Wednesday, April 11, 2007

existential computer graphics

Wow. Hard to believe I haven't posted a single entry since Valentines Day. My apologies; the time has just seemed to blend together, one day into the next. To quote a favorite film of mine:

"Speed is like a dozen transatlantic flights without ever getting off the plane. Time change. You lose, you gain. Makes no difference so long as you keep taking the pills. But sooner or later you've got to get out because it's crashing, and then all at once the frozen hours melt out through the nervous system and seep out the pores.... Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day"

Granted, I do not take speed like the character Peter Marwood alleges. I guess replace "speed" with "these past two months", and "pills" with "coffee and antibiotics". Yikes.

On to "Countergaming"... I unfortunately missed class on Monday, so I hope my opinions on this text will not be outdated or off the mark. As you guys know, I'm closer to Peter's age than most of your'n. Talking with you guys definitely feels like talking with the future. The generation gap isn't huge, but it's there. Slightly. For instance, when I spent a week at a "cutting edge" computer camp, java hadn't been released (I only learned Tru Basic which seems utterly pointless now). I still have floppy disks with some of my really really old writing on it and these disks are actually floppy. So yeah, I feel like I was born earlier enough to witness the birth of the digital age with a critical eye.

I've been aware of countergamin since since Wolfenstein and Duke Nukem. Some of my friends were members of a cadre of nerdlings, and I stood on the periphery and watched these dudes create these insane game mods. They tried to teach me, but I was too stupid or impatient. Most of their efforts could be classified under "screwing around with visuals"; it was DOOM 2 on acid and you couldn't even kill anything most of the time. It looked incredibly tedious. Moreover, I thought it was pointless. I can't speak to the first accusation, but it proved to be a worthwhile endeavor, especially much later when I first played Counter Strike.

I had forgotten that CS was created by hacker fans. That was the first part of the reading that seemed relevant to me. The introduction felt like a waking tour of Sesame Street, or reading the manual for Mario 3. Retro. I realize though that this is more than just "Nude Raider". There is a whole community of artists out there dedicated to the deconstruction of video games. It seems an interesting area of study out of context. Games as art... interactive pieces that allow the user to interface with the mechanics of gameplay.

On second thought, no. Galloway himself ends up dismissing this medium. It doesn't really signal a shift toward modernism in gaming because the avant mods generally lack game play. They function to illustrate how games are played more than they actually subvert and redefine playing. The descriptions of these avant mods reminded me what it looked like to crash DOOM while running the god code.

Also, I think Galloway is a bit optimistic in his belief that actual countergaming will occur. As abstractions, these mods have merit. But he calls for new modes of game play. I don't think he is referring to the Wii controller either. He wants new algorithms, new in-game physics. But if you erase the formal strategies of the game, does it still count as a game? Video games seem to me to have evolved from board games, at least in terms of application/use, but I don't think that Monopoly for Super NES was a modernist or avant version of the original. Films are purely spectacle. You can change the formal strategies but you can't change the consumption process.

Games are defined instead by interactivity. But there are already many different interfaces, side scrollers or first person shooters for example. The identity of any game, its purpose and meaning and function, are all linked seemingly inextricably to its presentation and control interface. Changing any aspect of either of these really only creates version 2, like a sequel to a movie.

I mean, we play games for fun. Is there really a way to alter the experience of playing an already existing game for hyperpolitical purposes? If so, will these games be played by anyone? Doesn't Galloway's analysis call more for advancements in technology rather than algorithmic revisions? Games are supposed to be entertaining, sometimes cathartic, which I would say is the entire reason they are referred to as games. They are all just interactive fantasies. Cinema has subversive or counter qualities because it is rooted in the real. Actors are real people; we see ourselves in them. Thus, the way we are shown these actors can affect the way we see ourselves. Galloway points out that games are really only advanced animations. Even with swanky new HD graphics, games lack ties to reality, and therein ties to our hearts and minds. They are little more than sensory experiences, make-believe without any grounding in reality, utterly lacking in consequence.

For example: You may get startled playing Half-Life 2. You may even be sad for Cloud when Aeris dies in Final Fantasy 7. But if you watch the film "I Stand Alone" you will be affected permanently (and maybe nauseous and furious temporarily).

Second Life almost seems like countergaming. You can play, but there is no fundamental goal. Still, I find it lacking. I am controlling something that isn't me and can never be me. In films, we are not in control. We give our will to the eye of the camera. Since we are instructed by something external to ourselves, there exists the ability for it to change us. But veer too far into the abstract and you get "Baraka" and "Koyaanisqatsi", two films jam-packed with meaning but in many ways nebulous and indecipherable. Back to games: You control something. There are no consequences. Metal Gear Solid manages to affect players only because of the relentless cinematics. How else are we to identify with a blip on a screen that we can only associate with impersonally and via a substantial medium? The only real negative part to gaming is that the fun stops when the character dies. Or maybe that you get fat sitting there trying to get perfect stats in a Final Fantasy game.

I believe I'm going in circles at this point. Hmmm, can I muster up some kind of summary that really ties this all together? Artist mods are cool and all, but for countergaming to carry any socio-political importance via the gameplay requires real life consequences. It requires entirely new physical relations to gameplay, such that the player does not have to mediate control externally. This to me seems more like a job for science than for programmer-artists. Maybe if the game self destructed after you died for the first time...

Course, my entire rant could stem from the fact that I don't feel symbiotic with my technology. Could be my cultural background, but it could be that generation gap, since I just can't seem to integrate