“I have scarcely begun to make you understand that I don’t intend to play the game.” – Guy Debord, Critique of Separation (1961: film)
It’s been about six weeks since I submitted my dissertation, and I think I’m almost ready to read through it and begin thinking about making revisions to spruce it up for submission to publications.
Writing this piece was difficult for a number of reasons. I work. I have a young child. I also don’t find the act of writing easy. The ideas are there, and I enjoy research, but putting sentences together is hard. Let alone 5-figure word counts. I blame television. And videogames. So I write about videogames as television.
From the outset I was pretty sure that I’d be writing something about machinima, but it took me a good 6 months to nail down a topic. Just when I thought I had a pretty good idea of where I was going, the academic-publishing complex went and dropped a bunch of new publications on machinima in the last month I was writing. In the end I settled on using one video as a case study of the form’s potential to disrupt the immersive spectator-position of videogames.
Paolo Pedercini(of Molleindustria)’s Welcome to the Desert of the Real is far from representative. Not of machinima. Not of Molleindustria’s other work. That said, I argue that this piece demonstrates the capacity of machinima to promote a critical spectatorship position by disrupting the immersive characteristics of its videogame source, America’s Army.
The thrust of my argument is that machinima can be read in film/video studies terms, but that the spectator mode triggered in a game-literate audience by the low grade 3D animation of videogames and other visual cues demands a syncretic analysis that incorporates both film and videogame studies. Moreover, this piece speaks to both Alexander Galloway‘s notion of countergaming, and the concept to which it refers, Peter Wollen‘s description of Jean-Luc Godard‘s later work as countercinema. Amidst clamour for the gamification of everything, this instance of machinima offers the possibility of speaking within games against the dominant and oppressive logic of gaming.
I’m going to revise it and send it out to some journals. If it’s not accepted anywhere I’ll post it here and elsewhere. Hit me if you really want a look.
The very idea of a “documentary game” may be hard for many to come to terms with. By their respective definitions, documentaries claim to portray the truth or reality of a situation, and a game is a cultural form that is defined by the variability of its outcome.
The winner of this year’s Indiecade Award in the Documentary category, The Cat and the Coup, leads the player backwards through time in an exposition of the life of Mohammed Mossadegh. Mossadegh, a largely unknown historical figure in the West, was the Iranian Prime Minister who was deposed by a CIA coup following his nationalisation of that nations oil industry, which had previously been run by the monopoly Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which later became British Petroleum, most recently rebranded as BP.
Still looking for a platform for release, promotional videos for the game give a sense of its aesthetics and mechanics. Persian miniatures provide an ingenious reference point for a two dimensional representation of a meaning-rich, hypermediated mise-en-scene that incorporates both images and text, augmented in the game by interactivity. The Cat and the Coup‘s narrative moves backwards through time, with user experience personalised through the character of Mossadegh, but placed at a distance by focalising user interaction through the character of a house-cat. The curious player, embodied as cat-avatar, leads the deposed Prime Minister from his death-bed back through memories of events to the point of his election. In this procedural metaphor for the process of engaging with the subjective experience of engaging with concrete historical events, designers Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad create a give an audience that is often presented with dehistoricised version of the US and UK’s relationship with Iran a way into a narrative in a manner that is simultaneously playful and rooted in political history.
Across its 100+ year history, cinema has developed a lexicon of edits – meaning laden codes built around the visual representation of temporal progression from one image to the next. As screen-based media migrates onto handheld devices that add the element of touch to the existing audio-visual interface connecting text and reader, a new language of image transition that incorporates physical gesture is emerging. Unlike the conventions of visual edits, gestural interface has not yet developed as a shared set of conventions, and experimental texts proliferate on the iPhone and similar devices. Swipe, tilt, shake, and tap are becoming related to cut, wipe, mix, and fade, but the conventions that shape their meanings for audiences are still up for grabs.
Ruben and Lullaby (2009) is an interactive fiction for iPhone. Drawing on Bolter and Grusin’s (1999) analysis of new media’s incorporation of pre-existing forms, Ruben and Lullaby can be seen as remediating the shot sequencing of a conventional cinematic dialogue scene between two characters. Ruben and Lullaby adds a gestural twist to a readily recognisable scenario by empowering the viewer to determine when edits occur. By tilting the screen to one side or the other, the program cuts to another shot and an audio cue on the soundtrack is triggered. Building on the conventions of audio-visual editing in cinema, these cuts produce an affect in the viewer which may suggest a range of readings, primarily related to the tempo of the cuts. For example, rapid tilting from side to side produces an equally rapid series of cuts, resulting in a sense of narrative conflict for the user-viewer. Adding levels of complexity to the interaction, the user can produce affects in the characters on screen by either stroking the screen to soothe or shaking it to agitate them. The scenario is algorithmically played through, combining the user’s input and the two character’s affective relationships to each other to produce an outcome that fits within a conventional narrative structure.
The physicality (one might even go so far as to say the violence) of this interaction with the screen can be read as an attempt to break with the traditional fixity of the viewer’s body in relation to the screen (as noted by Lev Manovich in The Language of New Media, 2001), although it is important to note that although the viewer is able to affect the narrative discourse with their body, in order to view the screen a degree of fixity is still required between the eye and the image.
A century after the montage experiments of Lev Kuleshov, algorithmic media is developing a new language of embodied interaction with the text. Gestural human-computer interface adds significant new spatial dimensions to narrative works, as montage forced a reconceptualisation of the relationship of spatiality and temporality of images. For critical media theorists the next step is to dig into how this embodiment of the user-reader opens political possibilities in art, just as montage offered great opportunities for the exploration of a productive liberatory discourse.