in the in-between spaces
Souvik Friday, March 27, 2009The last few days have seen me get increasingly interested in spaces. After a chat with Michael Nitsche in Magdeburg, I am again interested in reviving my work on time in videogames and re-exploring the Deleuzian discussion on state-spaces and singularities. While thinking about these, I cannot help reflecting how my past week has been spent in and otherwise affected by in-between spaces.
First of all, after an intense period of gaming, this prolonged departure from my various game spaces does not let me figure out properly where I really am. Not being anymore in Mosale Seto or City 17, I now have enough time to struggle with my identity in RL. These last few days have been spent in constant movement and many times I have ended up with adventures in the interstitial worlds and (non)spaces.
(non)space experience One
For me, the whole sleepy town of Magdeburg was such a (non)space. Most people I met at the station were there as if on sufferance - just to change trains or on a day-job. Most of them didn't like the place and were surprised that I did. However, even I kept feeling that I was somewhere unreal and fluid: Magdeburg with its bomb-scarred history and its rebuilding by the Soviet architects seemed for me an in-between space that was also suspended between times. I didn't do any sightseeing but the two landmarks that I looked at were quite revealing. The imposing Gothic cathedral with archaelogical excavations right in the middle of it and its huge windows absolutely devoid of the coloured light of stained glass, was quite a strange experience for me. Here, I hardly felt like Henri Lefevbre's cathedral space. Going further down the street in Magdeburg, one comes across what's called the Hundertwasserhaus. Unlike what I stupidly thought, the place has nothing to do with water at all, it's named after Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the architect who disliked using straight angular lines. The Magdeburg version (there is another one in Vienna) is strangely colourful and fluid; it reminded me of fairy-tale houses all the way from Hansel and Gretel and Baba-Yaga. I'm not sure whether anyone lives there and wouldn't be surprised if no one did, especially after having visited such a 'non-space' building, the Hawa Mahal (literally 'the air house') in Jaipur, India.
(non)space experience Two
The most interesting parts of conferences for me are the smoking breaks and the coffee breaks. In Magdeburg, it was the same. One memorable experience was when Patrick Rueckdeschel and I played truant and simply went off for a drink. The result was an interesting exchange on Bateson and metacommunication and me having to kill my hangover with aspirin and sparkling water (instead of a drink i had had a good few litres of nice German beer in me)!
The next one was having coffee with Richard Bartle and listening to his description of a Polish truck that went rogue near his local roundabout (different traffic system in the UK, remember). These talks with Richard are never short of entertaining : I now know which game studies academic I should never be asking for a lift and also that the German word for salmon is 'lachs', a fact that Richard in some bizarre magical way figured out without speaking German whereas I couldn't, despite having reached MittelStufe at the Goethe-Institut (a long time ago, admittedly).
The third experience in between the organised interaction of the papers was perhaps my most productive one. I managed to find Michael Nitsche alone and talk to him about my Deleuzian take on time in videogames. There were some problems that Michael brought up, especially in relation to adventure games, regarding my theory of game events as actualisations of a 'real virtuality' (see Manuel DeLanda's explanation in Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy or read my article in Writing Technologies, for a simplified explanation). He brought me back to the moot question of whether repeating the same steps to solve the same puzzle in a gameplay instance still constituted a different event. I still think it does - mainly because, as Deleuze says, even as one repeats a series of steps under the influence of one singularity, other singularities in affect the process in varying combinations. For example, even if I am to solve a puzzle-sequence in Myst, following the same process that I had used in my last attempt, it is not exactly the same story -- my reactions to the story also count and a structuralist analysis is not sufficient to account for this. All Myst stories are different but nevertheless they are repetitions because they are Myst. Michael, however, is right about the limitations that such analyses of adventure games might seem to have; i find the new Prince of Persia games as more helpful in understanding these ideas, especially in their meta-commentary on time in videogames.
This is getting rather long and I guess I should stop now about my coffee-break experiences. Before I do, I must mention how I happened to get involved in a debate about meaning and essences. Stephan Guenzel, Niklas Schrape and a lady whose name slips my mind (apologies) were speaking about meaning. In my attempt to support Stephan's excellent summary of Structuralist and Post-Structuralist positions, I ended up declaiming 'there is no meaning'. Indeed, when one looks for meaning in localised spaces, it somehow seems to have slipped away and into the in-between.
(non)space experience Three
Back to Nottingham. Phil Leonard, my supervisor, did a talk at our weekly Brown Bag seminar on Wednesday.
The Brown Bag is a lunchtime talk that happens in between more structured work (yet it is a pretty structured activity itself). Someone somewhere has also thought of placing it on Weds - in the middle of the week and, therefore, again in-between.
Phil was a few minutes late and the rather packed room suddenly came abuzz pretty much like the in-between coffee breaks at the conference. Quite unintentionally, I was picking up snippets of conversation about various issues and it was like the Deleuzian affective space throbbing with the roots of impulses and action and waiting for so much to happen. Phil arrived and started talking about hacking and Hari Kunzru's novel Transmission.
In the novel, Arjun Mehta, an Indian computer programmer seeks a career in the US and instead of arriving in the glory of Silicon Valley, he ends up in run-down pads in California and Chicago, in-between places of waiting. When he finally does make it to a big antivirus company, he gets made redundant shortly afterwards. In a desperate bid to be called back to his job, he writes a powerful computer virus that wrecks information spaces all over the world. Even though he supplies a form of the antivirus solution, his boss appropriates it and does not give him his job back. The novel unfolds in various complicated ways that Phil explores in his paper. Phil sees the protagonist as occupying (non)spaces.
Like the hacker whom Phil defines using theorists like Bruce Sterling and Manuel Castells, the protagonist is shown to be working across boundaries and in the process constantly subverting boundaries. Perhaps, even the term 'working' needs to be questoned here: this is a different definition of 'work'. If I understood him right, Phil sees the hacker as a 'character with unreadable metamorphic properties'; for me, this is like the experience of moving in (note that I don't say 'being in') in-between spaces. After all, as Phil describes him, Arjun Mehta exists only 'between metropoles'. As the paper drew to a close, the buzz started again , albeit somewhat muted - some of the affective impulses would now be actualised. The academics would go back to their teaching and their computers; the students would perhaps go home or to other non-spaces.
I forgot to say that Kunzru devotes quite a bit of his novel to videogames. In fact, Everquest seemingly has a major influence on the ending (non-ending?) of the story ... also, for me, this book's story can be played again and again and again. Perhaps, that's why I am feeling like visiting Far Cry 2 now.
'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