Is a Game an Argument?

Tiny asks a good question in a comment to my last post. (Go ahead and read the comment. I'll wait).

Ready? O.K. I suppose if a novelist's only argument is "buy my book," then yes, that is the main argument for a game designer (and I think that, at some level, that is part of the thinking. Otherwise, they would probably stick to drawing on their walls, or something more obscure). I don't really accept that reason in toto, though, because there are much more lucerative things talented creative people can do. Moreover, the aspersion that if "filthy lucre" is involved it taints the artifice/argument would have to be applied across the board. Rhetors and artists are involved in things that generate money. Richard Lanham calls this the "fluff" necessarily attached to "stuff" in his book The Economics of Attention. Rhetors/artists create attention-capturing configurations of words/images/textiles/sounds/etc. in order to generate particular creative changes in larger contexts. Art may be for sale, and may even generate sales, but they also change things in the larger culture not immediately connected to points of sale.

Beyond this argument that has been made by other, far more articulate, scholars and theorists, I think that game designers and artists involve themselves in two important, and different aspects of the gaming complex.

1.) These designers are materially interested in continuing, and extending, extant aesthetic regiemes. The recent release of the PS3 and the Wii exemplify the two dominant sides of the debate. The PS3 appeals to those who want to extend the realism/naturalism paradigm further--the same regieme that was extended by Halo 3 (if you haven't seen the new commercial for Halo 3, I would recommend watching it for a quick synopsis of the realist/naturalist theme. It really captures the flavor of the "evil is inevitable, so we should give in and immerse ourselves in its aesthetic (all the while, removed from it as a representational cyborg). The other regieme is represented by the more optimistically ludic Wii. The non-photorealistic representation of the game offerings, as well as the embodied sociability (with all of the ridiculous movements you have to make in a social setting) emphasize a particular optimism. Because we are basically "good," it's O.K. to be ridiculous. Whearas the realism/naturalism isolates the individual in a mythic-heroic figuration, the optimistic/embodied-sociable emphasizes connection through silliness.

So, when game designers and artists give nods to particular game precedents, they are at least acknowledging who pays the bills. Moreover, they are acknowledging that they at least "buy in" to the culture they are building upon--the culture of lan parties, couches, sleepovers, online death matches, finals week steam-blowing tournaments, etc. Many of these designers met significant others and friends this way, so I would be surprised if many of them did NOT believe in game culture in some deep and significant way.

The "suspension of disbelief" genre conventions reinforce and reify cultural conventions about sociability (much the same way detective novels still reinforces Edgar Allen Poe's "following the trail" narrator sifts through narratological details to "reveal" [create, really] individual responsibility).

2.) One of the rhetor's main tasks is to reinforce cultural conventions through reification. The epideictic rhetor praises and blames in order to craft the public role of hero or villain ("Helen is not to be blamed for the Trojan war" reinforces the heroism of those who would launch the ships as more than "silly boys"). The forensic lawyer struggles to find the point of argumentation in order to reify his defendant as a not guilty person. Long after each game is sold, hours and hours are spent with each game copy constituting and arranging groups of people around the roles that are allowed within and around the game. As Q-Olin notes, the social configurations these games allow, reinforce, and reify are bleeding into other genres, like talk shows and mashups.

No comments: