An algorithm — for current purposes — is a finite set of instructions for accomplishing some task, which transforms an initial starting condition into a recognizable end condition. Greg Costikyan: “Algorithmic games are ones in which underlying calculations or rules determine the game’s response to the player’s input.”* The recipes that Benjamin and other Sims learn from the cookbooks on their bookshelves are algorithms. Benjamin’s career as a Theorist is also an algorithm. There is a start condition: he must have 8 friends, 4 charisma points, a 7 in creativity, and so on. It has end conditions, too. With 10 friends, 5 charisma points and 10 for creativity, the Theorist career can end, and another begin. The gamer selects one sequence after another, and gradually learns what they do — that’s algorithm. The gamer discovers a relationship between appearances and algorithm in the game which is a double of the relation between appearances and a putative algorithm in gamespace — that’s allegorithm. (See Fig. B) But there is always a gap between the intuitively knowable algorithm of the game and the passing, uneven, unfair semblance of an algorithm in the everyday life of gamespace — this is the form that allegory now takes.
The images and stories that populate games are mostly cribbed from some other media, from novels, films or television. Games mostly just recycle, or ‘remediate’, bits of representation from other media. Bolter & Grusin: “remediation is a defining characteristic of the new digital media.”* And hence not specific to games. From the point of view of representation, the game is always inadequate to everyday life. A Sim in The Sims is a simple animated character, with few facial features or expressions. In The Sims 2 they seem a little more lifelike, but the improvement of the representation in some particular ways only raises the standards by which it appears to fall short in others. From the point of view of allegorithm, it all seems more the other way around. Everyday life in gamespace seems an imperfect version of the game. The gamespace of everyday life may be more complex and variegated, but it seems much less consistent, coherent and fair. Perhaps this was always the atopian promise of the digital — a real of absolute, impersonal equity and equanimity. The game opens a critical gap between what gamespace promises and what it delivers. What is true is not real; what is real is not true. This is what the double movement of allegorithm and allegory have to report. The game is true in that its algorithm is consistent, but this very consistency negates a world that is not.
Imagine that Benjamin, our character in The Sims, makes it to the penultimate level and becomes a Theorist. Perhaps then you buy him a computer because he seems bored with reading. What would he do with it? Play The Sims, of course. Being a Theorist, perhaps he starts to think about it. Perhaps he jots something like this in his notebook: “The gamer whose listless gaze falls on the controller in his hand is ready for the allegorithm. Boredom is the basis of the allegorithmic insight into the world. Boredom lays waste to the appeal of the game as game, and calls attention to the ambiguous relation of game to gamespace. Allegorithmic perception is n-dimensional, it intuits behind appearances interactions of many variables. The allegorithmic mode of apprehension is always built on an evaluative relation to the world of appearances. More and more relentlessly, the everyday life of gamers is coming to wear the expression of gamespace. At the same time, gamespace seeks to disguise the ungamelike character of things. What heightens the mendacious transformation of gamespace is its appearance in an undistorted form in the game. Still, gamespace wants to look itself in the face. It celebrates its incarnation in the gamer.”
In the gamer, Benjamin might say, is reborn the sort of idler that Socrates picked out from the Athenian marketplace to be his interlocutor. “Only, there is no longer a Socrates, so there is no one to address the idler. And the slave labor that guaranteed him his leisure has likewise ceased to exist.”* In The Sims, as in gamespace, one wonders if the idler has disappeared also. There is no idle time in The Sims, or in the gamespace of which it is the more perfect double. The quartz heart of the computer on which The Sims runs ticks over remorselessly. All of its moments are equivalent, and so too, in a way, are all moments in The Sims. Sleeping, napping, conversation or reading all advance one’s scores. Benjamin has to go to bed to get up again to go to work to earn the right to sleep, and dream, again.
To be a gamer is to come to understanding through quantifiable failure. The bar graphs measuring Benjamin’s being trend negative and refuse to budge. You are too busy elsewhere to get Benjamin to the toilet on time, and he pees himself. He needs sleep, he needs love, he needs a new kitchen. He turns to face you, the gamer, and gestures wildly, as if cursing his God. When things were going well, you forgot to save the game, so there is no better time to go back to. Nothing for it but to work with what you have, or quit and start again. The game is a knowable algorithm from which you know you can escape; gamespace is an unknown algorithm from which there is no escape. The game is just like the gamespace of everyday life, except that the game can overcome the violence of time. The game ties up that one loose end with which gamespace struggles — the mortal flaw of an irreversible time. No wonder the Sim turns in vain to the gamer as a God, for it is the gamer who has turned toward the game as a messianic, reversible time.