[-empyre-] The Fog of... "The Fog of War"

Christian McCrea saccharinmetric at gmail.com
Fri Mar 21 20:56:46 EST 2008

Deciding on a new topic to introduce, with already some great ones in
progress, I found myself sifting through the vastness of American
political stories about the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the
second Iraq War. Coincidence always provides, it seems. Some aspects
of the War on Terror by now, to the audience of empyre at least,
require us to develop deeper and deeper critiques as so much seems
said, staid, conservative, strangled. This quite extraordinary (but
utterly unsurprising) story about the mercenary group Blackwater's
strategic plans for global conflict makes clear that all the theories
of the virtualisation of war are now articulated outright. Remembering
the assaults on Baudrillard and Virilio (and artists, thinkers, many
people who read and contribute to empyre, and many more besides) for
stating the obvious about the mediatisation of war, cast your eyes
quickly over "Blackwater's World of Warcraft".


War becomes completely detached from the circumstances which give rise
to it. Globally sourced mercenaries, training in local civil conflicts
are pre-trained combat labourers ready to drag and drop into new
situations like Iraq, sent there not to win but to use the legally lax
conflict as pure testing scenario for a new model of war. A war not
even waged for profit, but expenditure itself. It may be worth
assembling a critique of the domination aesthetic through game culture
- which I believe is readable in that other great virtuality. Taking
us back a step, McKenzie Wark's book Gamer Theory performs some
rhetorical turns and reversals to get us to a topology of games:

"Gamespace turns descriptions into a database, and storyline into
navigation – an interface to line upon line of data. Sid Meier, known
as a voracious reader, turns history and anthropology books into
strategy game. Civilization III even comes with its own 'Cyclopedia',
a one-eyed reference work for to a parallel world. But this is more
than the remediation of old forms into new. Rather, the algorithm
consumes the topographic and turns it into the topological. In the
database, all description is numerical, equivalent in form. Everything
within it can be related to or transformed into everything else. A new
kind of symmetry operates. The navigation of the database replaces a
narration via description. The database expands exponentially. Rather
than a politics of allegory, an economics of allegorithm operates,
selecting and reducing possibilities." - McKenzie Wark

Is this how Civilization III really operates? The real-time strategy
genre is undoubtedly a procedural one; Wark goes on to suggest that
time is able to be split and presumably conquered with the same
measure we give space. Yet the element unspoken in this formulation is
the war in the fog. The phrase 'fog of war' is not primarily a spatial
one, but refers to the effects that the vacuum of knowledge produces.
The ever-expanding cyclopedia in the game provides a way to expand
outward into the fog, but this is hardly the point of flux in the
game. All Civilization games (and by dint of genealogy other strategy
and RTS games with multiple opponents) have turned methodically on the
premise of the fog, rather than the database, as the zone where most
of the player's calculations occur. The double-guess was refined into
an art in the first game, where executing threats on a cold, unfeeling
machine, betraying some nations over others and the infinite regress
of wonder produced the crux of the narrativised structure; not the
database which produces the possibility for oblivion.

"The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty,
because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere
twilight, which in addition not infrequently — like the effect of a
fog or moonshine — gives to things exaggerated dimensions and
unnatural appearance." - Carl von Clausewitz

The fog of war in RTS games acts not as empty desert to be opened up
by topological processes, but rather a vapour of pure dread which is
sifted through by that topological play. The fog contains a hidden
war, a promise of violence that will never be satisfactorily
delivered; fantasies about what lies beyond the line of view
constitute a vital infrastructure of play. The other infrastructure,
the cyclopedia built into the game, only acts as assurance against the
first. Sid Meier's abiding interest in allowing players to experience
the absurdity of conflict has been the key formal and tonal strategy
throughout the development of the genre. For example, Blizzard games'
fog of war acts differently in that you must often exorcise the threat
to complete the mission. Yet throughout the myriad genres, the task of
the player is not to overwhelm the fog with information, to become the
war-machine - but to master first and foremost the collection of
instincts which compromise playing in the dark, waiting for the gift
of sound and vision. That is what is truly meant by desensitisation;
creating a subject who thrives on the fearful and can calculate in the

We can say from the Agamben view of history that there are no states
of emergency - only permanent emergencies with endlessly complex
strategies for movement. The threat beyond the border constitutes the
eternal disquiet which excuses the border's being. The means we use to
overcome the threats and draw the borders, right down to the material,
are but one subsystem of our network of instincts. The maelstrom that
lies forever out of sight is where all the calculations take place,
and where Wark concludes that 'storyline becomes gamespace', we need
to pursue very carefully where the opposite might also be true,
especially in games which appear to be about one method of thinking,
but also turn on its composite exterior with equal force.

So what's the link here? Reality is liquefied and recomposed to force
bodies into irreversible conflicts. Mercenary force is not a
'response' to war, but precisely the method of force used by those the
West now chooses to call enemies. If they are not from nations, they
are not real. They are purely virtual soldiers. Their deaths do not
happen. Their crimes certainly do not. The fog of war is our weapon. I
don't mean the West's... I mean everybody's weapon. You and me. We use
it whether we like it or not to demonise (or was pointed out in 2006
by blogger k-punk, 'verminisation'), as all clearly defined positions
on this war suit it and breathe it with new life. This returns us to
the fog of war. I don't think the importance of gaming's fog of war to
visual culture is yet fully understood - and I'm keenly aware that
some very thin arguments have been made connecting war to games
through the metaphor of virtualisation. I see something interesting

"Reason is the outward-bound circumference of energy". - William Blake

I'm asking empyre less to dissect war and power (as this venue is not
designed for such work) but to begin with images and meanings of war
in games, from Joseph De Lappe and America's Army. Any thoughts or
disagreements welcome.

-Christian McCrea

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