Allegory is about the relation of sign to sign; allegorithm is about the relation of sign to number. Signs don’t open to reveal chains of other signs, pointing in all directions. Or rather, it is no longer of any importance what signs reveal. They billow and float, pool and gather, arbitrary and useless. There is no way to redeem them. But signs now point to something else. They point to number. And number in turn points to the algorithm, which transforms one number into another. Out of the bit rot of signs, games make allegorithms. The signs point to numbers, the numbers to algorithms, the algorithms to allegorithms of everyday life in gamespace, where signs likewise are devalued, arbitrary, but can still stand as allegories of the one thing that still makes sense, for the logic of the digital.
Allegory becomes a double relation: on the one side, there is the relation of gamer to algorithm in the game, its allegorithm; on the other, there is the relation of allegorithm to everyday life in gamespace. In relation to gamespace, the game itself works as an escape from the agony of everyday life, where the stakes are real and uncertain, to the unreal stakes of a pure game. But the game can also work as a critique, in turn, of the unreality of the stakes of gamespace itself. When Sims devotees assign values to non-existent furniture, truly the idea of economic ‘utility’ has lost all meaning. The game can also work as an atopia, where play is free from work, from necessity, from seriousness, from morality. Kill your Sims, if you want to. Play here has no law but the algorithm. And yet there is a tension between the game and gamespace. The relation between them is at once analog and digital, both a continuum and a sharp break. The gamer struggles to make of the game a separate world, for escape, for critique, for atopian play, and yet gamespace insinuates itself into the game.
Start over: Benjamin begins as a Beta Tester, becomes a Hacker, and finally a Game Designer. After that you are supposed to level up to Venture Capitalist then finally Information Overlord. But something goes wrong along the way. Benjamin’s game design company goes broke. The whole industry is consolidating. So Benjamin goes to work for a much bigger game company. He starts work. It’s a mild sort of ‘crunch’ time — normal when there’s a project with a deadline. Benjamin is working eight hours, six days a week. The project is on schedule, so its not so bad. It’s temporary. He complains a bit to Asja. The deadline for ending the crunch comes and goes. And another. Then the hours get longer. Benjamin is working twelve hours, six days a week. Benjamin’s bar graphs slide into the red. Then the real crunch time begins. Benjamin is working seven days a week, “with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior.”
You could be forgiven for thinking this is just a game, but it is somebody’s life — as reported in a widely circulated text written by EA Spouse. EA, or Electronic Arts, is a game company best known for its Madden sports games, but which also which owns Maxis, which makes The Sims. EA’s slogan: Challenge Everything — everything except EA, of course — or the gap between game and gamespace. In the gamespace of contemporary labor, things are not like the measured progression up the ranks of The Sims. In The Sims, Benjamin could work his way from Game Designer to Information Overlord much the same way as he had worked up the levels below. At Electronic Arts, things are different. Being an Information Overlord like EA’s Larry Probst requires an army of Benjamins with nothing to work with but their skills as game designers and nowhere to go than to another firm which may or may not crunch its workers just as hard. As the military entertainment complex consolidates into a handful of big firms, it squeezes out all but a few niche players. Gamespace is here a poor imitation of its own game.
Start over again: This time Benjamin begins as a Bucket Runner. He quickly works himself up to Coltan Miner. Coltan? What is coltan? Quit The Sims for a moment. Pop the cover off your Playstation or your Apple or PC computer. You are looking at stuff that has come from all over the world — brought together by a global logistics. In the guts of your machine you may spot some capacitors made by Kemet, or maybe semiconductors from Intel. These probably contain tantalum, a marvelous conductor of electricity, also very good with heat. They were quite possibly made with coltan (short for columbite-tantalite) dug out of the ground in the Congo, where there’s plenty of coltan, from which tantalum is refined. The Okapi Faunal Reserve in the Congo is home to gorillas, monkeys and elephants as well as the okapi, a rare relative of the giraffe. Thousands of Mbuti, or pygmies, also live there. Their livelihood is compromised by the coltan miners, who dig what one journalist called “SUV-sized holes” in the mud, out of which they can extract about a kilo of coltan a day. A kilo of coltan was worth $80 during the technology boom. There was a world shortage of the stuff, which even delayed the release of the Sony Playstation 2.