Game/Play

I’ve been working on documenting the game that I co-designed with Barnaby King and L.M. Bogad last summer for the Performance Studies Focus Group (PSFG) Pre-conference at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) annual meeting in Orlando. It was a gargantuan effort–far more than I could have realized when we set ourselves the task. We essentially used Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken as a foundation, and then Barnaby and I gave ourselves a crash course in game design; I dug out all the textbooks I could find in GMU’s library as though I were a first-year student. I really had no idea what I was doing. Good thing Barnaby and Larry were more experienced.

Despite what I think was a really fascinating, stimulating “game” experience (and you can see more about it here, although please bear in mind that the site is still under construction), I’m now becoming less and less certain that it was properly a “game.”

This is at least in part because of the work I’m doing as part of a “Gaming research in the Humanities” group at Mason. The group includes Seth Hudson (a member of the Game Design faculty here on campus), Doug Eyman, and Steve Holmes (both in the Rhetoric wing of the English Department). As part of that effort, I’ve been seeking console/computer games that approximate the open-ended, atmospheric experience of the ARG (alternative-reality game) that we played in Orlando last summer. The best I’ve been able to come up with, so far, are games like Gone Home, The Room and The Room 2, and Year Walk. But even these incredible, beautifully designed games that are steeped in story seem incredibly restrictive to me in terms of player agency. It makes me wonder about the nature of the desire that gaming taps into–and part of that may be the desire for narrative closure. The desire for an all-seeing puppet master; the desire for a world in which no part is extraneous (except, as in the case of the realist novel, where extraneous detail is precisely the thing that establishes the reality-effect. Is that Barthes’s argument?). The desire for a world in which, in the absence of an intrinsic meaningfulness to action, it must be rigidly imposed by a frame narrative. The arguments in favor of the enabling effects of the so-called gamification of everyday life seem to play directly into this particular desire.

In any case, that’s what I’m thinking about right now in terms of “bloggable topics.” That, and writing a conclusion to my series of posts responding to Zizek’s response to The Dark Knight Rises, which will now be enriched by the additional context of the reading of the film he provides in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. We’ll see what comes next.

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