“Willing suspension of disbelief” is a phrase used to explain immersion of a player in a game eventhough the game is unrealistic or inconsistent. Let us trace back this disbelief to see what happens when it cannot be suspended, and briefly examine the network of game developers in Turkey as an example.
Particular communities of Gamers and the universal Network of Developers
As a Player becomes a Gamer through immersion in a game, she gains knowledge and experience in this game, provides a market for commodification, founds a genre, and forms a community around that genre. Gamer of a genre belongs to a particular culture, which may trigger its own xenophobia. What is suspended in the transition of a Player to a Gamer is the disbelief, a dissatisfaction that sustains a critical distance and provides an ability to analyze the game elements, unbothered with their meanings. In this sense, the disbelief makes possible creative power and will. Players that “sustain their disbelief” can become Developers with a Will to create, which found its own social form as a network of independent (or mainstream) game developers that regenerate through events such as competitions and game jams (or parties). Networking is the very unofficial basis of this social form (1). Contrary to the Gamer communities that are particular to a genre and consumer market, the Network of Developers is potentially a universal socio-economic form that transcends the capitalist subordination of production to consumption by practising collective creation as an end in itself, as exampled by the “open source” developers, who (as opposed to “free software”) do not need a higher purpose or a manifesto to work together and create an “enormous wealth”. Playing a game is also an end in itself, but only to a Gamer in a community, hence a particular end, whereas the Will to create is a universal end that can be the ethics underlying the Network of Developers.
Moreover, an original disbelief is a precondition of becoming a Player; it has to exist before one can play a digital game. It does not emanate from the inconsistency of a game, or the game’s misfit to reality, but it originally pertains to the inconsistency of the fiction that is real life. Based on this idea of an original disbelief, we can imagine a Network of Hacktivists that Wills to create not only new games but also new realities with the help of digital technology, as foreshadowed in the #OWS movement (2).
The case of Turkey
Turkey is a country where people have strong family bonds, but the political problems are abound and it is becoming harder and harder to get a job and hold on to economic life. The solution is that one’s family devotedly supports one’s education, and in return, one agrees to immerse in the agon(3) to university exams, and also agrees not to disturb this immersion by engaging in other affairs. However, most people are excluded from winning this race, and also political fairness of this game is frequently disputed, generating plenty of disbelief in the part of these young people.
Most of this disbelief is suspended through one’s job and economic engagement. Some of the rest is suspended through other means such as TV, football, militarisation, soap-operas, cinema, love affairs, etc. And an increasing part of it is consummated through digital games played at home or at the Internet cafes mostly by males.
As digital games gained popularity in the last decades, various Gamer communities have formed (and some dissolved) around particular genres: arcade gamers, FPS gamers, RTS gamers, MMO gamers, social gamers… This flux of generations continually enlarged the social base of digital games. This also produced a fraction of Players who could no longer suspend their disbelief to remain a Gamer, and thus wanted to create new games as Developers. Some of these players tried to organize themselves via game companies, but most of these attempts ended in financial impasses.
A “business incubator” called METUTECH-ATOM [Animation Technologies and Game Development Center in Middle Eastern Technical University] was founded in 2008 as a response to this problem. Since 2009, it is making a certain contribution that is much helpful than its original intention of incubating businesses through supplying a room and entrepreneurship seminars: it is organizing the Global Game Jam in Ankara in coordination with IGDA Education SIG. This event perfectly fitted the original problem that it was a response to, namely, to organize the disbelief of Players into the Network of Developers’ Will to create.
Nearly 60 developers participated to make 15-20 games in each of the three GGJs. Each event was organized by a different person with slight changes in the presentation: the first one was “just for fun”, the second one was framed unfortunately as the “turkish national team” for GGJ, and the third one just as a “game development marathon”. These shifts are due to a real gap between the intended aim -of educating participants for jobs in the game industry or incubation of their businesses for the “national” industry-, and the inherent ethics of the game jam, which just employs collective creation as an end in itself. It is the pure Will of developers that reject to immerse in a particular game genre, that reject to become a community under a word. Unable to subordinate this Will, the Capital confronts it like a natural phenomenon, like a river or wind that comes and goes by itself. As a result, what happens is an inverse of “corporate control”: an institution being infected by a parasite, an alien Will that is totally apathetic to the official vision and mission of the institution…
This parasite Will maybe infects only my imagination. But now I realize that it was also reflected in the games we developed in GGJ at ATOM: Both in 2009 and 2010, I participated with a team called Parazit. In 2009, we made “Itchy!” (4), a game about a bug wandering on the back of a giant monster, escaping its hand that comes to itch places where he walks. In 2010, we made “ViralFire” (5), about a fireball capturing a human body, first through lungs, then through veins to the heart, and finally the brain. This scenario of an infection by alien creature that repeatedly show up in our games did not refer intentionally to anything. Maybe their secret meaning really was this infection by our Will to create of an institution against its intentions (maybe even against ours?).
So this is how the Network of Developers grow and reproduce (at least in our imagination), as an unbothered and unconditional Will to create that hides itself under the official pretexts, until the time will be ready to break the institutional shell… Maybe we shall then finally say once and for all: Well burrowed, old mole!
(1) A whole literature on networking is available for newbie game developers. See, for example: http://tinysubversions.com/2005/10/effective-networking-in-the-games-industry-introduction/
(2) The “NYC General Assembly”s guide of hand signs is exemplary for their “social hacker” attitude: http://www.nycga.net/resources/general-assembly-guide/ They also organized a “hack-athon”, an event similar to a game jam: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2011/10/14/techies-unite-for-occupy-wall-street-hackathon/
(3) Agon is Roger Caillois’ term for competition games.