alien games: gamer theory as phenomenology

Aristotle’s conception of knowledge includes theory (theoria—specifically looking at), practice (praxis), and art (techne). Praxis is complimentary to theoria, with praxis functioning as a tool or medium for theoria.  In reading McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, I thought about what it meant to practice gamer theory instead of game theory or even a theory of gaming. How does play align with praxis?

Wark differentiates gamer theory from game theory by stating:

If game theory is objective, rational, abstract, gamer theory is subjective, intuitive, particular. If game theory starts with the self-contained agent, like a prisoner in a cell, calculating the odds against a disciplinary world, gamer theory wonders how the agency of the gamer comes into being as something distinct in the first place (124, emphasis mine).

I read Wark’s concept of gamer theory as something akin to Ian Bogost’s alien phenomenology—as the blurring of the line that separates subject and object, gamer and game and considers them instead as something more ontological in terms of agency. Bogost explains phenomenology through object oriented ontology by working in the space between nature and culture; “In contemporary thought, things are usually taken either as the aggregation of ever smaller bits (scientific naturalism) or as constructions of human behavior and society (social relativism). OOO steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales…and pondering their nature and relations with one another and with ourselves” (6). Gamer theory seems to be working in the gap erected in between games and everyday life/reality to “make the now rather familiar world of the digital game strange again” (225). This resonates with Bogost’s reminder that “The alien isn’t in the Roswell military morgue, or in the galactic far reaches, or in the undiscovered ecosystems of the deepest sea and most remote tundra. It’s everywhere” (Alien Phenomenology, 113).

What might it mean to look at games as playing with object oriented ontology? Imagine games as something posthuman—in which games don’t just exist for us or as something we create, master, abandon to gather dust, dispose of (to become…). Gamer theory seems to open up praxis/theoria as something akin to Bogost’s concept of carpentry, or the practice of constructing artifacts as philosophical practice (92)—practicing|theorizing how things fashion one another and the world at large (93). What artifacts could be constructed to theorize games (encompassing gamers and gaming which encompass even greater still)? Instead of making games (design and development practice|theory) and playing games (mechanics and culture practice|theory), we might be entangled with games in gamer theory. Wark poses—”The final question for a gamer theory might be to move beyond the phenomena of gaming as experienced by the gamer to conceive of gaming from the point of the view of the game” (223). What is gamer theory or play from the point of view of the game? What does this perspective make available to the gamer—as an entangling of game, gamer, gaming and all the objects in the ontologies that populate the space in between)? What if we treated our games as alien objects—as estranged, as practicing theory instead of an object of study—instead of as mirrors or departures from the real world? What if we moved beyond making our games and our games making us to consider the space/objects in between?

 

 

 

 

 

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