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

(Intro: Dialectics of Game Design)

Symbolic is the space of places (splace), the structure of the gameworld, its mechanics, as they are before being played, in the box or loaded on the machine.

Imaginary is how, during a gameplay, a player puts her avatar on the foreground as opposed to a background that relies on the game’s structure positively or negatively, thus it is more or less the intended gameplay, or its extreme consequences, like heroic distruption of the gameworld caused by the game’s unbalance, the formal negativity.

Real is a player’s radical ability to destroy or reinvent the game’s structure during gameplay or as a game designer, it is the absolute negativity, the subjective (as opposed to symbolic and imaginary still being ‘objective’, relying on the gameworld) field where the player/designer in a way concentrates and purifies her gameplay, abstracting it from particular games, and becomes a real active force as subject to create the actually innovative.


The ‘rightist’ and ‘leftist’ deviations in game design were summed up by Ian Schreiber in an article titled “Metrics (Part I)” he wrote last year and apparently could not bring forward (link broken, available links: 1 2 3). He characterises the ‘rightists’ as “the young turks of metric-driven design” and ‘leftists’ as “the old guard of touchy-feely game design”. What he offers is some kind of agreement where “best parts of each get combined”. However, how this will be done he cannot describe, and there is no Part II. These are the two components of the contradiction we told about: the ‘structural’ (mechanics) and the ‘historical’ (gameplay).


In this part, Badiou describes how forces and places doubly determine the terms of the contradiction.

  • The placement divides between the objective (the anchorages in the splace-gameworld) and the subjective (the outplace-player where the forces face each other).
  • Then, the forces divide both the objective and subjective;
    • the objective splace is split into the gameworld and the avatar;
    • the subjective outplace is split into the gameworld’s force and the player’s force (gameplay).

“Force is impure because it is always placed. The new of historicality is infected by the continuity of the structures. Something of the quality of force becomes homogenized with the splace, at least so as to figure therein its own abstraction and support the law.”

A player can only develop a force [gameplay], as being anchored to the game’s structure. New player behaviors may be emerging, but they are always partly a support to the old structure of the gameworld and its rules.

“In any contradiction, force manifests its impurity by the aleatory process of its purification. The mode in which the subjected character of force unfolds itself, in its scission from its affirmative unity, is itself a movement, in which force concentrates (or not) its qualitative identity, thus expansively tearing itself away from that which nonetheless persists in fixing its site.”

Force [gameplay] is impure, a mixture of player’s will and gameworld’s rules. Facing decisions, player tries to purify this force. The attempt to purify gameplay as a qualitative identity is an “expansive tearing away from” the gameworld rules that continually fixes the player to her avatar.

“The party [player] operates at the juncture of itself and its impurifying dissipation, being as it is that which gives direction, at the heart of the class, to the unstoppable battle between the two paths, without any claim to existence other than the manifest proof of a denser quality, a more compact heterogeneity, a newer destructive and recomposing power.”

A gameplay being purified by the player is also continually dissipated by the gameworld. Player’s only claim to existence is to be the proof of a denser quality in giving directions in battle, keeping her heterogeneity with respect to the gameworld in a compact subjectivity, trying to gain and keep new powers over the gameworld.

“Mao gave this juncture a name whose simplicity is bewildering: struggle of the old and the new.”

The player trying to develop newness in her gameplay, while struggling the oldness and repetitions enforced by the gameworld. Continual engagement of the player hinges on her success in her struggle to enforce the new over the old.

“Struggle of the old and the new. The purification of force amounts to the concentration of its newness. Those ‘right ideas’ of the masses, which the Marxist party must ‘concentrate’, are necessarily new ideas.”

An engaged player tries to discover new ideas and ‘concentrate’ them into her gameplay. Purification of force designates this continual renewal of gameplay.

“Every science forms a party: just look at their congresses.”

We can also view gameplay as some kind of science of playing that specific game. It is a constant innovation of concentrated new ideas. But it also forms a knowledge, something ‘old’, that can be taught (and also can get ‘boring’ [=fail to engage] after some time).

“If the splace propagates itself by zeal, confidence, and love, as much as by coercion, contempt, and coldness, the concentration of force requires rather, for its singular transmission, the reliance on allusion, tension, and an oblique form of polite mistrust, whose art reaches its peak among the classics. Indeed, it is an understatement to say that Descartes and Fermat, or Pascal and the shadow of Descartes, did not like each other. It is through their essential nonlove that the force of truth circulated.”

We can interpret this as follows: Teaching of the mechanics of gameworlds as structures can be either fun or boring, it does not matter. But when players innovate by learning from each others’ gameplay, it is usually through the (possibly unpleasant) conflicts that arise between their engagements.

“We will call subjective those processes relative to the qualitative concentration of force.”

In other words, those processes relative to development of a specific gameplay.

“Correlatively, we will call ‘objective’ the process whereby force is placed and is thus impure.”

In an objective process, gameplay is shaped by the gameworld constraints, by the place of the avatar with respect to the structure.

“Inasmuch as it concentrates and purifies itself qua affirmative scission, every force is therefore a subjective force, and inasmuch as it is assigned to its place, structured, splaced, it is an objective force.”

Subjective gameplay is determined by the engagement of the player, whereas objective gameplay is determined by the gameworld.

“More exactly, we will say: the being of force is to divide itself according to the objective and the subjective.”

Gameplay only exists as divided between subjective engagement and objective gameworld.

“We must conceive the imperialist society not only as substance but also as subject.”

As opposed to the subjective of player engagement; there is also the subjective of the gameworld. It sustains itself not only through objective rules, but also through supplying players with an imaginary subjectivity that directs them to  reproduce the gameworld. This is not engagement proper; we define engagement as the player’s counter-determination against the gameworld’s determination. In this imaginary subjectivity, the gameworld merely reproduces itself through affecting the player (by material that is useless for a player’s continual engagement of creating novelty). This the “old” in its struggle against the new.

“Science of history? Marxism is the discourse with which the proletariat sustains itself as subject. We must never let go of this idea.”

Science of gameplay? Game designers need a discourse with which they can sustain themselves as game designers even when the structure and mechanics of games change over time.

“a) The terms of the contradiction are doubly determined: as to their place (splace/outplace) and as to their force.
b) Force is doubly determined: objective and subjective.”

a) Terms are divided between gameworld/player and also between gameplay aspects old/new.
b) Old and new gameplay are divided into objective (placed in gameworld), and subjective (wrt. the engagement of player)

“We can formulate the twofold dialectical criterion of periodization:
– that splace be caught up in the destructive flagrancy of the outplace;
– that the subjective aspect of force attains a threshold in its qualitative concentration.
This is the double precondition for the advent of a subject-process.”

– that a gameworld be caught up in the destructive flagrancy of a player;
– that her engagement in this game attains a threshold in its qualitative concentration.
This is the double precondition for this player to become a game designer. Periodization means that game designers belong to periods with respect to the games in which they purified their gameplay.

“For the materialist, there is no beginning unless it is marked by a novelty that is undeducible from the periodizing closure.”

A game designer makes a ‘beginning’ only when her design is marked by a novelty that is undeducible from her experience as a player.


  1. […] Gameplay is politics — Dialectics of game design — part 1A: place of the subjective — part 1B: action, manor of the subject — part 1C: the real is the impasse of formalization; formalization is the place of the forced pass of the real — part 1D: hegel: ’the activity of force is essentially the activity reacting against itself ’ — part 1E: subjective and objective […]

  2. […] Gameplay is politics — Dialectics of game design — part 1A: place of the subjective — part 1B: action, manor of the subject — part 1C: the real is the impasse of formalization; formalization is the place of the forced pass of the real — part 1D: hegel: ’the activity of force is essentially the activity reacting against itself ’ — part 1E: subjective and objective […]

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