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Critical Simulation stuff April 22, 2007

Posted by joshg in General.

I’ve been working my way through First Person, a collection of essays on new media, games, and related goodness. A chapter which I meant to blog about immediately after reading was Gonzalo Frasca’s “Videogames of the Oppressed“.

Unfortunately one point which he briefly mentioned got under my skin so deeply that I wanted to read his full thesis which this paper was based on before trying to respond. Since his thesis is, well, thesis-sized and my attention span is limited I haven’t gotten that far yet. So rather than nitpick on the ability of games to make moral statements, I’ll come back to that at some other time so that I can get on with the business of recommending the rest of the paper.

I love his concept of creating an open forum where people modify each other’s game designs as a method of communicating different points of view on a problem or situation. It would be great if someone would set up such a website, where games that were uploaded would have source included and allow people to upload modified games that would be referenced by the site to the original. On the other hand, aside from some of the cross-referencing features it’s possible that such a discussion forum could be created on an existing online community such as the art-focused CodeTree or the relatively open games portal Kongregate.

Anyway, if you’re interested in ideas of games as critical simulation, go give Frasca’s paper a read, and the rest of the section on Critical Simulation is worthwhile as well.



1. Nate - May 1, 2007

I wonder if the huge ecosystem of tiny Flash games counts as ‘videogames of the oppressed’.

I guess I count myself fairly underwhelmed by Marxist (and most other critical theory) analyses of media, and that includes Theater(re) of the Oppressed. I think if you start by assuming all problems are caused by OPPRESSION! of one group of people by another, then you’re just shifting the issue; at the least, you’re assigning a somethingness to a nothingness, which is to say, I think most social problems are caused by a *lack* of (compassion, awareness, integration, connection, etc) rather than any kind of positive OPPRESSING! force. And certainly telling one’s own group’s stories and setting up an alternative media can go a long way to redressing that…. but. Then I look at punk, hip-hop, indie film, etc, indie games, and weep. The practice doesn’t seem to have produced the fruits the theory claims. When an indie media artist strikes it big (the Lucases, the Tarantinos, the Carmack/Romeros), they often seem to become as much of a Big Media institution as the big names of their formative eras that they rebelled against. But even more, the message of much indie material just doesn’t seem fundamentally *different* from mainstream material – just another fashion taste. To an outsider, they look identical; to the point where ‘alternative rock’ in the 1990s unseated glam-hair-metal as the ‘mainstream’ music choice, just as metal unseated pop, and then moved on. And yet we still have ‘alternative’ as a genre label on record store shelves. What does ‘alternative’ mean when it literally becomes the baseline? We are now in the era of dinosaur alt-rockers, corporate-friendly garage rock, thirty-year-on punk reunion tours, and Boomer rock is now knighthood and classical muzak material.

At what point does ‘rebellion’ exist in a fashion-, youth- and change-oriented market like media or technology (or even moreso, the intersection of both, such as gaming) that prides itself on destabilisation, and can absorb every possible act of differentiation thrown at it? What can an ‘indie’ bring to an already fractured scene that can stand out short of the culture-defyingly perverse? And if you do succeed in that, which gets hard in a fairly liberal culture, what have you achieved other than perversity for perversity’s sake?

I guess you can go for either spectacle, or for brilliant craftmanship, or ultra-niche focus… and either way accept that you don’t actually want to rock the mainstream consensus because there is no mainstream anymore, just a wide spray of transient subcultures each with as much depth as a Pop Tart. And live for honest commercial craft rather than dreams of Revolutionary Art. Which is mostly okay by me.

But can there be something more? I think there can, but only by starting from outside the ‘oppressor/oppressed’ media axis. Starting with ‘how can I as an artist be *true* to something greater than me or my cultural/subcultural affinity group’s passing tastes and values’.

But talking about the intersection of Truth and Art gets problematic.

2. joshg - May 1, 2007

I wonder if the huge ecosystem of tiny Flash games counts as ‘videogames of the oppressed’.

Perhaps in a very loose sense, but is that ecosystem currently provoking discussion? There are some exceptional cases which are, but I don’t think it’s the norm.

I think the two factors found in Frasca’s ‘Videogames of the Oppressed’ which are currently missing from the Flash ecosystem are a framework for coherent discussion and an emphasis on enabling derivative works. That is, nobody really passes around source code as a rule (with the exception of artistic ventures like Codetree), and nobody really seems interested in linking together different iterations of derived or related works to form a thread of discussion.

I wonder if this could be done by a third-party site without actually hosting the games? Maybe create a meta-portal which hosts discussion threads and links to games in an easily accessible way. (I hate to say it, but I’m actually envisioning it opening the links below a frame which maintains a reference to the meta-portal; eeeagh frames, but maybe in this case it’s plausible?) This would allow not only discussion via authorship of games, but also discussion via references to existing games. Although maybe that’s not actually an improvement, hrm.

When an indie media artist strikes it big (the Lucases, the Tarantinos, the Carmack/Romeros), they often seem to become as much of a Big Media institution as the big names of their formative eras that they rebelled against.

And isn’t that exactly what happened with Marxism on the political level?

I share some of your doubts over just how helpful a critical theory is if all it does is to take an existing preconception or prejudice and force itself into a view of a given work. I’m not very familiar with the range of critical theory yet however, so we’ll see. I do think that Frasca’s idea of creating a space for discussion via games is useful no matter what you’re discussing. Maybe empowering people to discuss in new ways is a worthwhile idea even if the ideas which get discussed aren’t necessarily revolutionary or new; simply expanding the ways in which we communicate could be a worthwhile goal in itself.

3. nectarine - January 6, 2008

This sounds like metaplace.

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