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

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Fri Mar 15 01:54:33 EST 2013

dear all

interesting response from James, I'd like to pick up where he ends,

[James Morgan schreibt]
>>The rules and coded culture of the game create a powerful level of control
over the player, and perhaps it is the manipulation of that through some
manner of live coding or game modding that creates a useful dialog within
games of the oppressed, I do not know. I have not encountered this before
but am anxious to learn more. On the other hand a sense of game playing is
at the heart of Theater of the Oppressed too, isn't it?
Games cultivate motivation and teach, but they teach best how to play the

and offer disagreement, as to this correlation. I believe the Theatre of the Oppressed
has nothing to do with games at all, if we are referring to computer games and action
games, and even more compositional games modeled/simulated like SIMS, and I
am trying here to make sense as i do not play games, but on occasion have walked
around Second Life and watched students "perform" (mimic or parody) scenes
of contortionist violence from First Person Shooter games.

I would also have assumed from readings (in games studies) that games involve
elements that are named under the heading of ludology, no? game structures, plots
and narrative, rule-based systems and their syntax, role playing, and so on,
and that a primary investment into gaming is the action of the gamer, the direct immersion
into the game system or simulated world; you don't watch other play games ( as in an art
gallery or theatre), you are a first person.

Following Brecht's street theatre scene in the Lehrstücke (learning plays), the actor or
as Boal later calls her, the "spect-actor," is involved in a rehearsal, not or a syntax design or
game rules, but precisely in critical discussion on how an oppressive grammar can be
changed, thus chancing outcomes otherwise considered predictable or inevitable. 

As Frasca points out, in the Brazilian context, Boal and Freire worked on raising sociopolitical
awareness and action behavior, thus I also see them in a larger spectrum of revolution (Cuba in 1959)
and Marxist & socialist politics in América Lartina, and literacy campaigns (educating working classed
so they could speak for themselves).

>> (Frasca schreibt]
Certainly, the idea of using simulation and videogames for educational purposes is far from new and was already extensively explored by constructionism. The idea was developed by Seymour Papert through Mindstorms (1985) and Logo, and it was continued by such authors as Yasmin Kafai (Kafai 1995), whose students learned mathematics through videogame design. The main problem with constructionism is that it was not designed for dealing with social and humanities education. This can be easily explained by many factors, including Papert's own background as a mathematician and the election of the computer as their main tool. Certainly, Kafai's students had to research Greek mythology to create their videogames, but this was mainly a side effect, because their focus was on mathematics. In fact constructionism's main success stories are in the field of science education, and it does not seem to be the ideal environment for critically discussing human and social matters.

Paulo Freire's pedagogy was developed about the same time as constructionism. In fact, they share many characteristics. However, Freire had different goals (mainly adult literacy and the development of critical attitudes towards reality in order to attain social change) and settings (the Brazilian Nordeste, one of the poorest places of the world). Unlike constructionism, his pedagogy offers great tools for critical discussion and social awareness -- but it is not as well suited for science education.

What I am proposing here is to use Boalian techniques to develop a complementary approach to constructionism that would allow the use of videogames as tools for education and sociopolitical awareness. 

I suppose we could debate James's suggestion that games can teach or are a tool for possible education,
In the sense in which Paolo had critiqued the systemic,  arguing that "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,"  it seems then that any rehearsals we are disussing under this political lens would be 
regarding critical awarenesses, changes in behavior or action patterns an consciousness of over-determinations and resistances to oppression, and 
 "challenging the language of power, the infrastructures, the  modes, genres and tropes of the dominant discourse which was omnipresent  in videogame culture" [Paulo]

quite so, Paulo, yes, and now it would interest me to hear where such rehearsals are happening in the consumer sector?  or in the educational sphere.  Some of you have already mentioned examples, but my concern here is the much larger market of game consumption and how games also tie into the movie and entertainment industries.

As to Joseph DeLappe's narrative, I actually enjoyed it as a narrative but it had some fictional elements, no? unlikely plot twists, biblical allusions, and a Manichaean strand,  I thought (game narrative?)? would you agree?   and
in a sense the positive "outcome" and survival reminded me of Paolo's earlier claim that games helped him to develop anti-colonial politics?  This mixing of virtual games and factual politics - can you address this please, along the lines
in which Claudia, i think, also asked: "how does the anti-industry stance of videogame activists intersect with other movements in the awake of Occupy and the Arab Spring?"   

with regards
Johannes Birringer

More information about the empyre mailing list