Ben Abraham interviews Ben Abraham

I was having trouble writing proper blog posts, so I decided to interview myself. After all, who better to know the good questions to ask me than myself? So here we go.

Ben: What are you interested in right now? What are you reading, and why?

Ben: Right now I’m interested in a lot of neuroscientific philosophy, like theory of mind, philosophy of the mind and it’s relationship to the body, and stuff like that. Why now, and why that particularly? Partly because I think I’m at a stage in my research where I need to know some facts about reality. As much as I love philosophy, philosophy only gets you so far. That’s not to subsume philosophy beneath the all-powerful sight of Science! because there are lots of instances where science doesn’t quite do it all for me, and there are plenty of people out there willing to point out science’s shortcomings (Bruno Latour being just one of them).

I’m also deeply indebted to recently reading a lot of both Quentin Meillassoux and Timothy Morton, who both could best be described as science-influenced-philosophers. I’m of the firm opinion that, ultimately, science and philosophy are somewhat fundamentally the same thing, they just take seriously different rhetorical and theoretical approaches to a common goal.

Ben: What are your feelings on videogame blogging / criticism at the moment?

Ben: Ambivalence. Huge, slathers of layer upon layer of ambivalence. I love and hate it in equal measure, the hate probably intensified because I love it so much. ‘Calls to arms’ and new manifestos happen with disturbing regularity and are almost never taken up widely (and all too often for perfectly good reasons). I made my own appeal for more ‘mere description’ in Latour’s sense, along with appeals to go just an extra half-step further in analysis, as well as pleading for the dismantling of compound terms (replayability, gameplay, etc) for the sake of clarity, almost none of which have been heeded.

When Dan Cook wrote his polemic piece back in May I was reminded that I am, for better or worse, arguably the best positioned person to get a sense of the top-down view of the “whole” blogosphere… and all I really get from that ‘view’ is an increasing sense of the immensity and scale of this endeavour that is ‘critical videogame blogging’. I get the real sense that there is a high chance there are tens of blogs out there that could be included in Critical Distance but are not ‘connected’ in the community in the same way, for whatever reason. Language was one barrier I pointed out a while ago; another is the Austro-America leaning of my circle of acquaintances.

But even further, I think there’s something about the way we are going about writing about games that’s not-quite-right anymore. Perhaps it’s just an accumulation or ossification over time, but hardly any writing about games seems weird enough anymore. The most interesting and unexpected insights that I remember (and I could be remembering with rose tinted glasses) from the quote-unquote “early days” of the blogosphere were always from weird posts, from strange or forced comparisons, and from jarringly unexpected angles. Have we turned inwards too much, forgoing writing about the intersection of games and other stuff too much? Possibly, but there we are again. The unavoidability of the manifesto and ‘top down’ directives about How To Do Videogame [Criticism/Journalism/Writing/Blogging] (erase as applicable). The answer has always been to just do it yourself but I really don’t have the energy or enthusiasm these days. I wish those that do, however, Godspeed, and I’ll be the first to pat them on the back and link them in TWIVGB.

Ben: What other kinds of writing would you like to be doing at the moment?

Ben: Writing about weird, apparently unrelated things/topics/issues which actually share strange and non-linear connections. Maybe even just saying ‘Fuck it’ about games for a while and writing whatever is interesting. For example, I want to write about JUSTICE’s video for their new song ‘Civilization’, and view it through a Tim Morton Eco-Thought-lens.

I find it interesting how it positions the Buffalo herds as subject – it’s plain that we’re meant to be paying attention to animals. That right there, is odd, but it hints at Morton’s dissolution (following Darwin) of the categorical difference between human and animal. The video, perhaps echoing the lyrics of the song, seems to be showing off the precarious and destructive nature of not just human civilization (thought the extinction of the Buffalo herds of North America being the ultimate example of this) but of the whole world. It tilts on an axis and everything goes sliding around.

It’s particularly Tim Morton-esque, however, in that it avoids the frankly boring “nature is good / civilization is bad” dichotomy of so much green/environmentalism. When the whole world is turned physically upside-down as well as metaphorically, it doesn’t matter if the things about to crush you from above are man-made statues and buildings and bridges or if they’re just giant slabs of stone – that’s The Ecological Thought: they’ll kill you all the same.

The final shot of the clip, of a buffalo leap-falling into the golden, shining human face is interesting as well: the whole inside of this ‘planetarium’ (Planisphere?) seems to be in miniature, and so this could be the shining, golden face of a real-human, peering inside the strange interior globe. Why depict the human as golden? Perhaps to depict, somewhat critically, the privilege and majesty of humanity (which The Eco Thought would deny to it). Gold is wealth, riches and priviledge, but it’s also inanimate, and inhuman. The Human is also inhuman, it seems to say. More inhuman than buffalo!

I quite like the idea that a band I love is ahead of the curve. Morton suggests that typically artists catch us theoreticians unawares. Perhaps a good rule of thumb for original theory might be that if someone’s thought of it, and written about it, an artist has already made some artwork expressing elements of it already. Morton’s The Ecological Thought is rife with examples of artworks that exhibit The Ecological Thought (don’t mistake The Eco Thought for merely thinking ‘green’ or ‘environmentally’ – it’s about thinking the interconnectedness of everything, not just plants and animals and us). The conditions (predicates?) for thought and changed-thinking are really interesting to me, but damned if I know how to investigate something that huge with anything approaching rigour.

Ben: What are you finding really difficult right now?

Ben: Dealing with things across multiple fronts: a small personal crisis of realisation about my self-image; a professional crisis of needing to get shit done as well as wondering what-comes-after-this; and an acknowledgment that my current lifestyle is ultimately unsustainable in the long term.

On the first count, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that other people clearly have a very differently picture of me than I have of myself in my head. Trying to reconcile my own internal image with the ‘reality’ (at least as far as others indicate contrary to my internal model) is, suffice to say, hard. But it’s something that I need to do because it’s a mental block to a lot of things that I would really like to do. A strange aside: playing around with the twitter account that is ‘FUTURE10RDBEN’ has actually been really great in this respect. Think of it as doing something like performing the role of ‘visualising yourself more how you’d like to be’ but I don’t have to visualise it because he tweets just tweets crazy stuff and I go “man, that’d be kinda awesome – why aren’t don’t I be (a little bit) like that?”

One the second, I have to actually produce writing, that’s what a PhD is. I’m coming up with all sorts of amazing shit-hot ideas, but if I can’t get them to the page it’s kinda worthless. And then once that’s all said and done and submitted (at the end of 2012, no less)… what then? My life may look quite different by then, but I wouldn’t mind applying for some work around the nation, or even around the world. The idea of just uprooting myself and going somewhere else for a few years is kinda appealing. I’ve lived in Sydney all my life, essentially, and while I’ve been lucky to have travelled quite a bit, it’s not really the same as having to live somewhere for an extended time. I still live a mere 20 minute car trip away from my parents, which is actually really awesome because my parents are amazing, but it means I haven’t really moved all that far yet.

Thirdly, and finally, I realise that my sitting around reading books all day, scanning the internet for interesting things, and writing about things on the internet is not going to be my routine for life. It’s all going to end, and possibly sooner rather than later. Time is flying and it’s a worry.

Ben: Thank you for your time.

Tim Morton on climate, denial, and responsibility

The following extremely lengthy extract is from Timothy Morton’s ‘The Ecological Thought’ which is (appropriately enough) heavily influencing my current thinking, distilling a lot of background intuitions and assumptions into a more definite form. Here’s Morton, at the beginning of Chapter 3, talking about global warming. It was too compelling not to share. (Any mistakes are my own as I typed it out by hand):

Environmentalism is often apocalyptic. It warns of, and wards off, the end of the world. The title of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring says it all. But things aren’t like that: the end of the world has already happened.  We sprayed the DDT. We exploded the nuclear bombs. We changed the climate. This is what it looks like after the end of the world. Today is not the end of history. We’re living at the beginnign of history. The ecological thought thinks forward. it knows that we have only just begun, lke someone waking up from a dream.

We’re resonsible for global warming. Formally responsible, whether or not we caused it, whether or not we can prove that we caused it. We’re responsible for global warming simply because we’re sentient. No more elaborate reason is requiuired. If you believe a more elaborate reason is required, consider the following:

When you see a child about to be hit by a truck, do you protest, “I’m not directly responsible for her death, so I won’t help her”? When your house is burning down, do you say, “Well, I didn’t start the fire, so I’m, not responsible for putting it out”? The big difference is that unlike the girl and the house, you can’t see climate. Climate isn’t weather. You can see weather, but not climate, in the same way that you can’t see momentum but you can see velocity. Climate is derivative of weather. Very powerful computers using terabutes of RAM can barely model climate.

You can’t really point to climate, but it exists. It doesn’t matter if it snowed somewhere, just as it doesn’t matter if a truck that’s about to run you down is slowing down or speeding up. It if has enough momentum to kill you, it’s going to do so unless you get out of the way. If you’re watching a little girl in front of that moving truck, you’re obliged to rescue her, for the simple reason that you can see her. In other words, simply because we’re sentient – let’s set the bar low to ensure that even snails and the snailiest humans are also responsible – we’re obliged to address global warming. No proof is required that we caused it – looking for absolute proof inhibits our response.

This is tough: taking responsiblity for something you can’t see. But it’s  no tougher than taking responsibility for, say, not killing – you don’t have to come up with a reason; you just do it and figure out why later. That’s why it’s called an ethical decision. It doesn’t have to be proved or justified. You just do it. This doesn’t mean that your act is unconscious. By no means am I advising us just to do what we feel to be right. It  means that one can act spontaneously and cautiously…

Global warming denial depends upon and contributes to an idea of nature not that different from a certain attitude to the child in the street or the burning house: “It’s over there – in some fundamental way, it’s not my concern.” Part of assuming direct responsbility for golbal warming will be abandoning the idea of Nature, an ideological barrier to realizing how everything is interconnected. Gloval warming deniers are like a man with a gun to somone’s head, saying, “Give me a good reason not to shoot this guy.” Do you give a good reason (“It’s right, it feels good, there’s a symbiotic web in which we’re immersed and you’re damaging it, you’re upsetting a natural balance…”), or assuming you’re strong enough, do you just grab the gun?

All the reasons in the world aren’t reason enough, from a certain point of view.

Presented without comment #16

On the floor laughing: traders are having a new kind of fun‘ by James Somers at The Atlantic.

The more I watch, the more I think I understand the peculiar grip this place has on him — and, for that matter, the peculiar grip it seems to have on me. From the minute I walked in here I’ve been sort of dazzled. I’ve felt almost exactly like I did when I was first invited as a nine or ten year-old into the cockpit of a commercial airliner. There is just something undeniably cool and complicated and a little bit spectacular about both places, each in its own way the frenetic nexus of an intricate machine. It looks fun, basically — in the one case because you get to fly a plane, and in the other because people take you seriously and pay you lots of money and yet what you do all day is qualitatively equivalent to playing a video game.

The world needs a new Marx, but it keeps creating Malcolm Gladwells‘ by John Harris at The Guardian.

Every week, in fact, brings another lecture or book about the political uses of neuroscience, or what Twitter is doing to human consciousness – everything, it seems, apart from what’s actually most important. The world arguably needs a new Marx, but it keeps creating Malcolm Gladwells, pirouhetting around their flipcharts and ignoring the real problems.

Soylent Media‘ by Lawson Fletcher at Sounds of Ruin.

@jeanburgess @ABillionSuns [Social Media] should all have the same tagline: ‘Made Out of People’. #soylentgreen

Which is devastating insofar as it manages to crystallise a whole (now consolidated) research paradigm that at least since Tzinia Terranova in 2000 has identified the factory-like conditions of new media cultures, which suck the free labour – energies, identities, bank accounts and data – out of the prosuming masses in order to turn massive profits in false democratic spaces of ‘interaction’, or as it might be rendered now, ‘conversation’.

The New Situationist International

I read the introductory few pages of McKenzie Wark’s The Beach Beneath The Street and was immediately inspired to organise or join an artist/philosophical collective like the Situationist International. I don’t have a great understanding of them, their goals and practices, having learnt virtually everything about them everything through reading Wikipedia, a couple of chapters in books and from hearing them mentioned in a reverential awe by a few people. But the idea of being part of a collective of collaborators – like-minded thinkers and artists, etc – has appealed to me for a long time.

So I was thinking – how would I create a New Situationist International? How would I bring together some of the best thinkers to work on some nebulous, aspirational project? I don’t know enough people in Sydney, and I barely know enough in Australia – but then it hit me, I don’t need to do anything like that because the new SI already exists: it’s there if we want to think about it in that way.

What am I talking about? The videogame blogosphere. This week we’ve turned Kirk Hamilton’s wall into a shitty temporary exhibition of macros of our own satirical-critique of videogame conventions; like a hyper-localised version of Warhol’s soup can images. We’ve got this amazing Wiki that effectively parodies the same things, and a fantastic podcast to go with it. Just this week we’ve (this is the collective ‘we’ not the royal we) also written about What It’s Like To Attend E3, ‘How I Get My Hair So Pink’, and made fun of academics using questionable jargon; and that’s just the fun stuff. It’s the new SI because it’s a strange group, and probably not even a real ‘group’ except that we ‘go together’ in the Latour/Callon sense. We make stuff. We also make stuff up. We work, and we get paid, and we do things for fun and for serious.

The temptation might be to think that the VG blogosphere needs ‘inciting’ or organising to do or to start something, particularly something political. But it’s becoming incredibly obvious that everything is political, almost especially play and playfulness. Perhaps ‘playfulness’ isn’t the perfect word for it – it’s certainly not the whole of it. Non-seriousness, perhaps. Fun, with an ambiguous deployment of irony. Fun for adults. In his book The Ecological Thought, Tim Morton writes about a new aesthetic he calls ‘Dark Ecology’ that ‘puts hesitation, uncertainty, irony, and thoughtfulness back into ecological thinking’. Morton feels that ‘Democracy is well served by irony, because irony insists that there are other points of view we must acknowledge.’ (Contrast: the modern, fashionably gentrified ‘irony’ that isn’t really ironic in the slightest)

Rather than trying to get the blogosphere to do stuff, it’s a more productive approach to instead change our thinking about what the blogosphere already does. From a vantage point of 30 years in the future, what is going to appear valuable that is being done in the VG blogosphere right now? That’s a really interesting question, and I’m not sure the obvious answers are the right ones. Is it really the position essays, the philosophical pieces that people will remember?

But perhaps (hopefully) it’s not even specifically the CV blogosphere that’s unique in this. Perhaps it’s the internet community sui generis that is going to become this century’s ascendant social structure. Structure isn’t even precisely the right word because it’s not all that structured, but I use it because it helps contrast it with 20th Century social structures like Church, School, Clubs and other organisations. The internet community is already these things, and more. But not in the same way, in a different (and interesting) way.

So thinking entirely selfishly for a moment – how to document this stuff for my own research? Is it important that I save links to all the image macros on Kirk’s Facebook wall? Do I need to document for future observers what the whole ‘trinketmonger’ half-joke is actually about? No. Why not? Because a) it’s too labour intensive, and b) because it’s largely irrelevant anyway.

The point of an Actor-Network Theory approach in a digital environment, or to use Morton’s more reader-inclusive terminology, the point of an approach that obeys ‘The Ecological Thought’ in all its networked and connected, ultra-massively expansive fullness, is to make backups, duplicates, redundancies. The point is to re-share, re-link, re-post, and re-tweet. The account of the (present) happens later, or else we end up with an already-past-present where everything is seen through the lens of the camera, or in our case, through the lens of the future ANT/Eco documenting-theorist. The ultimate irony then: an ANT/Eco theorist from the future is influencing the present/past already.

Philosophy is encouraging

Philosophy is the invention of strange forms of argumentation, necessarily bordering on sophistry, which remains it’s dark structural double. To philosophize is always to develop an idea whose elaboration and defence require a novel kind of argumentation, the model for which lies neither in positive science – not even in logic – nor in some supposedly innate faculty for proper reasoning. – Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, pp.76-7

Indeed. Why would it be otherwise? To be novel is to be creative; to create. Whence originality? If we knew precisely where, it would cease being original. That’s still to say that there exists better and worse strategies/approaches/stances/etcetera. than others for discovering (uncovering?) the original. This may help contextualise my love for rhetoric and persuasion.

Another quotation, from Tim Morton this time:

The modern age compels us to think big… Any thinking that avoids this “totality” is part of the problem. So we have to face it. Something about modern life has prevented us from thinking “totality” as big as we could. Now we can’t help but think it. Totality looms like a giant skyscraper shadow into the flimsiest thought about, say, today’s weather. We may need to think bigger than totality itself, if totality means something closed, something we can be sure of, something that remains the same. It might be harder to imagine evolution than to imagine infinity. It’s a little humiliating. This “concrete” infinity directly confronts us in the actuality of life on Earth. Facing it is one of the profound tasks to which the ecological thought summons us. – Morton, The Ecological Thought, p.4

The ecological thought seems to be what I’ve been unconsciously struggling to realise, explain, and understand in almost all my research practice. Starting with the videogame blogosphere was just convenient, because naturally we are going to end up “everywhere” anyway, since everything is connected.

The ecologcical thought it intrinsically open, so it doesn’t really matter where you begin.

This is what attracted me to Latour in the first place – here is a thinker with an approach, a way of studying (and, read through Harman even a whole philosophy!) of capturing the irreducibility of the particular while keeping sight of the inexpressible magnitude of the ‘everything’. No Actor-Network account of anything is ever fully closed off. History marches on and adds and subtracts from the original document. New things happen, new actors appear, new phenomena reveal themselves. Old voices disappear, perhaps to reappear again at a later date, like Maggie Greene going quiet from the internet for a number of years, then suddenly she’s back again, making herself heard.

Thinking the ecological thought is difficult: it involves becoming open, radically open – open forever, without the possibility of closing again…

So what original, creative strategy will my PhD contribute? What novel philosophy will it argue, and will I find the conceptual courage to prosecute it tactically (and well). Where is my original thought, and what does it pertain to? I have a few suspects; PhD writing as in-essence actor-network-theory in practice (assembling from traces); assembling from traces as a modern tech-savvy bread-and-butter activity (i.e. ANT becomes doable for any kid with a net connection and an interest in wikipedia’s history pages); the digital subject of knowledge (the blogosphere as an entity itself that ‘knows’ (erm…)); the extended mind as (another!) challenge to correlationism’s desuetude from absolutes (making techno-cognitive-prosthesis a moral act?); a (doomed?) attempt at a non-subjective, non-perceptive bound notion of affordance (affordance is not the right word, but it’s the best I’ve got at the moment. This project runs the risk of becoming kinematics, engineering, or physics/chemistry).

Abstract: More fun writing than playing: the critical videogame blogosphere as emerging approach to knowledge creation

As I said in my stereotypical update post, I’ve been writing a paper to present at a conference in Oxford, in July. Here’s the abstract and the bibliography for the paper, to whet your interest in the final piece (which will be published in the conference proceedings ebook).

It’s a happy coincidence actually that while I’ve been considering this idea of the “distributed subject” in this (and one other) paper, Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer has just written about the confluence of Buddhist practice/insight and videogames, with a particular focus on the lack of the “self”  (or it’s illusory nature). I recommend his “Notes on Becoming” as something in a similar vein.


In the following paper I will look at the section of the online community of videogame bloggers I have been involved with since 2007, beginning with an outline of some of the steps that allowed them to arrive at the status of ‘experts’ in the field of game criticism. Along the way I will need to examine the nature of community in online situations, and apply Benedict Anderson’s insights on the nature of community to examine how this particular community imagines itself. I will look at what it says it does and how it frames what it is for, but examining this alone is not quite enough, as the community is as much a product of technical forces as human or social ones. I will avoid the assertion that community is some kind of ‘stuff’ like a social fabric, thus avoiding putting all my explanatory eggs in the basket of ‘social forces’. Instead I will adopt the agnostic approach of Bruno Latour who examines associations between all things, emerging with a conception of the community as a network of actors, presenting a safe path through the twin minefields of technodeterminism and social constructivism. I will then take a slight detour to recent discussions on the nature of cognition and the mind, and find parallels with the network community that enable me to suggest the epistemic conditions are emerging for a successful challenge to the long-dominant conception of the humanist subject. It is my contention that a new Foucaultian episteme is fast approaching, and that a new ‘subject of knowledge’ is perhaps visible at work in the internet community I call ‘the critical videogame blogosphere’.

Key Words: Videogames, Community, Blogging, The blogosphere, Criticism, Expertise, Theory of Mind, Benedict Anderson, Bruno Latour



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Bryant, Levi. “It Thinks – Some Reflections on Blogging”. Larval Subjects. May 25, 2011. Accessed May 27, 2011.

Burch, Anthony. ‘Far Cry 2 and the Pragmatism of Evil’ (Presentation at the Game Developers Conference 2010, San Francisco, California, March 9–13, 2010).

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