Deleuze, Francis Bacon, and Icosa

[The diagram] acts as a relay. We have seen that the diagram must remain localized, rather than covering the entire painting (as in expressionism), and that something must emerge from the diagram. – Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation

The entire time I spent reading this book I was thinking about Andi McClure’s various art creation toys. They give us the diagram, algorithmically generated, that allows us to grab the infinite excess of things that could exist and generates an existing piece of art. Playing with Icosa is a constant revolutionary moment of watching something emerge from nothing and then recede again. Sometimes we can see the figure, some representational object, emerge from the discord and it is horrifying. Why something from nothing? Why anything at all?

When Deleuze wonders if we can “dismantle the optical,” is there any better affirmation than McClure’s work?

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I Was Given A Wristband That Says “Synergy Motherfucker” And These Are My Thoughts

1.
I was watching someone play a game called Lichdom Battlemage and some form of PR person handed me that wristband. I didn’t look at it until I had walked away, but I verbalized my confusion: “what the fuck?”

2.
I asked the PR person if you can fly in the game and she said no. What a boring game about wizards.

3.
We’re in the midst of something called “GamerGate.” I’ve been paying attention to it, read Storifys and tweet conversations about it, and even had conversations with ‘gaters myself. I don’t know how anyone can come to a conclusion other than this one about those events: it is a longform anti-women harassment campaign cloaked in concerns about ethics in games journalism.

Today I saw that a trans* developer who was previously a supporter of the “movement” was pushed out of it by extensive transphobia from the GamerGaters themselves. I saw responses to her announcement that she was abandoning the cause that asserted that she was being too sensitive.

4.
I wonder who decided that “synergy motherfucker” was the best way to go with this small throwaway tchotchke. I wonder who they think they’re appealing to, and who the “edge” is supposed to play heavily toward.

I have this experience a lot in “videogame culture.” The same set of questions apply to the “tell it like it is” YouTubers who recycle videogame common sense in a hyberbolic, extremist tone. I wonder about who is wearing the wristband right now or idly watching the YouTube video and nodding along.

synergy

5.
The wristband, the YouTubers, and GamerGate share a skeletal substrate of self-righteous indignation paired with twenty years of marketing horror. They sell the values of their audience back to them as common sense packaged in edgy language. They present the standard beliefs of their audience back to that audience as truth telling, like they are speaking through some kind of cultural taboo in order to enlighten the people. In reality, it is the rhetoric of Bill O’Reilly used to shovel videogames into the screaming maw of consumers.

None of this, of course, is new. A thousand people have written this blog post before me. But if you’re going to make a wristband that embodies all of this violent garbage culture, maybe don’t do that. #badassmage or whatever.

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Metal Gear Solid, Exile, and Skyrim in my new Five Out of Ten Piece

I have two essays in the new Five Out of Ten, which you can buy for a few dollars.

I’m incredibly happy with them. In the first, I talk about “playing the radar” in Metal Gear Solid. I’m in a weird place right now where what I am writing rides the line between design analysis, criticism, and historical contextualization, so if any of that sounds interesting to you, it is worth your $5-$8 or so to buy those things up.

I also write about hearts, quest hubs, and Jean-Luc Nancy. I’m pretty sure that no one has ever done that before, and if you’re curious about what a heart transplant has to do with Skyrim, you can find out here.

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On Temper

temper2

Temper is a game about having a demon inside of you that gets out whether you want it to or not. The only thing you can do is preempt it. You know it is coming. You belch it out. If you vomit this horror onto other people, you get hurt, they get hurt, everything hurts.

Sometimes it isn’t other people. Sometimes they are strange, small animals. Sometimes they will hurt you no matter what.

There’s an obvious allegory going on in Temper. In the middle of this incredibly tight, well-designed, tiny experience there’s an entire narrative about personality and interpersonal communication and what happens to us all (some more than others).

In Temper you always get a do-over.

Play Temper.

temper1

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Tim Cain on same-sex marriage in The Temple of Elemental Evil

When we were putting together The Temple of Elemental Evil, we’d put together all kinds of ways you could get involved with nonplayer characters. We had a good-looking woman who a male character could get involved with. We also had a really horrible woman whose father would try to convince you to get married to her so he could get her out of the house. We also had some male characters for female characters. It was Tom Decker [producer/designer] who said, “Hey, we don’t have any male-male or female-female relationships.” And I said, well, write some up! And he did the male character who was a pirate on a ship and a female character who was working at a brothel against her will.

Atari made us take out the brothel, though, so we lost the lesbian relationship–and I though that was a sweeter relationship, because she didn’t want to be working there, and you got to rescue her. The pirate one was kind of sad, because the gay pirate had been kidnapped as a child and forced to work as a cabin boy. It’s a hard luck story, and you felt less like his rescuer and more like you won him from his master. It had a different vibe than the lesbian relationship, but in both you had to work to get them. I remember seeing some people on forums saying, “Hey, I didn’t see this in my game.” Well, you’re not going to see it unless you make it happen. There’s a lot of dialogue paths you have to go down before Bertram is offered to you. It’s no accident that you’re character is married to another man. I like that.

- Tim Cain in Matt Barton’s Honoring the Code

I feel like every single “positive” claim here needs to be deconstructed and really points to why we need an incredibly diverse set of game developers.

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Steve Gaynor on Violence from 2010

GTA

Earlier today, Sparky Clarkson tweeted about this article from Steve Gaynor from a few years back. I re-read it and really latched onto this part:

Violence in film, literature or on stage can either be meaningful or meaningless. When it is meaningful, it resonates with the audience; when it is meaningless, it is largely (and rightly) derided. Consider the death of Shakespeare’s Hamlet following a duel, or of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, or of Evelyn Mulwray at the end of Chinatown, versus, say, the nameless mooks mown down in Rambo II or Commando or Hard Boiled. The killing by the protagonist of those without identity devalues human life in the work, and thereby robs the violence of meaning (it being perpetrated upon human forms with no value.)

And so a metric for games comes to mind: violence performed by the player in a video game is only legitimate if the victim is a unique and specific individual.

The metric becomes a constraint on content: don’t remove the violence– remove the faceless masses of “enemies.” If every character the player interacts with is a unique and specific individual, then any act of violence committed by the player is invested with some amount of meaning: individuals have families, homes, jobs, friends, and most importantly, relationships with other characters in the game. The player’s act spiders out from the individual to those that surround them, even if that social web is for the most part only implied. There are no more broad swaths of generic violence, then; there are only discrete acts of specific violence, each of which has the potential to matter.

- “Specific Violence

I think of myself, in my most haughty moments, as someone whose work focuses on nonhuman ethics and how those ethics get parsed out. What does it mean to be ethical toward an inhuman thing? How are specific beings or objects plotted on the human-animal-object spectrum? Why?

Reading Gaynor’s post, I immediately think: when is an enemy faceless? When is an enemy lacking a face? And at what point, narratively or systemically, do we begin to understand a being in a videogame as “legitimate”?

Not foreclosing any possible answers here, but this is definitely part of my larger set of (academic and games criticism) questions.

Very curious about examples of things done well or horribly in games in the comments.

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“amending the ways of nature”

In expert epistemology, nature was messy. Technology was the great orderer. “The real calamity in a thunderstorm,” explained William Crookes, commenting on natural unharnessed electricity, “is not that the lightning may kill a man or a cow, or set barns or stacks on fire. The real calamity consists in the weather being upset.” The practical electrician should aim at “nothing less than the control of the weather” for the sake of agricultural productivity. Practically speaking, Crookes did not wish “to reduce our rainfall in quantity, but to concentrate it in a smaller number of days, so as to be freed from a perennial drizzle.” What he called “amending the ways of Nature” justified an expert, or adversarial, relationship to it.

- Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New p. 114

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