The postmodern turn coincided with the emergence of Cultural Studies as a new academic configuration, and the fate of the two has been closely bound up ever since. At the same time Po-Mo connected Cultural Studies to wider developments within the visual arts, literature and the media which were crystallising into a market oriented cultural economy outside the university. There was another sense in which Cultural Studies provided a bridge between the new knowledge paradigm and global economic imperatives.
It was not an inter-disciplinary project in the strict sense in so far as it did not issue from any argument between or within disciplines that studied culture that is to say, anthropology, history, sociology, linguistics, literature, and psychology. Rather CS opportunistically appropriated some would say cannibalised discursive elements from each and all of these intellectual traditions especially literature and anthropology and integrated them syncretically into a common syntax focussed around a set of ideological topics or themes.
This fitted in well with the priorities of the new academic enterprise culture in so far as topic focused studies lent themselves to niche marketing.
In principle, of course, postmodernism challenged the foundations of pedagogic authority. A hermeneutics of generalised suspicion regarding the proclaimed truth of texts, once transferred to an educational context tends to undermine faith in all sources of received wisdom. Some of the more radical exponents of Po-Mo did in fact try to do just this, albeit in forms of argumentation of such theoretical density as to render them largely unintelligible to their intended student audience! In practice Cultural Studies helped to institutionalise postmodernism as a corpus of texts to be studied within the Academy, thus neutralising its more subversive pedagogic implications.
Conceptually the social was dissolved into its various media of collective representation. Once culture was enclosed within itself, either by being disconnected from the social, or by dissolving the social into it, the way was open to retreat from the politics of situated knowledge in favour of growing involvement with the ideoscapes and mediaflows of the global cultural economy. The textual turn saw off the critics and walled Cultural Studies up in the library, from whence, some of us have not ceased attempting to liberate it.
To summarise the argument so far: Cultural Studies played a key role in this process. Often behind the backs of its most passionate advocates it provided a conduit through which Po-Mo ideas could infiltrate and destabilise the Humboldian curriculum. By powerfully legitimating the bricolage degree in a way which paralleled the strategies of knowledge management being adopted by the new economy, and by developing a style of niche marketing that fitted in with the new academic enterprise culture, CS helped to break the mould set by a more rigid division of academic labour and, however unintentionally and indirectly, opened up the way for the introduction of new structures of university governance based on administrative and commercial priorities rather than academic ones.
In Europe we might start with the mendicant religious orders of the middle ages, especially the friars whom Gramsci took as his model for the organic intellectual. We might spend some time with the troubadours and wandering scholars, and trace the links between their peregrinations and some of the key itineraries of Renaissance thought. Coming up to the present we could summon up a whole cast of tricksters, and other intellectual shape shifters who seek to unsettle the distinctions between between the discourses of mind, matter and machine.
For all their differences, and they are a very motley crew, these figures have a number of common characteristics. They take lines of thought for a walk or a song and dance wherever they happen to be — in a jazz group, or a head to head debate, scribbling in their notebooks, or explaining to children why the earth is not the centre of the universe. The second common feature is an attitude of mind towards the world.
Global Game Factory
It amounts to that anti-systemic system of sceptical engagement with the real that Carlo Ginzburg has called the conjectural method. This wider picture is at first entirely unknown, but gradually, through the work of piecing together apparently unrelated fragments the hidden pattern emerges, so that they form a coherent narrative which at its best also explains and dissolves the original mystery in a practically useful or aesthetically satisfying way.
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Game playing on the job was subversion, a refusal of work. Then a strange reversal occurred. As the US military followed the tracks of its runaway virtual slave and re-captured it, other state sectors, from city planners to air traffic control, explored the possibilities of simulation. In the s, corporate capital latched onto games as a technology for training an increasingly digitized labour force. In this virtual apparatus for the subject-formation of post-Fordist labour, game-like simulations are integrated with electronic hiring tools, psychometric personality tests and cognitive skills measures.
Cisco prepares its teams for on-call crisis management by gaming repair of a network in a virtual Martian sandstorm. Yet more complete subsumption of games by work is offered by schemes such as Amazon. In the so-called ESP Game a player, gaming with either a human or AI, strives to agree on words that match images within a set period of time to optimize search engines indexing on-line pictorial content. The current corporate enthusiasm for virtual play extends, however, beyond training simulations and serious games.
It is all games — silly games, time-wasting games, fantastic orc-slaying and alien-blasting games—that are seen as beneficial for the bottom line. Now a high-score at Space Giraffe is de rigueur for the up-and coming careerist.
Mansfield-born games manufacturer pens book on his inventions
Virtual play rose not only out of the era of information war and immaterial work, but also the casino economy. In his Empire of Indifference Randy Martin links the informatic risk management strategies of war and finance capital. Making a financial play is a perennial theme of early video and computer games: Meanwhile finance capital, ramping through the dot-com spree, the Internet bubble, and on to the great housing splurge, was, like the military, hot on games.
In a junior trader training in the game-like simulator of a German finance house posted , bond futures on-line, believing the sale was just an exercise. But the play was for real. The stockbroker Ameritrade created Darwin: Survival of the Fittest , a game distributed free to teach customers online trading just in time for the crash. They also prepared the future subjects of financialization.
In , at the moment of the crash, the annual cycle of The Stock Market Game was beginning in North American schools. Some students learned a different lesson; a thirteen year old confessed: Do Mario and Princess Toadstool still have a chance for liberation from banal war, endless work and monetized life? But today economic crisis, deepening ecological catastrophe and military quagmires vindicates its activism and analysis, which were revived in however refracted, reformist mode in the global support for the Obama election campaign.
Even as this present crisis incubates nationalism, racism, retro-fascism and ultra-militarism, it also makes new radical openings to exit Empire. There is no blueprint for this process; many would say it defies schematic planning. But there are multiplying, thoughtful sketches of what a post-capitalist society might look like; less free market, more decentralized, democratic public planning; less commodification, more commons; less wage labour, more self-management, less precarity, more universal provision of basic life-needs.
Such potential exists because Empire is a contradictory system, cultivating the very creative, cooperative capacities it must repress and contain, not least of which is the innovation power of immaterial labour. As we saw, games originated in the excess playfulness of military science workers.
As this hacker innovation was captured by the game factory, it has continued to generate surplus know-how that escapes complete capture in the commodity form. Ever more sophisticated game editing tools, the rise of modding and machinima , flash authorship, and MMO participation have all generated within virtual play culture a powerful drive towards user-generated content created in an intensely collaborative and networked milieus.
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The turn to user-generated content stands in an equivocal relation to corporate control. So now we look at three assemblages of games and multitude, around piracy, protest and planning. Piracy is as widespread in games as in music and films. It affects PC games most, but consoles are far from immune. The game factory wages war on piracy by technological, judicial and police measures, ostensibly targeting big criminal software bootleggers.
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Industrial-scale game piracy is a reality, part of the transnational crime networks that are the shadow of neoliberal globalism. Nonetheless, the game industry crusade occludes many of the complexities, and all the politics, of piracy. We call attention to just four points.
First, not all piracy is for profit: Second, piracy is the only way many people in, say, Brazil or the Philippines, or Egypt can afford games. Fourth, mass levels of piracy around the planet indicate a widespread perception that commodified digital culture imposes artificial scarcity on a technology capable of near costless cultural reproduction and circulation.
Ongoing conflict over Intellectual Property Rights and Digital Rights Management in games is symptomatic of a bona fide contradiction between relations and forces of production, an antagonism of progressive technological capacities to the reactionary property rights into which they are forced.
A new culture, however, does not just copy, but creates. Feminist gamers such as Anne-Marie Schleiner were pioneers, hacking new skins and pacifist interventions to challenge the sexism and militarism of the game factory. Once Upon a Game - my precarious career as a games inventor. Reviews, Web and Press Features. A feature in the Nottingham Post.
Feature in the Mansfield and Ashfield Chad Newspaper. An extract from Derrick Knight's Ramblings Blog. S nap shots of a talk at Southwell Library by Michael Kindred.
Related Once Upon a Game - my precarious career as a games inventor
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