The Congo is arguably the region in which the ‘great game’ of colonial exploitation has done the most harm and conferred the least benefits. The Congo’s first democratic leader, Patrice Lumumba, was ousted in a CIA sponsored coup that brought to power the notorious Mobutu Sese Seku. With the collapse of the Mobutu regime, there was civil war, and little else. One of the things that kept the civil war going was the coltan. Coltan both fueled the war, and accelerated the destruction of wildlife habitats. And so the military entertainment complex, with precious brands to protect, didn’t want protest movements sullying their reputations by calling attention to all the gorillas coltan kills, or the guerrillas it feeds. The military entertainment complex would like to believe, and would like you to believe, that gamespace is not a Nietzschian struggle of naked forces, beyond good and evil, but a clean, well lighted, rule-governed game.
“Kemet requires its suppliers to certify that their coltan ore does not originate from Congo or bordering countries.” Motorola says much the same: “We believe we have done as much as any reasonable company could do by mandating compliance from our suppliers on this important issue.” Outi Mikkonen, communications manager for environmental affairs at Nokia is a little more sanguine: “All you can do is ask, and if they say no, we believe it.” The bad publicity around Congo coltan is good news for the Australian company Sons of Gwalia, which provides much of the world supply. The destruction of Australian habitats seems somehow less picturesque. No gorillas or giraffes are involved. This is the way its played in gamespace. It’s all separate caves, with dim reports of each other. By all means, save the gorillas and okapi, but it doesn’t change the equation.
The line that connects gamespace to game also divides one from the other. There’s no getting away from the materials that make it possible to own a Playstation console or a computer with Intel Inside. There’s no getting away from the labor that makes it possible to run The Sims on your machine. Benjamin: “There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” Benjamin (the Sim): “There is no realm of the pure digit which does not betray the hand marked with muck and blood, somewhere.” And yet the whole point of a game is its separation, the line dividing it from gamespace and enclosing it in a self contained, algorithmic world of its own. To Benjamin — the Benjamin who is a Sim — everything outside The Sims is just metaphysics. The double relation of allegory and allegorithm is at once this intimate line connecting and yet separating game from gamespace.
The Sims is a very peculiar kind of game, in which everyday life is the subject of play, but where play is nothing but work. And yet there’s a difference between play in game and gamespace, which permits the former to offer an allegory for the latter, an allegory which may function as escape and critique of gamespace, perhaps even as an almost utopian alternative. In the game, unlike in gamespace, the contest between gamer and game is over nothing. There are no precious minerals. There is no labor contract in dispute. The difference between play and its other may have collapsed, but there is still a difference between play within the bounds of an algorithm that works impersonally, the same for everybody, and a gamespace that appears as nothing but an agon for the will to power. If it is a choice only between The Sims as a real game and gamespace as a game of the real, the gamer choose to stay in The Cave™ and play games. The contradiction is that for there to be a game that is fair and rational there is still a gamespace which is neither.
The game is what gamespace isn’t, particularly for those for whom it is the dominant cultural form. EA Spouse writes: “We both have been steeped in essentially game culture from an early age, and we watched that ‘culture’ gain legitimacy as we got to the point of thinking about our future careers.” The gamespace of making games as commodities cannot live up to the games themselves. On EA Spouse’s website, some forlorn gamer has written, and perhaps again in vain: “On the simes busten out please do not make a meter for the items you buy. Same with walls or aniny thing eles. So bottom line no metter in any of the simes games ever again please. Thank you if you do it.” But, sadly, the meter is always running. It is integral to gamespace, if not necessarily to what makes gamespace possible. Beyond the critique of actually existing gamespace, games can point also to an almost utopian promise, in which games are something else again. But while the game opens toward new worlds, gamespace forecloses anything but its own relentless agon.