Heterotopias of luxury, of a strictly artificial necessity, contain subdivisions of play and game, existing within their allotted times and spaces, which are in turn subdivided. The space of play contains separate worlds of literature, art, theater, cinema, even spaces for sexual play. These are now just ‘special topics’, ruled off from any larger ambitions for remaking the world. Aesthetic play tried again and again to break out of its heterotopia, to take the derangement of the senses into the streets, and again and again it failed. Guy Debord: “For Dadaism sought to abolish art without realizing it, and Surrealism sought to realize art without abolishing it. The critical position since worked out by the Situationists demonstrates that the abolition and the realization of art are inseparable aspects of a single transcendence of art.”* It was not to be. The heterotopian space of the art world abolished Debord’s Situationists instead by realizing ‘Situationism’ entirely within the confines of the playpen of art history.
Heterotopias of the game have never been of much interest to theory, whose practitioners have tended to view it as the place of the mob. Pat Kane: “The working class is also the playing class — and has always been so.” But to gamer theory without such prejudices, heterotopias of the game may be a key precursor to gamespace. Among them are separate worlds pitting different attributes of body and mind into contests of skill or luck, from badminton to backgammon. Every way of measuring what one body does against another — each finds its own special heterotopia, its field, its court, its track, its pitch, its arena. Says defrocked Situationist Ralph Rumney: “It is now sport, not painting or sculpture, which defines the limits of the human, which offers a sense or image of wholeness, of a physical idea, which no honest art can now repeat.” Nor, need one add, can writing.*
Not only was aesthetic play no match for the game, but it ends up playing a subordinate role within the expansion of the game beyond a mere heterotopia. Art provides the images and stories for mediating between the gamer and gamespace. Vice City, for instance, is an algorithm wrapped in a landscape of visual splendor. One particularly pleasurable way of trifling with it is to steal a car and simply tool around in it. Tune the car radio to your favorite station and feel the sensuous shapes and forms of the city vector by. But generally, art is now in the service of the game. Rather than actual games played in actual arenas, art expands the reach of the game to imaginary games played in a purely digital realm, anywhere and everywhere, on every desktop and cell phone.
If aesthetic play suffers from enclosure within heterotopian margins; the agon of games is leeched out of its pure domains. Ralph Rumney didn’t count on 24 hour sports channels, internet gambling, reality TV game shows, or the subtle, corrosive imposition of the digital gamespace on every aspect of life. Conceptual art is no match for conceptual sport, with its fantasy baseball teams and its perpetual pep talks urging everyone always to just do it! — where ‘it’ is stripped of any possibility not marked and measured in advance. Not only was aesthetic play no match for the game, it ends up playing a subordinate role within the expansion of the game beyond a mere heterotopia. Art provides the images and stories for mediating between the gamer and gamespace. Rather than actual games played in actual arenas, art expands the reach of the game to imaginary games played in a purely digital realm, anywhere and everywhere, on every desktop and cellphone.
For a gamer theory the genealogy of gamespace might pass through these heterotopias of the game more than those of play, and those of play more than those of necessity. Theory has been looking in all the wrong places. The playtime aesthetics of the avant gardes of art yields to the ‘ludology’ of gamespace. It was the genius of Caillois, the lapsed Surrealist, to grasp this. In topography, what he calls alea (chance) and agon (competition) become the dominant modes; what he calls ilinx and mimesis — intoxicating vertigo and dissimulating spectacle — the minor modes. The obsessions of the Situationists — passive spectacle and active insurrection against it — form an obsolete couple, each drawing support in decline from the other. The action is elsewhere.