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GAM3R 7H30RY is an online book in progress about computer games. With subjects such as The Sims as allegory for everyday life in gamespace and GTA: Vice City as utopia (or not), GAM3R 7H30RY tries to answer two questions: 1) Can we explore games as allegories for the world we live in? 2) Can there be a critical theory of games?
posted by sveskemus (52 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
2) Can there be a critical theory of games?

Clearly, the existence of this book itself answers this question entirely.
posted by armoured-ant at 2:59 AM on June 4, 2006


3) Can we make a website with just one word per page, making it infuriating to read?
posted by Orange Goblin at 3:08 AM on June 4, 2006


Ah, so this is what Metafilter is for!
Great find - thanks. But aren't the answers to both questions are self-evident (unless I'm totally missing the point - I never took any philosphy courses)? Isn't the basic premise of games like GTA and The Sims and Civilization inherently allegorical? Or maybe their just fun.
My friend up in Fairbanks was aghast that I was playing this wicked GTA (the older one) last year - now I can explain that I was just using the game as a tool to better understand the problems of existence.
posted by Flashman at 3:11 AM on June 4, 2006


But what really needs to be made is a thorough treatise on the aesthetic of play, or fun.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:15 AM on June 4, 2006


Can there be a critical theory of games?

some sort of game theory, as it were?
posted by Hat Maui at 3:17 AM on June 4, 2006


Christ, did they really have to call it GAM3R 7H30RY? If you're going that far, may as well add a "take off all zig" animation and call it two-thousand fucking one.
posted by Leather McWhip at 3:34 AM on June 4, 2006


Christ, did they really have to call it GAM3R 7H30RY? If you're going that far, may as well add a "take off all zig" animation and call it two-thousand fucking one.

3v1d3n7Ly j00 r n07 4 l33t h4x0r.
posted by ori at 3:51 AM on June 4, 2006


I've always argued that certain games give the gamer a chance to release tensions and exercise impluses that are a threat to society - and as a result, dispel them, not encourage them. After a particularly bad day, taking out your anger on zombie is better than taking it out on your family. What you do in Vice City could be a million miles from what you do in the real world, but a world without consequences unleashes new (and sometimes frightening) potential. But that is a different world. If a game was made to include these consequences and disposed of the 'reset' button, would anyone be interested? I doubt it. It's too much responsibility. It's too close to home. And that's probably what spooks people about games like GTA... it is awfully close to home for a casual observer, but in reality, it is distant from anything the player is used to. That's the escape.
posted by Acey at 3:53 AM on June 4, 2006


LAM3R 7H30RY
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:04 AM on June 4, 2006


Too much gibberish in there, like this:
The allegorithmic mode of apprehension is always built on an evaluative relation to the world of appearances. More and more relentlessly, the everyday life of gamers is coming to wear the expression of gamespace. At the same time, gamespace seeks to disguise the ungamelike character of things. What heightens the mendacious transformation of gamespace is its appearance in an undistorted form in the game. Still, gamespace wants to look itself in the face. It celebrates its incarnation in the gamer.
posted by fleacircus at 4:06 AM on June 4, 2006


he must have a well thumbed thesaurus.
posted by 6am at 4:58 AM on June 4, 2006


My thesaurus is missing "allegorithmic," though.
posted by grobstein at 5:31 AM on June 4, 2006


I might actually read more of it, if the interface didn't suck so hard.
posted by jaded at 5:44 AM on June 4, 2006


Don't let "critical theory" into the happy world of gaming. Find these people, pants them, and throw them into the street.
posted by Faze at 6:43 AM on June 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


My dictionary is missing "gullible"
posted by nomad at 6:55 AM on June 4, 2006


There is plenty of real game theory out there. I don't know what the linked website is; pretty much gibberish, as far as I can tell.

The "real" theory of games is generally branched off a book by Roger Caillois and uses some esoteric terminology - here's a primer. If you Google for the terminology you get quite a few pages discussing games in an academic framework.

Twelvetwo, see Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design.

As to why this is worth studying: sure, it takes all the fun out of gaming. That's what academic study of an issue does. But you know that there are good games and bad games - wouldn't it be nice if there were more good ones and fewer bad ones? How is the state of the art in gamemaking supposed to advance unless there is focused study?
posted by jellicle at 6:59 AM on June 4, 2006


more like allegorrhythmia, am i rite? There might be a decent thesis under all of this wretched verbiage (perhaps I should say verbarrage, a-haha), but the style and the presentation is just too awful.
posted by boo_radley at 7:07 AM on June 4, 2006


Vice City will never be a utopia until you can swim in the water without having to visit the hospital.
posted by starman at 7:18 AM on June 4, 2006


You might also know McKenzie Wark as the New School University professor who wrote A Hacker Manifesto.

He's a pretty sharp guy who I've had several very interesting conversations with over the years, so I'm pleased to see him get an FPP. That said, I fully expect to see the resident MeFi theory-bashers hating all over him here. What fucking gibberish!
posted by ChasFile at 7:19 AM on June 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


My dictionary is missing "gullible"
Are you sure? 'Cause I just checked mine and... oh. I see.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:20 AM on June 4, 2006


*whom. grr.
posted by ChasFile at 7:21 AM on June 4, 2006


12-2: But what really needs to be made is a thorough treatise on the aesthetic of play, or fun.

Here's the best shot I've seen at that topic.

jellicle re: Ralph Koster's book: thanks for the link -- I'll check that one out too. It's got Will Wright's endorsement!
posted by dylanjames at 7:29 AM on June 4, 2006


I live in Vice City.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 7:34 AM on June 4, 2006


McKenzie Wark is a really interesting guy. He once said something like: Sociology changes so fast and is so inscrutable it should be called recent history of apocryphal ephemera. That's not a quote, it's just how I remember it. I probably would have hated him if he wasn't so charismatic because I was so far out of my element in his class.

That said, I would kill for a print friendly version.
posted by I Foody at 7:34 AM on June 4, 2006


Pretentious postmodern blather
posted by slatternus at 8:09 AM on June 4, 2006


Chasfile: He might be an interesting, insightful man, but he needs to tighten up his prose. When he writes "It is not that utopias alone create gulags. Adolf Eichmann was no utopian. He just kept the trains running on time – to the camps." on card 105, he lost me totally.

I read through the rest of the GTA chapters, and then started on the entire work from card 1 forward, just to see if there were references to earlier parts in it that I might not be aware of. I'm glad I did, because the others were much more coherent than where I started. There's a great qualitative difference between (for example) the Allegory essay and Atopia.

I still maintain that the formatting of his work is terrible.
posted by boo_radley at 8:25 AM on June 4, 2006


3) Can we make a website with just one word per page, making it infuriating to read?

I thought the design was one of the most interesting things about that page, actually.

The prose was, erm, a bit much.

Just because you can draw parallels between to things doesn't mean you should.
posted by delmoi at 8:32 AM on June 4, 2006


Horrible interface aside (though I don't know if web design that craptasic can ever really be ignored), I think part of the guy's problem is his lack of citations.

As a graduate student in cultural/media studies, I've come to learn that there are essentially two types of academic books.

The first are the heavily footnoted/cited works by "junior scholars" (i.e. up and coming assistant professors) that seek to push certain academic debates into new areas; these works serve to demonstrate both the scholar's understanding of their field of study and their ability to contribute to it. These books develop and justify their argument by synthesizing others' well-respected theories.

The second are the books by "senior scholars" (i.e. fully-tenured professors who've already established their rep through their books as junior scholars); these books are frequently devoid of citations, as they offer an "entirely new" theoretical approach and therefore don't need to cohere their arguments within the proven legitimacy of others' work.

Having read through a bit of this "Gamer Theory" book, it looks as though Wark is trying to make the jump from "j scholar" to "s scholar" too quickly. Given the relatively few number of academics currently engaged in video game studies, though, I'm guessing that he sees the field as being wide open and his for the taking. (sidenote: there are a ton of PhD candidates working on video game-related dissertations--I imagine the field will start to gain considerable legitimacy within the next five years, and will then probably follow the same trajectory of academic legitimization followed by television studies, and film studies before it).
posted by Lee Marvin at 8:37 AM on June 4, 2006


I found this on this essay "The appeal of this game is a mysterious thing, particularly given that Super Mario Bros 3 takes about 650 hours of solid playing to actually finish." What? I rented it and finished it without cheating (I did use warp zones) in 3 days when I was 9 years old. Then I played it straight through in a couple days after I bought it.
posted by I Foody at 8:42 AM on June 4, 2006


jellicle: As to why this is worth studying: sure, it takes all the fun out of gaming. That's what academic study of an issue does.

I've never known this to be the case. The folks I know who do literary studies, and the folks who do game studies seem to be having a blast. And people have been seriously studying chess for over 500 years and still having fun.

Acey: Nice theory, too bad it's bullshit suffers from a profound lack of evidence.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:50 AM on June 4, 2006


I think part of the guy's problem is his lack of citations.

The citations in A Hacker Manifesto are numerous and often hilarious, and if you're into footnotes I highly recommend them. He has said, however, that he is generally against citations, so criticism probably deserved.

it looks as though Wark is trying to make the jump from "j scholar" to "s scholar" too quickly

On this point, however, I disagree.
posted by ChasFile at 9:07 AM on June 4, 2006


I think at this point it seems pretty pointless to have a 'critical theory' of anything. What is it good for? It means nothing -- it's just some guy's opinion dressed up with a bunch of annoying fancy words. Postmodernity seems to have turned almost all critical theory into nothing more than wanking from people who need to get proper jobs and stop feeling so important about themselves.
posted by reklaw at 10:13 AM on June 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


"The appeal of this game is a mysterious thing, particularly given that Super Mario Bros 3 takes about 650 hours of solid playing to actually finish."

I think he means the whole thing...every part of it. Or at least that's what he "actually" means to me.
posted by wah at 11:25 AM on June 4, 2006


You know...if I could copy and paste properly...I'd be able to point out a typo on page 4.

I'm not sure what 'agon' is, but The Cave™ seems full of it. ;-)
posted by wah at 11:31 AM on June 4, 2006


"Game theory" is not what this is about, it seems like -- this is about analyzing the gaming community in a critical theory sort of way. Hence, "gamer" theory.

I think it's perfectly valid, as long as it's really about theory and not about finding a way to justify blaming society on games. Same as any other kind of cultural or artistic theory, as long as you don't fuck up causality and try to chain things in a certain order rather than viewing culture as the giant mesh of memes that it is. Just like any other kind of theory... I mean, that question is kind of fatuous, it seems like.

reklaw, how's your job?
posted by Embryo at 11:35 AM on June 4, 2006


I'm not sure what 'agon' is

Agon means struggle; it shows up in the word "protagonist."
posted by ludwig_van at 11:48 AM on June 4, 2006


Ya know what's fun? Ms. Pac-Man, after all these years, is still fucking fun.

Discuss.
posted by bardic at 11:49 AM on June 4, 2006


Embryo, I'm a student, which means that I have to put up with this crap from my textbooks etc. every day. "We can draw a parallel between this and this and what this shows is that I am really over-reaching and have nothing worthwhile to say". It's so pointless.
posted by reklaw at 12:11 PM on June 4, 2006


wah:
"The appeal of this game is a mysterious thing, particularly given that Super Mario Bros 3 takes about 650 hours of solid playing to actually finish."
I think he means the whole thing...every part of it. Or at least that's what he "actually" means to me.


Except there's no way that it does. Beginning to end is not even close to 650 hours of gameplay. A kid playing an hour a day could easily finish the game straight through in under a year. Way under a year. The 650 hours is just crazy. I wonder where the number came from? There is no citation for the figure. I've got to call bullshit. Because there is no way that the game takes that long to finish for most people not even close I think maybe 60 hours on the outside.
posted by I Foody at 12:16 PM on June 4, 2006


Same as any other kind of cultural or artistic theory, as long as you don't fuck up causality and try to chain things in a certain order rather than viewing culture as the giant mesh of memes that it is.

Does anyone outside of the technorati and a few memetics die-hards take memetics that seriously as a theory? To the point that one can safely get rid of other ways of viewing culture?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:20 PM on June 4, 2006


"I think maybe 60 hours on the outside."

Yeah, maybe 60. If it's the first time you're playing the game, and you don't know about warp whistles, and you're playing every level, and you have to restart every 4 levels or so because you suck.

If you know what you're doing, it won't take more than two hours.
posted by graventy at 1:44 PM on June 4, 2006


Many therories but only ONE truth.

Games waste time in your life.
posted by HTuttle at 2:21 PM on June 4, 2006


So does the internet, but I see that's not stopping you from posting snark.
posted by graventy at 2:49 PM on June 4, 2006


I definitely finished Mario 3 in one sitting (without warp zones) in elementary school, and I didn't end up dead like those Chinese victims of Lineage 2. And I guarantee there is a speed video of mario 3 kicking around the internet somewhere which will put everyone here to shame.
posted by mek at 2:59 PM on June 4, 2006


and on my failure to preview: HTuttle, the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
posted by mek at 3:00 PM on June 4, 2006


Metafilter: the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time
posted by Flashman at 3:21 PM on June 4, 2006


best metafilter slogan ever.
posted by subtle_squid at 7:34 PM on June 4, 2006


Serously HTuttle, if frivolity was the antithesis of life, than I guess doing my taxes is when I'm "really truly alive."
posted by bardic at 9:36 PM on June 4, 2006


KirkJobSluder: I feel like there's an abuse of concepts germane to meme theory inherent in the rhetoric used by people like Joe Lieberman and Tipper Gore to pin societal problems on video games. I'm not sure that meme theory is particularly mutually exclusive to other models of looking at the world, anyhow -- it's just plain not good science to be overzealous in assigning causality, no?
posted by Embryo at 10:22 PM on June 4, 2006


Embryo: True, I just don't know of anyone studying games who seriously uses meme theory. For that matter, I don't know many social scientists who are as enamoured of meme theory as the technorati because there are a few dozen more mature, and better supported frameworks out there.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:30 AM on June 5, 2006


I don’t think we’ve actually reached ‘game’ yet. Once it’s integrated with society then we’ll be on to something.
Small pockets here and there, but nothing on any large scale. But it seems to be more about context than ‘space.’
Consider - as a child you could knock on the door of a new neighbor, someone you’ve never met, and asked them if they want to play.
There are similarities e.g. in a sports bar you can ask someone what they thought of ‘that play’ or ‘is Favre losing it’ or some such.
But once gaming is decontextualized - devoid of the need for the pretext of a shared niche - then we’ll really be onto something.
So, situational pretext, not space. Once that’s done, then we can have real ‘allegory of society’ gaming going on, ‘cause there would be no filter. The game (and indeed the rules matrix) would depend on the gamers e.g kick the can or some such vs. ghost tag,

/...it’d be nice if sex was like that too, but y’know.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:07 PM on June 5, 2006


If this person understood the first thing about games, wouldn't his website be more fun to navigate?
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:10 AM on June 6, 2006


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