Software, Globalization and Political Action

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Videogames as Software

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    It occurs to me that videogames are a topic which has been lurking on the periphery of our discussions and which touches on many of the themes that have come up so far: image, software, data and the interactive visualization of data, production and computation in contemporary capitalism, algorithms, code/space (games are a kind of space, after all, even though I’m not quite sure how to describe the kind of space that they are, or that they produce). Also, videogames increasingly hold the potential to overlap with physical reality, due to “augmented reality”, Google Glass, and the so-called “gamification” of society (a discourse which is obviously potentially problematic and obfuscatory, but also interesting to think about). (

    On the most prosaic level, the videogame industry has supplanted the film industry in terms of profitability, and more arguably, perhaps in broader cultural impact as well. In some quarters, these developments have been largely filtered through debates about whether or not games can be “art”, but I personally don’t think that that debate is particularly interesting for our purposes.

    Games are, obviously, software, a series of algorithms, but one that is only actualized when it responds to the player’s input. The game only exists, when it is being “performed”, as Lev puts it in his article. From what I understand (I’ve only just begun seriously looking into these topics) besides “can games be art”, another widely discussed issue in game studies is narrotology vs ludology: broadly speaking, whether we should study games as vehicles for delivering narrative/“story” of varying levels of interactivity, or whether games should be studied as games, as ludic, formal systems of rules and objectives. Most “socially conscious” gaming I know of is of the former type; games that essentially echo the forms of mainstream games, but insert some socially relevant content.

    This is interesting, but I also think that the form of games, like, for example, strategy games (Sim City, Civilization, and that type of thing), also contain or express meaning, that they can be seen as, in a sense, “about” data and software, since they often require the management of vast amounts of information, and the mastering of visual representations of that data.

    I wonder to what extent games can be, or have been, understood specifically as software, how this might affect “game studies” and how this might bring the discussions about videogames into contact with the broader themes that we have been discussing in the course so far? Our lives are increasingly mediated by software, and a significant amount of this software is ludic, oriented toward play or gaming. And yet play and gaming, in general and in its software manifestations, are not isolated from contemporary capitalism and its forms of exploitation (the wikipedia article on gamification goes into this to some extent, as well at one point, suggest a possible connection between gamification and socialist “competition” in the Soviet Union!).

    To jump wildly ahead, could we write, following Eisenstein, “Notes for a Videogame of Capital”? What kind of code/space can videogames produce? What are the critical possibilities of this mode of cultural/artistic production? Do concepts like montage carry over to the study of gaming in some way, or do we need to develop new critical vocabularies for this increasingly important cultural form? Is getting immersed in a game a kind of “reception in distraction”? Does/could gaming have a Dziga Vertov, or a Walter Benjamin? If it did, what would this look like? Would we recognize it?

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