Badiou on game design, part 1D: hegel: ‘the activity of force is essentially the activity reacting against itself’

(Intro: Dialectics of Game Design)

In this part, Badiou focuses on correlation as the unity of opposites. The two dialectics of correlation are:

  • structural dialectics as an infinite vacillation between whole-part (splace-outplace),
  • historical dialectics involving force and activity that unites essence and existence in interior/exterior.

We have previously identified the first one as ‘game mechanics’ and the second one as ‘gameplay’. Here are the passages concerning the logic of forces that define the ‘historical dialectic’ or ‘gameplay’:

“The structural is weak before the one of splace [gameworld]… This is dialectical materiality without leverage. In ‘Marxist’ politics, .. there are those who hold on strongly to this weakness. They adore studying the ‘laws’ of bourgeois society [gameworld] and inferring from them what the proletariat [player] is, and what it must ‘do’. … This proves that the unity of opposites is not what one believes it to be.”

A game designer cannot constrain her focus on the structure of the game, i.e. game mechanics. She must consider player not only as her place as avatar, but as an active heterogeneous force that can never be reduced to the structure of the gameworld.

“It is only insofar as the opposites [player/avatar] are heterogeneous or unalignable … that there exists a dialectical unity, one which does not make any Whole out of what it ties together. To distinguish the One [game] from the Whole [gameworld]: such is the simple and supreme proposal. Bear in mind that in this gap lies the whole question of the Subject [player].”

The One [player] in its essence consists of the Two [player/avatar]: A=(AAp)  And only the avatar has a place in a whole, the gameworld. Player (as opposed to avatar) is out-of-place with respect to the gameworld.

“This is why at this point we are faced with a severe expository problem: the correlation of the heterogeneous cannot be schematized. It can barely even be expressed. … Strong correlation, which the word ‘struggle’ [gameplay] remits to its practicality, depends on an indirect investigation and on a concept without any representable assignation. It is by the name ‘force’ that we shall cover what overdetermines the exclusion from any place [avatar] in which the outplace [player] lies revealed.”

Gameplay as the strong correlation between the player and the game cannot be represented in a structural way, e.g. as the avatar’s place in the gameworld. It is a matter of practical experience and indirect investigation.

“Correlation means force against force. It is the relation of forces.”

To investigate gameplay, we have to introduce the opposition of  ‘forces’ in addition to contradictions among structural places.

“The abstraction of the pair active/passive … dissolves the qualitative heterogeneity. [in this case] the second (reactive) force is only determined, negatively, by the first: it is still the splace [gameworld] that fixes the place of the outplace [player].”

‘Force against force’ is a heterogeneous relation, neither of these two can be reduced to a place in the other (e.g. using the abstraction active/passive).

“We must come to understand that what raises me [player] up reactively against the active of the Other [gameworld] must also be the active of a force in which the Other [gameworld] is no longer represented.”

Force of the player, even when it seems passive, is in fact active in itself, it is indifferent to the active-ness that solicited it.

“To think correlation is to think force as acting and, thus, as grafted onto the other force, but according to its irreducible quality, for which henceforth the splace [gameworld] is no more than the mediation to be destroyed [redesigned].”

When force meets force, the representations clash. They cannot be joined, because they are qualitatively different. When player’s activity faces the gameworld, it is a force to ‘destroy’ it, or redesign it.

“Now in so far as this [existent] is a part it is not a whole, not a composite, hence a simple. But the relation to a whole is external to it and therefore does not concern it; the self-subsistent is, therefore, not even in itself part; for it is part only through that relation. But now since it is not part it is a whole, for there is only this relation of whole and parts present and the self-subsistent is one of the two. But as a whole, it is again composite; it again consists of parts, and so on to infinity. This infinitude consists solely in the perennial alternation of the two determinations of the relation, in each of which the other immediately arises, so that the positedness of each is the vanishing of itself.” (Hegel in Logic)

When the forces are disregarded, and we only consider the structure; avatar as the place of the player, first a part of gameworld, then becomes a whole of its own, and indexes other parts that in turn become wholes, to infinity. In this case, the avatar as place becomes the vanishing of itself in turn as a part and as a whole. Imagine you are merely discovering the structure of a game, browsing its software code. When you open a software component, it is the whole and other components are parts of it. When you go to another component, the previous one becomes a part and this new one becomes the whole. This is the infinite vacillation of structure as parts and whole. In this perspective, you only look at the mechanics. You cannot see the forces, thus cannot investigate the gameplay.

“If one rules out force, this being-posited whose essence is to disappear in a perennial alternation, this vanishing term in which the dialectic of the whole is sutured, is the destiny of the outplace [player] (here posited from the start as part), which only finds a place by excluding itself from it as autonomous, and it is equally the destiny of the splace [gameworld] (here, the whole), which only accepts the outplace [player] by cancelling itself out entirely, since it is what governs the locations.”

Without the dialectic of forces, the player and gameworld become autonomous wholes that exclude each other by trying to reduce into parts in a perennial alternation.

“Force is only thinkable as activity relative to another force, and this in its very being: ‘the conditionedness through another force is thus in itself the act of force itself’ (Logic).”

Force cannot be deduced from structure. It is conditioned only to itself and other forces. Thus, gameplay cannot be deduced from game mechanics.

“Hegel clarifies the interpretation of correlation in terms of activity and passivity under the name of ‘solicitation of force’. He shows its interior active basis, with passivity being only an appearance, a derived empirical correlation.”

A seemingly passive/reactive force is not really reactive. It may have been solicited by another active force, but its activity must have an interior basis. Player must have an internal basis to play this game, and the correlation of the gameplay depends on this basis.

“Hegel posits that if force is essentially active in its correlation to the other, then the result is that what conditions it, which at first appears as the other force, the exterior, is in reality interior to it. The movement by which force unfolds itself towards the exterior, against the other force, is much rather governed by the expansive wrenching away from itself.”

The force of the player might be directed to the game, but it is essentially conditioned to an interior expansion.

“‘Solicited’ by bourgeouis oppression, [proletariat, player] only acts as force, and only enters into a combative correlation with the adversary, by determining itself against itself, against the internal form of its former impotence.”

Thus, the player’s force is not only directed to the gameworld, it is in fact directed against the player herself, that part of her that gives form to what she dislikes.

“And, likewise, an individual only arrives at his or her singular force within the given circumstances by entering into conflict with the network of inert habits to which these circumstances previously confined him or her.”

This internal form targeted by the player’s force is a confining network of habits created by circumstances of real life or other game experiences.

Hegel says: “the activity is essentially [activity] reactive against itself

If player’s activity is reactive, it is not really a reaction to game objects. It is really the reaction of the player to herself.

“In the logic of forces splace [gameworld] and outplace [player] are correlated in such a way that it is no longer possible to posit the second as the simple exterior-excluded of the first … the unity of the opposites is not an orientable correlation.”

As the logic of forces condition player to herself and the gameworld to itself, these two sides of the struggle/gameplay cannot be oriented against each other as a pair.

“It is then that every subject [player] surpasses its place [avatar] by force, inasmuch as its essential virtue lies in being disoriented.”

As a result, a player’s force lies in her disorientation.

Next part: Badiou on game design, part 1E: subjective and objective


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