Archives for the month of: February, 2013

I am currently working on a small project for Dr. Mia Consalvo’s course on Game Studies. The goal is to develop ways of using the process of designing a game to critique the game itself. By analogy we could say the some paintings are about painting as much as anything else. For example, Cubism asked (among other things) what a painting was, what were its limitations as a medium, and so on.

In my case, I want to create a simple digital game that asks us what agency we really have. On one level we cannot demand a game suddenly radically change its affordances. Madden Football, for example, cannot suddenly become a first person shooter, like Modern Warfare. Of course, we can find examples that bend genre’s. A recent example is a version of Plants versus Zombies that is implemented in World of Warcraft. None the less, that was a deliberate decision on the part of the design team, not a contingent response of the part of players.

In theoretical terms, this reminded me of notions of agency and freedom expressed by the Stoics, especially Epictetus. In their view, time flowed inexorably forward until it was repeated. This cycle would inform Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence. In both cases, much of agency consisted of actively embracing fate. Life was inevitable, but one could face an uncertain and unavoidable future with virtue; courage, temperance, and so forth as desirable internal states that one chose.

In a sense we face a rather less bleak experience as we submit to an experience offered by a game. If we truly hate a game, we can abandon it. However, to play the game, we must accept it’s affordances.

In my game, which I’m creating with twine, I offer choices- some are real, some are false. Some loop back, driving the player down certain paths. In many games, the end state is to win, and all play paths lead there. Some games now have multiple endings, for example, Mass Effect 3 or Heavy Rain. Yet these endings are limited in scope. Perhaps our problem with such limitations are that they resemble life with it’s relative limitations. A novel has one ending and this may have an emotional resonance with the audience. A game may offer a number of  options, some or none of which resonate. Indeed, it is much the path which gives the ending its emotional power. In that respect, it would be possible to have a game which spoils its ending. Quake  was more satisfying with reasonable difficulty, then played on Godmode, where the player became invincible.

I will publish my Twine-based game, exploring notions of player agency, here. I will also put up at least the Alpha & Beta so that they can be compared.


It might not be possible to integrate the game into the blog. i may be forced to place it in a repository, like Github.

My game isn’t particularly fun. It consists of a drawn out joke, where I set mechanics that attempt to betray player expectations. If the game makes a point about player limitations, and the way that games can channel the player, then perhaps it works as an “art game”.

One critical feature afforded by my game is that there is much non-diegetic play. The ‘fun’ within the game would often be taking the game’s instructions and going off to play games elsewhere- for example, playing beer pong. The questions this raises regards the relationship between agency and ‘immersion’.

The model of Dionysian theatre as an example of immersion is one that I have written about before. In that model, the participant submerges her individuality into a communal activity that most if not all of her community have shared in. This description, drawn from Nietzche’s The Birth of Tragedy(through the spirit of music) has significant similarities to the physical space and social interactions of Rock Band. In that game, the sense of behavior occurring outside the digital confines is very obvious. In my game the action is much less closely linked.

The idea that the player sacrifices individual agency need not claim an unreasonable amount of determinism, nor an asocial quality. If we employ Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, we can suggest that the player is in close relationship with the design team and other players who play the game, but not necessarily at the same time. Digital games  provide an asynchronous temporality that allows for a shared experience that could not be achieved in classical Greek theatre. None the less they have a similar experience of submerging individuality into a shared experience. If agency is the individual capacity for choice and action, then by definition agency disappears during game play.


Conference: “Enactive and Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity”

Drawing on insights from phenomenology, neuroscience, developmental psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy, the conference, which is organized by the Marie Curie ITN programme TESIS, addresses the following questions:

  • How do we perceive and share other people’s emotions and intentions?
  • What is the role of empathy and perspective-taking in constituting human sociality?
  • How is social interaction shaped by our bodily experience?

Speakers include Anita Avramides, Cristina Becchio, Sjoerd Ebisch, Thomas Fuchs, Vittorio Gallese, Shaun Gallagher, Hanne De Jaegher, Claas Lahmann, Søren Overgaard, Ezequiel Di Paolo, Vasudevi Reddy, Andreas Roepstorff, Hans-Bernard Schmid, Corrado Sinigaglia and Dan Zahavi.

My latest find that I am playing around with is a translation of a chapter from a book by Eugen Fink, Spiel als Weltsymbol, Stuttgart 1960. He categorises play as being a fundamental ontological element. My brief interpretation is that in a physical universe, the possibility of change, or ‘movement’ as the classical philosopher’s might have described it, require a principal that allows for play. In this case, play could mean “wiggle room” but it also means the possibility of doing other than what is. Human play both in a narrow and larger sense are an expression of play as an ontological characteristic of being. It happens that play feels joyful for humans, but it is all the more important for us.
One expression of human play is making, because it is at once deeply involved with core element(the ontological possibility of doing something differently), and offers the possibility of expression that offers us an internal experience of doing things differently.
I owe much of my ideas here to Prof Bart Simon(especially, doing things differently, which he used to describe games) and Dr. Amanda Williams who expressed the idea of play in the mechanical sense of wiggle room.
So making something, and I am very much thinking about, but not exclusively, the particular instantiation of making we find in the “Maker movement.
As some on who makes things, mostly fences and interior renovations, Im pleased that I can begin to add making to my vocation, which is Philosophy in the academic sense. Part of my efforts now is to think about how to frame making as a philosophical problem, and how to do philosophy as a making exercise.
Fink helps here, because he argues that philosophising play should be playful.