There are no scissors in multiplayer video games

“Techniques have contaminated the white worker, but the black remains the great male of the earth, the sperm of the world”, writes Jean-Paul Sartre in the introduction to Black Orpheus – a collection of black poetry.  Taking this picture, ripping it out of its frame of reference, what does it suggest about video games?  The white worker expresses himself with empty gestures, empty in a final sense. He scratches the surface of objects without ever touching them. He displaces and transforms things, but never reaches to their core. He is alienated form nature, in all his practice a cultural being.

If culture resides in nature but differentiates itself from it, virtuality resides in culture while differentiating itself from it.  A cultural practice may change nature, but it never produces nature. A virtual practice may change culture, but it never produces culture.

Playing video games is empty technique, it is masturbation. Video games are not stupid, nor are they pointless, but they are non-productive.

If culture is the antithesis of nature, video games are their synthesis. Capitalism alienated the worker from nature. Video games try to extinguish nature. The practice of the video gamer is almost immaculately embedded in culture. Culture is a superstructure residing on nature and video games are a superstructure residing on culture. And since the practice of playing a video game is virtual, the player is alienated doubly. In the act of playing, the connection to nature is minimalized. It  only exists on the backend and under the hood. The mind migrated into culture, practicing virtually.

The video gamer needs an assemblage of virtual practices for daily survival. A video game itself though, is a pastiche of cultural constructions. If the primary mode of behavior in nature is reaction (“Uuuh, look at her, gonna make me some ba-ba-ba-babies!”), the primary mode of cultural practice is reflection (“Maybe this works better if I hit it with a stone?”), video gaming, as an accomplished practice, is calculation. While the natural state is pre-reflective, the cultural state a-natural, the virtual state is a bastardization (or synthesis) of both. This lies in the nature of video games. To read a book, you have to decipher language. Sociality and culture as a whole can be read like a language. But reading a language is an act of interpretation. There is no stable meaning, no center from which everything evolves logically. Reading culture can become an automated act. You stop asking: “What does it all mean?” and just process. But only until she updates her facebook status to “in a relationship” although you were sure it was just sex. Meaning isn’t hardcoded into society. Even though tasks become automated and processed, instead of problems which have to be solved over and over again, there is always a chance that the routine breaks open and things have to be reconsidered. Operating in culture is a constant reassessment of applicable practices.

Reaction is the modus operandi of nature. Rules are fixed and actions executed. Stones fall to the ground and if an animal is feared, it won’t consider that the intruder spoilt his honor, trespassed his property and that maybe today is a good day to die.

To operate a complex video game, a plethora of techniques is required. Those are branded into the mind of the gamers, over the years of playing. Playing video games becomes, to a part, a processing of techniques. Video games offer challenges. The challenges are beat by processing known techniques and adopting new techniques. The adoption of a new technique is a creative cultural practice. The execution of those techniques is virtual. Video games live off repetition. They require mastery of a technique. First introduced slowly, challenges become harder and harder. The best videogames explore a certain problem space thoroughly. The best video games require mastery of a technique.

Most video games though, get length through repetition of a certain set of problems, without exploring it’s space thoroughly. The player has to assess the situation and apply the needed technique aptly. He is grinding. The operation becomes automated.

Video games are non-paradoxical. The space of a game can be mapped completely. The game can be mastered. Unlike culture, which is read as a language, games have a stable core. That’s what makes them a bastardization between nature and culture. We need cultural techniques to operate them, but their processing has binding rules, games have a hidden truth which can be discovered. They offer the possibility of actual domination of culture (In comparison to modernity’s failed promise). Everything the physics of the game allows is entirely possible, repeatable, masterable. But while the white worker never reaches back to nature, since he is contaminated through cultural technique, the player never reaches back to culture, since he is stuck in virtuality. While I can headshot a freak-show’s worth of cultural icons, I can never reach back to culture. There is no way to interact culturally (i.e. through a cooperative interpretation of its meanings – which also always is an act of creation of meanings) with a video game. But you can interact with it scientifically, unraveling it’s true core, exposing it’s nature.

In recent years the virtuality of video games becomes more apparent. Companies try to reduce the amount of energy needed to establish the techniques to process the game. They try to even out the cultural parts, to  make the game more accessible. At the same time players perceive a loss of meaning. How to make player actions meaningful is a hot topic. How make decisions count! This demand runs contradictory to the idea of making games more accessible, at least in some ways. One way of making decisions count, is now to offer more content. Chose action A to see content A, choose B see another part of the game. This is a good trick. In the good old days, games achieved meaningful actions by a different illusion. They tried to simulate culture by making the techniques harder to achieve and by making the results of the player actions unpredictable. Older games tried to create meaningful actions by creating spaces of uncertainty. You have insufficient information about how to proceed, you are not well enough raised in the way of the game to know how and which technique to employ. You are left to reflect on your pool of knowledge prior to this game. This approach goes both ways: It leads to frustration but it also makes games exciting since failure is a probable possibility and success gets created out of ones own decisions reached through reflection (Or at least that’s what one supposes).

Once the player knows all to a certain game relevant techniques and the rules of when and how to employ them, the reflective interaction with the game is complete. Playing the game moves to techniqual mastery.

While culture manipulates nature to create culture – an author writes on a piece of paper, or changes the state of some magnetic fields on a harddrive – video games manipulate culture to create a lot of nothing. I don’t want to suggest video games are virtual products. A video game is a cultural product, like a book, and such is the adoption of techniques required to process games, but the employment of those techniques is just an empty shell, it is virtual. The most creative and meaningful act in playing a video game is finishing it. The moment where the accumulation of all those virtual acts explodes into one big nothing. It is a creation of meaning, a change in how things are, but the end of the whole process at the same time.

I want to say at last a word about multiplayer games. If capitalist production alienates the worker from the natural state of things by forcing him to create goods he doesn’t own, multiplayer games alienate the player from his natural virtual engagement with culture. The fruit of his production, the whole focal point of his action, lies evermore in the future. Like the worker works for pay, every day and every day after that (unless on Sunday of course), the multiplayer plays for progression (unless on Friday of course). While the promise of single player games is also empty (The player can never possess a possible virtual product at the creation of which all those player acts might be directed, since in conclusion of the game, the finalization of the product, everything vanishes), the multiplayer doesn’t even have the promise of the ending in the first place. He just plays on and on, employing his techniques day after day, an empty struggle. He’s running after a carrot on a stick. I can understand that this carrot does look juicy. And since the player covers more ground every day, running straight to the carrot, it seems plausible that someday he might reach it. But apparently he doesn’t. And I would give him a pair of scissors, if I just could.

Processing Power

Every now and then I read a few comments on YouTube and every now and then I question the survivability of the world and almost collaps into my own conciousness. The comments there provide a higher concentration of stupidity ever imaginable by anyone in any galaxy at any time ever. EVER.

A very quick word on “prosumption”

I think it is interesting to look at web 2.0 applications under the notion of “prosumption”. Prosumption is an economic model, “where capitalist subjects produce what they consume, turning consumption in to a form of production” (Boellstorff 2008). This idea is elaborated in Toffler’s book “The Third Wave” (which I have yet to get) (Toffler 1980). In his very, very recommendable book “Coming of Age in Second Life”, Tom Boellstorff puts the “prosumer” (In “Second Life”) in a bigger framework of “creationist capitalism”. Production and consumption conflate – to fully participate in second life’s culture you have to create something.“In creationist capitalism it is persons who create, not God” (or the companies). The theme of the mood in which such ideas subside is nicely captured by Purdy’s article “The God of the Digerati”, available here (Purdy 1998).

The model of prosumption is not only applicable to “Second Life”, we can easily see how it fits networks like YouTube (or this blog post). But what does it mean that consumption becomes a form of production?

First and foremost it sounds like a manager’s dream. Not the company has to create the products the user consumes, users create their own products. The only task that is left, is to provide the infrastructure (Sounds great, but apparently YouTube still doesn’t make any profit).

Secondly, this might denote bigger cultural developments and since it is social interaction which is happening in these networks, it sets the frame for these interactions. Maybe this is the more interesting question. What does it mean that people participate in a culture where consumption means production, and what is it that they are producing? Posing this question presses us inevitably in a marxist tradition. The first and obvious answer is that people are selling themselves, their personality (in the widest sense) to the potential audience. They create a certain personality for display (might as well be their everyday character), and in the act of creation they are consuming this very portary. Now, I won’t try to elaborate further on this topic since it will probably only lead me to wild fantasizing, but I think the question alone is worth entertaining.

Literature Abused:

Boellstorff, Tom. Coming of Age in Second Life : An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Purdy, JS. “The God of the Digerati: Wired Magazine Says with New Technology We’ll All Be Like Gods and Should Get Good at It.” American Prospect (1998): 86-90.

Toffler, Alvin. The Third Wave. 1st ed. New York: Morrow, 1980.

Facebook features Easter Eggs

Who knows how long it will still be active? Click on a facebook page and press “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, enter”. Amazing results will show! I really wonders who implemented this and what they were thinking. “Hey Chris, I just made this beta for this crazy visual effect. It’s all like, bubbly when you scroll and flashy when you type! And also man, I just made like, a really complicated secret code so that other people can’t try it. Like the good old times! LUL”. But it has this retro charme of the easter egg which somehow got lost at the turn of the century.

Puny and other Peoples

I just wanted to quickly share this terric piece of lore from the 18th century, a talbe displaying nationalities and their qualities. It’s taken from John Goody’s book “The Domestication of the Savage Mind”. Be warned though, it’s 3MB (This kinda sounds silly, but maybe, some people don’t want to attempt to open a 3MB document).


The Onion nailed it.

Space Weed

I was carrying this blog as some kind of abandoned bastard child in the back of my head since quite some time. I normally want to write more meaty articles, but then again, sometimes I just want to voice my elaborate opinion. Most of all, I wanted a graphical overhaul of the page before I started blogging again. So, in total, my ideas were just a big mess that would go no where. But my pragmatistic self took control now, and I will start blogging again, making this thing an unconceptualized collection of stuff. On the other hand, I was taking Computer Science classes in the last year and am currently learning Ruby, so maybe I will write my own blog software and turn the cold shoulder on wordpress. Judged on my past progressions this is not very likely though.

OK, so I was watching Star Trek today. The movie itself had me a little skeptic because of all its praise (And because the writer of the movie also wrote Armageddon, or at least I thought so). But, what can I say, it was pretty good. There were very few really ridiculous scenes – and I mean Die Hard 4 I jump a bike in the helicopter ridiculous, or depiction of the dwarf in Lord of the Rings ridiculous. Neither were there any too cheesy love or self revelation scenes. OK, there was this one scene where young Kirk almost runs step daddie’s car off a cliff and jumps out of the speeding car to stand up unimpressed and give a cool comment; but that’s also the worst it gets.

The action was to the most degree captivating. The scenes and their placement often reminded me of Star Wars, like a fight on an elevated platform. The three main heroes, Kirk, McCoy and Spock have all been depicted as rebels in their own context, which struck me as a little too cool, but what the heck, maybe we all are Easy Riders nowadays? Another remarkable thing to me was the racial stereotyping. The federation featured all kinds of colorful aliens, but from all the different nations and species the only one with a dialect was the Russian (Checkov) and the Scot (Scotty) whereby both dialects had been ‘exploited’ humorously. Apart from that, I got heavily reminded of Galloway’s argument that stereotypes always have to reside in a realm of fantasy before they actually can become real (because of their abstract being – think of Star Treks different factions). I would definitely advise watching the movie, it’s a well crafted thrill ride (although the hand to hand combat was shot with my favorite quick cut, wiggly camera technique) and doesn’t feature the insane amount of stupid dialog like the recent Watchmen or unmotivated over the top action like the last Die Hard and Indie Jones. I think J.J. Abrahm’s also did a decent job putting a butt load of series references in the movie (as far as I can tell), but I would bet that the diehard Star Trek fan would still be dissatisfied with it’s atypical pace and narration (for a Star Trek movie, that is).

As you might have recognized, I started writing in English. I shall keep it like that until someone gives me a friendly little nudge, telling me that it sucks.


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