Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Round Table in a Square Hole


I'm going to discuss
a fine piece of wankery which I developed in a hi-tech Wanktheon Lab.

I call it Philosopop. It's a portmanteau of philosophy and pop.

I developed the idea after going on a Nietzsche kick. I read Thus Spake Zarathustra a few times and had a minipiphany. Thus Spake, or Also Sprach if you're hip to the lingo, can be a daunting book to get through to the end. The parables can be confusing because of the language and the layers of symbols.

Except I don't feel it should be difficult. The stories, when simplified, are familiar. You might encounter them in Saturday morning cartoons or when listening to Bad Religion or when eating really good Chinese food.

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Human experience is similar through time. This idea sounds like Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, like Jung's collective unconscious, like semiotics and grifting and palm reading and the Bible and Aesop's Fables or Grimm's Fairy Tales. And it's all of those concepts and more, wherever human experience lurks, different answers but similar algorithms.

Philosopop fills the basest with meaning, and brings the airy down to earth.

Clytemnestra's story could be a plot on daytime television. The Simpsons explores the Eternal Recurrence. Britney Spears is just the latest incarnation of opera singers and troubadours. Medieval fiction has the same power fantasies as comicbooks, the same monstrous villains, the same showdowns, the same narrow escapes.

Always remember that Dickens got paid by the word.

I aim to topple elitism, to gnaw away the dross until I find the core ideas. There's no doubt I enjoy watching a master work more than a hack, but I have also encountered more than one hack-turned-master and vice versa.

Always remember that Orson Welles cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican.

Oh, there are plenty of things I don't enjoy, but Philosopop isn't about enjoyment. Philosopop is about the commonalities between concepts and scavenging them as connective tissue in my own personal reality tunnels. Value judgments are inevitable, but Philosopop strives to place them aside for a moment and glean the marrow of a plot.

Philosopop follows the hermetic mantra "as above, so below" and thus unites the Leprechaun movies and Warner Brothers cartoons to the Trickster myths, Gwar and the Insane Clown Posse to the eschatonic traditions of the Norse and the Mayans, Soap Operas to Louis XIV's court at Versailles and it draws all those things into a well of human experiences. It connects ytmnd.com to Andy Warhol's art factories to industrialism and the development of mass production to the Gutenberg printing press. It's the tv show Connections crossbred with Wikipedia and Reader's Digest and town criers. It posits strong links between the violent imagery of urban rap culture and the American West and the Grand Guignols and Punch and Judy shows and Shakespearean tragedies and frat houses.

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The Tree of Life is arched backward like the fossilized skeleton of an Archeopteryx, Malkuth connected to Keter, and from each sphere infinite branches extending out in a three-dimensional fractal of time and mind.

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Philosopop sees videogames with new eyes, looking to the near-future and television's near-past and film's far-past and fiction's farther-past, and all the offshoot media scuffles in-between.

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The idea that human beings receive information from media and then promptly provide a deterministic output based solely on that media seems an overly-simplified and naive explanation for human behavior. GIGO is fine when you're talking binary, but a bit trickier when you're talking dendrites and axons and synapses, meat and chemical soup activating and deactivating receptors, waves and pops and crackles of electricity pulsing in variable rhythms.

Different creative endeavors are given different significance depending on the date, the culture, the exposure, encounters with similar ideas, encounters with conflicting ideas, a number of factors both quantifiable and unseen. Gut, instinct, conditioning, mood, temperament, principles, morals, logic, reason, prejudice, faith, stimulus-response, rejection, combination, sublimation, revolution.

Consider Herodotus' The Histories and the books of the Holy Bible. Depending on your familiarity with the texts, on your upbringing, on your current mental and emotional state, your skepticism, the influence of friends and family, those books may change wildly in significance. To some they could have equal weight. To others one might be considered more accurate than the other, one less believable, one evoking nostalgia, one providing comfort.

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There also seems to be a neverending supply of projection when it comes to awareness of the message that a medium conveys. Beneath these pleas or finger-waggings or outright ravings are mandates to convey the messages I want you to convey.

Media doesn't have to be for you, it doesn't have to tell you anything, or please you, or shock you.

Maybe it was made for the creator, to fulfill a need or scratch an itch or to let off steam or just because.

Just because you want something to be personal, doesn't mean it is.

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Corvus wonders where is the public discussion, the crossover between gamers, the general public and the politicians? I wish I could tell him, and I wish I could tell him that I'm with him on this one. But I'm not.

Politicians will remain generally uninterested except where videogames can be used in fearmongering campaigns, at least until we get to the point where the gamer generation starts taking public office. The general public will get there, eventually, but there's no reason to assume they will throw in with any gusto.

I'm not sure there can be a resolution of matters like these, fuzzy artistic notions and questions of taste and ethics and transmitting cultural or moral values.

Perhaps there's just the fight, the back and forth, forever.

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If common threads run through the narratives we generate through different media interactions, then are we not reacting to simple inputs? Cannot those inputs be engineered to elicit responses? Is that not what artists and advertisers and politicians and comedians all do, to one degree or another?

Most likely yes, to all three.

But reception of information and the formulation of a reaction is not a wholly deterministic process. Like chaotic equations, cognition shows sensitivity to initial conditions and topological mixing (I have seen this formulated as recursiveness, though the two concepts may be dissimilar). In instances where a person demonstrates a remarkable predictive capacity, such a feat is typically a matter of knowing the mores of a culture, the fads and fashions of the age, basic behavioralism and the proper selection of words.

Media can influence and guide and hint and demand and plead and use cultural triggers, but it cannot command. It is the internal medium, that suspension of gooey matter floating in juices, locked up tight within your skull that gives the go-ahead.

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Media has always had interactive components. Tribal dances around campfires were participatory narratives, ways of joining in on past hunts or journeying great distances or communing with the gods. Dramas had to follow the ebb and flow of the crowd, the playwrights waiting in the wings to punch up a scene with more violence or write out dull portions, a conversation between actors, the story, the author and the audience. Movie scripts are read by editors and loved ones, advice given, new ideas snatched from conversations on the subway, themes plucked from well-remembered novels.

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Chris Bateman discusses using our judgment to develop games responsibly.

Yes. No.

Who gets to decide when a developer is being responsible? Will a developer be able to sue a parent whose child plays an M-rated game, marked and marketed solely to adults, for undermining their responsible behavior?

The notion of responsibility is frequently (not necessarily in this instance) a call to not cross over a certain line. That line is typically arbitrary, restrictive and decided by the louder, more influential voices, not necessarily the most reasonable.

And, to be frank, the legitimacy of games-as-artwork depends, in my opinion, on finding that arbitrary line, dousing it with gasoline, torching it, rubbing out the ashes and then razing whatever's on the other side.

Such games have already been made, are already being made, the digital incarnation of Poetic Terrorism.

"The audience reaction or aesthetic-shock produced by PT ought to be at least as strong as the emotion of terror-- powerful disgust, sexual arousal, superstitious awe, sudden intuitive breakthrough, dada-esque angst--no matter whether the PT is aimed at one person or many, no matter whether it is "signed" or anonymous, if it does not change someone's life (aside from the artist) it fails."
-Hakim Bey

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"It disgusts me. You trivialize the actions of two murderers and the lives of the innocent."
-Brian Rohrbough whose son, Daniel, was killed during the attacks

Super Columbine Massacre RPG!

"It probably sounds a bit odd for someone like me to say, but I appreciate the fact, at least to some degree, that something like this was made. I think that at least it gets people talking about Columbine in a unique perspective, which is probably a good thing. I'm not sure the ultimate intention was to trivialize it. It seemed like the purpose was to expose people to what happened in a unique perspective. There are probably a lot of people that would find it and play it out of curiosity, and find out more about Columbine than they usually would have were it not in game form."
-Richard Castaldo, paralyzed from the chest down after being shot in the arm, back, chest and abdomen during the shooting

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Q: What was your thinking on the night shown in the film, at the Hugh Hefner Friar'’s Club Roast, when you made the 9/11 joke and people were calling out "Too soon?"

Gottfried: When they said "“Too soon,"” I thought they meant I should have taken a longer pause between the set up and the punchline. I said, Damn, I knew I should have taken one extra beat!

But yeah, it was right after September 11th,– and this was September 11th 1999, which was years before it actually happened, which is how sensitive a topic this actually is. People don'’t realize! Just that date, years before, people used to be sensitive and upset. The Marx Brothers did a joke about September 11th and it pretty much ended their career.

I just wanted to be the first one to come out with the really bad taste joke for the current tragic event. It was a weird time because people were like, "Ooh show business is over, nobody can sing or tell jokes." It was around that time it was the Emmy Awards, and they had this thing like, Maybe we won'’t hold the Emmy Awards or maybe we will hold it but we'’ll dress down.

So basically in honor of the thousands of people who died in the World Trade Center, women weren't showing any cleavage on the Emmys, which meant a lot to the families who lost someone. They said, "Oh, Pam Anderson is wearing a turtleneck! I feel so much better about my husband dying." So I told that and that shocked the audience because everyone was treading lightly on it. But actually I had been doing dirty jokes before, and that was a break from the regular dirty jokes to other forms of bad taste. So then I just went right back to the dirty jokes and I followed it with the Aristocrats and the audience exploded.

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Idealized heroes and villains are dull. The Greeks realized this and made sure that even the good guys were wrecked and conflicted and emotionally unstable.

Some parts of the story of Heracles would be at home in a bondage video. Other parts, a summer blockbuster. Still other parts, yaoi. And even other parts, a slasher film.

Videogames let us become heroes and villains, with all their ferocity or innocence or brutality or joy or turmoil or levelheadedness. Within them we can explore the ramifications of certain behaviors in spaces made safe by their context. We are offered choices, sometimes narrow, sometimes broad, but we have extra dimensionality with our choices - we can retry actions, be reborn or, ultimately, walk away from the game.

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Videogames, too, have permeated into our cultural, linguistic and emotional lexicons.

There is a rundown shop in Ali Al Salem where you can buy a Gamestation for almost nothing and knockoff games for even less.

Okinawa City hums and buzzes all day and night, Galaga shoved into alley corners still bleeping, Sega World sucking in the young, old and business-suited, pachinko parlors with big screen Street Fighter platforms, eight-year-olds who serve you in DDR.

My father owns an Xbox. My sister watches my nephew play Ultimate Spider-Man, watching as he chases down the bad guys or successfully completes a checkpoint race. I see people who have probably never heard the word 'console' playing furious games of Bejeweled on their cellphones.

The greater significance of videogames is that they have greater significance. We just have to know what we're looking for, then look for it.

So decrees Philosopop.

2 comments:

Chris said...

You must understand that when I talk of exercising individual judgement, I talk of individuals exercising judgement. Responsibility cannot exist any other way.

If there are lines to cross or not cross, they must be the lines of the individual.

I do not favour legal solutions to social or personal issues. But I know that if we do not self-organise than an external signal will be forced upon us. I do not favour this solution - but I accept that if we cannot be responsible independently, then we have no-one to blame but ourselves for the restrictions we will suffer.

From an individual perspective, responsibility is not the same as toeing the line. Responsibility is about self-awareness, awareness of consequence, and consequence of actions. We do not even have to get it right. We just have to try.

I enjoyed this piece, and its rambling rhythms. Like you, I have noted that the content of literature more than 1500 years old is often more shocking that what is made today. Both the Greek myths, and the older Chinese epics, contain all manner of content we would now find offensive. Cultures change.

(Curiously, the Epic of Gilgamesh does not appear to have this problem. Was the ancient Sumerian culture closer in cultural narrative tastes to our own? We cannot know.)

Returning to the issue of responsibility, when I talk of responsibility I do not mean to impose external limitations. I mean to feel and act upon our internal limitations. Your examples of things "crossing the line" are carefully chosen to highlight artistically motivated work. An artist who makes a statement others find offensive may do so responsibly. Again, it is about the process inside them.

Anyway, I have rambled long enough.

Best wishes!

Patrick Dugan said...

Wow, I think I came in my pants.

To echo or disagree with Chris' statement (and in the context of philosopop, what fucking difference is there?) I think the best defense is a good offense. If we blaze on with radical games that are both offensive and inspiring, like I think SCMRPG does in a small way, then we can alter the culture before the culture manages to quarantine the medium.

And dude, I feel the Poetic Terrorism thing in spades.

The way to effect PT and cultural relevance is, as I argued in relatively clean and technical language in my post, through the design of rhizomatic play. Goal-oriented games about mastery and solutions are ideologically biased and ironically, ideologically vacant. The networks you describe are rhizomatic, and the way you wrote this post in itself is perhaps rhizomatic, eating its own tail, an algorithm flayed out in text.

In your Hakim Bey post you describe the need for the digital equivilant of DMT. Imagine a drama engine whose arbiters are content creating and disseminating agents, machine elves if you will; the data content consists of genetic (or memetic) primitives which self-organize into rhizomatic networks composing the desires, inferential and interpretive framework of the character AIs. The procedural content consists of fuzzy constraints, preferably encoded in a non-technie friendly toy language that caters to hueristic thinking, which frames how the content primitives tend to self-organize and mutate into various rhizomatic lenses. In this way we can build storyworlds which are both adapt to the user's preferences and adapt the user to its preferences.

Once I get some fucking money...