tracing vectors//games of multitude

Perhaps this is colored by our field trip to the Strong Museum of Play and its archives//library, but reading Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter’s Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games brought about questions//considerations of virtual games (and the ecologies of their creation and circulation) as artifact. On our field trip we saw archives of games (functional and broken//accessible through filters of restoration—and does that change the game?), materials of conceptualization, failure, imagination, production (notebooks, sketches, texts, scraps and scribbles that exist in de/re contextualization), and processes of classification and curation (matters of concern—how can play be captured?).

how can games be treated as serious artifacts? (not serious games, but objects in complex contexts with other objects—technologies, counter/movements, cultures, norms/deviance, ideologies, novelties, viral tendencies, systems, traditions)

tracing vectors//accounting

“Games of multitude are, in (Felix) Guattari’s conceptual terms, a ‘molecular revolution’ involving ‘the effort to not miss anything that could help rebuild a new kind of struggle, a new kind of society’. Not missing anything includes virtual games. ‘Strange contraptions, you will tell me, these machines of virtuality, these blocks of mutant percepts and affects, half-object, half-subject,’ Guattari mused, perhaps (who knows?) contemplating a video game console—yet potentially, he insists, such ‘strange contraptions’ were ‘crucial instruments’ to ‘generate other ways of perceiving the world, a new face on things, and even a different turn of events” (214)

Games of multitude are a capacity to not only resist Empire but also to develop, protect, and propose alternatives through new forms of subjectivity and new movements opposing global capital (186-188). Reading this text brings my attention to what is typically unaccounted for in my thinking about games—the experience of playing and the materiality of the game—the complex ecology the game exists within. The concept of Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter of the game as multitude accounts for the discourses surrounding games, constructing games as vectors of contending interests and agendas and as instilling skills that can serve and subvert norms (“Introduction”). My desire to ask about classification in the archives and the conversation we had with our museum guide about capturing play (in video game/console play as a means of documenting for curation) I think were really attempts at accounting for these vectors—what standards exist for categorizing digital and nondigital games? Who/what are they according to? What is the balance//struggle in accounting for cultural phenomena//affect? How is the experience of play accounted for vs. the construction of play to be experienced? How is production for play, not of it as experience, not lost? // What does it mean to capture play? Whose body/ability is imagined? Is the emphasis mechanics, material environment, narrative? And what of the race for preservation before degradation, decomposition, and death? Of bringing back through materials not of the original ecological design?

What might the vectors of the games on exhibit at the Strong look like in a different context? What might be accounted for? What accounts might play out?



The Grasshopper: Possibility and Potentiality

I don’t wish to belabor a point (or rather, a nebulous idea that is pointed), but in reading Bernard Suits’ The Grasshopper, I kept thinking about what I was unable to say in my post last week on PolyFauna, ambience and ambiguity in play. To return to ambience as a means of foregrounding, Thomas Rickert uses Brian Eno to describe it as “the decision to stop seeing yourself as the centre of the world, to see yourself as part of the greater flow of things, as having limited options and responsibility to your actions” (Eno qtd. in “Circumnavigation”,  Ambient Rhetoric). In trying to postulate ambience as matter in ambiguity and play, I was drawn to Suits’ discussion of the concepts of open and closed games; he describes open games as “a system of reciprocally enabling moves whose purpose  is the continued operation of the system” (124), in contrast to closed games which have inherent goals whose achievement ends the game (122). I found myself questioning how we define goals; this found resonance in Thomas Hurka’s introduction to the text when he is describing Aristotle’s energeiai and kinesis. To Aristotle, energeiai has no external goal, but has an internal goal to itself, while kinesis folds in the ends as part of its action. Hurka posits game play as countering Aristotle’s argument that states “Where there are ends apart from the actions [the defining characteristic of a kinesis], it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities” based on properties internal to the activity of game play. I found myself wondering if goals, rules, and actions weren’t so bounded, how Suits’ lusory attitude (one of his element of game play in addition to ends, means, and rules) might influence how open and closed are imagined and how play itself is imagined in ambiguous games/play.

I return to PolyFauna as a possible example of ambiguous play/game with Suits in mind. But instead of treating it as an object of curiosity alone, I tried to treat it as more of a game; I searched for reviews of its game play and uncovered the following video, which describes itself as a walkthrough of the game:

I found it curious that the video would state such a claim, as my understanding of a walkthrough is a text (written or visual/aural) that demonstrates game play not just as suggestive strategy based on rules, but as experiential demonstration. The rules for PolyFauna are as follows:

Your screen is the window into an evolving world.
Move around to look around.
You can follow the red dot.
You can wear headphones.

I’m left questioning ambiguity more in terms of attitude and as existing in the experiential, as something in means/actions instead of ends/achievement of outcome. In the experiential of open versus closed, I return to the use of Aristotle’s dichotomy of kinesis and energeiai as potentiality; the concept of potentiality to Aristotle is any possibility that a thing can have as contrasting to actuality which he describes as motion, change, or activity that fulfills possibility. How does game play change is it is thought of as potentiality versus possibility?


ambiguity and ambience in play

I continue to take interest in play as a space of possibility and to imagine what that space can be. After our conversation in class last week in which we imagined play less in terms of bounded space/boundaries and more ecological/network like in that it has nodes and edges brought into being by affect relationships, I couldn’t help but think about play (space, time, human and nonhuman objects) in terms of ambience. I am co-currently reading Thomas Rickert’s Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being and am dwelling in the conceptual space it generates in relation to Roger Caillois’ “The Definition of Play” from Man, Play and Games and Brian Sutton-Smith’s “Play and Ambiguity” from Ambiguous Play.  What is resonating from Rickert’s work is his careful attention to reimagining the rhetorical situation as one of ambience. Rickert is influenced by ambient music, particularly ambient music as described/coined by Brian Eno. To Eno, ambient refers to music that facilitates listening at various levels of attention—it can shift from background to foreground or vice versa, it can permeate a space and transform mood or feeling, and it creates a sense of space that can compliment or alter environment. Rickert sees the rhetoricity in ambience as evoking the concreteness of place through various experiential registers to constitute situation—the affective, material disposition one finds themselves in; the environment is not background for emergence but an active player in it. A rhetoric of ambience is “the decision to stop seeing yourself as the centre of the world, to see yourself as part of the greater flow of things, as having limited options and responsibility to your actions” (Eno qtd. in “Circumnavigation”, Ambient Rhetoric). In ambience I am trying to dwell in the elements of play in all things (as remnant from Huizinga’s Homo Ludens).

From Rickert’s work to re-imagine rhetorical situation as dwelling in ambience and ambient agency (instead of a person fixated notion of environmental control in awareness, delivery, and construction of meaning), I  found resonance in “Play and Ambiguity” as Sutton-Smith explores the reasons for ambiguity in “play” in searching for definitional clarity by opening play almost as a means of taking stock of possibility. He lists play activities as play forms and/or play experiences in themselves to represent the complexity of play:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 1.24.22 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 1.24.34 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 1.24.42 PM

He then posits seven rhetorics of play—or subject-matter narratives— to seek the sources of play ambiguity: the rhetoric of play as progress, the rhetoric of play as fate, the rhetoric of play as power, the rhetoric of play as identity, the rhetoric of play as imaginary, the rhetoric of the self, the rhetoric of play as frivolous. While I am still parsing through aligning these categories of play and rhetorics to account for play, I find emerging interest (and confusion) over their ranging affective dimensions. I don’t know of a better term for it, dimensions being both space and action. To these rhetorical framings (dimensions) of play, Caillois perhaps offers some way of better conceptualizing action. Caillois works from Huizinga’s inquiry into the creative quality of the play principle in the domain of culture to define characteristics or qualities of play as: free (not obligatory), uncertain (undetermined course), separate (circumscribed in time and space), unproductive (creating no new elements of any kind), governed by rules (conventions that suspend ordinary law), and make believe (special awareness of a second reality or a free unreality).

Probably from the influence of ambience, I started thinking about PolyFauna. PolyFauna is an app created by Radiohead that “comes from an interest in early computer life-experiments and the imagined creatures of our subconscious” emergent from the band’s album The King of Limbs. The rules (?) or orientation within the app (which I would like some complication/clarification from game) state:

Your screen is the window into an evolving world.
Move around to look around.
You can follow the red dot.
You can wear headphones.

Members of the band collaborated with Universal Everything in creating the app|game, the process of creation can be read about the project from Matt Pyke, founder of Universal Everything. Pyke describes the project as

The idea was to create a world to experience Radiohead’s music in a totally different way – something beyond a remix or a download that would push the boundaries of what music and digital can do when brought together fully. We hoped the experience of PolyFauna would be unique to each individual person, rather than everybody having the same record or app with the same sounds and images. We also wanted to open up the possibilities of what music can mean in the digital age, beyond tiny thumbnail artwork and YouTube.

What is of interest to me in this app|game is the simplicity/complexity of its play—it seems emergent, it’s ambient. It’s simultaneously structured and open (dynamic/plastic), it accounts for agency/action of the player (person) and the players in the form of the environment (time, space, object). I see it as a possibility space to further explore play as poeisis, as affective structures for activity that is meaningful but resultant from different matter—something less human-centered. I am curious as to the affordances of Callilois’ multifaceted definition of play as impactful of culture but less rooted in competition (from Huizinga) which seems very human action oriented and in Sutton-Smith’s play rhetorics as a means of exploring ambiguity and perhaps hybridity of human and nonhuman players. I think what I’m getting at is exploration of post-human play—not the loss of the human player, but the acknowledgment of nonhuman players to look differently at ambiguity in play and culture on the premise of action|agency.

Homo Ludens: The Power of Play

Reading Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, I became very transfixed on the semiotic power of the word play, particularly in the sections “Playing and Knowing” and “Play-Forms in Philosophy”. I’m still puzzling over the (im)possibility of distinction in defining play as both outside of ordinary life while simultaneously absorbing individuals in play.  This resonated for me in thinking back to meaningful play in Salen and Zimmerman’s Rules of Play and in continuing to try to both illustrate and complicate their nested circles diagram of play as [starting from the center and radiating outward] rules) play) culture). Salen and Zimmerman describe meaningful play as the process by which a player takes action within the designed system of a game and the response of the system to the action—meaning is in the relationship between (player) action and (system) outcome. Perhaps inappropriately doing so, I feel like I am trying to equate system to culture in some respects, at least in as a means of providing context. Culture, to define it simply, is the “real” setting of time and space (which encompasses an expanse of elements in its boundedness). It is a space that play happens within as a negotiation between players and play (games/rules). Despite it being bounded in terms of some governance of order/pattern and formal structures, there is still room for a degree of unknowing or ambiguity in what emerges. In Huizinga’s work, I am likening this to his account of the sophists in the function of language as a “knowing-game” (154) in that there exist play-qualities in the art of declamation and disputation (153) as competition. Because human judgements are ambiguous, “one can put a thing like this or like that” (152) in order to create meaning. While this is ambiguous in a sense, it still seems like potential connectivity with culture and play from S/Z in that language is meaningful play. It adheres to structural constraint but is productive in its emergent qualities. I find this illustrated in Huizinga through his account of playing and knowing:

The astonishing similarity that characterizes agonistic customs in all cultures is perhaps nowhere more striking than in the domain of the human mind itself, that is to say, in knowledge and wisdom. For archaic man, doing and daring are power, but knowing is a magical power…For this reason there must be competitions in such knowledge at the sacred feasts, because the spoken word has a direct influence on the world order (105).

Language as meaningful play is something I’m still working on articulating, but find potential in Huizinga’s description of play and seriousness through scared play as extension. Sacred play in knocking at the door of the unknowable (107). A sacred game cuts across distinction between play and seriousness because it is both at once—a ritual of the highest importance and essentially a game of recreation and philosophy. Civilization arose out of the combination of play and seriousness as a mental medium (110-11). Meaning is constructed through language play.

In being transfixed on the semiotic power of play, I was reminded of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s book Metaphors We Live By for its exploration of metaphor as a mechanism of the mind that allows us to use what we know about physical and social experiences to provide understanding. Their terming of conceptual metaphor shape not only our communication (language), but how we think and act—we perceive and act in accordance with metaphor.

Metaphor for most people is a device of the poetic imagination and rhetorical flourish—a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as a characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather than thought or action. For this reason, most people think we can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.

I’m wondering what Lakoff and Johnson’s conceptual metaphor/structure can make available in Huizinga’s treatment of seriousness and play. They end their book with a chapter on understanding in which the position metaphor as imaginative rationality through experience. They state that:

  • The metaphors we live by, whether cultural or personal, are partially preserved in ritual
  • Cultural metaphors, and the values entailed by them, are propagated by ritual
  • Ritual forms an indispensable part of the experiential basis for our cultural metaphorical systems. There can be no culture without ritual (234-35)

How might these help to understand play in culture?