Today at the Gamification Lab we had our monthly reading group. This month we have been discussing Patrick Crogan‘s text ‘Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation and Technoculture‘ (2011), and particularly Chapter 2 ‘Select Gameplay Mode: Simulation, Criticality, and the Chance of Video Games’. What follows is a summary of the discussion we had in the group, based on the notes we have collected.
We started the discussion noticing how the discourses on gamification share with Crogan’s argument the question of, to phrase it simply, what video games do to us. Crogan understands such question as being based on the separation between simulation and reality, where the latter rests unquestioned. Probably an heritage of the debates on simulation from the postmodernist perspective, the relation virtual-real is understood in terms of truth and experience (is the simulation ‘real’?). Drawing on Mark Poster, he argues that ‘the virtual upsets the stability of the real’ (page 23). Through Baudrillard and Stiegler, Crogan proposes to reflect on the co-constitutive relation of theories and technical objects. Theories can be understood as having a performative potential and to bring about those same realities they discuss.
In this sense Crogan proposes to think about games and game theory through the logic of simulation as systems for controlling the future (which comes to be modeled as a collection of previous cases and scenarios). He concludes comparing computer game theory and practice to betting: ‘play takes its place as a mode of human engagement in existence, a kind of bet on the future that cannot not be serious, whatever else it maybe be‘ (page 34).
In the final part of the chapter he concludes with this interesting line: ‘computer games play with the playing out of the war on contingency that has been an animating force throughout the course of the development of computers as simulation platforms capable of modeling the future as virtually accessible to preemption. This play is the source of the critical potential of games as signal examples of this development‘ (page 36). In a sense Crogan tries to address the question on the performativity of games including game studies as constitutive the same cultural object they attempt to discuss. However this process is also grounded in specific technical, historical and political developments, which Crogan places mostly in military research and development.
We then discussed about how a similar understanding of performativity could be interesting for gamification as well, including gamification itself as part of the ‘reality’ it claims to affect, and understanding gamification through the history of simulations and its relation with the military complex.
An idea that we left quite unsolved is if cheating could be seen as way of escaping, or countering, the ‘war on contingency’ that Crogan describes so well. In the final chapter of the same book he suggests to look at examples of ‘theatricality’ (drawing on Samuel Weber) of game practices, such as the Painstation installation, but as also argued by Ian Bogost (“Pretty Hate Machines: A Review of Gameplay Mode”, gamestudies.org) this example seems to only partially address the issue of how we can imagine alternative and critical forms of play.