At the beginning of each level, gamer and character, linked by the controller, go out together to confront time, which hurls at gamer and character alike these killer signs. By destroying these mere appearances, time itself — not merely the appearance of time — is defeated. In defeat, a character dies; in victory the gamer wins. The oscillation between character and target doubles that between gamer and character. (See Fig. F) The act of aligning gamer, character and target in the act of targeting risks the integrity of the self against the possibility of defeating time. If the character lost, replay the level again. And again. Repeat this same, strange, digital time, until you win. The time of the game, which can be repeated, over and over, an eternal loop of the same time, is not violent. Nothing changes in game time. Time is a constant, measured out in identical, digital units. Even in a game where time speeds up, it does so in the same way, for the same reasons, over and over, every time you play. Within this digital time, the gamer steps out to call into being and destroy its nemesis: analog time, violent time, this river that is never the same way twice.*
Flying along, weightless on a rail, here all around are clusters and pods, flights and flocks, moving with algorithmic precision, but rarely appearing as under the command of a central node. Rez is about battling along a line, not across a front. The pulsing, phosphorescing quality of Rez gives the gamer a feeling of a particularly intense loss of self. Your senses mesh into a network of lines, of moments, spread across the screen. The payoff, if one targets accurately, is the coalescence of the self back again into a heightened level of coherence precisely through victory over the pulsing dub-trance time that confronts it. The two-bit code of press and release on the trigger switches between the line dividing and the line connecting self to other, cutting out any ambiguities in between.
The purpose of a targeting game is the overcoming of death through the targeting of the other, freeing the self to be itself — temporarily. The goal, the target of the target, is to stop playing while still alive. Having done so, the gamer rejoices, for the moment, before collapsing back from the game into the vagaries of the networks and networks of lines and lines that are gamespace. There’s nothing for it but to play again, and again. Save the game — freeze time — and come back and try again for the next level. The only real problem with Rez is that it does not have enough levels. Victory is temporary, or rather temporal. You can defeat time in the game, but only for a time. And having won all there is to win, boredom looms…
The space within which one battles in Rez is an allegory of topological space itself. It is all nodes and networks. It is a battlespace rather than a battlefield. There is no front line. One cannot hide behind the lines. One’s character, on its rail, propels itself through space following the line of a net to its node. The node may be a center, but there may not really be a center of centers. The game levels out leaving the gamer with the uneasy feeling that the center you conquered is not the center of centers, even if this is what the storyline claims. The gamer knows better. Every point connects through every other, every shape can be transformed into another. It can fold, stretch, morph and bubble. Time is constant, but space is not. It can pulse and bulge, warp and wobble. It is a network. And while every point can in principle be connected to every other, in practice it cannot. There are protocols governing which points can open to which other points. Alex Galloway: “protocol is an algorithm, a proscription for structure whose form of appearance may be any number of different diagrams or shapes.”* The game is an exercise in negotiating protocols to gain access to more and more of the network.
Nets are a problem. In gamespace one is continually getting tangled up in them. In gamespace, both space and time are elastic. In gamespace, nets tug at one’s extremities, contaminate one’s senses, blur the bounds of self itself. One can’t do without nets but they do one in. It’s a paradox, an inescapable tension. In the game, at least time is held constant, digital, repeatable. This consistency enables a reduction of action to targeting. To target is to deny any debt to the network which enmeshes one with the other. The ‘work’ in a network is in identifying a target that constitutes its limit. In Rez, pulling the trigger targets, but does not shoot. It puts the emphasis on the former rather than the latter. Samuel Weber: “… the act of targeting is an act of violence even before any shot is fired.”* The act of targeting has already cut the net connecting one to the other. The gamer’s debt to the net remains unacknowledged — other than in the repetition of the ritual of playing the game.