Rear Left

Degamification

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.

Advertisements

Mapping Fauxrabia

Posted in Dog Food, Gaming the System, Personal/Meta, Race/ism by rearleft on December 10, 2010

 

The school year’s done and I’ve made it half way through my Master’s degree in Digital Communication and Culture. I came back to school with the plan to take the work that I’d been doing at the intersection of media, education, and activism, and rethink what that work means and how it works when this stuff we call media mutates into new shapes and streams. Below is an extract of an essay I wrote in the second semester on space in video games (as in geography, not outer space), and the construction of arab/muslim/oriental identities in video games. Full text downloadable here: MappingFauxrabia.odt

[…]

Fauxrabia […] is a way of articulating the contradictory nature of this imagined (and in some sense experienced through gameplay) country that is both unreal and contributes to the production of reality. To describe the cultures represented in these games as being arab, or muslim is to conflate the vastly diverse cultures of people from as far afield as Morocco and Kashmir, Kazakhstan and Somalia into a singular signifier of Otherness when held in oppositional relationship to the Western player-character.

Fauxrabia is a simulacrum (Baudrillard, 1994). It is a lie that expresses a truth about the West’s conception of itself in opposition to the Other. It is a computer-generated, player-navigated, screen-represented space. It is a contemporary cultural manifestation of Saïd’s model of Orientalism:

…it not only creates, but also maintains; it is rather than expresses, a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world; it is, above all, a discourse that is by no means in direct, corresponding relationship with political power in the raw, but rather is produced and exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power…”

-Edward Saïd, Orientalism (1978, p 12). Italicisation from the original.

Mapping Fauxrabia

The spatiality of video games is suggested in the very fact that we refer to them by the visual medium of the interface through which we interact with them. In all but a few novelty games where audio monitors or haptic devices are foregrounded, the video or computer monitor takes primacy as the device used for human-computer interaction with the underlying code that embodies the game’s rule system and its representation through a graphical user interface. Furthermore, the vast majority of games involve the simulation of a spatial environment, often organised as one or a series of maps, segmented into levels. These two geographies taken together, the space of the interface-screen and the space of the game map, constitute what I will refer to as the gamespace. McKenzie Wark (2007, pp006-008) has argued that the logic of gaming has become such an integral aspect of contemporary culture that it has “colonised reality”, moving out of the sites of processor and screen that support the virtual world and extending the gamespace into material space.

Transcending the contentious narratology-ludology debates of video game studies, Jesper Juul (2005) suggests that games should be considered “half-real” in that they are comprised of both rules, the underlying system of game mechanics, and fiction, the narrative and representative aspects of the game. Thus, descriptions of characters, spaces, and events in a game are real insofar as they describe the mechanics of the game-system, and unreal, in their description of a fictional story or abstract setting. Questions of spatiality bring up an interesting challenge to this binary.

“[…] space in games is a special case. The level design of a game world can present a fictional world and determine what players can and cannot do at the same time. In this way, space in games can work as a combination of rules and fiction.”

Jesper Juul, Half-Real (2005, p 163). Italicisation from the original.

    To put it another way, game level maps determine the affordances of a gamespace available to the player, as well as the representation of simulated space that is mapped onto a video monitor.

    Maps are inherently political (Wood, 1992, Kolko 2000). They include and exclude aspects of geography, simplifying and distorting the material world to frame their users’ interaction with space through the embedding of their creators’ worldview. The computer interface can be seen as a map that allows human interaction with the underlying system of a software’s code (Selfe & Selfe 1994), which in turn also carries ideological assumptions (Nakamura 2005, Kolko 2000). In their study of the politics of computer interfaces in educational settings, Selfe & Selfe note:

    “Within the virtual space represented by these interfaces, and elsewhere within computer systems, the values of our culture – ideological, political, economic, educational – are mapped both implicitly and explicitly, constituting a complex set of material relations among culture, technology, and technology users.”

    – Cynthia Selfe & Richard Selfe, Politics of the Interface (1994, p 485)

    In Fauxrabian geographies, the ideologies that we see encoded in these maps remediate stereotypes of the oriental Other from older cultural forms such as cinema and literature (Shaheen 2001), as well as from contemporary political and journalistic portrayals of Western conflict with Islam.

    […]

    Consider the above remediation of militarist aesthetics in regards to the nature of the United States’ current military engagement in Pakistan. Predator drones are controlled by pilots at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas, using an interface that features a screen and joystick. As satellite imaging has extended the US military’s map across the entire globe, the distance between the seer and the seen has both been extended to tens of thousands of kilometres and collapsed to the space between eyeball and screen. Viewing the terrain from above, the drone pilot is able to see and therefore to control, with the power of death from above, the territory on the ground on the other side of the world pictured on their screen. This space, framed by the ideologies of military and moral superiority, contains an alien Other whose domination defines the character of its observer in opposition. The alienation of the remote cyborg warrior in the US from their targets on the ground in Pakistan parallels that of the Modern Warfare player from their Fauxrabian enemies.

    “Once games required an actual place to play them, whether on the chess board or the tennis court. Even wars had battle fields. Now global positioning satellites grid the whole earth and put all of space and time into play. Warfare, they say, now looks like video games. Well don’t kid yourself, war is a video game – for the military entertainment complex. To them it doesn’t matter what happens on the ground. The ground – the old-fashioned battlefield itself – is just a necessary externality to the game.”

    Mckenzie Wark, Gamer Theory (2007, p10). Italicisation from the original.

     

     

     


    The Tal Afar Tophy

    Posted in War & Culture by rearleft on March 22, 2010

    An excerpt from my recent essay on remix technique in war trophy videos:

    As an artifact demonstrative of the use of digital audio-visual recording technologies by Western militaries, and their remixability by veterans of the US-led wars of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Tal Afar video points towards a set of historical and social conditions which demand reflection.

    On one level, this production demonstrates the deep permeation into our culture of the logic of remix. The video’s producer (or producers) have taken materials from whatever source that they see fit, apparently without concern for copyright (in the case of the music), classification (of military documentation), or social norms (regarding depictions of killing), and remolded them into a form that they are able to share with everyone in the world. Moreover, judging by the volume of views, re-postings, and comments on the various instances of the video appearing online, a sizable audience exists for this particular type of remix. An amateur media producer’s ability to represent their experience and perspective on war, and to do so by working with some of the very materials of war-making itself, is a powerful notion.

    At another level, this remix exposes the contemporary conflation of war and media, and the horrific normalization of this situation. In his influential essay “All But War is Simulation: The Military-Entertainment Complex”, Tim Lenoir (2000) outlines a network of collaborations between the military, government, academic researchers, and the entertainment industries. Remix war trophy videos can be viewed as a feedback loop in the Military-Entertainment Complex, the weaponised image reaching back out from the battlefield through the computer networks, confusing the viewer’s sense of materiality with its hyper-real representation of enemy cities being obliterated as if in a video game, complete with HUD interface. But ultimately this representation of war becomes, to draw on the notion of “the spectacle”, ‘not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images.’ (Debord 1977). When we watch the Tal Afar video on our screens it is easy to be taken by the skill of the editor, the wonder of the spread of digital technologies and remix culture across social sectors, the voyeuristic thrill of witnessing such destruction from the perspective of the destroyer, and it is easy to forget that what we are watching is clip after clip of humans killing humans.

    Tagged with: , , , , , ,

    A Ghetto is a Ghetto

    Posted in Media & Movements, War & Culture by rearleft on November 17, 2009

    بدم Bidam (With Blood), a documentary on the impact of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza on Palestinian public health, co-directed by Juliana Fredman and yours truly, is screening on December 10 at the Marchmont Community Centre, Camden, London UK. The event is organised by the Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association, and proceeds benefit the Shehadeh Mosen Diabetes Clinic in Abu Dis.

    I can’t be there, so help me out by passing the info on to your London folks who can.

    Here’s a clip:

    Knowledge is Power

    Posted in Personal/Meta, War & Culture by rearleft on August 19, 2009

    Next week sees the second round of the evolving screening/workshop/art thing we’re calling Stinger Sessions. Taking place again at Serial Space in Chippendale, inner city Sydney, this one looks at war, games, and all those in-betweeny bits.

    As an appetizer, chew on a delicious chunk of transmedia: the America’s Army digital comic book.

    AAcomic

    Tagged with: , ,