Videogame visions of a post-climate change future

I wrote an essay on the way games have depicted climate change for Memory Insufficient. I was pretty happy with how this turned out, and the plan is to whip it up into a more fleshed out paper later in the year. I haven’t had a chance to read the other essays but if prior issues of Memory Insufficient are any guide, they’ll be worth checking out too.

Memory Insufficient’s Ecology and Games History issue is here. [PDF]

Watch the K Foundation burn a million quid

http://youtu.be/q33LPpx0QsY?t=10m

Watching this video makes me giddy. The world seems to peel back and the ground folds away beneath you, and if you concentrate on it in just the right way, you can step through the portal, temporarily, into a zone or region completely unlike anyplace you’ve ever been or ever will.

Chapter 5 – conclusions.

My favourite moments from the preview of SELFIES

I read the preview of SELFIES that is readable online. The bit that made me laugh out loud hardest:

I take a black krink pen out of the inside pocket of my denim jacket and make my mark on the bathroom wall. I write SHE SHE. That’s been my tag ever since I moved back to the city. Fuck. I hate people who call it the city. I watch the ink dry and wonder why I do this. I used to know, or at least pretend to know, but now  it’s just a habit. I take out my cell phone and snap a photo of my  tag. Another dumb habit.

“WHAT THE FUCK YOU DOING IN THERE, JERKING OFF?!”

I am alarmed to realize that the crappy shoe dude never left the
room. He’s standing outside the stall. I am confused.

“I know what you just did, man. I can smell the ink,” he says,  quieter this time.

“I’m jerking off,” I say and suddenly he hoists himself up and
peeks over the wall.

“WHAT THE FUCK?!” I stutter. I’m not very good at being aggressive. Also, it’s difficult to sound tough with your pants  around your ankles. He lets himself fall back down.

“You don’t even have a boner, you flaccid fucking liar. Who the  fuck pretends to jerk off at the library?”

This is so weird.

“This is so weird,” I say, “Please go away.”

“No.”

I’m kind of freaking out. This dude is pretty young. I don’t think he’s really mad about the tag, but I guess he might snitch if he’s an asshole. I would rather not get into trouble for tagging again. I am old now. That would be pathetic.

I’ve read this passage several times over now, and each time I have giggled at the pure perfection of telling a strangely aggressive person in the library bathroom to “Please go away”. I suspect it’s entirely a coincidence, but the line is the same as the tag from the fantastic Sexpigeon tumblr that Steve Swift introduced me to a long time ago now. The same aesthetic is present in both, though. Something strange and weirdly confected but in a way that is kind of true to life. Or truer to life, like a Werner Herzog film full of all its little invented lies that collectively add up to more truth than capital-T truth would ever tell.

Anyway, this little anecdote is exactly the kind of thing that is so fucked up and perfect (which happens to be a running theme of the stories in SELFIES) that it either actually happened, or was an amalgamation of several real things that happened. Whatever the case, it has the ring of truth – and hilarity – about it. Even if it were entirely invented  by the author, Robert Duncan Gray, it remains just really good vignetting (which is another feature of the short stories in the preview).

Another excerpt, from the short story ‘HAZEL’ by Hazel Cummings:

in the blink of an eye you are twenty-four and you’re working temp jobs, answering phones, inputting data, and no one is fucking you, and the emptiness you feel in your vagina seems to stretch up into your stomach and then into your chest and you feel like a shell of a person, like a mannequin or a scarecrow or a deflated fuck doll left out by the dumpster.

you start writing again after a year and a half of ignoring the urge, fiction this time, but you show no one, convinced that you never had a lick of talent to begin with, writing just for you.

you meet a guy, but when he takes you home his dick doesn’t
work and he blames you and you agree with him.
one of the offices that you’ve been temping at offers to hire you on as an actual employee, and you accept the gig even though you’d rather jump off a bridge.
you work five days a week, 9 to 6, with a forty-five minute
commute on the bart each way.

you drink a lot, alone, and watch things on the internet, and take quizzes (omg you fucking love quizzes, love knowing which muppet you are and which mad man and which simpson character and which types of men you should avoid and which sex and the city girl you are most like in the bedroom). you get a facebook, and a tumblr, and almost instantly you find a whole network of people who claim to be poets and authors, except just like you they are talentless, but unlike you they don’t seem to know it, or they pretend not to know it, an entire community of naked people claiming to be dressed in the finest of fabrics, all of them pretending that posting things on facebook is the same thing as being published. there is a part of you that sees how empty it all is, a part that recognizes the futility of this thing they call “alt lit”, but you find that you like the lies that the kids tell each other, and you decide that you want to be a part of it.

The spectre of autobiography hangs over the whole collection – how much of an autobiography are each of these stories, really? How much is actual (the emotion described by each is utterly felt, at least by me, the reader and I suspect also by the authors) and how much is an idealised what if? The stories inter-relate in (so far) slight ways, but it seems like something of a fairly massive undertaking to line up seven authors to co-create something like this, which makes the project seem more speculative – what if this online community wasn’t just a Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter thing, and what if we all did live in the same city (i actually haven’t checked but I would bet the authors do not all live in SF) – would anything be different? It seems to speak to a yearning for community and connection in the (quote-unquote) real world… while also (at least in the case of HAZEL presenting as an explicit critique of the practises of ALT.LIT (which I have also made here on this blog and in MEAT CONFETTI vol1).  There is also no gesture to the political dimension to cohabitation and proximity, as in the #occupy movement and the direct democracy struggles of 2011-12. But ALT.LIT is rarely, if ever, explicitly political and the refusal to acknowledge the politics of their own refusal to be political seems to be the cause of a lot of grief within and without the community (HAZEL gets towards some of this; expresses the aimlessness of directing critique at the ungrateful – what is a critic but one who truly cares enough to criticize?). HAZEL gets real pointed right as it switches from second person to first, in the kind of stylistic gymnastics that most writers could never dream of pulling off mid-article:

except, of course, this isn’t you. this desperate person, this failed poet, this unloved daughter, this woman filled with hate. there is no you, only me. i was the one who was 18 and then 22 and then 24, and now i’m even older, like 25 and a half or something, and my whole existence takes place on the internet, because as much as i hate it i just can’t look away

Apparently it’s going to be a proper novel. This teaser is kinda good, though certainly a few of the authors are stronger and their voice stands out more than others. Some of the other stories have the feeling of trying a little too hard to find meaning in ennui, which is slightly safer, less interesting. But even these tend not to wear out their welcome, whether the format and collaboration can survive book-length treatment will be interesting to see.

SELFIES the pdf preview is free and NSFW for both images and words.

Gone Home: Jump Scares and Ludonarative Harmony

So there’s a new game out called Gone Home and I don’t have the superlatives to describe it adequately so just take my word for it and go play. It’s some trifling amount of money on steam. If you haven’t finished playing it, I advise you to stop reading this essay now and just spend the two or three hours it takes to finish because it is about one of a half-dozen games that actually can be spoiled by reading too much about it.

With that out of the way, I want to talk about one particular moment – the one, single, solitary ‘jump scare’ in this whole spooky house game. It’s the when the lightbulb pops on the staircase down in the first ‘secret passage’. I jumped so hard that I literally threw away the little crucifix I had just picked up to inspect. I probably even made some kind of noise as I spun around looking for some ghost or monster inevitably bearing down upon me to eat my soul or something. God punishing me.

So that moment, and really it’s true for the rest of the game, is a really nice example of ludonarrative harmony – an example of when I am experiencing exactly what the games mechanics (popping lightbulb) and the story (scared 20 year old in the ‘psycho house’ at midnight alone) am supposed to be feeling. It’s just really nice and I think it begins to answer some of Robert Yang’s question that he posed earlier this week, which was ‘Why should we care about ludonarrative dissonance since most players don’t seem to either?’

Yang takes, I think, slightly the wrong lesson from mainstream ‘core gamer’ audience’s failure to care about any major ludonarrative dissonance in a game (his example is Bioshock Infinite but take your pick). His point is that the “dissonance” component of ludonarrative dissonance isn’t really all that dissonant at all, which is sort-of true because heaps of people barely even register it. But my contention is that it never was an obvious form of dissonance, since even the prototypical Bioshock little sister example of ludonarrative dissonance went unnoticed until you did the kind of analysis that Hocking undertook. The concept never specified an overt dissonance to begin with. We put up with (even enjoy!) all kinds of learned dissonances everyday – just listen to jazz.

But getting back to the game, I raved about Gone Home on Facebook last night to a friend of mine James Dalmau – who is not a ‘core’ gamer, just a smart guy with a masters in law who like most people also plays games – and we chatted this morning about his experience, which differed considerably from mine. James told me via FB chat that,

…to be honest I never really thought it was spooky ghosts

I thought that was just silly kid stuff put in as a red herring

But every ‘core gamer’ journalist/critic friend of mine seemed to expecte horror. We’ve all played Amnesia: The Dark Descent (or watched hilarious Let’s Play reactions). Brendan Keogh even wrote on his blog about this point exactly:

I love the way Gone Home plays on Horror tropes to build that sense of trepidation and forewarning. The stormy night in the woods, the eerie old mansion, the missing family, those (at first) messed up answering machine messages. I was terrified for most of the game, just waiting for the inevitable ghost. When the lightbulb burst as I picked up the crucifix, I almost had to stop playing. When I found a room in the basement where the light wouldn’t turn on, I refused to enter. My mind turned the shapes of curtains and shadows into people staring at me. The tropes of the Horror genre reverted me back to being a terrified teenager who should probably know better but really doesn’t. Like the time I freaked out when I was 15 because there was a guy getting out of a car in front of the house and it was just dad’s friend dropping by. Something about being a teenager means you always expect the worst. Because being a teenager is dramatic, right? It’s a time of constant change and impermanence and everything new that you discover you want to hold onto but it’s going to be lost the moment you finish high school or move to a new town or enter puberty or whatever. Until the closing moments of Gone Home, I expected the worst.

Likewise, Dan Bruno responding to Brendan’s piece in a Facebook comment said that he played the game in the style of a scared teen, rushing for the light switch in every room:

…that is literally exactly how I played. Open door, peek around corner looking for switch, then make a beeline for it before looking at anything in the room

At one point in the game I thought I spotted an actual ghost, but it turns out it was just black jagged veil that indicated the limits of the engine’s render distance, the contents of a hallway on the other side of the house appearing and disappearing as I stepped back and forth. But I was still expecting ghosts.

So what’s going on here? A non-core gamer isn’t scared by the game’s red herrings, but we seasoned veterans expect the worst. I’m going to suggest that what Gone Home does is actually exploit gamic expectations, gamic tropes, even the expectation of ludonarrative dissonance to resolve into a weird, and almost ironic, situation of ludonarrative harmony. Because we expect the worst, we get the best possible synchronicity with the player character.

If you expect monsters because you have played horror videogames, your expectations are set up by the history of the medium, by the hundreds of spooky-house games that have come before (no slight on them). But until now there has never, or almost never, been a game this real before. Gone Home is almost shockingly quotidian, in an ordinary rational sense, and it’s the confounding of our gamic (ludic?) expectations (built up through years of expectation of ludonarrative dissonance since ghosts don’t actually exist but okay sure I’ll fight one in a game) which places us, the player, into the subject position of exactly who and where Katie is and what she is feeling.

That is supremely weird, and a triumph of a sort that I haven’t seen anyone comment on yet. Of course, there is so much more to say about this game – and so much great stuff has already been written. Check out Cameron’s piece, and Brendan’s is also great linked above. Leigh Alexander obliquely addresses the game’s setting of the 90s in a piece for Gamasutra. Claire Hoskings has a piece that I’ve read a draft of too which should be coming soon. And this post addresses an element of the relationship between two characters that I totally missed myself.

But I wanted to highlight this strangely harmonious aspect of Gone Home and maybe set up for another post that I have in mind that is a bit more ambitious, aiming to unite the political ideas of ‘accelerationism’ that Mark Fisher applies to the realm of cultural production with the idea of ludonarrative dissonance/harmony. It’s an exciting time.

The Coles and Woolies Campaign is Bullshit; Let Me Count The Ways

So this is some bullshit right here.

As much as I know we all want this kind of thing to be good it’s really the complete opposite of that. I’ll give you a few reasons, and there’s more I won’t go into now, but the essence is that this is “better than regular capitalism” – which is just a flat-out ideological smokescreen. Remember the McDonald’s video? Similar thing is happening here – the problems posed by capitalism are provisionally addressed by some kind of appeal to capitalism with a human face, or capitalism with a smile. While in the McDonald’s video it was the gesture to transparency that ends up hiding the hideous manipulation in plain sight, here it’s an “offset” ideology. Offset the worst, while using the same (sales; marketing; etc) techniques as everyone else.

Capitalism is still going to ruin the planet, but since we’re inevitably stuck on this path of utter ruin how about we put some smiles on some faces at the same time? That’s their (unstated) position and argument as to why you should ditch “regular” capitalism and instead “do some good” while expressing your consumer capitalist purchasing power. Do I need to add how problematic it is basing one’s capacity to do good on the excess purchasing power of middle class, aspirational young people? Why do you think there’s no one over 30 in this video – why are they all the exact same people who gravitate towards prestigious NGOs?

I’m tempted to see this as yet another extension of what Graeber acknowledges about the way the middle-class Left monopolises any kinds of altrusitic work outside of the church or the military. The way that it keeps these people out is primarily via wealth – if you can’t afford to intern, you’re shit out of luck – and via culture. Look at the homogenous pricks in this video. Do you think a single one of them has ever had a unique thought in their short lives?

As an example of the monopolisation of this kind of work, my mum was a solicitor for 25yrs, has two masters degrees in development studies and international relations and STILL can’t get work at an NGO or similar because she doesn’t fit the cultural/ideological profile of the kind of person they want to hire in order to uncritically keep doing what they’re doing. It’s the blind leading the blind, honestly.

The other thing that’s worth pointing out is the way that the video is totally rife with bullshit semio-capitalist assumptions about work and labour and activism: “If you’re a little bit creative like me” UGH, NO YOU ARE LITERALLY THE LEAST CREATIVE THINKER OF YOUR WHOLE WRETCHED GENERATION. Is this what activism consists of now? Entreating impressionable, aspirational young people into doing little dances and flooding the Facebook pages of our national supermarket duopoly to pressure them into accepting their demands?

Oh, and you know how Woolies and Coles decide what products they stock on shelves? They charge a large shelf-space fee. Remembering that no one, least of all a corporation like ThankYou Water, can be entirely altruistic under capitalism (or else they’d starve/go out of business/etc) do you really think ThankYou Water is trying to do this only out of the goodness and kindness of their hearts? Market share is fucking lucrative, and whether they intend it or not that is a powerful and politically fraught move. They only get away with it because of the ideology of “doing good”.

But lets say they *are* doing it purely out of the kindness of their sweet-little hearts – what kind of market advantage do you think they’ll get by not having to pay the Woolies/Coles shelfspace fee? That’s going to fuck with other business owners business and their ability to operate?

Are you getting the unspoken message yet: BOOOO look at all those selfish yucky business owners who are doing NOTHING for the world except making money for themselves *tisk tisk tisk*. This is some next level shit.

This kind of thing is so insidious. Just looking over the above, it takes fucking pages and pages of explanation to unpack why all this bullshit is so fucking odious, and even my attempt at an explanation will probably fail to convince most people, who will get so hung up on “doing GOOD” and the POSITIVITY of the message. And at the end of the day everyone working at ThankYou Water will still go home and feel good about what they’re doing, safe in the knowledge that they, and only they, are the TRUE spirit of capitalist generosity.

Edit: Cameron Kunzelman reminds me of this Zizek video which, honestly, is probably the precise place I started to think about these ideas.

David Graeber on Ethnography

Taken from the Preface to his 2009 book ‘Direct Action, An Ethnography’ all about the 2000/2001 protests and riots against the WTO, etc., pages vii-viii:

Call this book, then, a tribute to the continued relevance of ethnographic writing. By “ethnographic writing,” I mean the kind that aims to describe the contours of a social and conceptual universe in a way that is at once theoretically informed, but not, in itself, simply designed to advocate a single argument or theory. There was a time when the detailed description of a political or ceremonial or exchange system in Africa or Amazonia was considered a valuable contribution to human knowledge in itself. This is no longer really the case. An anthropologist actually from Africa or Amazonia, or even some parts of Europe, might still be able to get away with writing such a book. Presently, the academic convention in America (which a young scholar would be unwise to ignore) is that one must pretend one’s description is really meant to make some larger point. This seems unfortunate to me. For one thing, I think it limits a book’s potential to endure over time. Classic ethnographies, after all, can be reinterpreted. New ones-however fascinating-rarely present enough material to allow this; and what there is tends to be strictly organized around a specific argument or related series of them.

 …

Anarchists and direct action campaigns do not exist to allow some academic to make a theoretical point or prove some rival’s theory wrong (any more than do Balinese trance rituals or Andean irrigation technologies), and it strikes me as obnoxious . to suggest otherwise.

Transcription: highlights from Timothy Morton’s Q&A session after ‘On Entering the Anthropocene’

On Friday, August 24th 2012 Tim Morton gave a rapid fire talked entitled ‘On Entering the Anthropocene’ as part of the launch of the new UNSW based journal of Environmental Humanities. I went along to the talk which was typical of Morton’s style, way too fast to keep up with (for me, at least). But after his short paper he spent a long period in discussion (though it was more like a discursive monologue with occasional input from those of us in the audience) that elaborated on some incredibly compelling ideas.

So taken was I by the Q&A section that I decided to transcribe some of the best portions of the talk (which ended up being, as you can see, quite a lot of it). The recording of the talk is available here, and the Q&A portion starts at around 30 minutes into the recording, so he spoke off-the-cuff in Q&A for far longer than the paper. The following transcription is riddled with the relics of spoken word, lots of pauses and ‘like’s and other phrases that don’r work as well in writing as they do in speaking, so your mileage may vary. The ideas Morton covered give, I suspect, a good idea of the direction he is going in with his forthcoming book Realist Magic, due out sometime next year, presumably. I have focussed solely on Tim’s answers, so refer to the MP3 for the questions that provoked these monologues, and the few timestamps I have included refer to that file. Because of the nature of transcription and because I focussed solely on the answers that most interested me, there are gaps and inaccuracies throughout. I encourage you to consult the original recording when in doubt or if anything seems mistaken, all transcription errors are my own.

Morton starts by answering a question from the audience…

****

[30:50]

“Ecological awareness, to me, is a kind of reflexive openness to… ‘strange strangers’. To these entities… DNA it’s made of things that aren’t DNA… rabbits are made of things that aren’t rabbits. So a rabbit is also a not-rabbit. In order to be a rabbit it’s also not-a-rabbit, it’s made of bones and… the legbone is connected to the headbone and the headbone is connected to the footbone… and the footbone is connected to the… toxic waste bone. And so… then we have at a slightly bigger scale… we have ecosystems, and they are sets of lifeforms aren’t they? And things that are made of lifeforms, like rocks, and things that are basically deposits of iron and oxygen, which is basically deposits of bacteria from billions of years ago. And these sets contain things that aren’t them… so it seems to me that lifeforms and the sets they comprise, like ecosystems and biomes… biosphere… exemplify Russell’s worst nightmare, which is the set of things that aren’t members of themselves. So in order to think ecologically we have to accept that some things, at least some things in reality are self-contradictory. This means that we need a logic that is not about reducing things to non-contradiction.

Section gamma of the metaphysics asserts that… something can’t be itself and not itself at the same time, but it’s never really been rigorously proved, people have just accepted this as a kind of rule of logic. And you sort of have to think, well can we have wisdom? When I hear wisdom, there’s part of me thinks ‘that means outside of logic’, but I think actually maybe we can have a logic that is not that way trying to boil everything down to non-selfcontradictory things. All the incredible discoveries of the 19th century, like Evolution… and also Cantor’s transfinite sets, are entities that you can’t directly point to, that consist of other entities that aren’t them. You can’t actually see the difference between a proto-parrot and a parrot, you can never see evolution happening. Nevertheless there are parrots and there are chimps and there are nematode worms. And there are discrete, unique beings. And the sort of joke…. If only Darwin had had emoticons it would’ve be easier for us to understand what he’s up to because he could have said, ‘The Origin of Species wink’ ;) The punchline being there are no species and they have no origin.

I personally, I’m with Graham Priest of Melbourne who thinks that you can be perfectly logical and have self-contradiction. So within logic you can find this wisdom, but it means you have to go back, you have to go past, underneath, Aristotle, but it also means you have to accept some of the things that were discovered in the 19th Century, such as precisely these things that I call hyperobjects. Like the very first one, weather wise, was El Niño, this weather pattern in the pacific that creates all this trouble in America, it’s a symptom of global warming really, but it’s an entity you can’t actually see it but you can think it. Like the notion of rational vs real numbers. Somehow the set of real numbers contains the set of rational numbers but there’s no continuity between them. So we have a set of things that aren’t sort of… totally continuous. So this was Russell’s big problem…  And so if we’re going to have ecological awareness, we have to start accepting that things are sort of uncanny which also means familiarly strange, which means they are themselves and not themselves at the same time. So to me that is what wisdom would be. It would be accepting that it’s perfectly logical, it’s not outside of logic, to allow things to be self-contradictory. You just have to drop a prejudice that doesn’t work… the kind of metalanguage police of the early 20th Century, Tarsky, all those guys, tried to say “Oh well those sets aren’t really sets. They’re something else.” For Tarsky, the liar is…  is not a sentence. Because you have decided, metalinguistically, that it’s not a sentence. Okay great Mister Tarsky, now I can invent a sentence that will blow your one up: “This is not a sentence.” And so begins this kind of arms race between these viral, self-contradictory sentences, another example would be Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Every logical system, in order to be true on its own terms, has to have at least one statement in to that cannot be proved. Something like “This statement cannot be proved.” In order to be TRUE!

And it seems to me that, also life-forms, and just regular, nonliving, physical objects have this kind of inner-fragility. There’s at least one magic silver bullet that could kill you. And death in this way, or destruction, just means you would become the other thing. When Wiley Coyote eats road runner, road runner becomes Wiley Coyote. That’s the definition of being destroyed. When the opera singer sings a certain frequency of note, the glass sort of shimmies a little bit and then… poof… it’s a not-glass. It’s been translated by the soundwaves somehow. So it his this kind of inner Achilles heel, a fragile sort of wound. And I think this wound is the difference between an object and itself. It’s that self-contradictoriness because, on this view things are not what they appear all the way down. So that even if they were…. Totally physically isolated they would be themselves and not themselves at the same time.

You can isolate a tiny, tiny object that’s actually really big from a quantum point of view. You can isolate a tiny little tuning fork that’s like 30microns long you can put it in a vacuum very close to absolute zero, that’s pretty much operationally closed… what you see is this thing sort of breathing.

This is Aaron O’Connnell, he’s got this Ted Talk ‘making sense of a visible quantum object’. It’s not quantum it’s actually macro scale, this shouldn’t work from a Neils Bohr point of view. What you see is this little tiny thing, you can see it with your eye…

[[ Tim then elaborated on the TED talk he mentioned, which I believe is this one ]]

“When you isolate a physical system it seems to go into coherence. Which means it’s here but also not here at the same time.”

“At bottom… existing means contradicting yourself. And ceasing to exist means becoming consistent.”

[42:20]

“Everything is sort of translating everything else.”

[[Gives the example of carpet ‘carpetromorphising’ me, me anthropomorphising carpet, etc.]]

[43:30]

“This kind of irreducible gap between the way something is and the way it appears, even to itself… the way something is is ‘futural’. Like think about reading a poem. You don’t know what it means yet, this is why you read it. Then once you’ve read it, you might have another reading of it. So the meaning of the poem is always in the future. I think it’s also the same with anything. It’s the same with grass. It’s the same with seagulls. It’s the same with my hair. It’s the same with moles, it’s the same with money. The essence of a thing is the future. And the form of a thing just is the past, on this view. The way something has been shaped, or moulded, the way something appears is the past. This makes sense from an Einstein point for view, but also an Aristotelian point of view. Formal causation just is the way something has been formed. So on this view, there’s a kind of temporality that doesn’t have the present… I’m sorry… now I’m doing ecology without the present… The present is a kind of optical illusion, it’s like a kind of relative motion. You’ve got these two trains… one is the past, one is the future, they’re sliding past each other they don’t ever touch each other because essence and appearance don’t touch… but the relative motion caused by both things sliding over each other is what we call present. And we can kind of metaphysically say, this is now, this microsecond, this dot, this atom of time… or this bigger thing, this blob, this year, this century, this millennium. Whatever we do is always a kind of arbitrary construct that’s always subject to sorites paradoxes. In other words, you can always do a Zeno on any atomic version of time where you’ve got little atoms of present’s moving one side to other… so if you drop that, you’ve got the past and the future moving.”

[[ Tim talks about hyperobjects, objects “so big and so futural” ]]

[46:20]

“Thinking into the future… this is my version of it… Art is like a message in a bottle from the future. It’s like Percy Shelly says, poems actually do come from the future, I truly believe that, I’m not just talking gibberish and I think I just explained why I think that’s true…

[47:00]

“Thinking is always into the future, in that sense, because there is always an encounter with non-identity in thinking. That’s where I actually really love Adorno, because his whole thing is that really thinking something is encountering something that’s not identical, otherwise you’re just moving pre-arranged stuff on a grid, that you’ve pre-established, that’s not really thinking that’s just manipulating pre-formed objects. Which is basically the past. They’re living in the past, from my point of view. So thinking is always into the future, I just think that ecological awareness – which is just realising that we coexist with many other nonhuman beings that are not necessarily living or sentient – is futural. So unlike Latour, I do think we have been Modern, we have been thinking we are just about to hit the… it was bad then, and now it’s gonna work, just another little final thing! …I think we really have been modern, and we are kind of waking up form that and realising that ever time we do that we were just going round this Mobius strip, not moving at all.

Thinking the future is thinking ecologically, and obviously it means transcending the horrifying stuff that’s happening right now… one of those things is the way capitalism is organised.

[49:00]

[[ At this point I asked Tim a question about his views on whether he is a materialist, what he thinks of matter, etc ]]

“When I hear the word matter what I hear is… a kind of… perspective trick. Matter is what something was made out of, but when I look for matter it’s the same as when I look for nature. Like when I look for nature I see bunny rabbits, trees, mountains, bacteria… but I never see this thing called nature, it’s always off the edge of the list somewhere… else. When I look for matter I see photographs of cloud diffusion patterns in cloud diffusion chambers, I see drawings of nuclei, I see stones, I see cement, I see flesh, I never see this thing called matter. Matter is the object that something was made out of (or objects). So on this view, materialism is a kind of correlationism, to be very technical about it. What materialism does is it both, in Graham Harman’s words, undermines things… to some smaller or larger thing that’s more real. Tables aren’t really tables; they’re actually made of wood. Then by definition the wood is more real than the table. Wood isn’t really wood, it’s made of cells. Cells aren’t really cells they’re made of molecules. Molecules aren’t really molecules they’re made of atoms. Atoms aren’t really atoms they’re made of quanta. Quanta aren’t really quanta, they’re made of fluctuations in the void. What have you just done? You’ve just gone to nihilism, because you’ve just decided that the most real and fundamental thing is this void, with quantum fluctuations. Or you can say that the  table is just an instantiation of a table process, or some kind of life force, or some kind of Bergson/Deleuze way of doing it… there’s this flow of something (Spinoza), as a substance and it extrudes itself as a table. The substance is more real than the table. So that would be undermining.

Then overmining… the table is a discursive produce of my cultural make up, or it’s a figment of my imagination or it’s a mind projection, or it’s a moment of my consciousness. Going upwards also you encounter the void, eventually. Because you say, well it’s not really a table it’s my positing of the table as a table, it’s not really positing, it’s my self-reflexive act of positing myself. It’s not really myself it’s a pure ‘I’ positing itself in a void. You’ve also gone to a void, upwards. So I think that in general, materialism is both those things together. It’s saying this thing isn’t really a thing, it looks like it’s a thing to you but actually it’s made of these other things that are more real because they’re smaller or bigger. And it’s just saying, well small things are better than big things, or medium sized things. Or big things are better than medium size things. And I’m sticking up for medium sized things, like people, chimps, bacteria, elephants, polar bears, ocean, y’know… just that idea. And so I’m happier with the idea that there’s a possible infinite regress. I thin the anxiety is “oh my god you never get back… you want to get back to the beginning”. But if we are trying to go past metaphysics you can’t have a beginning thing at all. So you have to accept the possibility that there’s an infinite regress of entities. It may not be the case, but it’s possible – it’s thinkable that there might be an inifintesimal, like liveness(???), number of little thingies inside me. That basically everything is a Tardis. Y’know Dr Who’s Tardis? … Everything is bigger on the inside than the outside. Everything is like that, from this point of view. And I’m happier with that than the idea that everything is made out of some primal thing. That seems to be a hangover from a kind of scholastic, Neoplatonic, Aristoteleanism. That saying there’s a kind of fundamental first cause that is the cause of itself. But this is what Hume and Kant just blew out of the water, this idea that you can just have these factoids like “Everything must have a cause!” Now what we have are just correlations of data. So you can’t really do that anymore, it’s just we’re really addicted to it. And the trouble is the addiction has political, social, therefore ecological consequences. So I think for example the Higgs-Boson, what did they really discover? They discovered some statistically meaningful data that fit with the standard model. But from my point of view, this Higgs-Boson is a kind of hysterical symptom of a correlationist view. Because from that kind of quantum theory, which is standard model, it’s saying the measuring device makes it real, there’s nothing really happening it’s just that when you measure it, it becomes real so…measuring it is more real than what’s measured. So you’re a metaphysician there. You’ve just decided that measuring is more real than what you’ve measured… so you’re an overminer from that point of view. But then if everything is like that, what’s holding it all together? And so along comes this Higgs-Boson, that somehow magically particles pass through this Higgs field, which just so happens to be evenly distributed throughout space-time so you can’t see it… well what does this remind you of? The ether. It’s back… partying like it’s 1759. But, with billions and billions of dollars! “We just need another… 4-more gig of electron volts and we’ll get it. Just give us another 60 million and we’ll find the ultimate particle.” And you can easily do a Locke on that, right. You’ve got this field of particles… and what’s surrounding that? The whole kind of deconstruction of the notion of the ether. The ether is made of particles at some point, well what’s the ether around those? You have some kind of infinite regress problem.

So I think… you always end up with… you need something to fill in the gap in the theory. Unless you just accept there are quarks, there are giraffes. Giraffes are not reducible to quarks, and so… there’s a kind of tardis quality to a giraffe. I’m happier with that. So I’m not a materialist.

[57:50]

“There’s this conversation with nihilism going on. Everybody’s terrified of it, or embracing it, or something. And it seems to me that once you’ve decided there’s a gap between how thing are and how they appear you’ve let the nothingness genie out of the bottle. You’ve decided there’s a lot of little holes in reality and now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall, and it’s all very disturbing. And I used to think that nihilism was a problem that we had to kind of surmount. But now I think it’s more like a problematic that we have to kind of go underneath-through… underneath it. And so basically this is a long way of saying ‘I haven’t got a clue. I’m just road-testing it.’”

[1:00:30]

“Since there is no real rigid boundary between life and non life, in my view, all entities are kind of ‘un-dead’. So a more accurate picture of reality would not be nature in particular, or even environment, but something more like a charnal ground. There’s a sort of thing that many different styles of Tibetan Buddhism do, in particular Turd(??), which is generated by Madrick Labdrun(??) who is one of the Sidhes (which means ‘highly accomplished people’, in what we would call the middle ages) and their whole thing was to try and stay in these horrible places… I’ve been in some, you’ve got bits of limbs. They just chop you up and leave you there for the vultures. It’s the ultimate ecological burial… There’s this guy called the Sky Butcher and he just chops you into little pieces, there’s no burning. So there’s all kinds of ideas that there’s these demons and ghosts and the whole idea is to kind of co-exist in that space. And I think… Nature and human are like small, rather arbitrarily constructed regions of this much bigger space which is more like… the modern would be an emergency room. There’s lots of blood, and there’s lots of pain. As a depression person… I think that…

[1:02:00]

[[ Tim then talks about Goths and depression (as one stage of grief) ]]

“Depression could be, to go back to the wisdom thing, it could be sort of frozen wisdom. I’m just a traditional Freudian, I think melancholia is a default state of being something at all, because to be something is to be marked by something else. You have inner wounds, which just are your ego. As Freud says the ego is the precipitator of abandoned object kathexies…

[1:03:30]

“I’m just trying to trick americans into it… trying to find some kind of clever way to get Americans to give a shit… about reducing their carbon footprint… inside the depression is what I’m calling ‘sadness’ which is the sort of feeling of connection with at least one other entity. But unconditional. Like when you examine Kantian beauty, it’s an experience of an object-like thing, but… you can’t point to it, but it’s not objectified, but it’s not you… it’s a footprint of something non-human inside your psychic space. And it’s sad, by definition, because you can’t hold onto it, it’s ungraspable. Like if you could specify ‘oh, it’s the smile of the Mona Lisa that makes it beautiful’ you could make a million Photoshop versions… jpg’s of the smile, and that would be a million times more beautiful than the Mona Lisa. Or if you could say, “Oh it’s actually my brain chemistry, I’m getting off on my brain”, then you could isolate the active ingredient of that, you could make a little pill… lets call it MDMA. Just arbitrarily… you take a thousand of those it’s a thousand times better than the feeling of beauty, but that doesn’t work either.

[1:05:00]

“There’s a certain je ne sais quios, you can’t point to it, you can’t impose it on anybody, so there’s a certain sadness in the feeling of beauty. You can’t hold onto it. And that’s coexistence, underneath. I think that the human experience of this is like a chocolate, you’ve got the frosting on the outside which is guilt, inside that is the shame… then inside that is the depression, which is the frozen liquid centre the cherry flavoured… inside that is the real liquid, which is the sadness… that’s what it mostly depends on. Just coexisting with 1+n other beings. And that’s what we need to hit, or to tune to, or allow to tune us, if we’re to get through this thing we created… and also other species.”

[1:09:00]

[[ Tim gives the example of a “chimp” and the only thing that a chimp needs to do to ‘evolve’ is to pass on its DNA/genes, etc. ]]

[1:12:00]

“But I’m trying to convince… pseudo-sophisticated nihilists inside the American academy that it’s really cool to think that was, not really primitive…”

[1:12:50]

“You can have even more irony when you have a trickster nature… underneath the tragedy level, underneath the sadness even, there’s a kind of comedy level.”

[[ Underneath the tragedy sadness level, Tim suggests is a comedy level ]]

[1:13:00]

“Trying to trick people into that, rather than saying “you must abandon all your modern stuff” …people go into defiance when you tell them directly the modern age is all fucked up… or tey get really religious about that…”

“I must totally change my entire way of being!” Well that is just modernity.

[1:17:00]

[[ Around this point I asked Tim a question about the best way to convince Americans in love with the notion of individualism to believe in collectives, aggregates, and objects that are larger than single human entities ]]

“How do you convince individualists they’re actually a part of something larger than themselves… well they actually love that feeling, a certain version of that (which is basically Fascism)… which is a feeling of being part of something bigger.

“There’s basically two views of religion: Battaille, philosophy of religion, he says you can think relgion means feeling that you are part of something bigger, and I’m totally integrated into that… now in my view you can never be totally integrated into something bigger, there’s always a gap between a chair and a set of chairs. So there’s America and there’s capitalism and there’s me, and then there’s groups within that and they’re all discrete in some strange way, and there’s the biosphere… but it’s not a completely functioning, totally integrated holistic machine. But Americans actually love that, they love the idea that they are totally dissolved like sugar in water, into something bigger. So you’ve got to defeat that one…

What both those thing are warding off is what Battaille says religion actually is, which I think is really cool. Which is that it’s a kind of search for a lost intimacy. It’s intimacy. Intimacy is not feeling part of something bigger, it’s coexisting in a vulnerable fragile sort of way with at least one other entity. And intimacy is what we need in ecological awareness, not feeling like we’re part of something bigger, we need some kind of intimacy.

[1:19:20]

“What we’re warding off in that joyful, ecstatic immersion in the Big Other is the uncertainty of just encountering a unique being. So the basic message of Levinas or even some forms of Christianity or some forms of Buddhism is an intimacy with another being… which could be yourself. Like the basic definition of meditation, which is getting used to reality, which isn’t you. The Tibetan for it is ‘Gom’ which means becoming accustomed to or acclimatised to. So your basically just getting used to reality. You are being intimate with… it… for as long as you can stand…”

[1:20:50]

“So you have to deal with non-violence, which is allowing things to coexist, including yourself, on a very fundamental level… with a lot more different beings than just humans, and even nonhumans, even non-living or non-sentient beings. So… you have to tap into… if it’s about convincing Americans… you have to tap into the quite cool aspect of Americanness, which is “Just let us be weird, anarchsitsitc, weird puritans in the forest, being weird… Just let me be weird on my own, I’m not bothering anybody… just let me be a weird non-violent guy with a big beard”. If you tap into that it sort of works a little bit, because they get the anarchy thing. But they love the totality thing, which is a symptom of the individualism…

“Individualism is different from uniqueness… there are rules about what constitutes an OK lawn…”

[[ Apparenty in some states you can be arrested for lawns that are not regulation – wtf? ]]

[[ Tim thinks there should be more public spaces where you can be introverted in public ]]

Comparative feelpinions about Far Cry 3

Most of my readers will remember that I’m known as one of the biggest fans of Far Cry 2 in the world, having done my ‘Permanent Death’ saga in which I played through the game in one life and documented my progress and how playing in that manner changed the game. So readers should know that I’m already hopelessly biased against the sequel to what is, in my estimation, one of if not the most interesting and important game of our generation.

So in trying to work through my initial reactions to Far Cry 3 I’m faced with the impossible task of trying to sort out my inevitable disappointment from some more legitimate gripes. John Walker has already listed a bunch of things that he finds incredibly grating about the game, but there’s one particular issue that I haven’t seen anyone really put their finger on.

I think the main issue I have with the game is that I don’t like its tone, and I’ll explain what I mean by that with a couple of examples. The tone of FC2 was incredibly ambiguous, and almost entirely unique. Tom Bissell in his review of the rubbish Spec Ops: The Line, described FC2, saying that, “the game just stares back at you with lidless, reptilian eyes. It doesn’t care how you feel.” The way that I described it, back in one of the first things I wrote about the game, was that it was “about the individual; death; nihilism. The contentious design decisions, even the whole game, only starts to make sense when viewed through this lens.” Mortality and the nihilism of deadly violence is not just A Theme of the game, it is it’s only theme. When that prism refracts individual design elements; the enemy AI design and their distinctly ambivalent likeability; the incredible natural beauty; the precarity of the instruments of death; and the themes of the individual missions, with their echoes of post-colonial adventures in Africa, all of them are revealed as shorter wavelengths that make up the crystal clear light shining throughout that whole game.

FC2 was about entropy (how rare to say that any game is about ANYTHING, let alone something so abstract and important!) and carried an awareness of material entropy – fire, oil, metal and springs, gas and cartridges, rust! Blood and dust.

And after playing it for about 5 or 6 hours I want to ask a similar question: What is FC3 about? 5 to 6 hours was approximately how long it took for the theme of FC2 to emerge, so it seems fair to ask now. Except that I don’t think FC3 is ‘about’ anything, at least not in the same way that FC2 was. Possibly this is an impossible standard to live up to – perhaps FC2 was a fluke, an accident, an impossible project never to be repeated.

But why would that be the case?

“Because of the market, stupid! Because game development happens in a certain way and it means that a game with such singular focus will never be made again!”

That kind of cynicism is remarkably prevalent in the faux-enlightened corners of the enthusiast press and can even be found creeping into the occasional mainstream publication. But that argument can’t even be taken seriously once we expose the rhetorical assumption behind it – that there is something natural or inevitable about certain kinds of contemporary game development. At the risk of alienating my less philosophically inclined readers – this is pretty clearly an extension of what Mark Fisher calls ‘Capitalist Realism’.

Almost incidentally, that also presents a unique problem for games studies, in that it is an admission of the fact that extra-game forces have a greater determining power over the game than anyone who supposedly is making actual ‘game design’ decisions. When was the last time you read a paper about weapon reload time changes and their impact online that also took into account and integrated the larger, determining forces of capitalist production and workplace labour laws? Which means that design philosophy is an up-for-grabs target of critique.

So assuming that FC2 was the product of it’s own distinct design philosophy, one which I won’t attempt to name or even locate within Clint Hocking and/or his team of designers (this for pragmatic reason), I will say that it is obvious that Clint et al. had a design philosophy for FC2. So let us instead posit the existence of the design philosophy that resulted in FC2 merely for comparisons sake. Then what can we say, in comparison, about FC3’s design philosophy, by observing the results (i.e. by playing the game)?

Let’s talk specifics – this game has some really shitty racist elements. I won’t say anymore about it because it’s bleedingly obvious to the point where I could just copy+paste the phrase “Magical Negro” a hundred times and it makes my point for me. I will leave it to others to decide whether FC2 was, in it’s own way, racist or not (though I suspect it was far less so, if it even was).

An even easier comparison to make between FC2 and FC3 has to do with the amount of dehumanization the enemies undergo. In FC2 the enemies are nasty, brutish, violent mercenaries and this is an important element to their character, but they also get scared, they are terrified of dying and particularly of dying by fire. This is probably one of the most important and least remarked upon elements of FC2. In FC3, the red-shirted pirates are caricatures. Little better than cardboard cutouts from a shooting gallery, except that they also fire back. The main antagonist – Vaas – is actually the exception to this rule, which is a weird thing to deal with. He is, however, pretty much a non-entity past the intro (at least up to the point I am at in the game).

Another area where the sequel fails (at least comparatively) is in terms of the weapons and what I can only describe as their ‘feel’. This is a combination of a number of things I’m sure, including the way that FC2 stuck religiously to first-person perspective, and the way it balanced the whole combat system around an ongoing shortage of ammo and the risk/reward of picking up a ‘rusty’ gun, etc, etc. I guess it’s clear that the number of systems entailed in the combat mechanics of FC2 is quite nearly all of them, and that was itself fantastic. FC3 has the same shortage of ammo but instead of a system around the risk associated with picking up enemy weapons… FC3 involves a hunting and crafting system that feels far more artificial and grindy in comparison. At the very least these are inelegant solutions.

And similar observations can be made elsewhere – why does it take so long to loot bodies and why play an animation? Why can’t I pick up ALL the cash money piles at once, instead having to perform the same tedious “press and hold” routine for three or more piles of cash ($7… $3… $9…). So far I think what FC3 is most about (if its about anything) is what might best be described as the “general upward trend” gotten from grinding. I’ll save you the boring readings of grinding through a political-economy lens and just say that while I can often enjoy the occasional grind, I think the FC2 alternative solution of a more ‘flat’ experience (no levels, few upgrades very miserly apportioned) was a much, much better fit for a first person shooter with operatic scope and pretensions to being meaningful.

The economy reflects this issue as well, with Tristan Damen (@Unbearabledutch) pointing out on twitter today that: “FC3’s economy seems pretty busted. Only reason you need money is to buy weapon attachments.” If I had to pick one word to describe much of the crafting and economy decisions in FC3 I would describe them as arbitrary.

Lastly (for now) the decision to include civilian/native populations (which were nearly-exclusively ‘invisible’ in FC2, bringing its own set of problems, primarily around ‘othering’ the inhabitants) but without going to the trouble of making them anything more than set-dressing opens FC3 to accusations of denying indigenous agency/autonomy (passive civilians waiting for the hero to rescue them) which is a frequent problem for games generally. In fact this is one of the reasons that their very omission in FC2 seems like such an enlightened choice. Better to avoid it altogether if one can’t do it properly. Another comparison here might be apt, this time to Just Cause 2, which John Walker (and numerous others) has already usefully compared it to. But the caricatures of civilians that the Just Cause series presents (where they wander aimlessly, occasionally chat about something or other, and generally provide a backdrop feeling of a ‘lived-in-place’) only works within the context of the wider suspension of disbelief that is necessary for any Just Cause game. FC3 doesn’t go to these same ludicrous heights, nor does it pack as much into the world, with frequently big empty spaces to be trudged through (which remain unlike FC2 which turned them into an endurance test and an integral part of its meditation on the nature of safety in relation to deadly violence).

Žižek on Lacan on being unblockable on twitter

“Indeed, as Lacan put it: a true Master is the one who cannot ever be betrayed – the one who, even when actually betrayed, does not lose anything.” -Slavoj Žižek, ‘The Actuality of Ayn Rand’, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Vol. 3, No.2, p.225

Okay, so it’s not really about being unblockable, but I’ve been thinking about certain types of twitter/facebook/online performances that are intended to pre-empt the (re)actions or criticisms of a certain other party and I think this quote captures the essence of it nicely. When I force a troll to block me, I am “betrayed” but even though actually betrayed, I do not lose anything (in fact I reclaim from the troll the very thing he was seeking a reaction). A lot of feminist ‘discursive activism’ (Frances Shaw’s very cool term) is about setting up the conditions true Mastery, in the sense that they cannot be betrayed. Feminist bingo, Mansplaining, and all the rest of the pre-actions Shaw talks about mean that when these betrayals happen, nothing is lost.

Not sure if I can be bothered tracking down the original source for Zizek’s paraphrase, but this quote will certainly do in a pinch. More on this topic in my forthcoming article for the Fibreculture trolling issue.