Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes — SLSA 2015

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I am excited to be a part of the panel “Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes,” which will be chaired by my colleague David Rambo at the upcoming conference of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) — hosted in Houston this year by Rice University, November 12-15, 2015. Below you will find the panel description and links to the individual abstracts.

Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes

Chair: David Rambo

Each of the three presentations in this panel perform their own media-theoretical approach to comprehend how video games extend and consolidate the sociotechnical logics surrounding their conception, production, and reception. We intend to kindle a discussion about the ways certain video games order significant ideologies and activities of human life: from multimedial culture industries to the blurred division between life and labor to the concealment of racism in the techniques of 20th-century entertainment. All three share a motivation to delineate various cultural and economic inheritances of video games and the transformative ways in which video games echo those inheritances.

Shane Denson’s contribution attends to the serial manifestations of Batman across genres and media. He hones in on the subsumption of life-time under work-time that is common to the computational networks of daily life and to the crossed borders of serial figures such as Batman. In Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux’s “White Hand, Black Box,” we learn to recognize in the maniculed pointer of various softwares’ interfaces and especially in the Master Hand of Super Smash Brothers the now concealed tradition of black minstrelsy as it was imbued by Disney in the gloved hands of Mickey Mouse and other characters. David Rambo deploys a Spinozist theoretical framework to categorize the video game, Diablo III in particular, as a neoliberal enterprise that extrinsically determines the player’s desire and even will to live. Spinoza’s Ethics thereby offers a way to conceptualize the video game both as an autonomous entity marked with finite, and thus fulfillable, completeness, and as a node in a much broader regime of affections that orders capital’s socioeconomic system.

These three presentations depict the video game as an artifactual conduit eminently bound up with the cultural forces that ineluctably structure our civilization, from its marginal groups to its most powerful systemic imperatives.

Abstracts for the individual papers:

Shane Denson, “Gaming and the ‘Parergodic’ Work of Seriality in Interactive Digital Environments”

Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux, “White Hand, Black Box: The Manicule from Mickey to Mario to Mac OS”

David Rambo, “Spinoza on Completion and Authorial Forces in Video Games”

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Spinoza on Completion and Authorial Forces in Video Games — David Rambo

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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.

Sculpting Data (& Painting Networks) — Full Video

Above, a video explaining the collaborative art/theory work that my wife Karin and I have been doing lately — both as a part of the Duke S-1 Speculative Sensation Lab‘s Manifest Data project and in a spin-off project that will be going on display at Duke University next month. The video is being shown right now (at the time of this posting) at North Carolina State University — at the 6th annual AEGS conference “How do you do humanities?,” where Karin is representing the two of us and presenting alongside Amanda Starling Gould, Luke Caldwell, Libi Striegl, and David Rambo.

Wish I could be there, but I’ve got another panel here at SCMS in Montreal today…

Manifest Data @ Media Arts + Sciences Rendez-Vous

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This Thursday, March 5, 2015 (4:15pm, Bay 10, Smith Warehouse at Duke University), members of the S-1 Speculative Sensation Lab, including Amanda Starling Gould, Luke Caldwell, David Rambo, and myself, will be presenting our collaborative art/theory project Manifest Data. As usual, there will be drinks and light refreshments!

Manifest Data: Presentation Audio and Slides

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Click the image above to view the slides and hear the audio track recorded at our January 21, 2015 presentation of Manifest Data, a collaborative art/theory project by the Duke University S-1 Speculative Sensation Lab (directed by Mark B. N. Hansen and Mark Olson). This is an ongoing project, with further elaborations/iterations and presentations/exhibitions in the planning (more soon!).

The presentation took place at The Edge, the new digital and interactive learning space at Duke’s Bostock Library. The presenters (in the order of their appearance) were: Amanda Starling Gould, Luke Caldwell, Shane Denson (me), and David Rambo.

For more info about the project, see here and here — and stay tuned for more!.

Manifest Data

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On January 21, 2015 (3:00-4:00pm), the S-1 Speculative Sensation Lab will be presenting a collaborative artwork titled Manifest Data at The Edge, the new space in Duke University’s Bostock Library devoted to “interdisciplinary, data-driven, digitally reliant or team-based research.”

Manifest Data brings together programmers, 3-D printing specialists, sculptors, and theorists to reflect on the production of value in the digital age, the materiality of information, and the (non-)place of mediated relations.

Code written by Luke Caldwell captures data that would otherwise be leaked as we browse the web, and exploited by the likes of Google and Facebook; in a second step, this data is transformed into a coordinate system that can be mapped as a 3D object. In collaboration with other lab members, artist Libi Striegl prepares and prints out the resulting “data creatures.” Karin Denson has reimagined these forms as beautifully grotesque garden gnomes — thus reappropriating a figure that has become a symbol for 3D printing and a marketing tool for companies like MakerBot. Together, Karin and I have further translated these figures into the hybrid spaces of augmented reality, planting the gnomes strategically and in such a way as to instantiate a very personal system for creating value that — dare we hope? — is immune to corporate cooptation. Lab members David Rambo and Max Symuleski, among others, round out the project with artistic-theoretical statements connecting the project of Manifest Data with a critical questioning of contemporary manifest destiny and a new phrenology for the digital age.

The S-1 Lab is directed by Mark B. N. Hansen and Mark Olson in the Media Arts + Sciences Program at Duke. The Manifest Data project was initiated by Amanda Starling Gould, who has continued to provide it with a guiding aesthetic-theoretical vision.

More information about the presentation, which happens to be the inaugural presentation in the “What I Do With Data” series of the Digital Scholarship Services at Duke, can be found here.