[-empyre-] I Can't Play And Speak At The Same Time

Christian McCrea christian at wolvesevolve.com
Tue Mar 4 22:15:29 EST 2008

Thanks David,

I really like these comments about adolescence and the relationship to
adulthood reflected in game texts.

In his introduction to the game art book I Am 8-Bit, Chuck Klosterman
pointed back a decade to a crucial moment.  He noted in turn that in
1996, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff interviewed Timothy Leary and in
their exchange, a momentary slip of the tongue let Leary suggest that
videogames' big cultural push was in astonishing parents; the fact
that games were mucking about with the brave new god, television, was
far more important than games themselves. Rushkoff had just written
his book Media Virus, largely concerned with triangulating the changes
towards chaos management in the marketing industry, and the continuing
impact of neuro-linguistic programming. Timothy Leary, for his part,
merely needed to be Timothy Leary. A few months away from his final
comedown, he couldn't resist a final bon mot; games' big contribution
to society was to forever threaten the hegemony of television.

The struggle for the semiotic flow from the television set, between
parent and child, defined the sorts of things that games were showing.
Not merely appealing to childhood, but to the relationship to
impending adulthood. All through the 1980s, games were sold on the
predication they were the teenage fantasy life turned into a series of
challenges; the 1987-1994 battle between Nintendo and SEGA centered on
whether it was more important for gamers to escape or be cooler than
their parents.

Sony's tortured introduction of the Playstation in the mid-90s was
based on a simpler premise still; that everybody wanted to be 21.
"People under that age, want to grow up. Those older want to go back
to that moment. They still live with the parents, but they're about to
move out. They have a part time job, but they can't save.", said a
Sony suit in 1998 on a documentary called "The History of Games".
That inter-generational angst, the passage of Osiris to Horus, is
where games situate themselves.

Going back to Chuck Klosterman; consider the context of his commentary
on the Rushkoff/Leary meeting. Himself taking up the text lying within
the meeting - because as Julian Oliver discussed in the other thread,
a projection doesn't end. The articulation into admittedly very
commercial 'game art' spaces like I Am 8-Bit are about a recursive
relationship to that moment between generations. The shift, bounce,
decay into art practice is a kind of continuation of an argument. If
it needs validation, its the equal indignation from every quarter.
That astonished glare of the parent over the child's shoulder; what
are you doing? The epic struggle is to understand that the simple fact
that children are attracted to technology because it's the closest
thing to pure fantasy. Maybe violent games are the stand-in straw man
for all technology going two generations back. Maybe the same can be
said for game art in a different context.

-Christian McCrea

On Tue, Mar 4, 2008 at 1:21 PM, David Surman <dsurman at googlemail.com> wrote:
> I Can't Play And Speak At The Same Time
>  Introduction From David Surman
>  Since this discussion is already in rude health, I shall slot my
>  quarters in quietly, over here at the end cabinet. I have been playing
>  seriously for 20 years now. As a kid, like the cuckoo's egg in the
>  wren's nest, I voraciously pursued children whose parents had
>  succumbed to pure pester power, following them into their homes and
>  settling resolutely at whichever console was currently in fashion.
>  Through the rise and fall of SEGA, I took up residence in a sequence
>  of host households, subduing the stirring concerns of curious parents
>  with brisk recital of high-school voodoo and world-weary dimples.
>  Games provided an anchor for the intensity of a disruptive home life,
>  and their generation growth seemed to match so perfectly the
>  revelations of later adolescence. I remember it, cast in harsh
>  Scottish light, the winding walk to Richard Clark's house, a boy I
>  barely knew, through suburban tributaries that lead triumphantly to a
>  home PC and a Sega Megadrive wrapped in a modest bungalow.
>  I'd like to think that as I have formalised my relationship to games,
>  our bond has changed, and that the strategies with which I put game
>  into life might have shifted. In my academic post, dedicated to games
>  design, I can't complete the fiction in which I make professional my
>  play. Gaming has become about a particular set of relations that are,
>  to me, metonymic of being present in a contemporary social space. To
>  play is to become Zeno's paradoxical arrow. To the non-player I am
>  losing valuable time, but in reality I am just achieving a stillness
>  that furrows the brow of the cynic.
>  In many respects, the classic Atari Joystick, that grumpy,
>  parsimonious plaything, which had to creak under teenage grip before
>  my _Crystal Castles_ (1984) mouse would move an inch, embodies
>  perfectly my disposition as a player. When you've read as many
>  Americanised samurai comics as I have, you know that the steel of a
>  katana is folded one hundred times to make it razor sharp and robust.
>  Like an old married couple haunting my attic, those Atari pads must be
>  similarly perfected, compressed by one hundred compulsive
>  interactions. To play is to be both exhilarated and motionless; stiff
>  shoulders and heavy eyelids, numbness in the back of the legs and a
>  sudden awareness that, since the last save point, I have been
>  clenching my jaw. Like Mokujin, the playable wooden puppet of _Tekken
>  3_ (Namco, 1993) onwards, the gaming subject can be both everyone and
>  no one, omniscient and anonymous. As I play I'm shape-shifting my way
>  through a series of afforded identities, and yet am conditioned by an
>  irreducible split, that of player and character.
>  The primacy of the player-character stands in for all splits we are
>  taught to feel, in recovery from which we seek new connections. In
>  this vein I connect my queerness and my gaming, thinking through the
>  negotiations with self and other that are second nature in the
>  masquerade of adolescent queerness. Contemporary gaming, having
>  recentred globalisation with the "soft power" of politicised Japanese
>  aesthetics, now puts the sophisticated rhetoric of androgyny, male
>  beauty and techno-sexuality into the nest of all the Richard Clark's
>  in Great Britain, quietly playing host to the nomadic passions of the
>  compulsive, aspirant gamer. Queering exceeds aesthetics though, and
>  immanent to the surface level expressions of the latest JRPG is the
>  question I ask myself; in the novelty of interaction, do the most
>  enduring games always "queer" us insofar as they require us to modify
>  our embodied relation to the experience against increments set by the
>  developer? A fatally framed question emerges; can gameplay transcend
>  the novelty of spectacular interaction long enough to sustain a
>  discourse? For my part in this playtime potlatch, I see much of the
>  project of Serious Games as a misapprehension failing to capitalise on
>  the discursive power of aesthetics in play.
>  --
>  David Surman
>  Senior Lecturer,
>  BA (hons) Computer Games Design
>  Newport School of Art, Media and Design
>  http://artschool.newport.ac.uk/sp_dsurman.html
>  http://www.gaygamer.net
>   Animation: an Interdisciplinary Journal – http://anm.sagepub.com
>  _______________________________________________
>  empyre forum
>  empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>  http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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