[-empyre-] Age of Empyre and Gaming's Ghosts

Christian McCrea saccharinmetric at gmail.com
Mon Mar 31 23:05:36 EST 2008

The end of March has come rather quickly! Some final thoughts and
hopefully not too many puns.

Gaming has a past; it cannot escape the rearticulation of genres,
traditions and images of its history. The haunting of the present is
all the more visible here than in other forms, as non-digital media
are bound by types of material traces. But what traces does gaming
leave – what breadcrumbs to follow? Material traces stick like
lipstick to every technological occasion; the labour of key ex-Sega
employees visible on the development of games for Microsoft, the games
of Shinji Mikami or Suda 51 deploying telltale signs of the scenario
of their development - not generic elements but ashen crumbs. This
realm is not a glossary of facts, but a method by which it is possible
to come to what might be at stake. Narratives and ludics offer only
schemas of playing style, material questions offer a schema of text
and audience collisions. Who got hurt? Whose labour is going unpaid?

Friedrich Kittler wrote in his "Gramaphone, Film,Typewriter" of the
dual traces that occur in the technological moment; the indexical
trace between body and history. One element of Kittler's formulation
of most relevance to games is the relationship between history and the
record; if it cannot be recorded, it cannot enter history – but will
always 'haunt' it. At one critical stage, Kittler forwards the notion
that a forever-retreating real passing through the "defile of the
signifier" can then become part of history. The representation process
requires the obvious element of abstraction, but in this formula an
indexical trace is also required; one that leaves a mark on the
represented object - for example, the grain of 35mm film camera, the
over-saturated and over-defined aesthetics of a new 1080p plasma or
LCD screen, the soft melt of chalk on stone, or the heat bleeding off
the chip inside a console. These are marks that affect our bodily
reactions to media, and they ground our material connection to gaming.
We tinker with settings, we change the mouse aiming to 'sensitive',
and in a final linguistic irony, we may add anti-aliasing to our

The indexical trace also leaves with us and our bodies with a sense of
granularity. We look, hear and touch games – and perhaps are the
"defiler" through which the media must finally pass to become part of
gaming history. This second trace is on our skin, in the fleshy sense
of our Nintendo thumbs and sore eyes in the dead of night – but more
directly in the accumulation of history that we come to know – our
knowing-play. Experienced players are naturally referred to in terms
of addicts, as they intermesh with the trace of technology, and the
technology is affected by them in turn. Nowhere is this more explicit
or poetic than in the typewriter-as-save-system in Resident Evil
games; to remember, we must represent. So it is that two files are
created,one on solid state memory cards, and another on a quarter-inch
circle underneath our right thumb. The indexical record of pain, of
joy, of delight and obsession. Everything makes history, except asking
where history really comes from.

Thanks to all our contributors this month for engaging several
different directions. We moved in a couple of productive areas and the
grapevine shivers with at least two possible projects coming from
happy meetings over the past month. Second Life got a second life, art
and its old friends came for a visit and the archive got a dusting.
Some disagreements about how to proceed are encouraging. The quality
of discourse has been excellent and I want to encourage lurkers to
contact those who opened up a good direction for them and pursue a

Our special guests have done a fantastic job of taking up different
elements and pressing the buttons when the holes needed jumping. Many
extra special thanks to Daphne Dragona,
Marguerite Charmante and Margarete Jahrmann, Max Moswitzer, Julian
Oliver, Melanie Swalwell and David Surman.

A special thanks to Dr. Melinda Rackham for organising this month, and
of course for her fantastic work with pursuing and developing empyre
over the years. It was one of the first email lists I joined where
discourse was palpable, and the participants could see the shape of
things to come, just as they came and went. The impact of little
networks like empyre are never quite fully known, but the links it has
made have borne wonderful projects so far and seeded many more. Thank
you and bravo Melinda. I look forward to future months and future

-Christian McCrea
saccharinmetric at gmail.com

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