Not the least of the pleasures of playing Tetsuya Mizoguchi’s Rez is the counter-intuitive way the trigger works.* If usually the gamer presses the trigger to shoot the target, in Rez the gamer releases the trigger to shoot. Actually it’s a two stage operation: hold the trigger in to select a target; release the trigger to shoot. As you move through a tunnel-like space, with pounding house beats in your ears, various potential targets swim and swish by, or take a swipe at you — or rather at your character. You hold the trigger down to lock on to them as targets, and then release it and watch as fiery lines radiate toward the moving targets. One’s missiles seem more balletic than ballistic. They arc towards their targets even as those targets move.
Everything in Rez is very abstract. Your character may have a vaguely human form or not, depending on the level. The brightly colored shapes that flare at you may look vaguely menacing or brightly friendly. The whole thing is meant to simulate the experience of a nightclub more than a war. This, together with the curious trigger action, highlights the act of targeting in Rez rather than the target itself. There is some vaguely sci-fi storyline about why one targets and shoots, but it is rather minimal and sketchy. It’s not clear at first just what role the story plays. Like many games of its genre (it’s a ‘rail shooter’) its an experience of battling against things in order to level. In Rez, one targets what to shoot at and shoots at what one targets pretty much for its own sake. It’s interest as a game resides in this abstracting of the act away from too many particulars as to why one targets or whom one shoots. Time spent with Rez feels like immersion in an eternal, tense present under fire. Blaise Pascal: “The fact is that the present usually hurts.” Shooting games recognize and disavow this at one and the same time. Pascal: “The fact is that the present usually hurts.” Shooting games recognize and disavow this at the same time. Pascal, who developed probability theory out of the problem of how to divide the pot among gamblers when one left the game, opens the path to arresting the flow of the game within the algorithm, but it is this edgy presence of pain that concerns gamer theory.*
Color, brightness, shape, movement, beats, notes, sounds, even the pulsing vibrations of the controller in hand come together in Rez in a veritable synasthesia, a blending of the senses intent on melding the gamer with the game. It’s a quite particular context in which to try to target. The enemy has to be identified, localized, and highlighted in order to become a target. The target emerges out of an event, out of a pure analog flux of variable movement. Before there is a target there is everything and nothing — indifference, alterity, being neither one nor the other, neither here nor there. Selecting a target stabilizes a relation between the one targeted and the one targeting — one versus the other, us versus them. Targeting turns time and space from a disconcerting experience of flux into conditions of self awareness, where the world exists so the gamer might come into being, against it. Once an event yields a target, it becomes something subject to control. The analog yields to the digital.
To target is to identify an object of an action with an aim towards a goal. The goal will come directly, by designating the end point in advance and aiming at it. There is no indirection in targeting. A target is a goal that can be reached by virtue of an immediate knowledge of it and a consequent action against it. The gamer may need to target one thing in order to subsequently target another, but this is more a matter of stringing targets together as a sequence in time. Or rather, a sequence against time. In Rez, the gamer does best to target certain shapes that appear in the periphery of one’s vision, and which enhance one’s power and extend one’s immunity. What the game highlights is a logistics of targeting, an economy of order against time, the battle of alternating merger and separation from the other.
Targeting is at one and the same time the designating of a goal, the one designating, and the means of designation. To target is to overcome the indifference of self and other, and at the same time to introduce an oscillation into the moment of this very overcoming. Press the trigger down and the target selects, as something other than you; release the trigger than the shot connects you to it again, but in a very special way, as engaged in the relation of battling. Hit or miss, the gap between target and gamer re-opens, and the cycle begins again. Perhaps the gamer is always battling otherness, in an unstable relation to alterity, to blurry edges and fuzzy boundaries which threaten to overwhelm the self. Steven Poole: “One crucial component of video-gaming pleasure is in fact a certain level of anxiety.”* In Rez, this feeling is rendered useful, productive, rather than paralyzing or profound. The gamer exploits the anxious relation of self to other in the act of targeting, risking the boundaries of character, for the reward of promoting the character to a new level.