaten by the baby T.Rex at the end.

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