The game has colonized its rivals within the cultural realm, from the spectacle of cinema to the simulations of television. Stories no longer opiate us with imaginary reconciliations of real problems. The story just recounts the steps by which someone beat someone else — a real victory for imaginary stakes. The only original screen genre of the early 21st century is not called ‘reality TV’ for nothing. Breton & Cohen: “By signing their release forms, contestants agree to end up as statistics, each player’s feelings and actions manipulated… leading to infidelity, tears, perhaps heartbreak.”2 Sure, reality TV doesn’t look like reality, but then neither does reality. Both look like games. Both become a seamless space in which gamers test their abilities within contrived scenarios. The situations may be artificial, the dialogue less than spontaneous, and the gamers may merely be doing what the producers tell them. All this is perfectly of a piece with a reality which is itself an artificial arena, where everyone is already a gamer, waiting for their turn.
The game has not just colonized reality, it is also the sole remaining ideal. Gamespace proclaims its legitimacy through victory over all rivals. The reigning ideology imagines the world as a level playing field, upon which all men are equal before God, the great game designer. History, politics, culture — gamespace dynamites everything which is not in the game, like an out-dated Vegas casino. Everything is evacuated from an empty space and time which now appears natural, neutral and without qualities — a gamespace. The lines are clearly marked. Every action is just a means to an end. All that counts is the score. As for who owns the teams and who runs the league, best not to ask. As for who is excluded from the big leagues and high scores, best not to ask. As for who keeps the score and who makes the rules, best not to ask. As for what ruling body does the handicapping and on what basis, best not to ask. All is for the best in the best — and only — possible world. There is — to give it a name — a military entertainment complex, and it rules. Its triumphs affirm not just the rules of the game but the rule of the game.
Everything the military entertainment complex touches with its gold plated output jacks turns to digits. Everything is digital and yet the digital is as nothing. No human can touch it, smell it, taste it. It just beeps and blinks and reports itself in glowing alphanumerics, spouting stock quotes on your cellphone. Sure, there may be vivid 3D graphics. There may be pie charts and bar graphs. There may be swirls and whorls of brightly colored polygons blazing from screen to screen. But these are just decoration. The jitter of your thumb on the button or the flicker of your wrist on the mouse connect directly to an invisible, intangible gamespace of pure contest, pure agon. It doesn’t matter if your cave comes equipped with a Playstation or Bloomberg terminal. It doesn’t matter whether you think you are playing the bond market or Grand Theft Auto. It is all just an algorithm with enough unknowns to make a game of it.
Once games required an actual place to play them, whether on the chess board or the tennis court. Even wars had battle fields. Now global positioning satellites grid the whole earth and put all of space and time in play. Warfare, they say, now looks like video games. Well don’t kid yourself. War is a video game — for the military entertainment complex. To them it doesn’t matter what happens ‘on the ground’. The ground — the old-fashioned battlefield itself — is just a necessary externality to the game. Slavoj Zizek: “It is thus not the fantasy of a purely aseptic war run as a video game behind computer screens that protects us from the reality of the face to face killing of another person; on the contrary it is this fantasy of face to face encounter with an enemy killed bloodily that we construct in order to escape the Real of the depersonalized war turned into an anonymous technological operation.”3 The soldier whose inadequate armor failed him, shot dead in an alley by a sniper, has his death, like his life, managed by a computer in a blip of logistics.
The old class antagonisms have not gone away, but are hidden beneath levels of rank, where each agonizes over their worth against others in the price of their house, the size of their vehicle and where, perversely, working longer and longer hours is a sign of winning the game. Work becomes play. Work demands not just one’s mind and body but also one’s soul. You have to be a team player. Your work has to be creative, inventive, playful — ludic, but not ludicrous. Work becomes a gamespace, but no games are freely chosen any more. Not least for children, who if they are to be the winsome offspring of win-all parents, find themselves drafted into endless evening shifts of team sport. The purpose of which is to build character, of course. Which character? The character of the good sport. Character for what? For the workplace, with its team camaraderie and peer enforced discipline. For others, work is still just dull, repetitive work, but the dream is to escape into the commerce of play — to make it into the major leagues, or compete for record deals as a diva or a playa in the rap game. And for still others, there is only the game of survival. Biggie: “Either you’re slingin’ crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot.”4 Play becomes everything to which it was once opposed. It is work, it is serious, it is morality, it is necessity.