On The Internet, Everybody Knows You’re a Nobody

RND/ some recent freeform lab notes on repeatedly trying and failing to meaningfully engage with others online:

Part of the problem (and, admittedly part of the actual appeal) is that I simply don’t know what I’m doing with this site, or any of its so-called content; it’s not philosophy, certainly not art as the modern global art market defines and imagines it understands it, it’s.. just boring B.S – like a lot of life, and certainly like a lot of the internet – dealing with the down time of Time itself, listlessly punching the life clock in the face with amazingly anti-meaningful, memetic clickbait attention economy splinters before death, just for something-anything to do

Way out here on the ‘tubular interdark’, everybody knows you’re nobody; a kind of self selecting crowd, an invisible dark mass with a strong sense of who already and ‘really’ deserves to be up there – and therefore who to pay attention to; pop stars and other mass produced media personalities ‘should’ be online, should have a visceral media presence, simply because they’re already famous; “I’m famous, therefore I already am”; everybody else does not exist, their voice automatically lost among dry digital grasses

If I was already a rich and famous ‘media personality’ (one of the worst insults you can apply, surely?) I wouldn’t have to sit here alone in my cold, rented shoebox trying to pretend I want to write these cosmically useless lab notes (aka a simple random blog post) telling all the countless billions of people *not* listening about my first world philoso-artistic woes (indeed, I could hire someone to write and perform my dis.content for me – some beautiful, hopelessly naive, fresh-out-of-artschool greenhorn with advanced ‘conceptual new media’ skills and a subscription to photoshop who could also pretend to pretend to ‘play Big Science’ for me, while I, eg. play the latest AAA gaming industry ray-traced titles on my retro 60″ 8k 144hz HDR monitor with my eyes glazed over with hot hyperreal image flux)

The need to continually romanticize the blasted, pathetic little details of one’s as-though-still-not-yet-lived life, since the alternative (not that the truth is an ‘alternative’) is simply too flocking grim and bone achingly dull to remotely contemplate (“Who me? Why, I’m not really an unemployed Sociomedia postgrad from a sh1te Northern university whose still deep in Student Debt two decades after leaving – I’m an ‘amateur postmodern internet media prophet’ with a vast legion of super intelligent fans who adore every artistic twitch of my sensual neural meta-fibres!”)

Indeed, one might consider the internet the greatest technology for generating feelings of extreme loneliness ever developed – what one in fact merely ‘hooks up’ into is not so much a living network of connections, but of dusty overgrown pathways between isolated gravestones in a massive abandoned church, whose towering megastructural gothic architecture makes Dark Souls say “Damn, that’s some dead-ass Gothic right non-there”; ‘self-facilitating media nodes’ are always born dead reactionaries, their mouths choked with the rotten black earth of raw media image

I recently sent an email to gamedev Mosche Link, trying to.. I don’t know – perhaps just intellectually engage with anyone about art / ideas:

Dear Mr. Linke

Hello, I’m a UK based philosopher and artist, who regularly works with the concepts and notions of videogame architecture

I’m a fan of your impressive Fugue In Void, (which reminds me of the work of Thierry Urbain) and think the towering megastructures on display in your game Neon Entropy are simply beautiful

I’m writing to you, to offer my (free) help as a resident ‘Theorist-For-Hire’ on N.E, as I feel i can add a strong narrative element / philosophical context to your game

Here’s what I’ve written so far; I hope you find it interesting and relevant to your project: “My story is that of a distant planet, destroyed by climate change”

Zone 000: For decades, the people of my planet lived under the collective delusion that there was something we could do to finally fix the problem of runaway climate change; the patient had been dead for a while now, and only the illusion of uninterrupted existence was left – huge shocks we applied to its corpse that kept the whole rotten system lurching onward. To nowhere.
Coda: In which there is no whole – no single solid unit of function, only fragments and the useless registers of artificial memory. A pointed awareness of deep time; the secret language of petrified trees in a museum nobody visits.

Zone 001: To paraphrase an ancient Earth philosopher and media prophet: “Immense energies are deployed to hold this synthetic simulation of ecological harmony at bay; to avoid the brutal de-simulation that actually confront us in the face of the obvious reality of a radical loss of meaning of the term ‘finding balance with nature’.”

Coda: Claims to knowledge of the true extent of our predicament must now kept in check with new, default extremes of advanced philosophical critique.

Zone 002: In fact the entire planet was doomed from the very outset by our very existence; the real runaway process at work was not merely our love of ancient alien animal oils, bubbling and oozing beneath the surface, which we used to power the sentient machines running our society – our imagined immortality in the vast technological utopia we built in our own golden image.

Coda: Mystics within certain wandering tribes to the deep East used to say the rivers of oil which actively fueled our demise – as opposed to the convenient myth called progress – resembled immense ropes of interwoven, strangling tentacles.

Zone 003: The thing about utopias – which means ‘non places’ – is that, rather than universal data heavens which anyone may enter, are in fact always constructed precisely by those who are inherently and automatically barred from entering – their labor and lives always conveniently missing from the official image archives adorning the silent, bloody walls of our faithful technological republic.

Coda: Even the brilliant ships we built in order to abandon this storm-wracked, planet sized tomb were themselves abandoned, because it was felt we could not control the wind, and therefore somehow simply not worth the effort. Planetary scale lassitude.

Zone 004: All too soon did the towering megastructures of our breathing biological cities turned back to inert, dusty brick; we became desert people, susceptible to dark cosmic visions of endless, trackless dunes – giant singing manta rays with mile wide wingspans, able to block out the incessant glare of our angry sun – mothers in their millions, crying perfectly oval silicon tears over infinite futures lost – to what? The limits of our imagination, perhaps.

Coda: In which a strange scenario emerges, in which the plain, naked fact of our true planetary predicament actually represents a gap, or unexpected turn – a historically inserted shard of collective possibility for new conceptual horizons. The fingers of the great skeleton clutching eggs once unable to hatch, perhaps now finally releases its ugly, spectral grasp. A low humming sound, heard only at night during sleepless dreams.

Sincerely, Robert What

The reply was as expected (edited and paraphrased for clarity):

Hello Robert; I am flattered that you’re such a dedicated fan. Your writing gave me a lot of inspiration, and as these ideas flow into my mind, I’m sure they’ll influence the overall world design. It’s just that I don’t want to use words in my current project, so I’m sorry I can’t implement your text into the Neon Entropy. For now, almost the entire journey is already set in stone, and there are no new developmental changes planned.

Again, I’m very grateful for your dedication.

Moshe

There’s a pattern developing here; in the course of my daily research and development, I discover something cool and interesting online, and sometimes try contacting the ‘researc’ / developer in question to talk about it. While they obviously like, and are thankful for attention and complements (who doesn’t like ego-feeding complements?), they almost always immediately follow up with the kind of standardized boilerplate apology I now call “Sorry, butt”

– Sorry, but I don’t need any help right now..
– Sorry, but I haven’t really got any time to X..

I now read such replies as, “Sorry, but I’ve absolutely no idea who you are, who or what you represent, what exactly you want from me or precisely what you possibly imagine I can do for you” – which is fair enough, given that I’ve no real idea what I’m doing (“Just a little R&D, you feel me..?”) but there’s still some kind of underlying assumption that, if the person politely calling you isn’t already rich and famous or at your perceived ‘level’ of whatever – social status or intellect or class or level of self importance – then there’s ‘no real point’ to the conversation

Read ‘no real point’ as “With the first two sentences of our email exchange, I already get the strong troubled feeling you simply won’t be able to actively progress my career / boost my ego to the next level – and therefore interacting with you as a human being interested in art philosophy and the free exchange of ideas is an active waste of my infinitely precious time”

Especially with artists, the feeling is that those with gallery representation and a couple of showings under their belt – very small and standard potatoes most of the time from what I’ve seen – feel anyone that contacts them has to be a buyer or from a large international newspaper with offers of a world shattering interview; and everyone else a mere rescinded priority; sure everyone (well, most of us) has bills to pay and there are only 24 hours available but man, is there ever the feeling one has to constantly justify oneself and one’s existence when in their presence

A related problem: how to make any flocking dough when someone else is already holding all the bread?

Flock art – what about just being a decent human being with half decent listening skills; I’m not a ‘fan’ of anything or anyone (rarely is anything in life that interesting) and neither am I calling you to sell you some vague idea of.. myself, perhaps.. hello? Is there anybody even out here? *sound of high pitched, heavily filtered virtual wind whistling quietly through an empty architectural infinity of global climate cooled data centers*

Sometimes you get a break: A pleasant conversation with Professor Pippin Barr

RND/ Loose pre-conversation notes:

– Considering ‘the existential threat of videogames‘ as a ‘Funpocalypse’ (the fully VR-Baudrillardian version / simulacrum update of Neil Postmans ‘amusing ourselves to death’)

Paida as ‘human computer’ interaction with the philosophical worry about a fully computerized humanity (‘Chinese Room’)

Digital identity and play: contrasting Buddhist and video game avatars as ideological incarnation of modern electronic self-as-futuristic-deity

Robert: Hello Mr. Barr! How’s the semester’s going? Good, I hope My large video game exhibit is finally up – hope you like it

Pippin: Hey there Robert – holy crap this thing is intense. I really like the format a lot – more than I would have expected. It’s exhausting, but also very possible to browser around in rather than read in the obvious way. The pieces of language I’ve landed on have been lovely, poetic, thoughtful.

Robert: Many thanks for your prompt and kind reply! It means a lot. I know you’re very busy, but any time you’d like to hook up online for a quick philosophical chat / freestyle jam about Play, Games – their strange Virtuality (particularly in the context of large scale institutional Education – ‘university considered as whitecube gallery’?) please do let me know, as I’d love to pick your e-brain

Pippin: Hey Robert – yeah definitely. This weekend’s no good for me, but plausibly next week Saturday for a bit? What time zone are you?

Robert: UK – five hours behind Montreal. Thing is I don’t think our chat really needs to be realtime, since we’re already communicating over email, and I don’t want to bother you at the weekend. What say we try a freestyle yet somewhat focused call-and-response, wherein we initiate several small theoretical possibility spaces of conversation and idea-exchange, and then we each jazz riff from there?. This way we can spread the conversation out, let it breath. Some example topics as follows; what would interest me Mr. Barr is that we try to always lean the conversation back around to your particular (expert) view and approach, ie. from within academia. Please bear in mind however: I don’t really know anything about anything, I just enjoy pretending to

Pippin: Asynchrony makes sense to me. Absolutely. Not sure I’ll be able to talk at your level with such. Counter-offers (perhaps we can converse in questions). What are games made of? (makes me think of your noclip stuff a bit, but also a preoccupation for me in many games). Videogame translations? (book to game, game to book, game to game, myth to game to art print to game, ++). What about everything before the game itself? (design and process documentation, did you ever read Jordan Mechner’s book on Prince of Persia? this is something I’m very involved in personally). Hmm.

Robert: Some initial responses. What a games made of? What about games considered as (say) ideal / idealized (conceptual!) platonic forms of (digital) heaven; an interactive retroactive western gnosticism / immaterialist wish for spiritual ascent? (Brian Eno; art-as-‘surrender’)

Pippin Bar – VR2

– The lost mystic art of Noclip as symbolic Virtual Void Architecture; a silent howling electronic (baudrillardian) nothingness out of which emerge flat, ‘fake’, Potemkin-esque surface forms– Games as (coded) language-play abstractions

– On Videogame translations: because everything is always in the disruptive flux of unceasing market colonization. Here Zizek is instructive:

“Herein lies the paradox proper to capitalism, its last resort: capitalism is capable of transforming its limit, its very impotence, in the source of its power – the more it ‘putrefies’, the more its immanent contradiction is aggravated, the more it must revolutionize itself to survive. It is this paradox which defines surplus-enjoyment: it is not a surplus which simply attaches itself to some ‘normal’, fundamental enjoyment, because enjoyment as such emerges only in this surplus, because it is constitutively an ‘excess’. If we subtract the surplus we lose enjoyment itself, just as capitalism, which can survive only by incessantly revolutionizing its own material conditions, ceases to exist if it ‘stays the same’, if it achieves an internal balance.”

– The design-by-committee, focus-group-tested-hipness, pale geekdom hell that is “Ready, Player One

Pippin: What about everything before the game itself? (design and process documentation, did you ever read Jordan Mechner’s book on Prince of Persia? this is something I’m very involved in personally)

Robert: That’s basically what I like to term “Big Science”; conceptual freeform play emphasizing craft rather than strictly art (Eno again), notions notion rather than polished product, contested spaces rather than virtual certainties; games as the convenient hole the artistic catherine wheel spins around

– In which there’s now no ‘before’ the game; the map has long since entirely replaced the territory and the Permanent Virtual Funemployment of Ludocapitalism now constitutes our very dreams *gosh that’s romantic* ;-)

– Discussions of design and documentation reminds me of Michigan’s game archive

– Mechner’s book sounds interesting and I’d like to read it; while I remember digging POP back on my Amiga 500 back in the day, I just hope the book by-implication doesn’t overemphasize the (/myth of) the auteur and forget wider collective gamedev culture

Robert: On games as digital heaven: considered as (say) ideal / idealized (conceptual!) platonic forms of (digital) heaven; an interactive retroactive western gnosticism / immaterialist wish for spiritual ascent? (Brian Eno; art-as-‘surrender’)

Pippin: I’m playing Tetris Effect at the moment having had its virtues extolled by various friends. I think it probably aspires to this sort of idea? It even has chanting monks in one level. There’s a kind of “become one with the tetronimoes” feeling to the design. When I was feeling down the other I tried using it as a medicine but I don’t think it worked. Those points and level rankings kind of thwart the transcendence for me?

Robert: Maybe points levels and rankings don’t necessarily thwart the religious (or at least New Age spiritual) symbolism or possibility of internal philosophical reflection of or within a game space; maybe it’s akin to counting prayer beads, or a recounting of holy scripture as an (/electronic) meditation: queue Rez Infinite. I mean, far out, man: to consider spiritual states, primitive shapes in the context of brain development, and synesthesia = “Sounds like any modern video game“.. Or maybe not ;-) The lost mystic art of Noclip as symbolic Virtual Void Architecture; a silent howling electronic (baudrillardian) nothingness out of which emerge flat, ‘fake’, Potemkin-esque surface forms

Pippin: Yeah I guess there are forms of religious experience that revolve around counting and quantification, that’s true. I’m not a religious person so can’t really speak it it, but it always seemed to me that the quantified-self versions of religious practice would get in the way of spiritual experiences. Like the assignment of set numbers of prayers post-confession or the idea of accumulating blessings via fasting. A bit instrumentalising. Like almost any videogame…

Robert: I’m afraid the ritual nowdays is simply of blind digital consumerism; I wonder where all the more truly philosophical play spaces of free experimentation exist – rather than what the aaa-industry laughably regards as somehow remotely philosophical-by-auto-proxy. Hope I’m not directly suggesting games are literally spiritual; perhaps more simply that in modern secular society it appears they’ve taken over (/from) certain symbolic aspects of traditional (mass) worship; witness the levels of crowd devotion in any regular E3 presentation – or the ecstatic opening of lootboxes as receiving sacriment?

Pippin: For sure games have that kind of cult-y obsession factor going for them. But I guess I think people feel like they have spiritualish experiences too? At least trance-like experiences which are a big part of a lot of religions? And games are nothing if not ritualistic, too…

Robert: Interesting how experiments like Vr2 can be read as appearing churchlike – an cool, noble museum full of strange exhibits, possibly once used by a distant (/dead) alien civilization as fetishistic worship totems..?

Pippin: Huh. I’ve never thought about laying any kind of narrative on top of a game like that – it exists so clearly as a formal experiment for me, but this makes a great deal of sense. I think I’m afraid of stories because I feel like I’ll tell a bad one.

Robert: Aren’t all games embedded in narratives and contexts, ala ‘everything as a text’? As for being a formal experiment, I imagine gamers almost always treat whatever they call games as complete, stand alone experiences – definitely statements rather than open experiments or idea-spaces..

– On the ‘Quantified Self’ and its grasping, Minecraftian style valorization of the individual as a mere stack of exploitable cubed information often feels abhorrent.

Pippin: I thought Detroit was weirdly interesting in relation to the quantified self thing somehow. It’s the first really detailed visualisation of a game’s narrative as another set of accomplishments that I feel like I’ve encountered (though I bet it’s been done before). Sitting there in front of the narrative flowcharts at the end of playing through a scene I was always both fascinated (“I could have done that?”) and repelled (perhaps by the implication I ought to experience it all). The quantified self as a set of time worms.

Robert: You’re right. Wow, that game’s so accidentally postmodern, it hurts. In fact one could use it as the benchmark for games so uniquely wack, they transcend the medium and forge their own aesthetic space – just like Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Pippin: Well I guess David Cage has been pushing pretty hard on this model for a hell of a long time. For better or worse Detroit feels like he “broke through” and kind of nailed whatever it is he believes in. As such it feels simultaneously like a tour de force and problematic and lame in many ways?Robert: In chapter two of your thesis you stated: “A key factor in the enthusiasm surrounding video games’ potential for delivering messages is their motivational power. Unlike most forms of software, people largely play games because they enjoy the process which leads us to a further level where values can be seen as something brought by players to their play.” Perhaps spirituality is one such motivating force?

Pippin: Jesus, my thesis. I’ve never thought about Potemkin in conjunction with level architecture, that’s nice and feels accurate. I think about that when I’m constructing games a lot – the question of realism and solidity, as well as the “authentic” system beneath. When I made a tiny game about finding an invisible dog (for a class in programming I teach) it mattered to me that I displayed the image of the dog even though it was completely transparent and invisible. v r 2 was kind of about this for me.

Robert: Just remember, Jesus loves all thesis ;-) Regarding the authentic system beneath, one is reminded of Zizek’s reversal of Hegel’s notion of ‘abstract and concrete’; the abstract ideological background (techno-utopianism) which makes current social relations possible / concretizes them? Regarding the notion that “decompiling a video game is like dissecting a frog – we learn a lot about it, but the frog dies in the end”; the need to deconstruct videogames – a skeptical re-examination of dialectics forming its apparent basis – an examination searching for points of privilege (ie. claims to knowledge) upon which its hierarchies rest – to bring to light how a game space undermines the philosophy it asserts, the hierarchical oppositions on which it props itself up, identifying in/via its ‘text’ rhetorical operations that produce a supposed ground of argument, key concepts or unexamined first premises

Pippin: Suffer the little theses to come unto him. My own games often feel like dead frogs to me, but not always? There’s also often a big, weird transformational leap from the code+assets representation of a game and the experience of the system running and reacting that can kind of erase your knowledge of the inner workings. That said maybe it’s the opposite and it’s other people who get the dead frogs, or at least mute frogs, that aren’t successfully communicating what they’re “all about”, whereas I know…

Robert: The thing about dead frogs is precisely that their deliciously grotesque historical animation by Italian scientists

– Indeed, yet isn’t code + assets not merely a representation of some future / ideal game (/state) of active play – but already an entire system (albeit ‘low level’) already running and reacting? One that, somehow not only erases knowledge of inner workings, but perhaps of all other (/levels of) workings; programming code as that which ‘retroactively creates it’s own causes’ (Zizek)Pippin: Hmmm. I mean… gee. I don’t know how I feel about saying the code+assets in the absence of processing could be said to be “running”? It implies running and represents a logic, but..

Robert: If one imagines human language as just another special class of machine programming language, and language generally as social behavior – something one performs, then.. I think I mean it’s ‘running’ and ‘live’ in the sense it already depends on a dynamic, contextual (cultural) matrix of meaning and meaning-performance; neither code nor assets arrive tabula-rasa, or ‘raw’ but rather already part of preexisting systems of social intent and signification; one doesn’t have to wait for meaning to arrive until clicking an (apparently) self contained .exe file

Pippin: Life as platform then? Fair enough. I think I’m lamely modernist enough to worry about so much blurring though, starts to be unclear what you can say about anything? But in principle I agree..?

Robert: As for Low Level Language: “Programming language that provides little or no abstraction of programming concepts and is very close to writing actual machine instructions”; perhaps this strange and complex ‘abstraction’ works at all levels; let’s consider that the ‘finished’ game – really, it’s more simply ‘all we have current access to’, rather than finished, complete, self contained, etc. – is an abstraction up, out and away of the (seemingly) raw or uncooked (/cultural) matrix of code.. if any of that makes any sense, don’t mind me I just to make small animal sounds with my mouth ;-)

Pippin: This does actually make a bit of sense. Is it arbitrary to say that the game we play is really a totally different thing from the code that animates it, or are they levels of abstraction? I mean, qualitatively the experience is so different that we’re justified in distinguishing them, but at some other conceptual level maybe it’s also fair to say that the game running is an “abstraction” of the specificities of the code? Or not?

Robert: I’m not sure how this relates to your question, but I can imagine a game in which the act of having to compile the code is the more actual game then whatever regular sense of interactive software occurs after compilation. I think considering “a running game as an abstraction of the specificities of code” is a good heuristic for understanding digital play – but I also like the notion that “code as always already running as a specific abstraction” (if that makes any non-arbitrary sense?)

Pippin: People have even made efforts at games that are played at least in part through code (e.g. else Heart.Break()) though usually still within the confines of a “fake” programming language (though what does that even mean).

While I’m always ready to be instructed by Zizek, though I won’t pretend I’ve often understood what he’s saying. I really enjoyed his riff about the toilet in the movie The Conversation, that’s the pinnacle of it for me. Translation in relationship to capitalism vaguely scares me. Though I translated the concept of Capitalism into a game of Snake in SNAKISMS. Actually my relationship to capitalistic structures goes… pretty unexamined I guess. By me, I mean.

Robert: Ah, the eternal return of the cosmic flush that keeps on giving! Terrifying ;-) Due to embeddedness within global capital, that’s not necessarily any kind of reflective failure on anyone’s part; one is reminded of the old yoke about the fish who, while swimming past two others says “Morning! How’s the water today?” As he leaves, they turn to one another and ask “What’s water?” Watch out – games are everywhere!

Pippin: Are games really everywhere? If they’re everywhere what are they?

Robert: Hmm; no, game’s aren’t everywhere – and if they are, they’ve long since mutated away from being mere games; and yet, to consider the sense that ‘games’ andor ‘gaming’ have long since been the new default metaphor of viewing (/’Western’) reality – which is why in my bad post cyberpunk fanfiction, I often like to refer to some near future retro-80s state “When videogames won The Reality War.”

Pippin: Huh. And this also ties to that kind of boring question “what is a game”. Etc. Maybe it’s everything, maybe it’s something vying to “take over”, maybe it’s a thing with points and rules. I like using “game” as a Trojan Horse to get people to engage with the stuff I make that “isn’t really a game”, since the word has a bunch of helpful connotations in terms of people jumping in and grappling with what they see, at least for a few hundred milliseconds.

Robert: Perhaps no more or less boring than games themselves ;-)

Pippin: They are though aren’t they? I’m struck by this constantly at the moment, though perhaps I’m just more generally depressed. I struggle to stay engaged and interested in the games I’m seeing, though I know they’re acknowledged Good Games.

Robert: Thing is, I don’t really think ‘things which aren’t really a game’ work, since there’s a sense in which everything is now too often already (and only) viewable in the default terms of / set by ‘game’; indeed the use of Alternative Reality games as marketing strategy is nothing new, right? Aren’t games already Trojan Horses to get us to engage with too-often malignantly useless playbor in the service of the global funemployment enconomy?

Pippin: True that the Trojan Horse isn’t just for for killing your enemies or getting people to play art games. Gamification and serious games and advergames and on and on. Free to play for that matter.

Artistic efforts like yours, Pippin, seem inherently worthwhile; it’s just that I think the term ‘artgame’ which tends to stick to such efforts simply means “anything fancy (remotely involved with learning) we Real Gamers care to / can’t quite understand“, ala teh gam3r as the warm little nexus around which all games should be revolve’

Pippin: “Fancy games” sounds good. Game Fancier Magazine. Regarding ‘Big Science’ – what would be the experience here? Should we be releasing half-finished games? What does the polish do?

Robert: Perhaps there’s no experience, since ‘nothing’ is the only non-thing that happens? It seems ‘conceptual games’ or ‘strange imaginary play’ are not only not-finished, but somehow not even yet fully begun.. as an interactive digital art fragment, your cool Vr2 seems more an artistic idea-space potentiality in/via its odd virtual emptiness, than whatever many modern players would remotely consider [irony ;-] A Real Game™; a passing notion for intelligent virtual brains to inhabit. (In fact aren’t all games ‘conceptual’, in the same way one response to the old notion that “Sci fi is the literature of ideas” is to ask “- As opposed to what?”) To consider ‘polish’ as the ideology of professionalism, ie. Culturally sanctioned aesthetic standards linked directly to digital protestant work ethics – and therefore holy market notions of Worth. – I like how the space defined by “It is as if you were doing work” could also be entitled “Acting as if you’re playing a game“; games as much performance as anything else

Pippin: This stuff makes me think a bit of the argument that there a whole class of games that don’t need to be played, or perhaps exist, in order to be “got.”

Robert: Somehow it seems there’s a whole invisible class of games that are never played, and are never ‘gettable’ – which seems kinda beautiful, and ironic – considering the number of Steam games which are never played, even once

Pippin: It’s exactly the kind of conceptual thing of VR2, say, where you can explain the game (or what it would be) and someone can apprehend the ideas that way. (Robert Yang has written about this.) I’m kind of reluctant to accept the idea if only because I wonder if/wish that the experience and interaction with a real game has real meaning distinct from a language-based form of the “same” ideas?

Robert: I think even the very experience and interaction with ‘real language’ also has equally real meaning, far distinct from (code? graphical?) based forms of the same ideas! And to what extent is the choosing of one – the ‘finished, stand alone product’ over the other ‘mere’ documentation of which it’s comprised – always a willful cultural act? The notion of language evolving into the ‘visual language’ of play

Pippin: Both experiences are meaningful, absolutely, though I guess one is a description of the other? I mean, if we want to be totally relativist we can say there’s no hierarchy there, but one is generated from the other? (If the “real game” exists.) I guess I feel like the real game (made of code and assets) doesn’t communicate “better” than its description, but it does communicate in a way that is distinct and valuable.

Robert: Indeed. Just as total Relativism to Absoluteness seems an entire spectrum, perhaps too is the two way movement from ‘code+assets’ to ‘game’ (might we also include these nondual polarities within a wider sphere of ‘paida’?) Let’s also imagine a game that when run, outputs procedural code+assets as its output (/which in turn, when compiled, outputs a new game.)

Pippin: Absolutely fancy. And here the “play” is the compilation process I take it? I have a student working on games that are just menu systems for games. You choose the ‘new game’ button and end up in the menu for a new game.

Does explaining to someone the idea of a game in which there are cubes with objects inside them you can never see, but which are “really there!” equate to the experience of standing in front of one of those cubes in the virtual space? Doesn’t seem to me that they do unless you boil it down to only the pure concept and not any of the potentially emergent stuff that could spring up from “being there”?

Robert: – I’m not sure they equate exactly, but rather that each of these positions, the seemingly Conceptual and the apparently Actual, both gain and loose a lot in translation between states; and indeed, aren’t they always actually more processes in transition, more bizarre events than objects?

– The philosophical task of equating experiences of / like text, image, and interactive graphics seem fraught with difficulty; perhaps it helps if one regards them as a fluid dis-continuum, some kind of flux; as for simply and effectively expressing this difficulty in the least number of polygons possible, I’ve no idea since I’ve never made a game

Pippin: Better get on to that!

Robert: I’ve emailed Konstantinos Dimopoulos about collaborating on “Terra Nullius“: a browser based, procedurally generated megastructural desert landscape explorer-sim. To consider games as a windowless cube that nobody can see either into, or out of – a Dark Energy Chinese Room, perhaps? I’d sure love to see any Surreal Absurdism in digital play states..

[UPDATE: Konstantinos replied – “Thanks for saying hi; really lovely meeting talented people with similar interests! Your work seems absolutely fantastic, and to be honest I would like to work with you on something at some point. I am admittedly utterly swamped at the moment –over a year of 70+ hour weeks seems to be taking its toll– but hope never dies. We should definitely talk again :-)”]

Pippin: I did want to eventually make “It is as if you were playing a videogame” but I also find that idea exhausting…

Robert: Often it works out like that; that merely trying to conjure an entire, logically / aesthetically self consistent play space appears far more difficult than just-making-a-game; however I think the ideological baggage behind apparently-simply ‘making-a-game’ is far more heavy a burden than just pretending outright that you’ve made one ;-)

Pippin: Haha, absolutely. Maybe this is my next career move. Pretending I’ve made games.

Robert: To paraphrase Borges; making games too often seems a laborious and impoverishing act of foolishness, expanding in five million lines of code an idea-space imperfectly explainable via other means – for instance, pretending that those games already exist and then offering a summary, a commentary (/perhaps the form of a smaller project) or a mere notion of a conceptual act

Pippin: Or in a complementary direction making a game remediation of a novel never written.

Robert: Discussions of design and documentation reminds me of Michigan’s game archive

Pippin: The archival thing is big. My Flash games continue their march off the cliff of compatibility. But I especially like it in connection with analysis and thinking about what was going on in people’s heads when they make games (and art in general). The resurrection of the author?

Robert: Perhaps one only ever need to resurrect something already dying – or perhaps was always merely undead (the golden dev-g0d). Also, to consider “what’s going on in people’s heads” as possible ‘authorial intent’ fallacy.

Pippin: Interesting to bring up The Beginner’s Guide which is of course very author-y, but in a fake way? A constructed author not a real one.. Apart from a flippant reference to the death of the author, though, don’t you think the authorship in games is pretty absent? How often do we spare a thought for the idea that the games we play were designed and created by other humans who walk their dogs and shovel their snow etc.? In a sense I guess we “can’t” because it would presumably be disruptive of the immediate experience of the game, but it could be interesting outside that frame..

Robert: You mean, that the wider or deeper context for a game is often as, or even far more interesting than the game itself? Sure! Thing is, games themselves – what they already bring to the table of human experience (whether we want them to or not) already seem extremely ‘disruptive’ of the immediate experience of reality..

Pippin: To the extent they’re separate from reality, but yeah, sure – they definitely “take us out of ourselves”, etc.

Rob: Perhaps this out-of-ourselvesness of digital play actually provides the basis of modern (/virtual) embodyment; check out awesome VR experience Lone Echo.

Pippin: Yikes! Those hands..

Robert: To consider the notion there’s not only no breakable ‘4th wall’ in games – but no other walls either. I can’t stand “The Beginner’s Guide”; it’s creepy – emotionally manipulative, and while being entirely fake (a synthetic cultural construct) from top to bottom – is still entirely fake-ass, despite this; made in / with / via existential bad faith

Pippin: Tough read! It is creepy, but I guess I like that about it, all of the different levels of how it’s creepy and manipulative… felt interesting, whether or not all those levels are a kind of intentional artistic act or not.

Robert: Sure, the game’s generally great, and the gamedev’s perfectly entitled to his artistic expression; however in terms of philosophical critique, T.B.G smells spurious and feels pseudo-deep. It’s also interesting how we both use the term interesting ;-)

Pippin: Can’t get away from interesting. Sometimes I feel guilty and sometimes it seems meaningless, but at the same time it feels like the essence of what I like about things. I mean it lightly and seriously at the same time?

Robert: Mechner’s book sounds interesting and I’d like to read it. While I remember digging POP back on my Amiga 500 back in the day, I just hope the book by-implication doesn’t overemphasize the (/myth of) the auteur and forget wider collective gamedev culture

Pippin: The book didn’t feel very auteurish to me, I think it performed a nice kind of demystification if anything – his struggles to figure things out, the clumsiness of all development, the working out what the thing is as you build it…

Robert: I remain unconvinced of current attempts at (apparently) simple, open, confessional, neutral and somehow dangerously naive ‘peeks behind the doors of the gamedev sausage factory’; other books on historical gamedev I’ve read seem to overwhelmingly and automatically favor certain views at the expense of others

Pippin: Well yes, neutrality isn’t really a thing. But I think any good faith attempt to talk about how a thing happened is interesting. You have to read/encounter those attempts with your eyes open for the various potential colourings of that person’s interpretation, but still revealing nonetheless? A person who was there, who made a thing, does have access to information the rest of us don’t have?

Robert: What is often forgotten or unwritten in such apparently unproblematic ‘revealing’ acts, is the very existence of the particular cultural or conceptual engine which ‘renders’ visible (makes entirely possible) the particular scene being described. Perhaps ‘good faith’ is not a given, but rather must be repeatedly earned, often through contested community dialogue, and is often something hard won in any case, and over a far larger time span than possible through any one set of eyes; to what degree is a person automatically able to trust the apparent / inherent validity of their / ‘their’ words and worldview?

Pippin: Fair. Though it seems to me that the community probably doesn’t exist or doesn’t care at this level? I report endlessly on what I’m doing and thinking, I think relatively “honestly” to my experience and thinking, but it’s a bit of an unheard tree in a forest.

Robert: One should always strive for truth and be vigilant against illusion; the beauty of the lotus flower which blooms above the muddy pond shines undiminished and without break – whether or not passers stop to appreciate it.

Pippin: Oh yeah?

Robert: Indubitably. It often doesn’t feel possible to see the truth(/s) of ‘how a thing happened’, simply by looking out for another’s potential ideological tinting and skewing; how is one able to fully account for one’s own interpretations of their interpretation? Perhaps ‘neutrality’, rather than some untenable position nobody really claims anyway, represents the complex, common space (public commons?) in which good faith attempts to hash out meaning are attempted; are games this commons?

– The question of how exactly a person ‘was really there’ – in terms of a virtual reality experience is certainly an interesting one; in any case, bollocks to Heidegger and ‘being’

– The notion of ‘hidden information’ sounds a lot like being told that “certain special virtual cubes ‘exist’ with actual objects inside them”; what exactly is there to trust, or se? It might not even be a matter of trust. but of some temporarily shared meaning-performance; the open source book entitled “An Alternative History of Video Game Development” is yet to be constructed, I feel

Pippin: Hahaha.Robert: No, I mean, really – the alternative to no alternative is simply more of the SOS

Pippin: An Alternative Practice will be more practical? Presumably “impossible” for the giants, but plenty of smaller studios operating sustainably? I think? Hoo boy. Don’t know about you but I’m definitely feeling some fatigue at this point. How do we know when we’re “done”?

Robert: Don’t worry, it’s all over ;-) And yet, also consider the sense in which we’d not even yet begun, let alone finished – rather, a state of animated intellectual suspension – a temporary autonomous space constructed from / abstracted out of ideas (like a conceptual art performance, perhaps.) Again, thank you very much for your time and your thoughtful, considered responses. Great chatting with you – I look forward to your next game!

Pippin: Me too on both counts!

Update Two: an email to Trinity Square Video

Dear TSV

Hi.

Please consider me a skint, UK based amateur philosopher-artist looking to become a rich and famous ‘conceptual-digital internet artist / media visionary’ as I find the hyperreal spectacle of global virtual videogame hyper-capitalism infinitely boring, and wish to escape from my cold, damp rented Brexit-era shoebox. Eventually I want to start a company, help out other strange artists like myself, and together generate cool art.

Can you help out with some hot tips andor handy hints? I’ve zero Cultural Capital, and (like so many others) have found that it’s impossible to ‘make bread without dough’. – In short, with zero opportunities for real and significant self promotion, no realTM talent (at least, as far as the contemporary [/digital] art market is concerned) and no mainstream-elite gallery representation, I’m doomed to obscurity on an unfashionable spiral arm of the internets and often simply feel like I’m p1ssing into my own stale electronic wind.

I’ve no idea why I’m writing to you, whoever you are, I know you can’t really help some random online fool with willfully vague dreams and reasonable expectations – it’s just that, at this point in my non-career I’m kinda desperate to get a foot in the back door / arts-crack of the modern art world, and start earning a half decent living wage. Besides, I love the name “Trinity Square Video” as it reminds me of “Hiroshima Video” from Videodrome.

Most Sincerely (with the faintest lemony twist of situational performance art)

Robert What, Theorist-For-Hire

// how to play big science