Dialectics of game design

The game designers have only designed various games; the point is to design the world.

Gameplay is another name for politics. They both call for engagement. They are the same logic of opposing forces identified in separate contexts.

Gameplay is the dynamical aspect that discerns games from other imaginary and fictional media. It is grounded in the structural properties, the mechanics of a game, but it cannot be reduced to it. Thus, gameplay cannot be an academic research field, it is a praxis that unites its practice with its theory, its past with its future, its play with its design.

Is reality less fictional or imaginary than games? Capitalism is a great massively multiplayer game, which incidentally has awfully balanced mechanics and is not really fun for the most of its players. Just like when we were playing Sid Meier’s Civilization we wanted to create worlds like it or even better than it, nothing keeps us, as players of capitalism, from imagining and aspiring to design and realise a far more balanced world with a satisfying gameplay for everyone, be it called communism or not.

In this work, we reinterpret the Part I in Alain Badiou’s Theory of Subject, “The Place of the Subjective”. In this part, Badiou presents a dialectics of subject, based on its scission between itself (A) and itself-in-its-place (Ap). A is the subject and Ap is its placement in the world. As the subject A is out-of-place with respect to the world, it is called outplace. Its placement Ap is located in the space of placements P, called splace in short. In Marxist context, the outplace A designates the proletariat as the political motor of history, and its placement Ap designates the working class that forms the base of social structure as the productive force. Then, he develops the notions of determination (of A by Ap); counter-determination or limit (of Ap by A) as well as the relapses, or dead-ends in the dialectical movement, self-determination of Ap and self-determination of A, which in turn define the rightist and leftist political deviations.

In our interpretation, A designates the player and and Ap designates her avatar. The avatar is player’s placement in the gameworld. In this case,

  • the scission between A and Ap becomes the embodiment, since the avatar embodies the player;
  • the determination of the player by her avatar becomes immersion, since she is immersed in the gameworld through the avatar;
  • and the counter-determination or limit of the gameworld by the player is her engagement, since she counter-determines her immersion by engaging in the game.

The 20th century witnessed the failure of state-party socialism as a strategy to organize proletariat as a political class. The problem had severe social and structural effects, but it was in essence a political problem, a problem of engagement. The communists of the last century failed to construct a social organizational form that would embody a universal political engagement to redesign the world.

In the last decades of the 20th century, a new medium emerged that would serve as a testbed to design abstract worlds to better engage people: digital games. Since then, game designers managed to create extremely large game worlds that engaged thousands of players with their economical and social structures, even their own working classes.

It is time for game designers, as players of capitalism, to anticipate to design the ultimate game.

Notes on Part I: The Place of the Subjective

  • Badiou on game design, part 1A: place of the subjective
  • Badiou on game design, part 1B: action, manor of the subject
  • Badiou on game design, part 1C: the real is the impasse of formalization; formalization is the place of the forced pass of the real
  • Badiou on game design, part 1D: hegel: ‘the activity of force is essentially the activity reacting against itself’
  • Badiou on game design, part 1E: subjective and objective

Notes on Part II: The Subject under the Signifiers of the Exception

  • to be continued…


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