[-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 
unusual direction.

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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