The potential of an autonomous movement
“Meet the 19-year old who spent over 10,000 $ on microtransactions”. A recently published article on Kotaku and many other similar reports on in-game purchases in free-to-play video games signify that innocent gaming experience is now part of the past. Video games have become a set of rules, carefully structured to produce an affective impact on the player who soon becomes emotionally invested, unconsciously catering to game developers. The player takes over the role of a performer within the system that goes far beyond the gaming world. Critic and media theorist McKenzie Wark in his book GAM3R 7H30RY uses the term “gamespace” to describe our modern social condition, comparing algorithmic codification and unequal power relations in video games to the exploitative logic of capitalist production. In his view, the standardization, optimization and analytic potential of gaming interface serve as mechanisms that primarily compensate the agents of power. Thus, it is no wonder that capitalism has appropriated and commodified play within leisure time and personal life, a phenomenon that Julian Kucklich named “play-bor”.
Video game designer Ian Bogost points out that our engagement in digitalized society, mainly referring to social media, is usually individual, voluntary and spontaneous. We are constantly seeking recognition within game/social media platforms, which makes us easy targets for developers. What they offer are rewards, likes and new possibilities we can acquire by reframing our habits and adjusting to new, updated platforms. In this instrumented quest for the new and the improved, the goal itself becomes meaningless. Identity of the players involved is unstable and easily disrupted, demanding reconstruction under the pressure of functionality and economic suitability. Interaction designer Jason Lipshin describes this condition as both banal and infinite – “it is never ending and always the same”. He analyzes the popular video game FarmVille in which staying competitive requires more and more of the players’ time and labor. Acquired rewards and new properties bring more responsibilities and social obligations, leaving no time to enjoy the value they created.
A sense of community in an offline and online world can be achieved through habits. What is suitable we learn from others forming unified collective body. In her book Updating to remain the same: Habitual new media Wendy Chun describes habits as things we learn from others through training and imitation that lead to belief. Habits, based on repetitions, float between individual and collective. They can be personal, but at the same time become collective, creating a value that navigates agents in power. When habits become “bad” they are considered to be false predictors and they need to be updated. Network analysts monitor and eliminate those critical habits, creating new ones to which we have to adapt. Chun claims we have become “creatures of the update. To be is to be updated: to update and to be subjected to the update.” In order to stay relevant in the game, we need to submit to those updates and improve ourselves.
New habits emerge from our past, making our body a valuable resource for predicting future behavior. Mutual dependency between the user and the system usually benefits the system since the user is the one that needs to change in order to stay in the game. Corporate and state power turns humans into predictable proxies determined by our online history that we generously provide. Renewed or better yet recycled habits soon become automated and generate new data while taking part in staged experiences. Through habits we gain the perfect insight into the culture we live in, but in Chuns view, they remain oddly contradictory. Although the body is used to performing habits in its pure mechanical and involuntary form, sometimes discrepancies can occur. And that is the time of crisis when creativity and rational thought can emerge, when the body refuses to conform to mass ideals and continues to move in a non-synchronized way. The authoritarian system will declare those anomalies inadequacies or inabilities while the possibility for an autonomous movement is being born.
“Walkthrough” is a project that exposes hack values and the emancipatory potential of habits in the form of a role-playing game. It centers on the game with the focus on a specific set of habits by a group of eight participants who inhabited the same space. By taking turns and following the previously given instructions about the confines of the game space, the players successively repeat their specific movement pattern in order to achieve the sense of an automated habit. Only one costume is used and handed down to the next participant, creating a new type of communal character in the process. Actually, while the players are doing their best to follow the game rules, another process is happening – the game character’s avatar is in a constant state of becoming. Its form shifts after each use and every time it is inhabited by a different entity, exposing the possibility for an autonomous movement beyond any common ideology. Co-habitation inside the costume disrupts its structure and gives players the freedom to explore movement beyond the given instructions. By performing oneself each character creates the need for a new update within the game space. Instead of waiting for the new code to be mastered, they translate the community-owned and tailored game character to an extended video game environment. In-game database is regularly being updated via 3D scanned model of every stage that the game character is currently going through. Crowdsourced data is a result of interplay of the automated body and the body in control. The role-playing game gives players the opportunity to switch between different personas in a game that is exempt from the digital cleanse.