Very excited for @austin_walker's talk tonight on making+playing games during (the latest) time of political struggle & social upheaval. Free and open to anyone, downtown Brooklyn--come on by!…
Gonna live-tweet some of this talk! @austin_walker is discussing how, on a good day in these times, he feels affinity towards Walter Benjamin’s approach to understanding how the Nazis had come to power. On a bad day? Theodore Adorno.
He sees Adorno’s views as pessimistically hating every hegemonic sale of individuality via consumerism, unable to connect with marginal voices producing culture like blues and jazz
In his own analysis from a couple years back, @austin_walker has made the case for the power of incoherence in messy games, undermining market narratives of comfort and ease, allowing room to question on the edges.
But today he sees a tactic of incoherence and mutability rising on the right, but turned towards nihilism and denying any accountability, changing goalposts; questioning and dismissal without any real belief.
Although recent years have seen more and more creative voices from the margins in games, reaching out to each other through incoherence; but there’s no heart to reach out to in the “nihilistic vanguard”
So @austin_walker feels today that “games will not save us,” contrasting this Adorno-like pessimism with @zimmermaneric’s optimistic Manifesto for a Ludic Century, envisioning a world where everyone can be a game designer.
He points out that @zimmermaneric’s brief definition of game design as “system logic, social psychology, and culture hacking” is all too familiar as a set of ingredients that have warped politics in recent years.
And @austin_walker wonders if we have been paying so much attention to the shape of the sculpture that we have failed to notice the edge and points of the chisel.
He points out a number of attempts he was hopeful about at the intersection of politics and games, like We Are Chicago or Riot; so many are produced on unsustainable budgets, with scant sales and attention, often over-simplified to the point of hollowness.
So nowadays he wonders whether real-world politics are really preferable to “dragons” (with apologies to dragon-decrier @flantz) and if dragons are better than black and white stones?
And comparing the obscure delights of the critic to topics that people of all kinds might connect to more than video games. Like laundry—everyone does laundry, no? @austin_walker can’t help but connect video games to laundry.
As a kid it was often laundry vs games, competing for quarters or chore time, creating downtime to work on his RPG campaign. So now he’s talking about labor and play, and Burawoy’s observations of workers creating play in factory quotas.
Burawoy notes: games and play arise all over the place, out of work, but then they become regulated and subordinated by the interests of the powerful, the factory-owners. They can be turned against us.
But Burawoy noted that players can undermine the game itself by doing things like colluding, finding new strategies. Games, in other words, can entrap is but can also contain the possibility to subvert their own entrapping systems.
So @austin_walker gets a little optimistic again, pointing out possibilities for us to stay engaged with the playful possibilities of games, the things that can disrupt an oppressive harmony. An example: @bfod’s Getting Over It
He agrees with descriptions of @bfod’s work that it’s “opening up a new front” in Getting Over It’s difficulty, in how it’s gotten streamers to basically sit through the equivalent of “beat poetry,” in its frank counter-highbrow engagement with and appeal to streaming culture
“Games are inescapable and omnipresent as laundry, as water shortages.” They’re all around us, not going away, but also not some exceptionalist special case, and because of that we have to show up and engage with them too.
“Changing the world doesn’t look like changing the world. It looks like a long string of missteps and failures.” So @austin_walker closes with a reminder to keep struggling since we can’t afford to lose!
Now @flantz is talking with @austin_walker and opens by saying “I feel like I missed the boat on gamergate.” (!?!?) He means he thought it was beneath contempt initially so was surprised when it metastasized into shitty nihilist meme-saturated alt-right politics.
So his question for @austin_walker is: is there some flaw or problem in games that leaves it open to this kind of problem? Austin says the flaw is in “gaming” not in games themselves, it’s not a problem that’s thousands of years old.
But he points out how our current culture has long had this strain: examples like how Police Quest was created with Darryl Gates, with early Atari company practices were the dominant culture of monstrous sexism.
He draws a line more directly to the ascension of entitled geekery and nerd culture; we have to contend with history, but this path is not inevitable for games even if we’re stuck on it now.
But @flantz wants to know if the ideal of systems literacy has problems in and of itself, a kind of inhuman literal-mindedness.
And @austin_walker points out that knowing the hacks to subvert a system (like say, manipulating news with floods of fake info) doesn’t mean you want to do what your enemies do. A systems literacy might suggest that is optimal.
There must be other ways of acting politically that are not “win at all costs” (and fascists are willing to sacrifice democracy to win, he is not) even though some leftist is probably running a propaganda botnet right now
Now @flantz is asking about uncritical fan identification that shuns the political. @austin_walker points out that there is a ton of great criticism in games and shouts-out @critdistance, but notes that the audience for smart criticism in games... tiny when you compare it to say, the kind of writing that is supported by readers that see themselves as “music fans.” He sees this as a problem of literacy.
Most players don’t understand what Miyazaki *does* on Dark Souls; conversation stays at the level of “I like this.” @flantz says there is a lack of human presence that film or music has, and eccentric Japanese creators (Yoko Taro, Kohima, etc) may be an exception.
Now @austin_walker notes that the “embedded journalism” style that was prominent in coverage of Destiny was cut off for Destiny 2, perhaps out of fear that the message around a lukewarmly-received sequel couldn’t be controlled?
Uh oh now @flantz is describing Nier Automata as a generic RPG with a cliche story, and wants to know why it’s good. @austin_walker admits that in the first few hours it was as bad as any game he played that year.
But of course @austin_walker points out that it starts to subvert expectations when you start the second playthrough and see things from a new perspective, and then it changes AGAIN to a very different game, etc
Ok the topical question: does this kind of intense time commitment mean that games will speak to a smaller more dedicated audience, and maybe that’s ok? Oh boy now @austin_walker is getting into learning Monster Hunter weapons, taking hours...
And @austin_walker notes the appeal of sinking into something for 150 hours, for comfort or effort or practice, but says he’d totally go for a 12-hr version of Nier (but might not like it as much)
So @flantz asks if the comfort-seeking aspect has an inherent conservative streak, and @austin_walker wishes for more literacy around recognizing the problems with something you love, that comforts you. (With a plug for Universal Paperclips...)
Back to optimism or pessimism: @austin_walker wants to be optimistic, but doesn’t see how games can save the world politically given corporate dominance and monied interests (and sets a very high bar, getting someone elected?)
So @flantz says, what about that amazing journalism you’re doing about games in prisons? That was amazing. @austin_walker : unfortunately I also get to see how many people actually read that. Nintendo news is far more popular. We’re shouting into a void.
And he’d rather shout into a void than be silent, and he hopes that his work inspires people to demand more of corporations, to take direct action, but he believes more in those methods of action.
There’s no visible line going directly to change. So we have to look for the less visible, non-obvious, indirect lines. We need to be doing these things not because they guarantee change, but because they’re worth doing for their own sake.
He’s going to do more challenging journalism for that very reason. And just as @zimmermaneric says games don’t need to be justified, @austin_walker says games don’t have to get us out of hell to be worthwhile: they can be in hell with us. FIN
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