[-empyre-] Taming the machine
paolo - molleindustria
paolo at molleindustria.it
Fri Mar 8 10:35:45 EST 2013
A few messages ago, talking about an interdisciplinary collaboration in
game development, Renate Ferro mentions the clash of culture between
students from art school, tasked with the conceptualization of new
games, and engineering students, in charge of their technical
"Feedback from the gaming students provided insight that the
collaborative plans were too "difficult" to realize with their
relatively new programming skills. I rather doubt that now. The
artists gave up disappointed that their collaborative ideas and
conceptual drawings were for nothing."
I'd say that the project, from what I gather, was a recipe for disaster
from starters. Videogame development is an iterative process that
requires a certain familiarity with computation and game design in
general. Fresh perspectives from other fields should be encouraged, but
setting up a hierarchy of artists/ideators and engineers/makers,
especially when gender divide and different campus cultures come into
play, is a really bad idea. As permaculture suggests, the most
interesting things happen in the margins, where different ecosystems
collide and mingle.
We should cultivate these liminal spaces in our institutions and in
society in general, but this has to involve a certain fluidity of roles.
Programmers need to be able solve the most peculiar "problem" which is
to create new and interesting problems. Artists need to get their hands
dirty with code and adopt a process that is as user-centric as it is
I wouldn't dismiss the possibility that artist-driven designs were
actually extraordinarily difficult to implement. Media and technological
platforms are not infinitely malleable. They have structural features
that can make the resolution of certain problems extremely easy, while
seeming completely unfit for the resolution of other kind of problems.
Technologies have a history crystallized in their DNA. The first
computing machines were invented to calculate trajectories of bombs and
to assist the Nazi in identifying and tracking Jewish people. It's not
surprising that the descendant of those IBM punch cards are apparatuses
tracking and profiling consumers while the history of computer games is
mostly a history of ballistic. Since SpaceWar!, bastard child of the
Cold War's military industrial complex, games have been privileging
Newtonian materialism, and worlds made of objects moving in space and
clashing with each other.
From these early day of computing there has been an accumulation of
knowledge enhancing certain social functions of software like predictive
simulation, 3D immersion, long distance communication, cataloging and
sorting... all of which are driven by military/industrial desires
(although, obviously, can serve other emerging purposes and are subject
to hacking and hijacking).
In a recent talk about procedural representations of sex in videogames
I hyperbolically claimed that we created technologies which make the
simulation of a grenade launcher way easier than a caress.
It's not technological determinism, but rather the recognition that a
techno-cultural form like videogames, made by hardware, software,
protocols, formats, interfaces, algorithms but also tropes and cultural
expectations, may oppose a good deal of resistance when derailed to an
This is something I often experience. When working on Unmanned, which
not coincidentally thematizes some of these issues, I was interested in
complicating the obvious equivalence "drone warfare == videogames". I
wanted to make a nuanced game about introspection, verbal communication
and existential dissonance.
In all its awkwardness, I'm mostly satisfied by the result but I felt
frustrated and miserable during the whole development process. I felt
like I was trying to force feed the machine with a terribly unmodular
and qualitative material it couldn't digest.
On the other hand, I had a lot of fun developing my latest game (to be
released soon), which is an ironic take on a top down shooter. I was
solving problems that have been solved many times before: trajectories,
movements in space, collisions and so on. Computers and game frameworks
evolved to deal with them.
If you are a techno-essentialist, or a game-essentialist, you may be
tempted to surrender to the medium's destiny: there are certain things
games just don't do very well, and you would be better off writing a
book or singing a song. But that would be a rather depressing view.
Technologies are also shaped by their misuses.
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