David Rambo’s abstract for the panel “Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes” at SLSA 2015 in Houston:
“Spinoza on Completion and Authorial Forces in Video Games”
David Rambo, Duke University
This talk extends the Spinozist paradigm for theorizing the medium-specificity of narrative and agency in video games I presented at SLSA 2013. Whereas Spinoza’s first and second orders of knowledge—phenomenal experience and rational systemization—map easily enough onto a single-player video game as a deterministic Natura; knowledge of the third kind would problematically seem to require an idealistic reduction of the video game into an operational and meaning-making Idea in abstraction from culture, political economy, and perhaps even the body of the player. Looking primarily to the changes made to Blizzard’s multiple releases of Diablo 3 (2012-2014), I propose that completion distinguishes the video game from other cultural forms and allows us to conceive of its essence. Pursuit of a game’s completion echoes, in Frédéric Lordon’s Spinozist terms, the ascription of one’s conatus to an enterprise’s regime of affects. For the notion of a game’s completion appears under the purview of the developers’ and industry’s ulterior motives. On one hand, the player’s motivation to complete a game redounds to the complex of desires that operate part and parcel with a game’s mechanics, marketing, and historical situation. On the other hand, total completion is a barrier that development studios intend to break by marketing supplemental material, exploiting customer data and feedback, issuing patches, and releasing expansion packs. Spinoza’s ontology of affection allows for a rational ordering of this tension between completion and incompletion in the individual playing and mass market consumption of video games.