Boredom can be displaced only so far. Even the most deluded of gamers can eventually realize that their strivings have no purpose, that all they have achieved is a hollow trophy, the delusion of value, a meaningless rank built on an arbitrary number. Boredom always returns. Giacomo Leopardi: “The uniformity of pleasure without purpose inevitably produces boredom.” The very action of overcoming boredom reproduces it, when gamer and game reach some impasse. There is always a limit. In games this limit it always given in advance. That’s the very merit of games. In State of Emergency, the game is an allegorithm of its own limited interest. It turns the moment of boredom, the hour propitious for making bombs, into a game as well. It’s a game about the destruction of gamespace — as itself a game. The destruction of gamespace is a game that provides a uniform pleasure with any other game. This is the military entertainment complex at its height, constantly displacing boredom into yet more games.
Playing State of Emergency has a kind of liberating openness. You feel rather than merely see or hear the environment of the game. You scan the mall for weapons, enemies, opportunities. Anything else is just noise. Space is marked with targets — with boundaries that draw or repel you according to how they might effect your score and your progress through the game. The gamer opens out into the game and is no longer bored. For a bit. But this openness also has its limits. While in the game and playing it well, everything in it appears only from the point of view of its relation to winning the game. Nothing is anything other than a means to that end.
Here boredom threatens to appear again. You are left empty by the game, no longer taken (or taken in) by the things within it. The action appears futile. Nothing moves you. You opened yourself to the game but the game itself does not really open toward you. You opened towards something closed. It is an animated space in which things are just marks of good or bad possibilities within the game. The possibility of doing anything much seems to be withheld by the game. It feels like suspended animation. And yet, strangely, what is frustrating is that possibility itself seems so tantalizingly tangible precisely because it isn’t here. Something appears precisely because its arrival is out of bounds. As Heidegger champion Giorgio Agamben says, it is: “The being which exists in the form of potentiality for being.” But this potential is of a very particular kind. It is the potential of something no longer particularly human. It is the potential of topology itself, where your digits, grasping the controller, touch the digital, which in a weird way touches back.
Gamespace is an animation machine. The digital and the human lead an uneasy existence there. On the one hand, there are constant attempts to ‘humanize’ the technological, to make it appear as if it were there for you. On the other, the digital reduces the human to the status of the digital. It marks all of space as a battlespace with yes/no triggers. In State of Emergency the human appears to rage against the machine, but the figure of the human within the game is an animation, a machinic special effect. The real human, you might say, is the gamer playing the game. But this human, in order to play, has to think like something other than a human. It has to become animated, machinic, responding to targets within the game as signals switching on or off behaviors aimed at sheer survival. The gamer coupled with the game is a strange animal.
Here is some backstory, about a strange, famous animal, known to Heidegger, and much discussed since. Deleuze and Guattari: “the tick, attracted by the light, hoists itself up on the tip of a branch; it is sensitive to the smell of mammals, and lets itself fall when one passes beneath the branch; it digs into the skin, at the least hairy place it can find. Just three affects; the rest of the time the tick sleeps, sometimes for years on end, indifferent to all that goes on in the immense forest.” It is an animal that lives in a world which appears as just a few targets. Agamben again: “Under particular circumstances, like those which man creates in laboratories, the animal can effectively suspend its immediate relationship with its environment, without, however, ceasing to be an animal or becoming human.” This suspension is also what the digital game does. The gamer suspends a relation with an environment — gamespace — within the special topic of the game, without ceasing to be human or becoming machine.