The game has colonized its rivals within the cultural realm, from the spectacle of cinema to the simulations of television. Stories no longer opiate us with imaginary reconciliations of real problems. The story just recounts the steps by which someone beat someone else — a real victory for imaginary stakes. The only original screen genre of the early 21st century is not called ‘reality TV’ for nothing. Breton & Cohen: “By signing their release forms, contestants agree to end up as statistics, each player’s feelings and actions manipulated… leading to infidelity, tears, perhaps heartbreak.”2 Sure, reality TV doesn’t look like reality, but then neither does reality. Both look like games. Both become a seamless space in which gamers test their abilities within contrived scenarios. The situations may be artificial, the dialogue less than spontaneous, and the gamers may merely be doing what the producers tell them. All this is perfectly of a piece with a reality which is itself an artificial arena, where everyone is already a gamer, waiting for their turn.

The game has not just colonized reality, it is also the sole remaining ideal. Gamespace proclaims its legitimacy through victory over all rivals. The reigning ideology imagines the world as a level playing field, upon which all men are equal before God, the great game designer. History, politics, culture — gamespace dynamites everything which is not in the game, like an out-dated Vegas casino. Everything is evacuated from an empty space and time which now appears natural, neutral and without qualities — a gamespace. The lines are clearly marked. Every action is just a means to an end. All that counts is the score. As for who owns the teams and who runs the league, best not to ask. As for who is excluded from the big leagues and high scores, best not to ask. As for who keeps the score and who makes the rules, best not to ask. As for what ruling body does the handicapping and on what basis, best not to ask. All is for the best in the best — and only — possible world. There is — to give it a name — a military entertainment complex, and it rules. Its triumphs affirm not just the rules of the game but the rule of the game.

Everything the military entertainment complex touches with its gold plated output jacks turns to digits. Everything is digital and yet the digital is as nothing. No human can touch it, smell it, taste it. It just beeps and blinks and reports itself in glowing alphanumerics, spouting stock quotes on your cellphone. Sure, there may be vivid 3D graphics. There may be pie charts and bar graphs. There may be swirls and whorls of brightly colored polygons blazing from screen to screen. But these are just decoration. The jitter of your thumb on the button or the flicker of your wrist on the mouse connect directly to an invisible, intangible gamespace of pure contest, pure agon. It doesn’t matter if your cave comes equipped with a Playstation or Bloomberg terminal. It doesn’t matter whether you think you are playing the bond market or Grand Theft Auto. It is all just an algorithm with enough unknowns to make a game of it.

Once games required an actual place to play them, whether on the chess board or the tennis court. Even wars had battle fields. Now global positioning satellites grid the whole earth and put all of space and time in play. Warfare, they say, now looks like video games. Well don’t kid yourself. War is a video game — for the military entertainment complex. To them it doesn’t matter what happens ‘on the ground’. The ground — the old-fashioned battlefield itself — is just a necessary externality to the game. Slavoj Zizek: “It is thus not the fantasy of a purely aseptic war run as a video game behind computer screens that protects us from the reality of the face to face killing of another person; on the contrary it is this fantasy of face to face encounter with an enemy killed bloodily that we construct in order to escape the Real of the depersonalized war turned into an anonymous technological operation.”3 The soldier whose inadequate armor failed him, shot dead in an alley by a sniper, has his death, like his life, managed by a computer in a blip of logistics.

The old class antagonisms have not gone away, but are hidden beneath levels of rank, where each agonizes over their worth against others in the price of their house, the size of their vehicle and where, perversely, working longer and longer hours is a sign of winning the game. Work becomes play. Work demands not just one’s mind and body but also one’s soul. You have to be a team player. Your work has to be creative, inventive, playful — ludic, but not ludicrous. Work becomes a gamespace, but no games are freely chosen any more. Not least for children, who if they are to be the winsome offspring of win-all parents, find themselves drafted into endless evening shifts of team sport. The purpose of which is to build character, of course. Which character? The character of the good sport. Character for what? For the workplace, with its team camaraderie and peer enforced discipline. For others, work is still just dull, repetitive work, but the dream is to escape into the commerce of play — to make it into the major leagues, or compete for record deals as a diva or a playa in the rap game. And for still others, there is only the game of survival. Biggie: “Either you’re slingin’ crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot.”4 Play becomes everything to which it was once opposed. It is work, it is serious, it is morality, it is necessity.

(10) Comments for 006.
posted: 5/22/2006

Is there a bibliography for this? I’m curious about which Breton & Cohen this is.

(this didn’t seem to post the first time I tried to post, trying again . . . )

Jane Ward responds to dan visel
posted: 5/23/2006

This is exactly my question. Where is the bibliography? Giving the great interface much could be done with the reference apparatus. And it is important!

ben vershbow responds to Jane Ward
posted: 5/23/2006

The bibliography is now up in the forum. We’ve nested it there in its own thread so people can start talking about it. The next step is to add endnotes at appropriate points through the text and link them to the list. This chapter is done. I’m working on the rest now. Hurrah!

McKenzie Wark responds to dan visel
posted: 5/23/2006

Sorry, we left the notes off. Got too complicated. The book in question is called Shooting People.

dan visel responds to McKenzie Wark
posted: 5/23/2006

hmmm, that should be “Brenton” & Cohen, not “Breton”. Here I was thinking that André was way out ahead of his time.

posted: 6/2/2006

Sorry to be so picky, but “opiate” isn’t a verb.

I love this book and this site!

McKenzie Wark responds to Paula Berinstein
posted: 6/4/2006

it is now.

Kathy Fitch responds to McKenzie Wark
posted: 6/6/2006

I’m not usually a fan of rampant verbing of nouns, either, but there’s something kind of fetching about “opiate” as a verb in this context, because it made me think of Opie of Mayberry, USA–one of the epicenters of imaginary solutions to real problems. So, the poet trumps the grammarian, this time.

McKenzie Wark responds to Kathy Fitch
posted: 6/6/2006

This part of the book has been through 100 drafts, so every word is pretty carefull chosen. There’s still mistakes — the more you fiddle with things, the more you screw thigns up some times. But opiate was a carefull chosen word. It’s meant to have resonance.

posted: 7/18/2006

This may not be helpful but when I read this bit about reality TV, I found myself wondering if there was a particular aspect of the genre you had in mind. When you note reality TV’s contrivance in the context of gaming, are you speaking about reality TV as a type of hyperreal text (i.e., Baudrillard’s early discussion of An American Family) or, more specifically, as a kind of contemporary disposition to engage in structured play within contrived environments. If it’s more the latter, it might be beneficial to distinguish ‘reality-play’ as being connected to the less ‘anthropological’ manifestations of the genre (gamedoc formats like Survivor and Big Brother, for example). Really like your work. Good luck with this project!

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(7) Comments for 007.
posted: 5/23/2006

I’m not sure “reality” is the right word here. To say the game has colonised reality suggests that the game is not of reality — which is epistemologically naive: fiction is as an integral part of reality as “fact”, as you point out in paragraph 19. I think what has been colonised is experience, or the Lebenswelt, the lifeworld, to use Habermas’s Husserlian term.

McKenzie Wark responds to stephen wright
posted: 5/23/2006

I take yr point, but we’re just in the opening bars of the overture here. I chose to start with what most people seem to assume about games, invert it, fold it into a paper hat, etc…

posted: 7/6/2006

Interesting how in many games (multiplayer online ones in particular) we recreate real world inequalities. There are top ranks in the game world, ways of knowing that ‘we’ are better than ‘them’, people strive to obtain armour or money (or anything else that = status or power) leading some people to complain that their game has become like a job.

Why are some people so conditioned by materialism that they extend it to virtual goods that only exist in a game environment and would be worth nothing if you stopped caring about (playing) that game?

James Westbury responds to Lucy Cade
posted: 9/28/2006

There’s an answer inherent in this question — materialism is, itself, a fiction and a game. Let’s go back, say, 1000 years ago. What was currency? Gold, of course. And silver. And all variety of precious metals and objects. Things which were, for some reason, valuable. Now, perhaps there was an inherent value in them — they were commodities by nature, as their existence is limited. Oil is the same. There is a use for such things, so, certainly, there is some inherent value — right?

Not quite. The value of an object is only determined by the desirability of an object. If you remove the reason for desiring the object, its value is gone. Lower the desirability and its value decreases — this is simple economics, here.

But what is modern currency? Paper? Does anybody have a practical use for a sheet of paper blended with cloth? A dollar bill is worthless in a classical sense. You aren’t going to decorate your walls with them or mold yourself a suit of armor with them. All you use a dollar bill for is to buy things you do want. So, it has a sort of indirect value.

Yet, you seem to think it has a *real* value. So, a real value of an object can be reasoned to be a value which allows you to obtain something you desire, be it a direct or indirect value.

If I desire a piece of armor, who are you to say it has no real value? I desire it. I desire it more than I desire a new car in “real life.” (I’d argue the validity of the term “real life,” of course, but that’s not for this place.) So, it takes on the same value as a golden coin, or as a car, or a house.

Simply because it’s nothing more than magnetized metal and electrical impulses doesn’t decrease that value. After all, gold is nothing more than metal without that same magnetic head touching it.

Dominik Marosi responds to James Westbury
posted: 12/16/2006

I’d love to write a really long answer to this, but agreeing with you I shorten it down: What you present is elaborated in the excellent “The Construction of Social Reality” by John R. Searle. There is a lengthy discussion on money in it as a primary example of social construction.

McKenzie Wark responds to Dominik Marosi
posted: 1/3/2007

Never read it, thanks fot the tip. I think the locus classicus for this idea is probably Simmel’s Philsophy of Money.

James Westbury responds to Dominik Marosi
posted: 2/6/2007

Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll see if I can get a hold of it somewhere around here.

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(1) Comments for 008.
posted: 5/25/2006

One thing interesting here, and in this subsection in general, is the robustness of the colonizing logic at play. Games can and have been discussed as flighty and hard to pin down, fragile (Suits). It seems we can do so much to inhabit the progress of a game just by not suspending disbelief, but like computer-grade speed logics or money all that’s needed is for enough of the right people to believe in the game and then we all have to play right? What (y)our Complex does is reverse of the ephemeral quality of not only games but of any interface/engagement. I hear echoes of Paul Virilio’s The Information Bomb and its detonation, a pure war, not of excess death but of zero births. We have to play and we have to keep putting our quarters in to boot.

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(7) Comments for 009.
posted: 5/23/2006

“Zizek” is correctly spelled “Žižek”. Somebody has to look out for the diacriticals, and that somebody is usually me.

posted: 5/24/2006

Hi Ken. Thanks for sending this my way and inviting me to comment. Enjoying the hell out of what I’ve read so far. In this paragraph, it strikes me a more concrete metaphor than the soldier with compromised armor felled by a sniper would be helpful in visualizing the change in the topography of warfare–like, for example, the Predator drone strikes in Iraq or Afganistan being initiated by CIA officers “on the ground” with Palm Pilots and “flown” via joysticks and computer screens in Las Vegas. Or something like that.

posted: 8/22/2006

This is a very good paragraph. I was writing a comment about the dangers of making life and death decisions from far above, but the comment became too long, so I posted it on my website instead.

posted: 1/15/2007

almost everything is mechanized in warfare now, which always leads me to the thought of once the meat is replaced will we no longer use infantry. and whole wars will be fought aiming at command centers with remote controled bombers?

McKenzie Wark responds to Max Merenda
posted: 2/7/2007

This has been the dream for some time, but while you can control space with military technology, its a bit harder to control people. Need i even mention Iraq?

Max Merenda responds to McKenzie Wark
posted: 3/6/2007

i didnt think about this but maybe its about controling the battlefield now and always, so where does this us to?
perhaps more mechanized infantry to herdthe enemy. also if are are more focused on command centers wewill most likely create more precise weapons but much stronger. i have been playing supreme commander for half a week and my strategy has become to build lots of force fields and anti missile systems and just buil and launch nukes in one hellish bright beutiful and impresive blast. (i win two thirdsof the time)

posted: 2/6/2007

we have already entered an age where military attacks not individuals but strategic locations. we attack transportation systems, clean water systems, large interface stations, etc.

this is not to say that military officials take these things lightly. if it could be considered a game, then it is the most serious kind of game.

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(9) Comments for 010.
posted: 5/24/2006

“work is my play cause im playing when I work” – beastie boys, ‘time to get ill’

being a rockstar, rapstar is a fantasy of the ultimate reconciliation of play and work.

posted: 5/25/2006

This is a combination of meme theory and conspiracy theory: actually CT is probably a subset of MT. So is this a textbook or a novel? I’m confused at this stage

posted: 7/12/2006

Interesting that while work becomes play in reality, play becomes work in some MMORPGs–the tedious tasks that are no less repetitive than a job or, to an extreme, the existence of “gold farmers” for MMOs.

posted: 2/6/2007

over break my brother attempted to play basketball at town hall, and the “officials” told him that in order to use the “public” space, he needed to organize a league and get a permit. are we at a societal point that we are no longer allowed to play without organization? if so, how does that effect the rules and roles of play?

posted: 2/10/2007

Games are all work now. FPS is working to the top rank. Platformer is working to the end. Social games is working to fame, or at least leadership. MMO is working towards wealth or fame again. Strategy is working towards dominance over territory, at least for a while. Racing is working to first place. RPG is working towards power. Sports is working towards a good team, a good record, a cycle to artificial success. Yet we come back, to a second work with intangible rewards and a counterfeit paycheck. We furnish our online homes with furniture that we can’t experience, no matter how shiny the wood of the table or how soft the surface of the couch seems. We shoot to break records that we will never be recognized for except in a number by our name that we hope will stay a 1. We jump the end of a level for the purpose of jumping through it in a different way, or another level to jump through. We farm gold so we might pay to have a new weapon, a sword perhaps, with which we fight hoards to farm yet more. We lock ourselves in a cycle to means to means, means to worthless ends, or at best simple means to a few minutes of entertainment, which we desire for days but find worthless in minutes. Gamers think “Why do I wish for these worthless things? I cannot hold these pixels! I cannot spend these icons! I cannot sleep on these polygons! What good does first place do me? What does it matter if this round is won or lost?” Yet the gamer sinks every day into the chair in front of their TV, or their monitor, each day laboring their off hours to get a reward they see only in the luminous pixels of gamespace. But are they less real then what exists in this “reality”? We pride ourselves in our expensive house, but don’t we do exactly the same in games? Isn’t the money we make, what we think is the end, yet another means? A means to survive, or to a new product. A means to have fun, or to make work easier. Yet fun is a means to balance work. Work is a means to make money. Aren’t we locked in the gamer’s cycle in “reality”? Of means to means? Yet, if you though about it, without the gamer’s cycle, civilization, indeed life, would collapse! Think of programming: If we include that final “end if”, the thing we strive to find, we terminate the program (death?). If we keep the program running, the other goal, we must repeat. We can’t win this game. How do you win a game of repeats? Now, one thinks it was rather fitting that winning old games produced the famous “game over”. We got beaten by the repeat. In victory, we are defeated by the game. We loop in repeat, but survive. In defeat, we are victorious over the game. We found the final “end if”. Suicide procures the same result. Even in quitting, we are defeated, and are victorious. It all depends on what you choose. Do you want to go through means to means or means to end if? Is there anything after the game’s end if? Is there anything after an endless repeat? Is there a way to win at all? You can’t stop from going through the program, from repeating or ending. The only way to win is to pause, and that means the game had worn you down and you give up, loosing to the game anyway. You can’t win the game, can’t stop it, can’t freeze it. You can’t even lose it! By loosing we found the end if. We won!

posted: 2/11/2007

I don’t think we have created organized game purely as a means to build character, but we do seem to be at a place where children are no longer allowed to play without organization, where everything must be regulated. How and why did we get to this point?

posted: 2/11/2007

sorry – i cant see my first post so i didn’t think it worked… but now i can see it and my second repeats itself… oops. :)

McKenzie Wark responds to sarah loyer
posted: 2/17/2007

Milo writes: “But are they less real then what exists in this “reality”?” Which i think is a good point. What is so ‘real’ about the useless baubles one is supposed to want in RL?

Sarah: why is it that childen’s play has to be organized? Maybe not just to build character, as i suggest. But then why? It’s still a good question even if my answer was too limited.

posted: 4/2/2007

We teach children how to play as if we expect they don’t know how. Not exactly, they don’t know how to play as we would, so we have to indoctrinate them early in order for them to grow into ‘acceptable’ members of society. It it not acceptable to say, choose not to play. It’s antisocial.

If one does choose to live outside the system they are ostracized until they either succeed or give in. Original ideas only make the news because they are so rare.

Like the phrase, “thinking outside the box” can be answered, “how, I live inside a cubicle?” All the talk about creative thinkers is just that talk.

Work is dull, it is repetitive…if everyone shouted, “Hurray its Monday!” Corporations wouldn’t have to pay us to show up on time. As it is they slowly suck the life out of people by shoving us into jobs that no one in their right mind would want to have. Of course we want to be playas or divas. Who in the world wants to live in the glamous world of telemarketing say?

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