Becoming-Stalker and Deleuze Islands: Rambling Thoughts on Potsdam, Philosophy and Videogames
Souvik Wednesday, May 14, 2008 Game Studies , Games and Philosophy conference , Ludology , machinic , Potsdam
In Tarkovsky's film, the 'Stalker' lies on the grass and on water in the multiple existences that the Zone offers him. In doing so, it is as if he 'becomes' part of the Zone itself. It is this scene from the movie that keeps coming back to me as I remember the three days of the conference in Potsdam. The scene from the movie pretty much sums up what i wished to say about the experience of playing computer games and hence forms a key theme for my paper which attempted to explore ludic action through similarities with Deleuzian conceptions of cinema (though at the same time, keeping in mind the media-specific differences). On another level, the scene also serves as a sort of metaphor for my experience of the conference itself: in my present prosaic world of writing my thesis and my other jobs in the university, it seems like a different yet parallel existence. Never before was i able to meet so many people who had such interesting things to say about computer games.
The chance to meet and discuss my thoughts on gaming with eminent game-studies scholars was invaluable to say the least. It is beyond my ken to discuss all the papers here but I will try to address at least some that I think are more relevant to my own research. The first keynote address by Ian Bogost, especially its highlighting of the relationship between the player and the machine, was extremely interesting. His discussion of speculative realism
The game's relationship to all the various aspects to which it 'plugs-in' reminded me of a Deleuzian assemblage. In such a paradigm, the game would then have to be represented by a shape-changing jigsaw puzzle piece! Stephan Guenzel's analysis of ludic space in terms of what he called the 'space-image' is something that I am looking forward to reading about in more detail. I feel that this will complement my own research on spatiality and temporality. Some other papers that I can still remember fairly clearly are the one's by Gordon Calleja and Bernard Perron - both on the magic circle. Calleja, speaking just after lunch, nevertheless kept the audience awake in his talk about the frontiers of game and reality. I was happy to find him mentioning Case (Neuromancer) while speaking of the frontier metaphor operating in discussions of virtuality and reality. The discussion of the virtual and the real itself, however, was to me less satisfactory, especially where he brought in Deleuze and Levy in a rather sketchy manner. I am hopeful though that he has developed this angle more in his actual paper. Perron's presentation was quite eye-catching even though i am still scratching my head about whether to agree with him or not. Perron spoke interestingly and effectively replaced the concept of the magic circle with that of a 'magic cycle' where he showed games as existing on various levels of a spiral structure. I was happy to see that the narrative was firmly ensconced within his structure.
applied to computer games seemed to me a promising track for game studies to move forward on ... i sincerely wish that this talk will develop into a book-length analysis. For the present, i hope this paper is published somewhere ... soon. The other keynote address by Jesper Juul was equally promising. Juul described the magic circle using the apt metaphor of a game as a piece within a jigsaw puzzle.The Deleuzian jigsaw?
the palace: the only bit of sightseeing that I managed :)
I think I'll stop trying to summarise the papers ... and end by writing down some general impressions. And i suppose, i should say something about my own paper (which by the way, is available on my website ). Some of my best game research moments happened during this conference and most of them outside the formal conference sessions. For example, I had a really illuminating conversation with Jesper Juul and Richard Bartle at dinner: as such conversations tend to do, this one meandered around a host of topics like cricket, game-design, UK universities and even time in games. Something Bartle casually mentioned while describing his conception of game-design will, i think, remain with me for a long time: he described the design of the MUD as a river - what a lovely metaphor for sandbox games! The other extremely memorable moment was my conversation with Mark Butler. I had a chat with Mark on the train from Potsdam to Berlin - a journey of about forty minutes. In those forty minutes, I discovered one of the keenest minds working on game studies. Mark Butler's research encompasses computer games in terms of Lacanian psychoanalysis, Zizek and finally D & G. I am at present reading his book Would You Like to Play a Game? - which is turning out to be a struggle mostly due to my rather limited German.
My own session was chaired by Mark (which was fortunate as having a fellow Deleuzian chairing the session always is). Personally, i feel that my presentation did its job and despite my over-accelerated pace a lot of people got the gist of what i was saying. Pace the game-designers and the many whom i left restless, Deleuzian theory is perhaps the most germane single set of theoretical assumptions that help describe the ludic process in videogames.It is difficult to absorb Deleuze and he often is kept out of the common philosophy diet - so I'm more than happy to have had evoked the response that i got. I was asked some great questions: particularly one by Professor Mersch about the face in the FPS game which still has me scratching my head. Even from those who didn't ask me anything, I had some responses like 'I'm not sure how Deleuze is relevant to my approach to game studies but now i feel that he is terribly relevant ... somehow' : guys, you don't know how happy this makes me. I was in the selfsame situation and saying the same things not so many days ago and this kind of gives me the feeling that I'm not alone in feeling how i do. Finally, for those whom i left stranded on 'Deleuze island' :) , i'm sure they will be able to build bridges and to plug-in to numerous planes in the various assemblages around them.
I've got to get back to writing about 'immersion' (again!) for my current chapter: quite a depressing change from the stimulating conversations that i had with game studies researchers in Potsdam. There are quite a few people whom I' haven't managed to name in this post - however, they have indeed 'made, shaped and quickened' some of the opinions that i hold now. Both my co-speakers and the students at Potsdam have made my visit more than fabulous and I will jump at a chance to go back. Only this time I have promised myself some sightseeing.
Those who have reached as far as this, my apologies for writing such a long and rambling post. I thought I'd write down whatever came to my mind in whichever desultory manner ... a week has already passed and the memories are growing dim.
'Literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material [...] but it is a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning' - Italo Calvino