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

Claudia Pederson ccp9 at cornell.edu
Fri Mar 8 08:45:38 EST 2013

Hi Robert, thank you for sharing these links. The west coast was always in
my opinion forward thinking about the digital arts (more so than the east).
I know Irvine quite well actually coming down often from Long Beach. I
remember the Yerba Buena Center show Games Scenes around the same time:
Matteo Bittanti went on to organize a bigger exhibit in Milan Gamescenes:
Art in the Age of Videogames. I wrote a review for the show:
http://www.gamescenes.org/. and :

Irvine had also a game center if I recall correctly, are you in any way
involved with this?

On Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 9:52 AM, Robert Nideffer <nideffer at gmail.com> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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:
> http://beallcenter.uci.ecu/shift/home.html
> Here's a link to a nice summary site Antoinette keeps about it:
> http://www.forger.com/shift-ctrl.html
> Here's a link to a Leonardo article we wrote about it:
> http://www.leonardo.info/gallery/gallery351/lafargeintro.html
> 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:
> http://nideffer.net/proj/alt-ctrl/
> Here's a link to another nice summary site by Antoinette:
> http://www.forger.com/alt-ctrl.html
> 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
> work(ed)...
> Very warmest  wishes to all, and I look forward to reading/contributing
> more soon!
> Robert
> 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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