The old identities fade away. Nobody has the time. The gamer is not interested in playing the citizen. The courtroom is fine as a spectator sport, but being a citizen just involves you in endless attempts to get out of jury duty. Got a problem? Tell it to Judge Judy. The gamer elects to choose sides only for the purpose of the game. This week it might be as the Germans vs. the Americans. Next week it might be as a gangster against the law. If the gamer chooses to be a soldier and play with real weapons, it is as an Army of One, testing and refining personal skill points. The shrill and constant patriotic noise you hear through the speakers masks the slow erosion of any coherent fellow feeling within the remnants of national borders. This gamespace escapes all checkpoints. It is an America without qualities, for everyone and nobody. All that is left of the nation is an everywhere that is nowhere, an atopia of noisy, righteous victories and quiet, sinister failures. Manifest destiny — the right to rule through virtue — gives way to its latent destiny — the virtue of right through rule.

The gamer is not really interested in faith, although a heightened rhetoric of faith may fill the void carved out of the soul by the insinuations of gamespace. The gamer’s God is a game designer. He implants in everything a hidden algorithm. Faith is a matter of the intelligence to intuit the parameters of this geek design and score accordingly. All that is righteous wins; all that wins is righteous. To be a loser or a lamer is the mark of damnation. When you are a gamer, you are left with nothing to believe in but your own God-given abilities. Gamers confront each other in games of skill which reveal who has been chosen by the game as the one who has most fully internalized its algorithm. For those who despair of their abilities, there are games of chance, where grace reveals itself in the roll of the dice. Roger Caillois: “Chance is courted because hard work and personal qualifications are powerless to bring such success about.”5 The gambler may know what the gamer’s faith refuses to countenance.

Outside each cave is another cave; beyond the game is another game. Each has its particular rules; each has its ranks of high scores. Is that all there is? The gamer who lifts an eye from the target risks a paralyzing boredom. Paolo Virno: “At the base of contemporary cynicism is the fact that men and women learn by experiencing rules rather than ‘facts’… Learning the rules, however, also means recognizing their unfoundedness and conventionality…. We now face several different ‘games’, each devoid of all obviousness and seriousness, only the site of an immediate self-affirmation — an affirmation that is much more brutal and arrogant, much more cynical, the more we employ, with no illusions but with perfect momentary adherence, those very rules whose conventionality and mutability we have perceived.”6 Each game ends in a summary decision: That’s Hot! Or if not, You’re Fired! Got questions about qualities of Being? Whatever.

So this is the world as it appears to the gamer: a matrix of endlessly varying games — a gamespace — all reducible to the same principles, all producing the same kind of subject who belongs to this gamespace in the same way — as a gamer to a game. What would it mean to lift one’s eye from the target, to pause on the trigger, to unclench one’s ever-clicking finger? Is it even possible to think outside The Cave™? Perhaps with the triumph of gamespace, what the gamer as theorist needs is to reconstruct the deleted files on those who thought pure play could be a radical option, who opposed gamespace with their revolutionary playdates. The Situationists, for example. Raoul Vanegeim: “Subversion… is an all embracing reinsertion of things into play. It is the act whereby play grasps and reunites beings and things hitherto frozen solid in a hierarchy of fragments.”7 Play, yes, but the game — no. Guy Debord: “I have scarcely begun to make you understand that I don’t intend to play the game.”8 Now there was a player unconcerned with an exit strategy.

‘Play’ was once a great slogan of liberation. Richard Neville: “The new beautiful freaks will teach us all how to play again (and they’ll suffer society’s penalty).”9 Play was once the battering ram to break down the Chinese walls of alienated work, of divided labor. Only look at what has become of play. Play is no longer a counter to work. Play becomes work; work becomes play. Play outside of work found itself captured by the rise of the digital game, which responds to the boredom of the player with endless games of repetition, level after level of difference as more of the same. Play no longer functions as a fulcrum for a critical theory. The utopian dream of liberating play from the game, of a pure play beyond the game, merely opened the way for the extension of gamespace into every aspect of everyday life. While the counter-culture wanted worlds of play outside the game; the military entertainment complex countered in turn by expanding the game to the whole world, containing play forever within it.

(15) Comments for 011.
posted: 5/30/2006

hmmm. “the gamer is not interested in playing the citizen”
mightn’t it be more accurate to say that the people are not interested in playing “the citizen” when the effort fails to produce a measurable or recognizeable effect.” however in games like World of Warcraft, which value cooperation within guilds or tribes, it seems that gamers are willing to play the role of contributing group member (citizen).

McKenzie Wark responds to bob stein
posted: 5/31/2006

–in which case, its a matter of being willing to play the role of the citizen within a game. But how can one be a citizen within a game?

bob stein responds to McKenzie Wark
posted: 5/31/2006

i’m not suggesting that one can be a real-world citizen within a game, but that game play can also function in the realm of desire — i.e. that gameplay in some ways, in some cases seems to function as a substitute for what is lacking in the real-world — in this case, the yearning to be a contributing member of a group, ie. a citizen.

McKenzie Wark responds to bob stein
posted: 5/31/2006

That is in part what i argue: that games are an almost-utopian (atopian) realm in which to ‘be’ — in the strong sense of the word. But this is not without its peculiarities. Being pays a high price in gamespace. Foreclosure of its borders, self knowledge reduced to the quantitative, and the need constantly to repeat the gesture of aiming at the target, over and over….

posted: 6/2/2006

As I read through the cards and the comments, it occurs to me that it would be really helpful to see an outline of the book. Not just the chapter titles you’ve got above the cards, but a more detailed outline. That way, your readers wouldn’t necessarily have to read every word before making a comment that might turn out to be premature. For example, it seems to me that so far, most of your comments apply to competitive games for multiple players, or shooters, or sports games, etc. But what of adventure games? Yes, there is a competitive element to them, but there is much less a sense of winning or losing and more a feeling of experiencing and problem solving. I’m not that comfortable making this observation yet, however, because I haven’t read far enough to know whether you address adventure games. Okay, I just did, but I think you get the idea.

Sal responds to Paula Berinstein
posted: 7/18/2006

Thanks for making this comment – I was about to observe the same thing. I think this writing so far deploys tired old stereotypes about games and gamers, and much more complex thinking on both is possible. It may well be that some of this addressed later in the work, but for now it frustrates hell out of me. I’m quite enjoying some of the reversals in the text, but I’m not finding them enough to quell the irritation with oversimplifying games and gamers.

McKenzie Wark responds to Sal
posted: 7/18/2006


Christian McCrea responds to McKenzie Wark
posted: 7/18/2006

Absolutely collosal. All forums need a bit of all-caps action. How much easier would the history of critical theory be if people just let the emotions fly sometimes?

Oh, right.

Besides, you know, writing… stereotypes.. its how writing works. You make useful choices, some of which generalise about your topic. I think Sal speaks to a frustration that’s important, though. Academics will always be the ultimate outsider for gamer culture, while academics see themselves as the ultimate membrane between realms. Its a final sort of relationship.

SAL responds to McKenzie Wark
posted: 7/18/2006


ben vershbow responds to SAL
posted: 7/19/2006

This highlights a frustration many readers have felt with the somewhat paradoxical nature of the site’s design. As Sal points out, we’ve provided paragraph-based discussion areas that implicitly invite readers to comment as they go, in many cases before they’ve seen where an argument is headed. This can sometimes lead to unpleasant (and ultimately un-useful) confrontations. A major goal of this experiment from the Institute’s point of view was to better understand the fault lines between print-based reading and participatory online reading. It’s proved incredibly fertile in that respect, but it can be a bumpy road.

This and other questions have been explored in one of the forum threads:
Act of Reading.

McKenzie Wark responds to ben vershbow
posted: 7/19/2006

Sorry Sal. I responded to your impatience with impatience.

posted: 7/19/2006

That’s ok Ken, I apologise for yelling back. Don’t think I’ve yelled in caps on a board since about 1996. It was interesting.

Having read the ‘act of reading’ thread on the forum, I do think our interchange was in part a reflection of the tension between the ludic and the narrative forms in this book. Games are about feedback loops, about constant interaction (the comments). A good narrative holds a tight structure and the author crafts it for the reader. Some games also progress along tight linear trajectories. You can maintain a little of the authorial control that guides the user in a particular way through the experience. Enforcing a levels structure might indeed, force your users/readers to read to the end of the argument before interacting with it.

But actually, emergent games, which are often the online, social games, tend to lack that string of pearls structure. I think the commenting structure of this book probably reflects the more open architecture of emergence. Thus if what you have produced is a linear narrative, the commenting structure needs to reflect that. If you can’t bear for people to jump to conclusions without reading to the end, then don’t give them the opportunity.

I find this an interesting issue in relation to the content of your book (thus far – please don’t beat me up for commenting before reading to the very end!). I have taken your argument so far to be, in part, a comment on how we structure our understanding of life and culture. That we are shifting to a game-like structure of understanding. The dominant sense-making structure till now has been narrative. We construct stories about our lives, our morals and ethics and so on, and these inform our practices. If we are shifting to a game-like understanding, then narrative is under threat. Ken, your narrative is under threat here, from your own argument. If the form of your argument can’t reflect the content, is it a valid argument?

McKenzie Wark responds to Sal
posted: 7/20/2006

That’s a good point! But if you think of it more in terms of dominant, residual and emergent forms, it’s a bit different. ie, games are no longer emergent, they’re dominant, and narrative is becoming a residual form. But residual forms might have interesting potentials, nonetheless. They might have the lattitude to be really critical and creative. Dominant forms, after all, have work to do maintaining the dominant culture.

posted: 2/6/2007

i am still not quite clear on the word”atopia.” i know you clarified it in an earlier comment, but i think this is the first time it appears in your text and it may be useful to define it in the book.

posted: 4/2/2007

The gamer is not interest in playing the citizen. Not true. The gamer is not interested in having no affect as the citizen as the subject as the low rung. Gamers choose games where they have an impact, an effect, where they can see what the product of their actions are.

Think of it this way. An assembly line worker only sees what his job is. He puts a bolt in place, and worries a robot will take his job. If he never sees the car at the end he has no pride or sense of accomplishment, just an empty bucket or tray of bolts if he finishes.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says that man needs his basic needs covered but once they are he developes other needs. Like the need for fulfillment. A citizen is a faceless soldier, a sell-out, someone who has no soul left. Someone run into the ground by the politically correct and who’s only release is a Friday night booze fest and even that is slowly being absorbed into drinks with the boss after work.

Latent destiny seems more like lazy destiny..or attainable destiny. A gamer has the resources to be more than a cog when she is in the game. Potential comes and the rewards are quicker, the rush is there. Instead of work where compliments mean raises and are therefore used sparingly…gaming breaks into honesty. Either you’re good or you aren’t and if you aren’t you have the chance to try again.

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(5) Comments for 012.
posted: 7/12/2006

Has anybody ever done a study on the correlation between atheism and gaming?

posted: 8/18/2006

If Wark compares games to life then wouldn’t life have a creator, since all games have been created by an individual(s).
I also adore Wark’s line about grace “revealing itself in the roll of the dice”

posted: 11/25/2006

Actually, that’s an interesting point you brought up. Wark describes gamespace as something that is almost perfect, but also has some inherent flaws. Notice that this space was designed by a creator.

The real world, on the other hand, sucks ass. But it works together flawlessly. Quite the opposite. So then, wouldn’t it be more correct to say that the real world could not have been designed, else it be inherently flawed like the gamespace? Afterall, though we may view the world as gamespace, that does not MAKE it gamespace.

McKenzie Wark responds to Atrum
posted: 11/27/2006

Or: if there was a God, the world would be more like a game…

Atrum responds to McKenzie Wark
posted: 11/28/2006

Yeah, I guess that would make sense.

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(1) Comments for 013.
posted: 6/13/2006

It is so delightfully fitting that there would be no comments posted on the first page to turn its logic so directly on the game of forum posting that I will almost not post this.

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(2) Comments for 014.
posted: 5/26/2006

While I am reading those pages about games in games I remind myself of a piece of art written by Stanislaw Lem, Polish S-f writer who died recently. In a book called “A perfect vacuum” he is reviewing books that don’t exist. His explanation to this is following: “I think that as the years passed my impatience for conscientious and slow craft steadily grew. In order to turn illumination into narration one has to work very hard – on a quite nonintellectual level. This was one of the main reasons for taking this shortcut – from which these books emerged.”
Anyway one review really corresponds and even extends what is written here:
“”The New Cosmogony” is the acceptance speech of a Nobel prize winner in physics. He describes his remarkable theory about the source of physical laws. The universe is more than ten billion years old. Several generations of stars have come and gone. Billions of years have elapsed since the first civilizations could have arisen, so the question becomes, where are they? Why don’t we see their names spelled out with galaxies for pixels? His answer is, they are there, in fact they are everywhere, and the structure of physical law is their handiwork. Laws did not arise out of the inherent structure of the universe; they are rules established by competing primordial civilizations. All the players are operating under game theory, so they adopt certain conventions to prevent catastrophic upsets. Thus, physical laws are homogeneous throughout the universe because all the players pick the same, optimal strategy. There is no travel through time because that would give an unfair advantage, and for the same reason information cannot travel faster than light. Relics of past conflicts can be seen in quasars and in the microwave background radiation. We haven’t been visited by a dozen space-faring races because the big boys suppress young cultures that get too uppity. And the clincher is that the “psychzoics” (how the hell does that get translated from Polish?) have not yet finished with physics. There are subtle little asymmetries still to be worked out. For instance, left and right are indistinguishable except in the beta decay of a certain kind of muon. If we can see these inconsistencies being smoothed out we can tell that the psychozoics are still at work.” (John Redford,
Book can be easily obtained through e.g (God bless the Internet). Sorry for using words of others, but I barely remembered this book.

posted: 5/31/2006

You misspelled Raoul Vaneigem’s name.

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(11) Comments for 015.
posted: 5/23/2006

This was the text I was waiting for when reading the first 14 cards. I was looking for the distinction between play and game. I read through the rest of this chpater and got a “hint” of where you might be going with this but definitely wanted more here. Perhaps this is just the set-up. . .And I would wonder “Play no longer functions as a fulcrum for a critical theory.” Has it ever? Maybe for brief moments, with a few theorists (Nietzsche) but I’m not sure it has ever been a fulcrum. Indeed I think the lack of it as a fulcrum has been a problem. Even those who seem to be talking about play (Callois, Huzinga) seem to me to actually be talking about serious/work. But perhaps here we have another crucial problem, how is it that we can distinguish play from the serious? or is this even possible?(I think perhaps not, but the borders and crossings seem useful places to start-as in this book.

McKenzie Wark responds to David Parry
posted: 5/23/2006

‘fulcrum’ might not be the right word there. maybe ‘foil’ would be better.

posted: 5/23/2006

This makes me think of a couple of trends in the gaming industry. First the move towards games that center around asset management (Animal Crossings might be the most loath example.) But second and perhaps more distrubing is the movement to justify the legitimacy of games by reference to “real world positive effects.” Wired recently had an article about how playing World of Warcraft was great training for corporate management. Add to this the gaming industries quick move to capatilize on “serious games” and educational games. This would seem to me to quickly appropriate the play space into a game space that re-inforces a work ideology.

McKenzie Wark responds to David Parry
posted: 5/23/2006

Some Greek film makers I know just sent me their film World War Virtual, which starts with Ronald Reagan explaining how computer games are equipping kids with the skills they will need for the future — like being fighter pilots. So i think maybe that’s going in the book here too….

posted: 5/23/2006

The recent cultural illustration of this is the character “Mike Tevea” in Charlie and the Choclate Factory-the kid who plays video games all the time, played as some sort of genius brat who is above the game, figures out the algoryhtmns that govern play and appears to play only to win, never for fun.

McKenzie Wark responds to David Parry
posted: 5/24/2006

trying to avoid relying on cinema as a reference point here (there’s another chapter that does that), but thanks for the tip.

posted: 5/28/2006

Enjoyed this card the most. The tone of many of the others seemed to ape certain european postmodernists, who, by their own admission, seek the obscure. As someone who plays games do i feel you are capturing something important about my experience. Yes, no, maybe – you seem to be aiming for some zeitgeist thing. But here i do recognise this phenomenon that games are often like (hard work), and that is very interesting

posted: 8/15/2006

Who could blame play for dancing forever just beyond the reach of anyone who wanted to use it as a fulcrum for anything other than, say, launching water balloons? The delicious boredom of sultry summer afternoons can lead to play that does open the way to discovery: the upside down bicycle whose blur of spokes speaks of gestalt, illusion, persistence of vision, flicks, an intricate play of concepts flashing and spinning in that moment of spontaneity. But play sulks and wanders off when gamers try to box it up, and mourns those who mistake depression for boredom.

McKenzie Wark responds to Kafkaz
posted: 8/15/2006

Nicely put, Kafkaz.

posted: 2/13/2007

“Play becomes work; work becomes play. Play outside of work found itself captured by the rise of the digital game, which responds to the boredom of the player with endless games of repetition, level after level of difference as more of the same.”

I agree with your point about the work elements of play. I think this is seen especially within mmorpg communities since players often go to game forums for advice on the best character builds. Due to the repetitive nature of leveling, there is discontent with having to reset or delete a character later on in the game. There’s also a determination to pass all the “boring” levels to get to the more interesting aspects of the games asap. For instance in Rose Online, the first desired level is 50 because the character can drive a car. However, in order to get that nice sports car you want, you must have at least 4 million or more in the game’s currency. The unique high level gear and clothing is also expensive. So, in between leveling your character, it also needs to vend in the marketplaces. I think this does tie into Suits essay “Construction of a Definition” since all aspects of this game do have goal-directed activities and it is frowned upon by the game community if players use hacks to break the constitutive rules of the game. But, I wonder how Suits would view players seeking detailed character build knowledge from forums. Would he possibly equate this to the high-jumper using a ladder?

McKenzie Wark responds to L.M.
posted: 2/21/2007

LM writes: “But, I wonder how Suits would view players seeking detailed character build knowledge from forums. Would he possibly equate this to the high-jumper using a ladder?”

Depends on what Suits calls ‘lusory attitude’ , i think.

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