Material (In)Stability

Reading selections from Jesper Juul’s Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds as entre into digital games provided a space to explore the incomplete stability of fictional worlds, which Juul posits as perhaps the strongest innovation of the video game (the emphasis on game fiction as ambiguous, optional, uncontrollable, and unpredictable while still functioning within game rules/bounds of time and space 162—while the worlds of video games are ontologically unstable, the rules of the game are very stable). Juul states that all fictional worlds are incomplete, but that when information about a fictional world is not specified, we fill in the blanks using our understanding of the actual world (123). These fictional worlds are projected through a variety of means but are imagined by the player; some of these fictional worlds are optimal to compose in part by the player, while others may be contradictory or even incoherent (121). Fictional worlds borrow from the concept of possible worlds from analytical philosophy that worlds can be understood as abstract collections of states of affairs distinct from statements describing those states. Explained more specifically from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Anne is working at her desk. While she is directly aware only of her immediate situation — her being seated in front of her computer, the music playing in the background, the sound of her husband’s voice on the phone in the next room, and so on — she is quite certain that this situation is only part of a series of increasingly more inclusive, albeit less immediate, situations: the situation in her house as a whole, the one in her neighborhood, the city she lives in, the state, the North American continent, the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, and so on. On the face of it, anyway, it seems quite reasonable to believe that this series has a limit, that is, that there is a maximally inclusive situation encompassing all others: things, as a whole or, more succinctly, the actual world.

Things, as a whole, needn’t have been just as they are, things might have been different in countless ways, both trivial and profound. Choice is as significant as nonchoice in affecting the fictional world, the environs, of game play. I found myself wondering how the type of game may be impacted differently by non/choice in affordances and limitations to the goal of play (not throwing a turtle shell in a Mario Kart race has a different effect than not collecting an artifact in an action rpg). It is my understanding (perhaps incorrectly) that rules in video games are invisible to Juul, and I wonder about the relationship between the rules, actual world understanding, and the instability of the fictional world in terms of material design of game and game play. This struck a pause in reading when Juul states that video games are immaterial. I wondered how video games and digital games (which I feel the need now to distinguish between) might make the fictional world and its affects and the player’s ability to affect more material—how the concept of possible rules might be explored more visibly in meaningful game play. I’m not sure of how this is possible, but I wonder about the expansion/extension of game play to include player input/actual world more explicitly through collaboratively develop fictional worlds, script/code, senses, haptics, sound, and the addition of information from outside of the material design of the game in ways that the game can accomodate as productive instability.

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