[-empyre-] Videogames of the oppressed / oppressive games

Claudia Pederson ccp9 at cornell.edu
Tue Mar 5 04:17:27 EST 2013

Perhaps a bit of clarification on Procedural Rhetoric as Ian Bogost
outlines it is in order.  First, this is yet another approach to game
design, beyond narrative, and an extension of ludology (Frasca). The idea
is that the point/argument is made through the shaping of the rules of the
game (in the case of videogames, through the simulation) versus narrative
and images. As Paolo points out this approach is in development. Perhaps
you could speak more about the case of cowclicker, a game that you worked
on with Bogost.  See: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/12/ff_cowclicker/.

The approach advocated by Bogost is as I understand it related to the
conception of videogames as cybernetic systems (as Alex Galloway already
pointed out). Persuasion exists on the feedback loop between the simulation
and the player, and the job of the designer is to shape the rules of the
system. In this sense, videogames are always already ideological; that is
they carry the views and assumptions about systems (be they political,
social, etc.) of the designer.  For Bogost, this means making the player
aware of the ideological nature of simulations versus gamification, which
refers to crafting rules that function to constraint and compel players'
behaviors (not unlike Skinnerian behavirorism).

I find persuasive games an intriguing idea, in particular as a way of
thinking about how the player/user is constructed.  This discussion stands
to maybe benefit from  second order cybernetics, in which the insistence is
on thinking the player as an onlooker/participant. Or drawing on
anthropology, I think that ultimately the agency of the player comes to the
fore in cowclicker--in other words, the experiment shows that consumption
is an active act to paraphrase deCerteau. The crux becomes then finding
ways through which players'  desires for change can be activated and
organized, one of the main goals of tactical media, as Paolo already
pointed out.  Also, performance theory is here useful, which Frasca already
brought into the fold with his drawing on the work of Brazilian dramaturg
August Boal (theater of the oppressed), of course a friend another
Brazilian great, Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed). I would
appreciate your thoughts on this.

By way of a recent videogame: the OakUtron 201X, a mobile game arcade
designed for Oakland Occupy move-in day in 2012 (the occupation of the
Henry J. Kaiser, with the goal of creating an occupy center with health,
education, shelter facilities run by the community).  See:
The designer, Anna Antrophy constructed the game inside the arcade, Keep me
Occupied, so that the game itself (the rules of the simulation) amplifies
the collectivist spirit of the event: two players must play (you can't play
alone; players must work together to open up the gates of a building for
each other within 60 sec.; if you succeed, the gate will reamin open for
new players. In this way, everyone who plays contributes to the collective
success of the game).  In this way, the machine furthers the players'
performance of mutual aid.

On Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 11:20 AM, paolo - molleindustria <
paolo at molleindustria.it> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Ok, I definitely should tell you a little more about what I do and throw
> in some extra conversation starters.
> Since playing is time consuming and we are all busy, here's a video
> covering most of the games I made until 2010 (texts found on the internet):
> http://vimeo.com/3055090
> You can also find videos and material about the more recent ones like
> Unmanned and Phone Story.
> Anyway, Molleindustria is a project about games and ideology, it's a bit
> of art, media activism, research, and agitp[r]op.
> The idea is to apply the culture jamming/tactical media (remember tactical
> media?) treatment to videogames: speading radical memes and, in the
> process, challenging the language of power, the infrastructures, the modes,
> genres and tropes of the dominant discourse which was omnipresent in
> videogame culture.
> The half joke is that I came up with Molleindustria because I failed at
> starting my own television. In the early zerozero - mid Berlusconian age -
> we had pirate TV stations popping up in all the major Italian cities in
> what came to be known as the Telestreet movement. It wasn't just television
> with radical content, but a radically different way of making television.
> There was a nice medium-is-the-message / form-follows-content thing going
> on, resonating with software, net.art and hacker culture as well.
> There was this idea that the political sphere was boundless: something we
> do, and we are subject to, every day and every moment. The half-naked show
> girls on prime time television, the charming millionaires of the soap opera
> Dallas, the software, the protocols, the fantasies coming from the
> booming-and-busting Silicon Valley were no less political than the
> occasional vote or the sanctioned spaces for political debate.
> And, of course, the demonstrations in the streets, the boycotts, the
> occupations, the strikes…
> And yes, I am very familiar with Gonzalo Frasca's work. I launched the
> project in 2003, the same year September 12th came out and Ian Bogost
> started to write about "videogames with an agenda".
> One thing I share with them is the idea that videogames are
> representational media. They are always about things. There is, of course,
> a gradient of abstraction in that a game like SimCity is unquestionably
> about cities (or gardening) while a game like Tetris is about more general
> themes such as order vs disorder, control & optimization, or the
> tragicomical limits of human cognition.
> The less abstract are the games, the more they tend to be problematic and
> fall under scrutiny. There is a lot of literature discussing the urbanist
> ideas advanced by SimCity or the portrayal of contemporary and historical
> conflicts in first person shooters or strategy games.
> To interpret a game and to make games that mean something, people use a
> variety of approaches.
> Some aspects can be tackled with traditional storytelling and narratology.
> For example, later this week, pop-feminist Anita Sarkeesian will launch the
> first installment of "Tropes vs women in games", an online video series
> dissecting the representation of women in videogames.
> However, there are aspects of games that can't be fully understood by
> simply breaking down characters and plots. Games, simulations and
> interactive media are systems of rules, and these rules produce meaning as
> well: they define the relationships between the purely representational
> bits (images, sounds, text…) and the agency of the players within the
> system.
> To be honest, we are still trying to figure out how this procedural
> rhetoric actually works and how people interpret these "texts" with so many
> moving parts. But that's the fascinating part.
> I'm interested in promoting this kind of procedural literacy through my
> games. I believe games can get people used to "think in systems" and that a
> holistic, ecological, non-reductionist way of thinking is desperately
> needed in our [cliche' alert] increasingly interconnected world ravaged by
> global crisis.
> Part of this literacy consists in understanding that digital and non
> digital models are informed by ideologies and systems of values (when it
> comes to scientific simulations the story is a bit more complicated). They
> are artful depictions of reality, and as such, we should describe them not
> in terms of how "realistic" they are, but in terms of the arguments they
> deploy and the narratives they support within the larger context. This is,
> by the way, the reason I often use satire, cartoonish styles, and a rather
> overt authorial "presence": to defuse the temptation of interpreting these
> games as objective.
> I feel like I have to mention the issue of representation because there is
> another trend, another way to conceive and use games that has more to do
> with behavioral change. The marketing power fantasy referred as
> "gamification" is part of this trend, but also slightly more legitimized
> endeavors like the many exercise games pretending to fight obesity.
> This approach is less concerned about the semiotics and the aesthetics of
> games, and more focused on games as systems of incentives to produce
> actual, quantifiable change in the way players behave outside of the game
> (if there is an outside). If you are not familiar with gamification and the
> like, imagine attributing arbitrary points and rewards to certain
> behaviors, pushing people to voluntary monitor these behaviors, and then
> creating the conditions for competition/self-evaluation based on the score
> system.
> Commentators like Ian Bogost have called bullshit on gamification and I
> largely agree. But having worked in marketing in the past, I'm quite
> familiar with the structural hype cycles of the field. You have people
> overselling techniques to oversell services and products. Everybody is
> lying to everybody else on multiple levels, intra- and extra-corporate. But
> as a whole the advertising system works because it succeeds at pervading
> every corner of the mindscape with the discourse of consumption.
> To me it is not too crucial to find out whether or not you can control
> people through game-like systems. What's more intriguing is that the
> fantasy is out there, strong and loud. Governments and corporations are
> investing lots of money in this idea.
> Feasible or not, this is the object of desire of contemporary capitalism
> and as such it's worth investigating.
> Is the fantasy of gamification a testament to the decline of money as the
> general, all-encompassing incentive to regulate human relations?
> Could it be a premonition of the next power paradigm? We went from a
> disciplinary society (the stick) to a society of control (mass
> surveillance). Is the society of the incentive (the customized carrot) next?
> Is gamification a tension toward the measurement of the unmeasurable
> (lifestyle, affects, activism, reputation, self esteem…), being measurement
> the precondition of commodification?
> Best,
> Paolo
> ______________________________**_________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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