It’s like paradise here. Everything seems pastel-hued as you drive by, with the radio on. The car is stolen, but so long as the police didn’t see you, it won’t matter. You don’t really have to be anywhere or do anything. The hotels and condos are comfortable and discreet. If you need money, mug someone. The body makes a satisfyingly squishy sound when you kick it. There are adventures. You get to meet some interesting people. It is a city of gangsters, hustlers and honeys. It’s all tourism, drugs, guns, cars and personal services. Nobody makes anything, except maybe ‘ice cream’, porn and counterfeit money. Everybody buys, sells or steals. Vice City is a nice place. It is not quite utopia. And nor is it some dark dystopia. There’s no storyline here, where paradise turns nasty, in which the telling early detail turns out to be a clue to the nightmare beneath the surface, the severed ear of Blue Velvet. Without the possibility of dystopia, there’s no utopia either. Terry Eagleton: “All utopian writing is also dystopian, since, like Kant’s sublime, it cannot help reminding us of our mental limits in the act of striving to go beyond them.” In Vice City there is no ‘beyond’. As one would expect in a high end land of vice, its offer is all inclusive.*
In gamespace, the very possibility of utopia is foreclosed.* It is no longer possible to describe a shining city upon the hill, as if it were a special topic untouched by the everyday, workaday world. No space is sacred; no space is separate. Not even the space of the page. The gamelike extends its lines everywhere and nowhere. And yet, a pure digital game like Vice City might still perform some curious, critical function. Why do so many choose to escape from their everyday gamespace into — yet more games? As the myriad lines of topology work their way into space, space mutates, and just as the allegorical moment changes from the topical to the topographic to the topological, so too does the utopian moment. One might think gamespace via both allegory (doubled as allegorithm) and utopia (mutated into atopia). One reveals which could be, the other announcing what should be, both shifting and realigning as the space around us changes what it would be.
Utopia was a place to hide, where a topic could develop of its own accord, safe within the bounds of the book. There life could begin again outside of conflict. Utopias do their best to expel violence. In a utopian text there is always a barrier in space — distant and difficult terrain; or a barrier in time — intervening revolutions or Charles Fourier’s cycles of epochs. The real barrier is rather that troublesome line that divides what is on the page from what is outside it. Fredric Jameson: “I believe that we can begin from the proposition that Utopian space is an imaginary enclave within real social space, in other words, that the very possibility of Utopian space is itself a result of spatial and social differentiation.” Only utopia’s enclave was not imaginary. It was tangible and material. Utopia was a place on a page where violence is pushed to the margin by the power of sheer description. Utopian socialist William Morris: “Success in besting our neighbors is a road to renown now closed.”*
Utopia restricted itself to a particular topic — the topic of the page, and particular line, the line of writing. (Fig. E) The book is a line: a trajectory, a connection through time and space with certain qualities. Among its qualities is the way it partitions off the smooth space of the page from the rough and tumble world without. It rules off from the world that special tempo where text plays its subtle games against its reader. In a utopia, other lines of communication are either nonexistent or subordinated to the descriptive power of the text. Utopian communist A. A. Bogdanov: “The plays were either transmitted from distant large cities by means of audio visual devices, or — more usually — they were cinematic reproductions of plays performed long ago, sometimes so long ago that the actors themselves were already dead.”* In this utopian Red Star, the new lines extend and enhance those of the text, rather than supercede them.
It is not that utopias alone create gulags. Adolf Eichmann was no utopian. He just kept the trains running on time — to the camps. His was a prosaic imagination, making topography match the text of his orders. The lines for implementing that kind of violence are the railway line, the telegraph line, and the line of punch cards passing through the tabulators — precursors to the digital computer. Holocaust historian Edwin Black: “When Germany wanted to identify the Jews by name, IBM showed them how.”* In topography there is a whole nest of connections, along which flows information, radiating from the text, calling the world to order. There are lines for planning, managing, measuring. Topography is not only the means for producing spatial and social differentiation, but of overcoming it, connecting a space of places with a space of flows. The first intimations of topology are those IBM Holerith tabulating machines which will make space not only something that can be divided and connected by order, but measured and managed by the algorithm.