[-empyre-] Videogames of the oppressed / oppressive games

Robert Nideffer nideffer at gmail.com
Tue Mar 5 01:52:18 EST 2013

Hi Paolo (and others),

I've *really* enjoyed reading your provocative and very insightful posts! I
just wanted to quickly share a few links, and hope to have the time later
to respond in more depth to some of the discussion.

I've been teaching, writing, researching and doing creative work around
game culture and technoloogy from within the context of the fine arts since
the mid to late '90s. I've been in the art and informatics departments at
University of California Irvine since '98, and in '00 with my colleague
Antoinette LaFarge curated "SHIFT-CTRL" the opening exhibition for our
Beall Center for Art and Technology, which showed both established and
emerging artists in an attempt to seriously (and playfully :) examine the
relationship between computer games and art.

Here's a link to the SHIFT-CTRL official website:

Here's a link to a nice summary site Antoinette keeps about it:

Here's a link to a Leonardo article we wrote about it:

In '04 we did a follow-up at the Beall called "ALT-CTRL" on a much lower
budget, but which was equally fun and interesting, perhaps even more so (I
personally loved working with an amazing group of graffiti artists who
totally transform the gallery space, we actually did a documentary about
it). AND In that show we included Mollendustria's "Tuboflex" project which
was one of my favorites.

Here's a link to the ALT-CTRL website which I've archived:

Here's a link to another nice summary site by Antoinette:

It's been amazing to watch the "field" of game studies morph and expand
over the past 15 or so years. Working in this domain as an artist from
within an academic environment, proposing programs, designing curricula,
going after funding, massaging delicate relationships between corporate and
campus administrative/economic interests and our own pedagogical and
creative desires, etc etc, has certainly presented a unique set of
challenges and rewards! Forgive me, my intent here is not to derail
anything into institutional analysis and critique, though we can't deny the
pivotal role the academy, and increasingly galleries, museums and the
corporate sector have played in setting the stage upon which many of us

Very warmest  wishes to all, and I look forward to reading/contributing
more soon!

On Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 11:20 AM, paolo - molleindustria <
paolo at molleindustria.it> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Ok, I definitely should tell you a little more about what I do and throw
> in some extra conversation starters.
> Since playing is time consuming and we are all busy, here's a video
> covering most of the games I made until 2010 (texts found on the internet):
> http://vimeo.com/3055090
> You can also find videos and material about the more recent ones like
> Unmanned and Phone Story.
> Anyway, Molleindustria is a project about games and ideology, it's a bit
> of art, media activism, research, and agitp[r]op.
> The idea is to apply the culture jamming/tactical media (remember tactical
> media?) treatment to videogames: speading radical memes and, in the
> process, challenging the language of power, the infrastructures, the modes,
> genres and tropes of the dominant discourse which was omnipresent in
> videogame culture.
> The half joke is that I came up with Molleindustria because I failed at
> starting my own television. In the early zerozero - mid Berlusconian age -
> we had pirate TV stations popping up in all the major Italian cities in
> what came to be known as the Telestreet movement. It wasn't just television
> with radical content, but a radically different way of making television.
> There was a nice medium-is-the-message / form-follows-content thing going
> on, resonating with software, net.art and hacker culture as well.
> There was this idea that the political sphere was boundless: something we
> do, and we are subject to, every day and every moment. The half-naked show
> girls on prime time television, the charming millionaires of the soap opera
> Dallas, the software, the protocols, the fantasies coming from the
> booming-and-busting Silicon Valley were no less political than the
> occasional vote or the sanctioned spaces for political debate.
> And, of course, the demonstrations in the streets, the boycotts, the
> occupations, the strikes…
> And yes, I am very familiar with Gonzalo Frasca's work. I launched the
> project in 2003, the same year September 12th came out and Ian Bogost
> started to write about "videogames with an agenda".
> One thing I share with them is the idea that videogames are
> representational media. They are always about things. There is, of course,
> a gradient of abstraction in that a game like SimCity is unquestionably
> about cities (or gardening) while a game like Tetris is about more general
> themes such as order vs disorder, control & optimization, or the
> tragicomical limits of human cognition.
> The less abstract are the games, the more they tend to be problematic and
> fall under scrutiny. There is a lot of literature discussing the urbanist
> ideas advanced by SimCity or the portrayal of contemporary and historical
> conflicts in first person shooters or strategy games.
> To interpret a game and to make games that mean something, people use a
> variety of approaches.
> Some aspects can be tackled with traditional storytelling and narratology.
> For example, later this week, pop-feminist Anita Sarkeesian will launch the
> first installment of "Tropes vs women in games", an online video series
> dissecting the representation of women in videogames.
> However, there are aspects of games that can't be fully understood by
> simply breaking down characters and plots. Games, simulations and
> interactive media are systems of rules, and these rules produce meaning as
> well: they define the relationships between the purely representational
> bits (images, sounds, text…) and the agency of the players within the
> system.
> To be honest, we are still trying to figure out how this procedural
> rhetoric actually works and how people interpret these "texts" with so many
> moving parts. But that's the fascinating part.
> I'm interested in promoting this kind of procedural literacy through my
> games. I believe games can get people used to "think in systems" and that a
> holistic, ecological, non-reductionist way of thinking is desperately
> needed in our [cliche' alert] increasingly interconnected world ravaged by
> global crisis.
> Part of this literacy consists in understanding that digital and non
> digital models are informed by ideologies and systems of values (when it
> comes to scientific simulations the story is a bit more complicated). They
> are artful depictions of reality, and as such, we should describe them not
> in terms of how "realistic" they are, but in terms of the arguments they
> deploy and the narratives they support within the larger context. This is,
> by the way, the reason I often use satire, cartoonish styles, and a rather
> overt authorial "presence": to defuse the temptation of interpreting these
> games as objective.
> I feel like I have to mention the issue of representation because there is
> another trend, another way to conceive and use games that has more to do
> with behavioral change. The marketing power fantasy referred as
> "gamification" is part of this trend, but also slightly more legitimized
> endeavors like the many exercise games pretending to fight obesity.
> This approach is less concerned about the semiotics and the aesthetics of
> games, and more focused on games as systems of incentives to produce
> actual, quantifiable change in the way players behave outside of the game
> (if there is an outside). If you are not familiar with gamification and the
> like, imagine attributing arbitrary points and rewards to certain
> behaviors, pushing people to voluntary monitor these behaviors, and then
> creating the conditions for competition/self-evaluation based on the score
> system.
> Commentators like Ian Bogost have called bullshit on gamification and I
> largely agree. But having worked in marketing in the past, I'm quite
> familiar with the structural hype cycles of the field. You have people
> overselling techniques to oversell services and products. Everybody is
> lying to everybody else on multiple levels, intra- and extra-corporate. But
> as a whole the advertising system works because it succeeds at pervading
> every corner of the mindscape with the discourse of consumption.
> To me it is not too crucial to find out whether or not you can control
> people through game-like systems. What's more intriguing is that the
> fantasy is out there, strong and loud. Governments and corporations are
> investing lots of money in this idea.
> Feasible or not, this is the object of desire of contemporary capitalism
> and as such it's worth investigating.
> Is the fantasy of gamification a testament to the decline of money as the
> general, all-encompassing incentive to regulate human relations?
> Could it be a premonition of the next power paradigm? We went from a
> disciplinary society (the stick) to a society of control (mass
> surveillance). Is the society of the incentive (the customized carrot) next?
> Is gamification a tension toward the measurement of the unmeasurable
> (lifestyle, affects, activism, reputation, self esteem…), being measurement
> the precondition of commodification?
> Best,
> Paolo
> ______________________________**_________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

Sent from my iPhone
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