It’s like paradise here. Everything seems pastel-hued as you drive by, with the radio on. The car is stolen, but so long as you dodge the police, it won’t matter. You don’t really have to be anywhere or do anything. The hotels are comfortable and discreet. If you need money, mug someone. The body makes a satisfyingly squishy sound when you kick it. There are adventures. You get to meet some interesting people. It is a city of gangsters, hustlers and honeys. It’s all tourism, drugs, guns, cars and personal services. Nobody makes anything, except maybe ice cream, porn and counterfeit money. Everybody buys, sells or steals. Vice City is a nice place. It is not quite utopia. And nor is it some dark dystopia. There’s no storyline here, where paradise turns nasty, in which the telling early detail turns out to be a clue to the nightmare beneath the surface, the severed ear of Blue Velvet. Without the possibility of dystopia, there’s no utopia either. Terry Eagleton: “All utopian writing is also dystopian, since, like Kant’s sublime, it cannot help reminding us of our mental limits in the act of striving to go beyond them.” In Vice City there is no ‘beyond’. As one would expect in a high end land of vice, its offer is all inclusive.

In gamespace, the very possibility of utopia is foreclosed. It is no longer possible to describe a shining city upon the hill, as if it were a special topic untouched by the everyday, workaday world. No space is sacred; no space is separate. Not even the space of the page. The gamelike extends its lines everywhere and nowhere. And yet, a pure digital game like Vice City might still perform some curious, critical function. Why do so many choose to escape from their everyday gamespace into — yet more games? As the myriad lines of topology work their way into space, space mutates, and just as the allegorical moment changes from the topical to the topographic to the topological, so too does the utopian moment. One might think gamespace via both allegory (doubled as allegorithm) and utopia (mutated into atopia). One reveals which could be, the other announcing what should be, both shifting and realigning as the space around us changes what it would be.

Utopia was a place to hide, where a topic could develop of its own accord, safe within the bounds of the book. There life could begin again outside of conflict. Utopias do their best to expel violence. In a utopian text there is always a barrier in space — distant and difficult terrain; or a barrier in time — intervening revolutions or Charles Fourier’s cycles of epochs. The real barrier is rather that troublesome line that divides what is on the page from what is outside it. Fredric Jameson: “I believe that we can begin from the proposition that Utopian space is an imaginary enclave within real social space, in other words, that the very possibility of Utopian space is itself a result of spatial and social differentiation.” Only utopia’s enclave was not imaginary. It was tangible and material. Utopia is a place on a page where violence is pushed to the margin by the power of sheer description. Utopian socialist William Morris: “Success in besting our neighbors is a road to renown now closed.”

Utopia restricted itself to a particular topic — the topic of the page, and particular line, the line of writing. (Fig. 5) The book is a line: a trajectory, a connection through time and space with certain qualities. Among its qualities is the way it partitions off the smooth space of the page from the rough and tumble world without. It rules off from the world that special tempo where text plays its subtle games against its reader. In a utopia, other lines of communication are either nonexistent or subordinated to the descriptive power of the text. Alexander Bogdanov: “The plays were either transmitted from distant large cities by means of audio visual devices, or — more usually — they were cinematic reproductions of plays performed long ago, sometimes so long ago that the actors themselves were already dead.” In this utopian Red Star, the new lines extend and enhance those of the text, rather than supercede them.

It is not that utopias alone create gulags. Adolf Eichmann was no utopian. He just kept the trains running on time — to the camps. His was a prosaic imagination, making topography match the text of his orders. The lines for implementing that kind of violence are the railway line, the telegraph line, and the line of punch cards passing through the tabulators — precursors to the digital computer. Holocaust historian Edwin Black: “When Germany wanted to identify the Jews by name, IBM showed them how.” In topography there is a whole nest of connections, along which flows information, radiating from the text, calling the world to order. There are lines for planning, managing, measuring. Topography is not only the means for producing spatial and social differentiation, but of overcoming it, connecting a space of places with a space of flows. The first intimations of topology are those IBM Holerith tabulating machines which will make space not only something that can be divided and connected by order, but measured and managed by the algorithm.

(10) Comments for 101.
posted: 5/25/2006

The car is stolen but as long as the police don’t see you steal it, it won’t matter.

McKenzie Wark responds to Cunzy1 1
posted: 5/25/2006

thanks Cunzy1 1 — that’s more accurate.

posted: 5/25/2006

Small point, but people don’t make ice cream, they make “ice cream” (drugs).

McKenzie Wark responds to David Parry
posted: 5/26/2006

Yes, should be in inverted comas — thanks

posted: 7/25/2006

I see your message, but there are a few details that don’t seem right.

You don’t use hotels in Vice City. You stay in a “house” where you can park your car and regenerate for the next day.

Also, there is a storyline. The goal for the character is mostly materialistic- getting a bigger house or a better car.

McKenzie Wark responds to mellon student
posted: 7/28/2006

You start out in a hotel, then move on to condos. I’ll fix that. thanks

posted: 8/24/2006

this is good, David Choe (street artist) plays San Andreas without completing missions, he just photographs.
theres no manufacturing economy because things in the game engine just materialize, like when you cheat in a tank or turn around and see new cop cars exist. but there are some services happening, like cops chasing crooks and cabs carrying people around.

this is a funny thing to argue about in these comments, whether you are describing the game accurately (its almost like a test of who has played the game thoroughly and recently)

McKenzie Wark responds to chuk
posted: 8/29/2006

It’s important to get the details right, but not to get fixated on them.

posted: 2/13/2007

Where you say, “there’s no storyline here,” most would argue that their is a distinct story line which is oddly similar to that of the Al Pacino Scarface movie, which is now a game as well.

McKenzie Wark responds to William Kelley
posted: 2/17/2007

William Kelley writes: ” their is a distinct story line which is oddly similar to that of the Al Pacino Scarface movie”. Yes, you are quite right. I take up the questionn of story elsewhere in the book. I argue that the story is essential to the game, but external to it. The story nominates a start condition, but gameplay itself is not ‘narrative’. This is a thorny question in game studies.

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(2) Comments for 102.
posted: 6/7/2006

As above, so below, apparently: one of the most thought-provoking things I’ve heard said recently is that “there can be no utopia on a planet with six billion people.”

Or maybe we always already live in Liberty City.

McKenzie Wark responds to AG
posted: 6/7/2006

Mark Stewart had a great song called Liberty City in the 80s, including the line “control units are laid out geometrically.” GTA reminds me of that. Except that control isn’t external, like a network of bunkers. Its internal, in the form of code.

Perhaps, on a planet with 6 billion people, its now ‘utopia or bust’. But then i just saw the Al Gore film…

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(4) Comments for 103.
posted: 6/4/2006

Since this is my first comment, I must start off by saying how great this design interface is and how it works well with Ken’s aphoristic style, a style I was impressed with equally in his blogish fiction Dispositions and The Hacker Manifesto.

“What is utopia?” is my question. Not what was.

I have oftentimes asked myself this question because there are times when I think I’m experiencing it. That is to say, for me it must be something that can be experienced – and not just in some sci-fi sort of way. I think I have experienced it on the page (my first reading of Henry Miller’s “The Tropic of Cancer”) and outside the page as well (in the heat of composition, a body-brain-apparatus achievement where my unconscious is clicking with whatever “readiness potential” I may be tapping into at any given moment while creating – I’ve felt in writing, VJ performance, and even on the set of a film I’m directing). How do I know it’s utopia or what I imagine utopia to be? It’s hard to put into words but I’ll try: the world stops.

Carlos Castenada learned how to stop the world from his shamanic mentor, Don Juan. The Don said to Carlos:

I am teaching you how to see as opposed to merely looking , and stopping the world is the first step to seeing .

Stopping the world is not a cryptic metaphor that really doesn’t mean anything. And its scope and importance as one of the main propositions of my knowledge should not be misjudged.

I am teaching you how to stop the world. Nothing will work, however, if you are very stubborn. Be less stubborn, and you will probably stop the world with any of the techniques I teach you. Everything I will tell you to do is a technique for stopping the world .

The sorcerer’s description of the world is perceivable. But our insistence on holding on to our standard version of reality renders us almost deaf and blind to it. I’m going to give you what I call “techniques for stopping the world.”

When you begin this teaching, there is another reality, that is to say, there is a sorcery description of the world, which you do not know. As a sorcerer and a teacher, I am teaching you that description. What I am doing with you consists, therefore, in setting up that unknown reality by unfolding its description, adding increasingly more complex parts as you go along.

In order to arrive at seeing one first has to stop the world . Stopping the world is indeed an appropriate rendition of certain states of awareness in which the reality of everyday life is altered because the flow of interpretation, which ordinarily runs uninterruptedly, has been stopped by a set of circumstances alien to that flow. In this case the set of circumstances alien to our normal flow of interpretations is the sorcery description of the world. The precondition for stopping the world is that one has to be convinced; in other words, one has to learn the new description in a total sense, for the purpose of pitting it against the old one, and in that way break the dogmatic certainty, which we all share, that the validity of our perceptions, or our reality of the world, is not to be questioned.

Around the time he invented video art in Germany in 1962-63, Nam June Paik was also interested in what he called “stopping the world for three minutes!” (nice exclamation point – Paikstyle). I think his stopping the world came before Castenada’s which is interesting. Paik was tuning into what eh called “ecstasy” (not the synthetic drug but the dematerialized pharmakon) and explained it as “going out of oneself”. He was an artist and immigrant coming from Korea and had Buddhist leanings (even though he made fun of it all in works like “TV Buddha”).

This idea of Utopian space not being imaginary makes sense to me. It is real – but in the sense that Ron Sukenick understands the real as in “without the unreal – there can be no real.”

Maybe You-topia is a kind of alternative tense of being, a negative hallucination where instead of seeing things that are not really there, you don’t see things that are really there. Because if you did see them, you would have to move away, and as we know, there is no such place as away.

McKenzie Wark responds to professorvj
posted: 6/5/2006

Thanks for your marvellous comment — there’s some juicy lines in there that i may want to quote. But i think i was interested in a slightly different question: not “what is utopia?” but “where is utopia?” It isn’t plausibly in another time or place any more. It can’t be in another place in a postcolonial world. It can’t be in another time when, as Baudrillard says, we have already ‘colonised’ all of the future as well, not to mention all of the planets.

A A Bogdanov and Kim Stanley Robinson made a last-ditch attempt to save the spatial utopia by putting it into the recent past and near inter-planetary space. But perhaps that’s the end of the line.

The shift from utopia to atopia is one from a nowhere to an anywhere. The paradox of the exclusion of a space for utopia by gamespace is that it proliferates now within its grids.

posted: 6/5/2006

Ken, I think you’ve really hit a kernel of possibility in your line “[t]he shift from utopia to atopia is one from a nowhere to an anywhere.” It made me look back at the dedication to my second novel, Sexual Blood, “FOR FREE SPIRITS EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE” and got me thinking more about the anywhere. So I did what all good art-researchers would do in this case, and Googled “free spirits”+utopia+Nietzsche and found this site here:

with section headings like:

The Free Spirits, New Philosophers

The Value of the Self-Created Game

Games as Cultural Metaphor

Is the spirit of Nietzsche to be found anywhere in this move from utopia to atopia?

McKenzie Wark responds to professorvj
posted: 6/6/2006

Google is a great writing tool isn’t it? Some of this book happened that way. One of the rules for the finished article (sometimes broken) is that only book length texts make it into the notes. If i really feel indebted to something its notes, so there are exceptions.

I’m going to check out yr nietzsche guy, tho’ — that sounds interesting.

Nietsche is a problem for me at the moment, so i can’t answer your question. he’s too dependent for me on that orginal act of unmasking of the will to power. I don’t want to credit him with the legitimacy which comes from the act of unmasking.

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(4) Comments for 105.
posted: 5/25/2006

“When Germany wanted to identify the Jews by name, IBM showed them how.”
Case study – box – great quote
As data architect would love to know more…specifics

McKenzie Wark responds to simon
posted: 5/25/2006

It’s from Edwin Black’s book, IBM and the Holocaust. The Nazis used Holerith machines, proto-computers.

posted: 2/7/2007

A very interesting documentary called “The Corporation” has a section dealing with this specific topic though has a very negative view of IBM for their participation in this.

McKenzie Wark responds to Bryan
posted: 2/17/2007

Bryan: Thanks for the tip about ‘The Corporation’. I have not seen it.

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