Thursday, 21 January 2010
War, scarcity and other playful things of life
Fun Inc. by Tom Chatfield was not as interesting as I hoped it is going to be. For most parts, it was telling what I already knew; that games are not played only by teenaged boys in their cellars, alone, with a blood-craving look in their eyes. No, instead they are social, reach various social layers, teach us a variety of skills from emotional to intellectual, and that also the army and the education institutions are interested in them. Fair enough, perhaps we still need such books to spread out the fact that games are not just games, but constitute a key feature of contemporary digital culture. Its not only "games" as objects or products but a whole set of patterns of behavior, gestures, affects and emotions that constitute a wider field of "gamelike" elements of which digital culture consists of. Hence, such seeming oxymorons as serious games (games used for learning or other "serious" activities like politics) are taking over. Or then casual games, used to fill in that 3 minutes you have of your personal time. I am still yet to see that perfect post-fordist analysis of the management of time and a care for the self in the context of casual gaming.
To be fair, Chatfield included some nice sections. His chapter on Second Lives pointed out the weird patterns of labour of social media platforms -- from goldfarming to such original interventions as Jeff Crouse and Stephanie Rothenberg's Invisible Thread's project that staged a virtual sweatshop on Second Life.
Thinking about gaming cultures, I was reminded of (quasi-)Zizekian ideas concerning how people want their own slavery and such social media and game platforms are good examples of such. They are both able to articulate the real world cultures of scarcity, but at time same time showing how it seems impossible to even think/desire outside such modes of capitalist scarcity. Chatfield mentions one early virtual world The Palace (1995) that was supposed to introduce a world without real life limitations. As Chatfield writes, people were not however ready for such radical ideas, "People, it turned out, were extremely attached to scarcity. They liked it so much, in fact, that not only did they prefer virtual worlds in which there were strict limits on available resources over ones in which you would simply have anything you wanted; they were actually prepared to pay money to spend time in these scarce worlds." (173) In Zizekian terms, even if such a world without limitations was somehow possible there, people did not find the needed cognitive and affective attitudes of how to cope with that. What to do with that lack of scarcity? In terms of how it articulates the artificial scarcity continuously maintained by neoliberalism, such virtual worlds become really interesting.
Finally, again from one of the better chapters, this one on the one on war, Chatfield seems to write suddenly like Friedrich Kittler. Hence, I could not resist quoting him in length (Chatfield that is):
"In this respect, it's clear that being well prepared for modern warfare shares many elements with good preparation for modern life: you need to be able to live and breathe certain kinds of software and hardware. Most of your actions are mediated by complex machines, while your sphere of power and information extends well beyond the personal space you occupy. You are a networked individual, using multiple tools, often deluged with information and options." (192-193)
Having just yesterday finally seen Gamer, something that Steven Shaviro has been going on about (and for a good reason), this description seems apt and accurate idea of some of the techno-affective links between gaming cultures and war; what Shaviro brings in his wonderful analysis of Gamer is of course neoliberalism. I cannot but warmly recommend his text on the topic.