No wonder digital games are the emergent cultural form of the times. The times have themselves become just a series of less and less perfect games. The Cave™ presents games in a pure state, as a realm where justice — of a sort — reigns. The beginnings of a critical theory of games — a gamer theory — might lie not in holding games accountable as failed representations of the world, but quite the reverse. The world outside is a gamespace that appears as an imperfect form of the game. The gamer is an archeologist of The Cave™. The digital games the gamer finds there are the ruins, not of a lost past, but of a lost future. Gamespace is built on the ruins of a future it proclaims in theory yet disavows in practice.

Gamespace needs theorists — but also a new kind of practice. One that can break down the line that divides gamer from designer, to redeploy the digital so that it makes this very distinction arbitrary. It is a characteristic of games to render digital decisions on all shades of difference. One either wins or loses. One either hits or misses. The practice of the gamer as theorist might be to reinstall what is undecidable back into the gamespace whose primary violence has nothing to do with brightly colored explosions or mounting death counts, but with the decision by digital fiat on where everything belongs and how it is ranked. Lars Svendsen: “How boring life would be without violence!”11 The real violence of gamespace is its dicing of everything analog into the digital, cutting continuums into bits. That games present the digital in its most pure form are reason enough to embrace them, for here violence is at its most extreme — and its most harmless.

Of all the kinds of belonging that contend for allegiance — as workers against the boss, as citizens against the enemy, as believers against the infidel — all now have to compete with one which makes agon its first and only principle. Gamespace wants us all to believe we are nothing but gamers now, competing not against enemies of class or faith or nation, but only against other gamers. A new historical persona stalks the earth. All of the previous such persona had many breviaries and manuals, and so this little book seeks to offer guidance for thinking within this new persona. An ABC for gamers. Not a strategy guide, a cheat sheet or a walk-through for how to improve one’s score or hone one’s trigger finger. A primer, rather, in thinking about a world made over as a gamespace, made over as an imperfect copy of the game. The game might not be utopia, but it might be the only thing left with which to play against gamespace. Peter Lunenfeld: “The codes are there for the tweaking.”12

Ever get the feeling you are playing some vast and useless game to which you don’t know the goal, and can’t remember the rules? Ever get the fierce desire to quit, to resign, to forfeit, only to discover there’s no umpire, no referee, no regulator, to whom to announce your capitulation? Ever get the vague dread that while you have no choice but to play the game, you can’t win it, can’t even know the score, or who keeps it? Ever suspect that you don’t even know who your real opponent might be? Ever get mad over the obvious fact that the dice are loaded, the deck stacked, the table rigged, and the fix — in? Welcome to gamespace. It’s everywhere, this atopian arena, this speculation sport. No pain no gain. No guts no glory. Give it your best shot. There’s no second place. Winner take all. Here’s a heads up: In gamespace, even if you know the deal, consider yourself a player, and at least for this round have got game, you will notice, all the same, that the game has got you. Welcome to the thunderdome. Welcome to the terrordome. Welcome to the greatest game of all. Welcome to the playoffs, the big league, the masters, the only game in town. You are a gamer whether you like it or not, now that we all live in a gamespace that is everywhere and nowhere. As Microsoft says: Where do you want to go today? You can go anywhere you want in gamespace but never leave it.

No wonder gamers choose to spend their time holed up in The Cave™. Here at least the targets really are only polygons, and the prizes really are worthless, mere colors and numbers. And yet The Cave™ is a world you can neither own nor control. Even this substitute for utopia is in some else’s possession. The digital game is both an almost utopian alternative to gamespace and its most pure product. Or was. Perhaps the game is collapsing back into business as usual. Perhaps the single-player game will become an anachronism, superceded by multiplayer worlds as venal and benighted as the rest of gamespace. Perhaps, like silent cinema, the stand-alone game will be an orphaned form. Perhaps game designers such as Sid Meier, Will Wright, Warren Spector, Keita Takahashi and Tetsuya Mizogushi will be the Sergei Eisensteins and Dziga Vertovs of a lost art. Perhaps, in this moment of eclipse, the classic games have something to show us. So by all means necessary, be a gamer, but be a gamer who thinks — and acts — with a view to realizing the real potentials of the game, in and against this world made over as a gamespace. One might start with the curious gap between the games one loves and an everyday life which, by the light of the game, seems curiously similar, and yet somehow lacking.

(1) Comments for 021.
posted: 5/27/2006

This sounds like the Nature Art split right? Perhaps there is something more at stake beyond this in and through play and games… I’m thinking about maybe a second remove where it is all forms of techno aesthetics that are found wanting when they aren’t engaged in a playful way?

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(5) Comments for 022.
posted: 5/24/2006

I am currently reading Adam Greenfield’s _ Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing_ and I find its argument about the relationship of the user to the developer of computing systems really relevant here. Greenfield posits the notion that certain ubiquitous systems are engaged inadvertently (load sensors in floors, GPS locators, and of course video surveillance) such that the user makes no conscious decision to interact. Given that in the early days of computing, users were often developers as well, the field was more level. With the growth of a digital world, one simply can’t assume a level of proficiency and this changes the stakes considerably. The risks of gamespace, at once violent and harmless and the insinuation of gamespace into reality and vice versa is the really compelling aspect of this work for me. I think the gap between the roles of theorist and practitioner does need to close in order to ensure a reflective development of games, computing, life.

McKenzie Wark responds to virginia kuhn
posted: 5/24/2006

very interesting — its as if the whole world was now ‘object oriented’ — programmed in such a way that each process is a black box to the next one, just taking in inputs and delivering outputs.

Scott Reed responds to virginia kuhn
posted: 5/25/2006

Another really interesting text along these lines is an essay by Lev Manovich entitled “The Poetics of Augmented Space.” Like “ubiquitious computing,” he points out the radical extent to which nearly all public and private space is subject to the flow of information.

I took M’s trope of “augmented reality” (AR) as representing a new, hybrid-sort of middle-ground between the early critical distinctions between VR and RL (the mid-90s tropes of choice that put up some sort of metaphysical fence between the “virtual” and the “real”). I think McKenzie is getting at something similarly pertinent here. Great stuff!

posted: 11/14/2006

Who controls this violence, and what is its nature? I would tend to say Bourdieu and Passeron’s symbolic violence is a useful concept here. Dominated by the difficulty of the game, mastery within the limited scope of it is how the gamer builds up status for himself or herself.

The ubiquity of the game reinforces the need to build that status, and the gamer’s ability to invent new symbols within the game is limited by design, if present at all. There is no exploration to be made, there’s the shiny player’s guide. There’s no such thing as bad design, just dumb users.

Beneath the flashy explosions, there’s another combat. And that combat is not unlike going to war blinded, bound and gagged.

McKenzie Wark responds to denki Lajeunesse
posted: 11/21/2006

interesting comment denki. Hadn’t occured to me to read Bourdieu in this context.

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(2) Comments for 023.
posted: 6/12/2006

i’m surprised there hasn’t been more discussion of the deep socio-political questions you are raising. When you say “Gamespace wants us all to believe we are nothing but gamers now, competing not against enemies of class or faith or nation, but only against other gamers” that implies that you are keenly conscious of the class nature of society and that Gamespace, while it may be emerging unconsciously out of the culture still serves a specific social role. can you say more about that?

McKenzie Wark responds to gamergirl
posted: 6/12/2006

There’s more in the ‘Complex’ chapter

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(6) Comments for 024.
posted: 5/28/2006

This panel is so dynamic and engaging – have you considered using it as your introduction.

McKenzie Wark responds to Jason Des Forges
posted: 5/29/2006

It started out as 001, actually.

posted: 7/14/2006

One of my personal favorite motivational sports cliches/put downs/slogans, from a past coach (lacrosse I think): “Second place is the first loser.”

McKenzie Wark responds to Ben Robertson
posted: 7/17/2006

i may use that one!

posted: 2/7/2007

I think this is one of the most memorable parts of the book. The way it seems to compare life to games in such an undeniable way… The wordng is very powerful

posted: 2/12/2007

this is depressing. :/

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(14) Comments for 025.
posted: 5/23/2006

“in some else’s possession” ?
Should this be “someone else’s”

posted: 5/23/2006

thanks! its hard to write and proof at the same time…

posted: 5/23/2006

I think the single player/multi-player distinction which comes up here is really important. Playing a single player game, I know that what happens doesn’t matter, in the sense that it is between me and a computer which I can restart if I don’t like how that game’s going. Life is a lot more like a multi-player game, but once one acknowledges this, I feel like maybe anthropology sneaks into gamer theory, and games become one social context among others.

McKenzie Wark responds to hugh
posted: 5/24/2006

All the buzz is about multiplayer, but to me it seems less interesting. Single player games are starting to seem wonderfully strange compared to WoW and its ilk, which as you say, seem to have an ‘anthropology’, and as Edward Castranova has shown, an economy. The talk is about how amazing it is that multiplayer is so much like real life. Economics! Real Estate! Social worlds! Playing by yourself is starting to feel like silent cinema. Weird, but oh so beautiful.

hugh responds to McKenzie Wark
posted: 5/25/2006

Thinking about it some more, I see that my comment about single-player games (“I can turn it off whenever I want to”) misses the point, which is that I _don’t_ wan’t to, that I am happy to find myself in a situation in which someone else will keep score for me.

ben vershbow responds to hugh
posted: 6/2/2006

Have you considered delving further into this distinction? It’s touched on so briefly but I think is a crucial stand you’ve made here. I’m not necessarily talking about a whole new section, but it seems it’s worth mentioning some of the points raised in the comments here: for example, this shift toward anthropology in the study of online games. Emphasizing why the single-player game is a totally distinct experience, and not (as with online games) a recapitulation of the world.

posted: 5/24/2006

I agree that single player games are where the bulk of analytical potential still lies, especially since World of Warcraft dominates the online gaming sphere, and with it anthropology dominates its analysis.

The bizarre rhetoric of the Xbox Live system is that we read games according to achievements, which are ritualised by the force of the system – so that even the textual overlay of the console will alert you when you’ve achieved something in the game in singleplayer mode. Your ability to perform becomes public priory.

Imagine if there was a database of the films you had put on your DVD player and the time spent exploring the extras which other people could access.

McKenzie Wark responds to Christian McCrea
posted: 5/24/2006

actually, there is a database of all the dvds i put in my player, over on netflix. It doesn’t quite wortk the same way, but the logging, ranking and rating practice seems of a piece with the general idea of a gamespace to me.

posted: 5/24/2006

“Dziga Vertovs” is a typo. Should be “Dziga Vertov”

posted: 5/25/2006

This chapter is truly an Agony to read =\ super boring like CS…

posted: 7/12/2006

Interesting! I have always thought that the reason China has a more severe “gaming addiction” problem than most other countries is that society put so much more pressure on the kids that they want nothing more than to escape to a fantasy world. Your line of thought here reinforces my idea–a Chinese teenager’s life is filled with life-important “games” like constant tests and ranking in schools, learning to “play” the connections/networking game, etc. WoW is much better, indeed =)

McKenzie Wark responds to Christina
posted: 7/13/2006

If life appears as a series of ‘games’ that have unclear rules, unfair umpires, dubious rewards and where some have a head start — then computer games appear as utopia.

posted: 1/7/2007

As I’m reading this section I can’t help but think back to the Matrix, when Cypher says to Trinity over the phone “No, I believe the Matrix can be more real than this world.” Just a thought you could put in there. This whole thing is very interesting stuff, and I can’t wait to have the paper in my hands.

McKenzie Wark responds to Chris
posted: 2/7/2007

Thanks Chris. I’m trying to keep the Matrix refs to a minimun — readers supply their own.

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