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The Gospel According to Wark or Why This is Not A Review of Gamer Theory

By Julian Kücklich – Mon, 2007 – 05 – 07 09:32
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Wark, McKenzie. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. <http://web.futureofthebook.org/mckenziewark/>

Gamer Theory Cover

At first glance, McKenzie Wark’s book Gamer Theory resembles nothing more than a religious text. With its numbered sections which suggest a biblical citation style, its unclear textual status and the apocryphal comments of numerous exegetes, it lures its readers into uncritical acceptance of what it sets before them. After all, hasn’t the book already been reviewed, criticized, and partially rewritten by a group of readers who participated in the open-source publishing experiment that was Gamer Theory’s (or rather GAM3R 7H30RY’s) first incarnation? Hasn’t the text itself been miraculously reborn as a hardcover book by the canonical Harvard University Press, cleansed of the sin of using vernacular leetspeak in its title? Hasn’t the revised and updated version of the text been re-published on the website of the Institute for the Future of the Book (IFB), along with illuminations in glorious colour? And shouldn’t these visualisations alone suffice to make us see the light? Isn’t seeing believing?

GAM3R 7H30RYwas advertised as a “networked book” but it looked and felt like a regular old hypertext, more specifically a hypertext made with HyperCard, that most authentic of publishing systems for hypertext writers of yore. It was kind of like the text had been written on a replica Underwood for the digital generation, but with enhanced functionality for the readers, such as commenting, an RSS feed, and a clever “save” feature that allowed them to bookmark individual sections of the text. What was even more astonishing was that the entire book was made available under a Creative Commons license, also known as Copyright 2.0. A whole book for free! The bloggers loved it. The IFB blog’s Technorati ranking went off the chart and then some. And all came to see the miracle with their own eyes, and they digged it, and subscribed to the RSS feed, and commented like crazy. It was like the heyday of hypertext all over again, but with Mozilla® Firefox™.

I, too, came and commented and subscribed to the RSS feed. And I was happy because here was a book on videogames by the author of A Hacker Manifesto, a book that would blow all the ludologists and narratologists out of the water and show them that videogames were more than just an electrified version of Tic Tac Toe or a Choose Your Own Adventure book with a couple of pretty polygons on top, because its author was known as a guy who knows his stuff, i.e. someone who is aware of the fact that you can take technology out of context but you can never take the context out of technology. Curiously, however, after I had bookmarked the site, I never found the time to return to the book and actually read it. It may sound almost sacrilegious, but I felt like there were already enough people reading the book, leaving comments, and populating the forums. In other words, I felt like my presence was no longer needed.

Plus, there would be the book version of the book, i.e. the actual physical fact of a bound volume of paper with the text of GAM3R 7H30RY imprinted upon its pages. And this version would also include the readers’ comments; not all of them of course, but selected ones – not the ones that said ‘THIS BOOK SUXS, U R A LOOSER’, those would be deleted. They had nothing to do with the text, after all. There was really no reason to read the 1.1 version of the book, when there was a better, more beautiful, and more user-friendly 2.0 version just around the corner. So I unsubscribed from the RSS feed, stopped commenting and did not return to the website until the printed version of Gamer Theory hit the shelves of the Harvard University Press warehouse; a copy was sent to me, and settled on my desk with an audible thud.

It sat there for a while and gathered dust, as real books do. Then, one evening I picked it up, blew the dust off its cover, and started reading. While I was surprised by the fact that all of a sudden the book was copyrighted by Wark, comments and all, I found it much easier to read offline than on. Yet there was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that had to do with the book’s history. I felt like I had to read the book quickly, before the next update came along, which would be even better than 2.0. Because that’s what happens when you submit to the logic of the perpetual update economy, isn’t it? The text transmogrifies into an index of things to come, a mere pointer pointing towards the actual thing – but then the actual thing never arrives. It becomes, as it were, an empty signifier, a MacGuffin, a fetish which seems to refer to something which is missing, but ultimately only refers to itself.

Okay, I know what you are going to say. If you are anything like me, and prone to fall prey to the intentional fallacy, you are going to say that that is precisely what Wark was trying to do: to write a book which operates within the same kind of economy that videogames operate in, a book which raises the same kinds of questions about authorship that videogames raise, a book which is both free and proprietary at the same time, like a videogame mod. Or, if you are McKenzie Wark, you will say: “I will probably not produce a Version 3.0 of this book.” Because that’s what it says on the website, emphasis mine. Or, if you are Julian Dibbell, writing for the Village Voice, you will say: “Not since Steal This Book has a book’s radical packaging so threatened to upstage its radical content.” But you will add that “the power of the packaging is more than title deep” because it answers the question “Can we explore games as allegories for the world we live in?” in the affirmative.

Well, I beg to differ. Taking games as allegories of the world we live in is the tritest cliché imaginable, but Gamer Theory somehow manages to sell it as an original insight, which is the main rhetorical strategy employed by the book. But we will have to tread carefully because this is dangerous territory. First of all, let us aver, without even a hint of reproach, that Gamer Theory is not a book about videogames. Rather, it is a book about the world we live in, which uses videogames to make sense of it. I think this is a legitimate endeavour for an Associate Professor of Cultural Media Studies, which is what Wark is, according to the back flap of the book’s cover, and I think he has done a reasonably good job of making sense of the world, which is remarkable considering how many people fail at doing that.

The second thing about Gamer Theory we should keep in mind is that it is very aware of the fact that it is full of clichés. In fact, the method used to get at the truth is to take a cliché and work it so long and so hard that the kernel of truth that lies at its centre is laid bare. This is actually very similar to the way religious texts work, if you think about it. A phrase like “As you sow so shall you reap” is a cliché in its purest form, something so evident that it hardly bears stating. But by repeating it over and over again with minor variations, the phrase is turned into a truth, and what’s more, it becomes an ethical guideline. While Gamer Theory does not go quite as far, it is undeniable that the book has a moral dimension. Paraphrasing Adorno, we could say that Wark shows us that there is no right life in the falsehood of what he calls gamespace, except the brief respite of games proper, which are at least honest about the fact that they are false.

This neo-Platonic cliché – wrapped into the metaphor of The Cave™ – is what Gamer Theory begins with, and with a similar post-modernist cliché it ends. Wark calls for “concepts that make the now rather familiar world of the digital game strange again”, echoing Morris Berman’s appeal for a re-enchantment of the world, albeit with an ironic twist. After all, in Wark’s catechism, videogames are an incantatory technology, a form of secular magic, which has lost its lustre due to the fact that the world itself has become like a videogame. This raises the question how many times we can rub the magic lamp before the genie grows tired. In other words: can we re-enchant a technology we have already become disenchanted with? And maybe even more importantly: what about the legion of people who have only recently fallen under the spell of games for the first time?

Raising these questions is perhaps Gamer Theory’s greatest achievement, but unfortunately this achievement is obfuscated by Wark’s oracular style and his disregard for cultural and individual differences. His claim that “all games are digital”, for example, is nearly as presumptuous as Jesper Juul’s declaration that his game model applies to at least a 5,000-year history of games. Ultimately, however, it is not very productive to criticise the content of a book which has already been scrutinised and commented upon by scores of readers – a process which effectively pre-empts any form of traditional criticism. However, what none of these commentators were able to tease out is the book that is hidden inside Gamer Theory, a book which formulates a critical media theory, a book whose outlines can be glimpsed in certain turns of phrase, but which unfortunately remains elusive throughout.

So what remains to be criticised is the form of the book, its various incarnations on the web and on paper, its absorption of the labour and intellectual property of the commentators, its self-referentiality and its mise-en-scène as a project rather than a product. But in the final analysis, all Gamer Theory accomplishes with these shenanigans is an exposure of the rules that underlie academic publishing, free labour on the web, and the transformation of knowledge into IP. Yet despite all its efforts, the book does not render these rules manipulable, and it does not explicate how such manipulability could be achieved. This may seem like a tall order for such a slim book but it is a demand justified by its premise, which is to formulate not a game theory but a gamer theory.

Wark himself points out that a gamer theory is characterised by “a playing with the role of the gamer within the game, not by stepping beyond it, into a time or a role beyond the game, but rather by stepping into games that are relatively free of the power of gamespace.” This seems like good advice, and therefore it is all the more disappointing that he does not heed it himself. He offers us the gamer as “the new model of the self” but his answer to the question what comes after the persona of the gamer is, rather unconvincingly, the hacker. Is the Cold War figure of the hacker, which Wark already glorified in his previous book, really a model for the future, in which the contradictions between work and play and between necessity and surplus are somehow magically suspended? I don’t think so.

And Wark doesn’t seem very convinced of this solution himself, otherwise he wouldn’t deem it necessary to cite from one of his own books in order to make this point. But rather than to discuss the lack of good taste that this betrays, I would like to point out that his fall into the trap of self-referentiality is not entirely undeserved, and it is far from unexpected. Despite all his radical posturing, Wark is still enmeshed in a binary logic, and thus fails to see that his juxtapositions of the hacker with the worker and of the player with the gamer only produce a hall-of-mirrors effect of endless reflection. The only way out of this trap of self-referentiality, as readers of literary scholar Winfried Menninghaus know, is to chip or crack one of the mirrors, so the light refracts at a different angle, and this is, ultimately, what Wark fails to accomplish.

So, if both the criticism of content and the criticism of form fail, what else remains but self-criticism? As I said earlier, I did not participate in the process of commenting on the first version of the book, so perhaps I have no one to blame but myself if I am disappointed with it. Somehow I doubt that this would have changed much, but for the sake of the argument let’s assume it would have made a difference. What would I have done differently? Well, first of all, I would have changed the title. I would have called it “H4X0R 7H30RY”, because that what it is, after all is said and done. Wark may pretend that this is a book about gaming as a way of life, but his gamers are actually hackers, even when they are playing games. Because if there’s one thing that Gamer Theory teaches us, it is that you can take gamers out of games, but you can’t take the game out of the gamers. The same is true for hackers, and Wark himself is a true blue, dyed-in-the-wool hacker.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and I am not saying that a hacker can’t write about gaming. If hackers couldn’t write about gaming, Andrew “Bunnie” Huang’s Hacking the Xbox had never seen the light of day, and that would be a sad loss indeed. But it is a little disappointing to read a book which is supposedly about gaming, only to find out near the end that it is really about hacking. It’s kind of like buying a chicken sandwich only to discover that it is filled with tuna. Both are good, but tuna’s a bit of a letdown when you are looking forward to eating chicken. As a final point, perhaps, I should clarify that my issue is not with the fact that Gamer Theory is not about games, but with the fact that it is not about gamers. I am all in favour of books who demonstrate the validity of gaming as a cultural practice beyond the domain of games, but a book that only pretends to do so is just absurd.

So at long last I am coming to explain the title of this article, which is much longer and much more detailed than I ever expected. The prosaic reason why this is not a review of Gamer Theory is that I was not able to write one. I tried and I failed and I tried and failed again. Because Gamer Theory is a difficult book, I’ll grant it that. I wouldn’t have gotten through it without the help of friends who advised me and cautioned me, and did their best to keep my tongue in check. But for all their help I wasn’t able to write a review. All I can offer is this rather incoherent account of my fascination with Gamer Theory and my disappointment upon the discovery that it is not what it pretends to be.

Works Cited:

why this is not a comment

Submitted by McKenzie Wark (not verified) – Mon, 2007 – 05 – 07 13:09

Julian, thankyou for the (non)review. If, as you say, there is a media theory in the book, its a pity you did not say what you think it is.

The Guided Ecology of Tuna

Submitted by Christian McCrea (not verified) – Mon, 2007 – 05 – 07 15:29

I will say that when I have a sandwich that is full of unexpected meat, I find the surprise usually pretty pleasant - as not only do I get a meal but also a disruption to expectation and routine. Which is another form of nourishment. In that spirit, I am holding off on a review of my own until I eat the paper version and revel in massive tree slaughter.

I take Gamer Theory to be a strategy guide to philosophically inflected action. At least, a manual for rhetorical engagement given the gaming situation (to use an old familiar term.) The situations developed in each of the chapters share a typal range with the strategy guide; which is increasingly less a repository of impossible actions and more an eschatology of the possible.

I think, for example, the narrative-as-target metaphor in the Rez / Battle chapter appeals to a style of play/labour/action and occasions it with the crown of material trace.

And in Boredom / State of Emergency, the implicit critique in the quoting of Adorno's assertion that sport is tightly regulated (it is, by form, not) gives another sense of 'best practice' (to abuse a term plucked straight from the sulfuric netherworld of bureau-geddon) but which coheres to this sensation of guided strategy. A path taken, mapped according to hope and revelatory discourse, as primary rhetorical device. It is this form I feel underpins (or not) a drive toward a simulogy of activity. "Simulation forces binary actions > forces binary interpretations of the world > what comes next?"

The formal construction of the book, which is comparable to similar projects such as The Electronic Book Project and even texts such as the New Media Reader, or ye olde Film Art - is I would argue, a subset of this formula - a kind of 'pataphysical dovetail necessitated by the strategy formulation. To 'open up the text' a la forum necessarily forces roles to occur and creates audience/author situations for us to ironically inhabit while guffawing with incredulity at Barthes.

I have suggested elsewhere that this constitutes a kind of automatic lynching by which I meant first that the form invites critique (and by critique I mean the type of binary assault described above) but more importantly that sense of continual inward-forming. I don't know enough about the conceptual realm of the word 'immanence' to deploy it with any gusto, but I would tentitavely offer it here as a way that I imagined the process in its purest form. The poetics of lynching are such that they generate mass activity and continually form new possible targets; so there's a fit for my reading of the text, at least. In the forum, Wark said that the book was intended to be in "as open and generous a way as you can" and that "people pick up the vibe and take it from there. "

Which is probably true of any academic text but probably especially in regard to games, at this time. Game studies is hysterical about its origins and doubly hysterical about its borders; which is perfect and natural, I think, for a study of border action, origin manipulation and mass hysteria. 'Picking up the vibe and taking it from there' is pretty 'chicken', but I think a more 'tuna' approach would be to say that this book is a playthrough, and wants to act as guide for a reiteration, reformulation, re-address.

The call out for possible responses perhaps wasn't so much in the forum - I know the parts of the book I liked most never got commented on. Rather, in the implicit act of ensorcelling a reading of actions in specific games which provoke more material, contextual and situational gravities than general, typical ones. What can we say about Rez that can practically be said of other games? (Panzer Dragoon and Space Harrier nonewithstanding.)

So the book provokes. For one, it provoked Julian! :) The inability to review is totally coherent to me as a response to the book; I share some element of the instinct just by dint of the way I arrived to the text. But I think, Julian, you make a comment here which is so very important for all study, not just games and not just this book - "the book does not render these rules manipulable, and it does not explicate how such manipulability could be achieved."

That is a great aim for us to have as scholars; to make what exists as law, communal force or assumptive election totally manipulable. That is how a theory-through-games would be. An enactment of games's other tendency aside from the construction of binaries (which I think Wark's focus in this book). That is, the farming of doubt; the forming of situations in which doubt gains the properties of a force and reigns over even law. I don't even know how possible it is, but glancing at my bookshelf I can see its been done before, at other times, in different ways. It has been suggested to me that this kind of doubt, an ongoing reference point for me, is acutely covered by the Deleuzian fold, but I'll have to get back to you on that.

Anyway, whatever the processes, knowing another method of how and how not to find my way through this particular maze has been some tremendous food for thought - as is Julian's critique here of the formal properties of the book.

I will leave off with a link; a reference point for open texts, I suppose. This one is an extreme example of gaming labour and I think a good illustration of the guide metaphor I have been trying to unpack here; as well as a situation in which all us good smutty marxist carbunkles would do well to pay attention to.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/8.37471

Back to work, you hippies.

Why Gamer Theory is not a Media Theory

Submitted by Julian Kücklich – Tue, 2007 – 05 – 08 08:16

McKenzie Wark said:

If, as you say, there is a media theory in the book, its a pity you did not say what you think it is.

Maybe my formulation was a bit imprecise: I wouldn't say there's a media theory in there, but certainly elements of a media theory. And I am reluctant to uncover the connections I see between them, because I think that's the job of the author, not that of the reader.

At the same time, I wouldn't want to suggest that Gamer Theory 3.0, if it ever sees the light of day, should be more monolithic than the present version. Rather, I would suggest that the present version confuses ergodicity with playability.

In other words, a book isn't necessarily more fun to read, because it's more work to read. And the playability derived from leaving the concepts unconnected is undercut by a certain dogmatism which becomes apparent in binary logic statements such as the following:

"Behind the subordination of the analog to the digital is the subordination of play to game."

This creates a rule system which is much too rigid to be rendered playable again - whether through cheating or through hacking -, so ultimately the book operates, in Ian Bogost's terminology, by a system-operational logic, not by a unit-operational logic.

The fact that the theoretical concepts presented by the book remain unconnected ultimeately leads to a form of theoretical closure. This may seem paradoxical, but of course a paradox is only a paradox as long as we operate within Aristotelian logic.

Moving beyond this paradigm, we can see that openness and closure can co-exist (just like they can co-exist in 4-dimensional "bodies" such as a tesseract) - and this is certainly true of gamespaces as well, although you are right in pointing out that Gamespace tends towards closure.

Playability derives precisely out of a boundary state between openness and closure, between over-connectedness and under-connectedness. This also explains why the under-connectedness of Gamer Theory ultimately results in a form of over-codification.

Having said that, Gamer Theory brilliantly brings this interplay to light, and there are certainly glimpses of what a gamer theory could look like. The operational space of such a theory would certainly not be limited to games, but would include other media as well.

player hater

Submitted by McKenzie Wark (not verified) – Tue, 2007 – 05 – 08 13:02

But why would I want to make the book 'playable' when the book argues that 'play' in this sense is ideological? 'Fun' and 'play' seem to me just code words for the labor of validating the commodity.

Yes, the book is about system-operations, in that it argues that this is how the world now operates.

This is not the place to talk about Ian's interesting book, other than to say that what for him is a bug in certain critical traditions is for me a feature. In subtle and complex ways, they are talking about the whole, or (prohibited word) totality.

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.

Have to run, so please excuse this somewhat scattershot attempt to continue the coversation...

Playability and Hackability

Submitted by Julian Kücklich – Wed, 2007 – 05 – 09 02:13

Well, it depends whether you merely want to mirror the process of commodity production in informational capitalism, or whether you want to suggest models that go beyond that.

But I guess there's a confusion of terms here: for you playability means playing by the rules, while for me it means playing with the rules.

So Gamer Theory is playable in your sense of the word - because it hides the labour of unpaid contributors under a fun interface and pretends that it's just a game between friends.

However, there are no mechanisms for rendering authorship and control more fluid - in other words, it's impossible to break or bend the rules, other than to hack the IFB server or to copy the book and sell it under a different name.

What you do with the book, then, is exactly what game providers do when they realise that players will create content for free. They pretend to relinquish control, but of course they don't really want the players to take control either.

So you get half-baked experiments like Second Life, where users can license their creations under Creative Commons, but the rules of the game remain under tight control by Linden Lab.

Maybe I just misunderstood your intention: if you are not interested in challenging totality, you are playing an entirely different game than I thought you were. But then I don't understand what the hacker is doing in that book?

Gamespace rules but doesn't govern

Submitted by McKenzie Wark (not verified) – Wed, 2007 – 05 – 09 08:34

Surely we need to know something about the present order to know in what way it transformable? To just posit a state outside it is utopian. Or worse. Maybe it is part of the legitimation of what i call gamespace.

Why are you still invested in the category of play? Even if it means the oh-so-daring "playing with the rules"? What could be more co-opted than that? It's the whole discourse of 'creativity'. On which see Pat Kane's The Play Ethic.

This idea of playing with the rules is in any case nothing but Bataille's transgression, which of course merely affirms the law. This is the whole point of Gamer Theory: The really startling critical leverage is to be found inside, not outside, the game.

Gamer Theory is however 'playable' in your sense, it just takes a bit of imagination. The only rule governing how one plays with it is the (cc) license, and why not ignore that as well? That i did not make it easy to play with does not mean there's no play. (And, in fact, we did give away the whole version 2 text as a text file. Do with that what you want.)

Authorship and control is always fluid anyway, but the challenge for critical thought is to be always singular without being individual. I'm not interested in a wikified consensus.

Of course the IFBook version is set up like a 'game', in which one might say that the unit operations are subordinated to system operations. That's the ruling order. But the argument of the book is that what is critical works its way about from the inside.

I agree with you about Second Life. It is really a mask for total recouperation. Better to talk about WoW, where gamers pay for the privilege of their own labor.

But the argument you don't want to confront is this: maybe there's no outside. Maybe play is so thoroughly incorporated that it has to be abandoned, both as theory and practice. That's why this book is called Gamer Theory, not Player Theory.

What nobody wants to do is think the persona of the gamer through to the end. Everyone keeps wanting to jump back to the old transgressive figures, back to the romantic legacy. But that game is played out. It is now the very engine by which gamespace sustains itself by permutating itself -- as always more of the same.

Clarifying Units and Systems

Submitted by Ian Bogost (not verified) – Wed, 2007 – 05 – 09 11:10

Just a comment about the distinction I make between unit operations and system operations. While it is true that there is a preference the book for units as a corrective to system thinking, no logics would be possible at all without systems. From the book (p. 4): "We need the integrity of systems to identify physical, conceptual, or cultural phenomena. But these new types of systems are fluctuating assemblages of unit operational components rather than overarching regulators." Arguments by their very nature are systems. They are systems that can become units in other systems, or systems that can be broken down. Here too, perhaps, the system works from the inside out.

Aesthetically, functionally, Gamer Theory's aphorisms are unit operational. I read the game of Gamer Theory 1.0, with its cards of aphorisms, as encapsulated units of its argument. The structure and function of the website also perform the logic of its critique, the blog-like game to speak more, or more often, or more cleverly, or more profoundly. Certainly this logic is also at work in the intellectual performances here, on this very page -- the academic's desire to stump or cause to fumble, raising the credibility of one and reducing that of the other.

And I could also read the book's argument as such: the rendering of contemporary society as game system could simply be understood as social adoption of the very logic of unit operations itself, the "ruling order" as a unit operation for another unit operation, that of the game.

But I still believe that games are not merely cultural unit-allegories for the state of culture itself, but also representations -- not utopias or mere cultural signals, but cultural texts. Perhaps this is where our approaches diverge although I must reveal: I was unable to play Gamer Theory 1.0 effectively, and have not yet acquired the upgrade.

Against Representation

Submitted by McKenzie Wark (not verified) – Wed, 2007 – 05 – 09 15:11

Ian, thank you for the thoughtful and careful remarks. There's a lot there that's interestingly different rather than irreconcilable. Everyone is entitled to the detournément of one element from another's discourse into the idiom of their choice, which is how i would rewrite 'unit operations' here. (Of course at some cost to the original formulation).

You are also right that the disagreement would be about representation, but i would want to say that games are not merely representations, or indeed are least interesting as representations. (Perhaps i'm closer to Galloway here).

Games and Modes of Production

Submitted by Ian Bogost (not verified) – Wed, 2007 – 05 – 09 16:23

I am happy to admit that games are not merely representations. I think analysis of games from the perspective of their modes of production are necessary and fruitful, but I find methods steeped only in such methods to be lacking. I think yours and Galloway's approaches are indeed similar in this respect, and I have the same gripe with his book.

My current work with Nick Montfort on Platform Studies is one example of an attempt to consider both representation and artistic mode of production.

The Present and the Future

Submitted by Julian Kücklich – Thu, 2007 – 05 – 10 03:21

I know that utopianism is a bad word, but that won't stop me from using it. I think we have enough descriptions of the present situation, but we have hardly anything to aspire to. That's one of the problems in the current situation.

Nevertheless, I take your point about co-optation. That's the problem that every seemingly transgressive practice faces, whether it's graffiti, hacking, cheating or punk rock.

But at the same time co-optation still operates within a binary logic. I don't want to sound like a broken record, but as long as we think in either/or categories, we won't get anywhere.

***

I take your point that making Gamer Theory easier to play would have just created an artificial sense of playability, and you certainly achieved a certain measure of uncertainty through the multiple licenses.

Unfortunately that is exactly what every IP regime does. It pretends to create clear rules but what it really cretes is uncertainty for those affected by these rules. So we arrive at the question of co-optation again.

This seems to be the central point: if it is as you say, and the critical works from the inside, then how come this critique seems so ineffective? Is paying for your labour a critical practice? I really don't think so.

And of course you are right, I can't imagine abandoning play - because I can't imagine what else I would do with my time. Because play is one of the few truly non-binary practices we have at our disposal.

"What nobody wants to do is

Submitted by Christian McCrea (not verified) – Thu, 2007 – 05 – 10 13:15

"What nobody wants to do is think the persona of the gamer through to the end."

If anybody does this, its probably the corporate side of game production for which systems of capture and control are not metaphors but supremely-honed consensus-driven strategies for massive income. But the entire idea of a persona of a gamer is bound up in all sorts of messy issues such as our old friend 'volition'.

In that spirit, I went ahead and wrote an unsoliticed review of the book.

"There's nothing left!" - " What?" - "There's nothing left!"

Submitted by Julian Kücklich – Fri, 2007 – 05 – 11 06:31

Thanks, Christian, for a sorely needed injection of fresh blood into this rather anemic discussion. It would be impossible to discuss - or even list - all the important point that you raise, so let me just comment upon one or two.

The most important contribution of your review, in my opinion, is that it opens up the possibility of using Gamer Theory as a strategy guide, which is clearly a deludic move considering that the book explicitly claims to be "neither a strategy guide nor a cheat sheet." So the best way to engage with the book, then, might be to read it against itself.

You also brilliantly deconstruct some of the blanket statements in the book, such as the one about the commodification of play. This is actually a topos that has been gespensting around for quite some time (see e.g. Kline et al.'s Digital Play), but which is sold us here as fresh footage from a war-torn country (I like the image of the helicopter, by the way).

Your deployment of psycholudology against the topologisation of gamespace is also an impressive argumentative move, because it draws attention to the fact that gamespace always already encompasses internal and external spaces, and points to the way psychologies turn into topologies and vice versa. So do we need a ludotopology or a psychotopolysis? I think we might need both.

The main point of departure between my argument and yours lies in your claim that "the book is a playful and intelligent strategy guide for your upcoming conflict with the forces of neo-liberalism" - I neither see the playfulness nor the political efficacy. In fact, you draw attention to this yourself by citing Wark's assertion that a gamer theory cannot "achieve all that much when confronted with the digital indifference of gamespace."

That might be the case, but I'd rather go down with smoking guns than to disengage with gamespace and retreat to the position of an observer (although these white helmets are stylish). I guess I'd choose "realistic" over "normal" any day.

So do we need a

Submitted by Christian McCrea (not verified) – Fri, 2007 – 05 – 11 08:41

 

So do we need a ludotopology or a psychotopolysis? I think we might need both?

.

Academic poetics; now you're playing with power!

Much as I didn't want to admit it years ago, there is such a thing as ludoparalysis (using the game you just started) and if we do 'follow through the persona of the gamer through to the end' as Wark suggests, he's right in that the situation is pretty goddamned bleak. But games - not as a realm or space - but 'land' - contains within it a mutlifarious recombinatory system - and even the vagaries of game design can create, unmake, and reform the psychologies and topologies of other games, games, themselves. As said in my review, I think the fascination with the 'bonanza of origins' is itself fascinating; continually looking for 'abouts'.

I think that Tim Rogers, and a lot of game writers (Jane Pinckard, Raina Lee, Ste Curran, some others from Eurogamer, for example) have access to analyses that game academia doesn't have so readily, or rapidly - and to games which feature larger in the 'real' and 'normal' worlds. They may talk about themselves (or their sex lives) in the process, but its mad to ignore a moment like Rogers' reality-normal confrontation at the titlescreen of Rainbox Six: Vegas. Think even about the title... Rainbow. Six. Vegas.

Although, that said, I heard today that Sim Earth is actually considered a good game and there have been some good essays written on it - so I may have to reassess my views in that direction.

Psycholudology (and I suggest that everybody check out socialfiction.org anyway) is a bloody powerful conceptual frame leading out from studies of chess and go; formulations of strategy and styles of play being one and the same. Wark's topology metaphors in the Atopia chapter especially are powerful and distinctly useful, but I don't think the book ever pretends to be a full account of the political economy of games - that is where something like psycholudology could offer insights into what it means to inhale the fog of war; who actually benefits from the aestheticisation of male psychodrama and power in action games (Hint; not who we think) and the mental illness known as strategic thinking could be laid bare.

I see your troubles with the book, and I think we're clear on where we agree and disagree there but I think that I'm glad to have anything vex me. The only time I felt I had responded coherently to it was with one of those videos I linked. Speechlessness is a form of power. Without knowing what to say without using pagan words, I prefer to remain silent. (He says, after a monstrously long review.)

present and future

Submitted by Déjà Vous (not verified) – Tue, 2007 – 05 – 29 08:59

it maybe that i don't understand well enough the subject you are argueing about,and that my reason focusses only your 'mere words' i found in the post -present and future-...but in the end you come back to the title of your insert "present and future", saying that "i can't imagine abandoning play - because i can't imagine what else i would do with my time". saying this, on the one hand you presuppose that time is your private property and on the other hand, you are not clear enough what you mean with the terms "present" and "future" intended as parameters of "your time"("present situation", "current situation", "broken record"?). i beg your pardon, i am in time-research and not game research, but nevertheless i would apreciate if you could answer!