[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 2 on -empyre: GAMES AND REPRESENTATION

Soraya Murray semurray at ucsc.edu
Sun Apr 12 07:49:23 AEST 2015

There are so many moving parts to this conversation already, but to begin by responding to Murat’s query: yes, participation is considered important, and this is something that Ian Bogost has also discussed in terms of the games being “procedural” — that is to say, you *play* them and this is deemed to be a key element of games as standing apart from something like a film, or a less-participatory form of earlier media. There are many debates around the interactive potentials of so-called non-interactive forms like film and tv, but I won’t go into these here.

However, that said, games are also rule-based systems and to some degree the scope of what can take place is somewhat circumscribed by the limitations of those rules. This points me to D. Fox Harrell’s work. His recent book, Phantasmal Media, among other things points to the socially inflected nature of computing— that it is not identity “free”, but in fact imbued with “blends of cultural ideas and sensory imagination” that inform its coming into being. If this is the case, then to answer Jen’s query about Bogost's preferred focus on "complex systems" rather than "dialogue/character/identity": I would assert that of course I would agree that identity is—as Jen says—a complex system and can be considered as such. However, I would also assert the converse: that the complex systems that Bogost prefers to dialogue/character/identity are in fact forms of identity politics that posture themselves as normative.  Being able to define the formal as somehow outside the realm of identity is in fact a form of privilege. Using Harrell as a guide, we can see why, for example, Brenda Laurel would play a game and feel the lack of a “negotiation” button:

[Laurel: “Because negotiation was not an alternative, all one could do is shoot. With the absence of a negotiate button, the game casts the player-character as a militant space commander in single-minded pursuit of a vaguely defined "enemy."]

The above rule-based system, is based on an identity politics and a value system that has in this instance excluded a possibility [negotiation] that another subject position [Laurel] might deem central and ineliminable. 

Ultimately, I would argue that all games are identity politics. Their apparent focus on formal concerns, or their superficial absence of content directly related to socially defined minorities, is inconsequential in this regard. Their rule-based systems are inflected with the subjectivities that gave them shape. This position relates to earlier writing I have published on form/content debates in art, and the contestation of the place of identity politics in art making, such as in my co-authored “Uneasy Bedfellows: Canonical Art Theory and the Politics of Identity”, Derek Conrad Murray and Soraya Murray
Art Journal, Spring 2006.

Soraya Murray, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor 
Film + Digital Media Department
University of California, Santa Cruz

On Apr 11, 2015, at 1:22 PM, Murat Nemet-Nejat <muratnn at gmail.com> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Being somewhat an outsider, perhaps I am misunderstanding the issue; but it seems to me one of the crucial facts in a game is that it is participatory. In other words, it reflects as much the the character ("Individuality") of the participant as of its designer. Does this fact enter the conversation? For instance, it may put some brakes to what is mentioned as the narcissism of certain games. Of course, this narcissism is reinforced if the game draws only a very defined kind of participant with a narrow profile.
> Ciao,
> Murat 

More information about the empyre mailing list