The old class antagonisms have not gone away, but are hidden beneath levels of rank, where each agonizes over their worth against others as measured by the price of their house, the size of their vehicle and where, perversely, working longer and longer hours is a sign of winning the game. Work becomes play. Work demands not just one’s mind and body but also one’s soul. You have to be a team player. Your work has to be creative, inventive, playful — ludic, but not ludicrous. Work becomes a gamespace, but no games are freely chosen any more. Not least for children, who if they are to be the winsome offspring of win-all parents, find themselves drafted into endless evening shifts of team sport. The purpose of which is to build character. Which character? The character of the good sport. Character for what? For the workplace, with its team camaraderie and peer enforced discipline. For others, work is still just dull, repetitive work, but the dream is to escape into the commerce of play — to make it into the major leagues, or compete for record deals as a diva or a playa in the rap game. And for still others, there is only the game of survival. Biggie: “Either you’re slingin’ crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot.”* Play becomes everything to which it was once opposed. It is work, it is serious, it is morality, it is necessity.
The old identities fade away. Nobody has the time. The gamer is not interested in playing the citizen.* The law is fine as a spectator sport on Court TV, but being a citizen just involves you in endless attempts to get out of jury duty. Got a problem? Tell it to Judge Judy. The gamer elects to choose sides only for the purpose of the game. This week it might be as the Germans vs. the Americans. Next week it might be as a gangster against the law. If the gamer chooses to be a soldier and play with real weapons, it is as an Army of One, testing and refining personal skill points. The shrill and constant patriotic noise you hear through the speakers masks the slow erosion of any coherent fellow feeling within the remnants of national borders. This gamespace escapes all checkpoints. It is an America without qualities, for everyone and nobody. All that is left of the nation is an everywhere that is nowhere, an atopia of noisy, righteous victories and quiet, sinister failures. Manifest destiny — the right to rule through virtue — gives way to its latent destiny — the virtue of right through rule. Civic virtue drowns in a hurricane of mere survivalism.
The gamer is not really interested in faith, although a heightened rhetoric of faith may fill the void carved out of the soul by the insinuations of gamespace. The gamer’s God is a game designer. He implants in everything a hidden algorithm. Faith is a matter of the intelligence to intuit the parameters of this geek design and score accordingly. All that is righteous wins; all that wins is righteous. To be a loser or a lamer is the mark of damnation. When you are a gamer, you are left with nothing to believe in but your own God-given abilities. Gamers confront each other in games of skill which reveal who has been chosen — chosen by the game as the one who has most fully internalized its algorithm. For those who despair of their abilities, there are games of chance, where grace reveals itself in the roll of the dice. Roger Caillois: “Chance is courted because hard work and personal qualifications are powerless to bring such success about.”* The gambler may know what the gamer’s faith refuses to countenance.
Outside each cave is another cave; beyond the game is another game. Each has its particular rules; each has its ranks of high scores. Is that all there is? The gamer who lifts an eye from the target risks a paralyzing boredom. Paolo Virno: “At the base of contemporary cynicism is the fact that men and women learn by experiencing rules rather than ‘facts’… Learning the rules, however, also means recognizing their unfoundedness and conventionality…. We now face several different ‘games’, each devoid of all obviousness and seriousness, only the site of an immediate self-affirmation — an affirmation that is much more brutal and arrogant, much more cynical, the more we employ, with no illusions but with perfect momentary adherence, those very rules whose conventionality and mutability we have perceived.”* Each game ends in a summary decision: That’s Hot! Or if not, You’re Fired! Got questions about qualities of Being? Whatever.
So this is the world as it appears to the gamer: a matrix of endlessly varying games — a gamespace — all reducible to the same principles, all producing the same kind of subject who belongs to this gamespace in the same way — as a gamer to a game. What would it mean to lift one’s eye from the target, to pause on the trigger, to unclench one’s ever-clicking finger? Is it even possible to think outside The CaveTM? Perhaps with the triumph of gamespace, what the gamer as theorist needs is to reconstruct the deleted files on those who thought pure play could be a radical option, who opposed gamespace with their revolutionary playdates. The Situationists, for example. Raoul Vaneigem: “Subversion… is an all embracing reinsertion of things into play. It is the act whereby play grasps and reunites beings and things hitherto frozen solid in a hierarchy of fragments.” Play, yes, but the game — no. Guy Debord: “I have scarcely begun to make you understand that I don’t intend to play the game.” Now there was a player unconcerned with an exit strategy.*