“Many crucial facts lie beyond the time and place of interaction or lie concealed within it.”
“A man may be ignorant . . . of who he is, what he is doing, what or whom he is acting on, and sometimes also what (e.g. what instrument) he is doing it with, and to what end (e.g. he may think his act will conduce to some one’s safety), and how he is doing it (e.g. whether gently or violently).”
The following remarks were delivered at the USC MEGA Game Jam on September 12, 2014.
I’m going to keep my remarks short tonight so that you can get on to doing what you came here to do. This is a game jam, not a dentistry conference. If you want to hear more from me, please sign up for one of my classes.
Let me begin by saying thank you to the organizers for asking me to say a few words here at the first MEGA Game Jam of the academic year. And a big thank you to all of you, for coming out. It takes effort to build a community, and you’re putting in that effort right now, and for that, I think you deserve a round of applause.
I’m a big fan of game jams. There’s something about bringing together a bunch of people to play and create that feels like exactly the sort of thing that’s worth celebrating. There are a lot of things in this world that aren’t worth celebrating at all. There is intolerance, injustice, abuse, and tragedy everywhere. But this — this thing that says, “hey, let’s hang out and make some art together” — seems pretty wholly positive to me. If I saw a group of, say, chimpanzees doing something like this, I’d be like, “whoa, that’s some super wholesome chimpanzee action over there.” I’d think: those are some delightful and intelligent creatures. I would be lucky to be able to spend some time with them.
Sadly, the world of games — and it sounds ridiculous to even say this, but unfortunately it’s true — has been a rather scary and unwelcoming place over the past few weeks. I don’t want to feed the trolls too much. But I will say this: the holy war that #GamerGate fanatics have been waging against bloggers, journalists, indie game developers, and academics is more than just a transparent rationalization for misogyny, territorialism, and the willful denial of fundamental facts; it is also, and to me perhaps most objectionably, an insult to all the real problems that plague this problem-plagued world.
Everyone you love, everything you admire, your very self, and every trace of you will one day be gone. There are gangs of heavily-armed brainwashed murderers ramping up a genocide in the Levant. There are thousands — actually, millions — of human beings who must sleep outside on the pavement of the cities we live in. Outside on the pavement — right down the street from here! There are people serving lengthy prison sentences for extremely minor crimes or for crimes they did not commit. There are species of animals disappearing every day. There are people learning that they are dying. There are people learning that the ones they love are dying or dead.
This is the world we live in, no matter how much we may want to pretend it isn’t. Every life and everything ends — and there can be so much shit along the way. And so I find it both bizarre and just devastatingly sad to see that some people can be so wrapped up in bullshit as to think that the most righteous crusade they can embark upon — the best way they can spend their precious time on this planet — involves threatening, sexually harassing, smearing, or otherwise committing acts of physical or psychological violence against writers and artists who have dared to talk about or make games — games, people — in new or different or critical ways.
So I propose we initiate a reboot of the games space tonight. Instead of piling more meanness onto the world, I say we celebrate games and the simple facts of being together and having the good fortune in this moment to not have to run for our lives or face some irreversible loss. I say we have a good fucking time, and do what it takes to make sure as many other people as possible can, too — because that’s the point, isn’t it? I for one can’t have fun if the fun I’m having is ruining someone else’s day. In short, I say we lead by example. I say we remind everyone through what we do here that the thing we can all probably agree on about games is that they’re a way of bringing light into what can be a very, very dark place. Let’s bring that light tonight. Let’s see how brightly it can shine.
Games can be such beautiful things. However temporarily, they can free our spirits from the shackles of confusion, horror, loss, and unfairness that so often tie us down in our everyday lives. They can transport us to other worlds, bring us together, inspire us, thrill us, scare us, make us think, make us cry, make us laugh, give us something to look forward to, give us a moment’s respite, offer us a form of meditation or release, enlighten us, awaken us, teach us, empower us, make us jump up and down, move us to explore and discover, dazzle us, take our breath away, and so, so, much more. That’s what you came here to do. To give those kinds of things to the world. To love, not to hate.
That’s something worth celebrating.
Now go to it.
The tangled relationship between theory and practice presents us with something of a chicken-and-egg problem. On the one hand, we could say that all action emerges out of theory: we observe the world, generate various hypotheses about how things might work, then take action accordingly. But we could say with equal authority that it is action that comes first, for it is only through observing and interpreting the consequences of our actions – that is, through experimentation – that we ever really learn anything. Without action, there is no meaning, for there is nothing to make meaning with.
It is the position of this course that both these perspectives are true. Theory and practice are two sides of the same coin – or, perhaps more accurately, two steps in the same cycle. Enriching one enriches the other. Indeed, the one simply does not exist without the other. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our art and design practice always both informs and is informed by the contexts within which it occurs. The more we can be aware of where our work comes from, where it is heading, and what it does to the world it inhabits, the better designers and wiser artists we will be.
The primary focii of this course are the historical origins and theoretical contexts of interactive media and games. Our main objective is to deepen and broaden our awareness of the cultural, social, economic, and political implications and possibilities inherent to and latent in contemporary interactive media. Of particular interest are questions related to the functioning of narrative, the affordances of play and procedurality, and conceptions of space, time, and bodies. The first third of the course will entail the development of a common language for discussing these matters, using the concept of the situation, defined here as “an opportunity to act,” as a starting point for addressing interactive media from three perspectives: play, narrative, and space. The final two-thirds of the course will build on this foundation through an exploration via student-led discussions of a set of related themes.
The rapid rise in the power and accessibility of digital technology has made possible myriad new forms of entertainment, artistic expression, and socio-political engagement. Among these new forms, videogames and other kinds of interactive entertainment offer artists and designers unprecedented opportunities to engage not just with audiences, but with players and participants. Drawing on voices from game studies, cultural studies, art history, social psychology, game design practice, and games journalism, this course will explore a range of critical frameworks for understanding and analyzing digital games and related forms of interactive entertainment. To facilitate this exploration, digital works and practices will be contextualized within the broader history of games, interaction design, and play – a history that predates electronic computation by thousands of years and includes diverse cultural practices such as performance art, ritual, and political activism.