No wonder digital games are the emergent cultural form of the times. The times have themselves become just a series of less and less perfect games. The Cave™ presents games in a pure state, as a realm where justice — of a sort — reigns. The beginnings of a critical theory of games — a gamer theory — might lie not in holding games accountable as failed representations of the world, but quite the reverse. The world outside is a gamespace that appears as an imperfect form of the game. The gamer is an archeologist of The Cave™. The digital games the gamer finds there are the ruins, not of a lost past, but of a lost future. Gamespace is built on the ruins of a future it proclaims in theory yet disavows in practice.
Gamespace needs theorists — but also a new kind of practice. One that can break down the line that divides gamer from designer, to redeploy the digital so that it makes this very distinction arbitrary. It is a characteristic of games to render digital decisions on all shades of difference. One either wins or loses. One either hits or misses. The practice of the gamer as theorist might be to reinstall what is undecidable back into the gamespace whose primary violence has nothing to do with brightly colored explosions or mounting death counts, but with the decision by digital fiat on where everything belongs and how it is ranked. Lars Svendsen: “How boring life would be without violence!”11 The real violence of gamespace is its dicing of everything analog into the digital, cutting continuums into bits. That games present the digital in its most pure form are reason enough to embrace them, for here violence is at its most extreme — and its most harmless.
Of all the kinds of belonging that contend for allegiance — as workers against the boss, as citizens against the enemy, as believers against the infidel — all now have to compete with one which makes agon its first and only principle. Gamespace wants us all to believe we are nothing but gamers now, competing not against enemies of class or faith or nation, but only against other gamers. A new historical persona stalks the earth. All of the previous such persona had many breviaries and manuals, and so this little book seeks to offer guidance for thinking within this new persona. An ABC for gamers. Not a strategy guide, a cheat sheet or a walk-through for how to improve one’s score or hone one’s trigger finger. A primer, rather, in thinking about a world made over as a gamespace, made over as an imperfect copy of the game. The game might not be utopia, but it might be the only thing left with which to play against gamespace. Peter Lunenfeld: “The codes are there for the tweaking.”12
Ever get the feeling you are playing some vast and useless game to which you don’t know the goal, and can’t remember the rules? Ever get the fierce desire to quit, to resign, to forfeit, only to discover there’s no umpire, no referee, no regulator, to whom to announce your capitulation? Ever get the vague dread that while you have no choice but to play the game, you can’t win it, can’t even know the score, or who keeps it? Ever suspect that you don’t even know who your real opponent might be? Ever get mad over the obvious fact that the dice are loaded, the deck stacked, the table rigged, and the fix — in? Welcome to gamespace. It’s everywhere, this atopian arena, this speculation sport. No pain no gain. No guts no glory. Give it your best shot. There’s no second place. Winner take all. Here’s a heads up: In gamespace, even if you know the deal, consider yourself a player, and at least for this round have got game, you will notice, all the same, that the game has got you. Welcome to the thunderdome. Welcome to the terrordome. Welcome to the greatest game of all. Welcome to the playoffs, the big league, the masters, the only game in town. You are a gamer whether you like it or not, now that we all live in a gamespace that is everywhere and nowhere. As Microsoft says: Where do you want to go today? You can go anywhere you want in gamespace but never leave it.
No wonder gamers choose to spend their time holed up in The Cave™. Here at least the targets really are only polygons, and the prizes really are worthless, mere colors and numbers. And yet The Cave™ is a world you can neither own nor control. Even this substitute for utopia is in some else’s possession. The digital game is both an almost utopian alternative to gamespace and its most pure product. Or was. Perhaps the game is collapsing back into business as usual. Perhaps the single-player game will become an anachronism, superceded by multiplayer worlds as venal and benighted as the rest of gamespace. Perhaps, like silent cinema, the stand-alone game will be an orphaned form. Perhaps game designers such as Sid Meier, Will Wright, Warren Spector, Keita Takahashi and Tetsuya Mizogushi will be the Sergei Eisensteins and Dziga Vertovs of a lost art. Perhaps, in this moment of eclipse, the classic games have something to show us. So by all means necessary, be a gamer, but be a gamer who thinks — and acts — with a view to realizing the real potentials of the game, in and against this world made over as a gamespace. One might start with the curious gap between the games one loves and an everyday life which, by the light of the game, seems curiously similar, and yet somehow lacking.