The four possible endings of Deus Ex fit on a ‘Greimas square.’ Which is to say, the endings are terms in a game of meaning making. (See Fig. G) If George Perec is the avant garde aesthete of gamespace, Greimas is its pioneering theorist, for whom all culture can now be thought retrospectively in terms of the game. A. J. Greimas: “Perhaps out of a desire for intelligibility, we can imagine that, in order to achieve the construction of cultural objects (literary, mythical, pictorial, etc.), the human mind begins with simple elements and follows a complex trajectory, encountering on its way both constraints to which it must submit and choices it is able to make.”* Or in other words, the play of meaning is made within the bounds of a game. At stake here is the relation of play to game. As topography gives way to topology, game rises in prominence relative to play. In the realm of avant garde strategies, the game within constraints of George Perec supercedes the play beyond game of Guy Debord. In the rear guard of theoretical strategies, the game of meaning supercedes the meaning of games; A. J Greimas tops Johan Huizinga. For Huizinga play precedes game. It is the play ‘instinct’ that inspires the formation of forms. Greimas anticipates the enclosure of play within gamespace. As the whole of space succumbs to the game, it is the logic of constraints which determine the possibilities of play.
Huizinga, writing in the shadow of the Nazis, knew what was coming: “It remained for the theory of ‘total war’ to… extinguish the last vestige of the play element.” The military industrial complex is on its way. Total war then extends its logistics to the spaces of work, and finally play itself. Now the military entertainment complex is on its way. Transgressive play has its last hurrah in the Situationist attempt to live out Huizinga’s theory as a program for action. Greil Marcus: “As bathos it was just drunks trying to walk and think at the same time.” There is nowhere to hide outside of gamespace — the total game. Guy Debord: “One cannot go into exile in a unified world.” The former leader of the Situationists will devote his declining years to designing and playing a board game which formalizes all he imagines he has learned about revolutionary playtime, and yet entombs it within its rules.*
With the rise of topology, the tension between game and play is resolved in favor of the game. Whether in art, theory, or in everyday life: There is nothing outside the game. The storyline, which once marked the boundaries within which a game could begin, becomes internal to gamespace, and is now much more about legitimizing the point at which a game ‘must’ end. The storyline becomes just the working out, one move at a time, of a possible line through the constraints of gamespace. In the game it is an algorithm that determines when something can end; but it is the storyline that makes this end point seem natural, inevitable, and necessary. But while a storyline has an ending, Deus Ex has four endings. It reveals just a bit more of the rules of the game of meaning making than a story usually would. That Deus Ex is a game of four endings is already a slight slippage of the mask, revealing the rules of the meaning-making game.
In topographic times, heterotopian games gave onto non-game spaces. A game was delineated by what it was not. In topological times, atopian games give onto nothing but other games. In gamespace, the exit from one game will turn out to be an entry into another. Each cave lets onto another cave. But this does not banish the problem of what is not-game. On the contrary, it makes it a pervasive and incessant problem. Its locus is the gamer, who can only be a gamer by being constantly pulled into and pushed out of one game after another, and who, in moments of boredom in between, glimpses the very conditions of possibility of gamespace. These are the moments when the gamer can neither target something within the game nor be the target the game itself selects to make its own. The tension is no longer what is prior to or outside the game, but what, from inside the game, may bring it to an end — and what that end might be.
The gamer’s boredom arises out of the recognition that, under the variegated spectacle of details, the act of gaming is always essentially the same. The gamer oscillates between two states. The first state is being separate from the target; the second is being merged with the target. (Playing Deus Ex in stealth mode only reverses the procedure. The goal is to not be the other’s target). The first state merges the gamer with the character in the presence of the target, the second merges the character with the target and produces, as a result, the gamer, as the one who hit or missed. (See Fig. F) The gamer oscillates within an agon between two terms: being separate and being merged into the game. In Deus Ex, the Templars are the knights of separation; the Omar want nothing but complete synthesis of human and machine. This first pair in the Greimas square enact the realization of the game as one of two agonistic states in which the gamer may be in relation to any game.