Notes for Ian Bogost Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism
Key concepts: bricoleur, cellular automata, chance encounter, count as one, emergent games, event, flaneur, object-oriented programming, object technology, ontology, procedurality, progressive games, retroactive causality, set theory, system operations, unit analysis.
Founding text for philosophy of computing blending literary theory, schizoanalysis, network theory, and computer technologies. Encourages comprehension of machine experience, despite literal impossibility and alienness, which becomes focus of his recent work. Potential connection between unit analysis and Hayles media specific analysis. Kittler and Postman inspired entry to understanding machine embodiment, suggesting procedural literacy training. Critical bricoleur methodology for new discipline, while focusing on expressive, cultural aspects of videogames and other media. Through multiple paths the unit operations perspective supports my notion of software engineering as humanities research. Substantial discussion of subjectivity.
Related theorists: Aarseth, Badiou, Benjamin, Callois, Dawkins, de Certeau, Deleuze, Derrida, Eskelinen, Frasca, Guattari, Graham Harman, Hayles, Huizinga, Jenkins, Juul, Kittler, Lacan, Levi-Strauss, Manovich, Mateas, Murray, Postman, Rizzolatti, Spinuzzi, Starr, von Neumann, Wolfram, Zizek.
(vii) This book represents the result of a long process of reconciliation of two areas of equal interest and expertise: literary theory and philosophy on the one hand, software technology and videogame design on the other.
Takes position as a philosopher of computing, providing a methodology useful to humanists and technologists by exploring relations of computation, literature, philosophy via new concept of unit operation.
This book is an attempt to explore the nature of relations between
computation, literature, and philosophy. . . . My analysis will
oscillate between theoretical and literary registers, leveraging a
general literary-technology theory to motivate an analysis of
particular videogames. This technique is not only applicable to
software in general and videogames in particular, but also is useful
in the analysis of traditional expressive artifacts such as poetry,
literature, cinema, and art. . . . I call these general instances of
procedural expression unit operations.
(x) The two advances of greatest interest to the present work are the introduction and adoption of object technology (OT) in software engineering, and the advent of complex adaptive systems theory in the natural, information, and computer sciences.
(xi) From the Latin ludus, meaning game or sport, ludology addresses “games in general, and videogames in particular.” [Frasca]
(xii) While theorizing the act of bluffing in poker, von Neumann began to recognize the profound implications of game theory for economics.
(xiii) When I speak of videogames, I refer to all the varieties of digital artifacts created and played on arcade machines, personal computers, and home consoles.
(xiii) This book is divided into four parts, corresponding to the areas of focus common to both literary theory and informatics over the last several decades. . . . Within each of these I will discuss a variety of works from philosophy, psychoanalysis, literature, film, software, and videogames.
Unit operations explained as discrete compressed elements of fungible meaning.
(xiii) In the first part, “From Systems to Units,” I introduce the concept of unit operations, a general conceptual frame for discrete, compressed elements of fungible meaning.
Situates the origins of unit analysis in classical philosophers from Aristotle to Spinoza, and contemporary philosophers Badiou and Harman, before drawing connections between compression and representation in poststructuralism to advances in computation.
(xiii-xiv) I then trace the increasing compression of representation that has occurred in structuralism and poststructuralism, relating this compression to advances in computation such as John von Neumann's conditional control transfer. . . . I use the four core principles of object technology to critique many of the popular academic works on digital media (Lev Manovich, George Landow, Jay Bolter) and genetics (Darwin, the Human Genome Project, Dawkins).
criticism resembles Hayles MSA, exploring software and narrative
structures of game engines.
(xiv) In the second part, “Procedural Criticism,” I argue for a configurable expression in multiple media. I explore the software and narrative structures of game engines from Pong to Half-Life, showing how these texts function and interact through unit operations.
Procedural subjectivity explores interaction between embedded representation and subjectivity, vaulting status of videogames between entertainment to social texts.
(xiv) In the third part, “Procedural Subjectivity,” I explore complex adaptive systems and elementary cellular automata as unit operations that transition between the material and representational worlds (Wolfram, Conway, Wright). I then explore the interaction between embedded representation and subjectivity, arguing that meaning in unit-operational systems arises in a place of crisis between configurative representation and subjectivity. . . . I use this perspective to explore criticism's ability to vault videogames toward a status higher than entertainment alone, focusing specifically on an analysis of Star Wars Galaxies as a social text.
Schizoanalysis in relation to network theory provides analysis of freedom in large virtual spaces.
In the fourth part, “From Design to Configuration,” I put forward
a sustained analysis of the field of Schizoanalysis (Deleuze and
Guattari) in relation to complex network theory (Erdos, Milgram,
Granovetter). Through Alain Badiou's critique of Deleuze I explore
the potential and limits of nomadism and complexity as expressions of
unit operations. Working from these principles, I perform an extended
analysis of freedom in large virtual spaces, including videogames and
the modern novel (Grand
Theft Auto 3, The Legend of Zelda, Madame Bovary, Ulysses).
(xv) My intention is to produce an approach to criticism for procedural artifacts like videogames that can be put to use by humanists and technologists alike.
From Systems to Units
(3) Unit operations are modes of meaning-making that privilege discrete, disconnected actions over deterministic, progressive system.
Multiple small pieces relates to Derrida morsels, the other kind of byte, also mentioned by Landow.
(3-4) In literary theory, unit operations interpret networks of discrete readings; system operations interpret singular literary authority. In software technology, object technology exploits unit operations; structured programming exhibits system operations. . . . In effect, the biological sciences offer an especially salient window into the development of unit operations. . . . In general, unit operations privilege function over context, instances over longevity.
Spinuzzi connection potential.
(4-5) The shift in focus from systems to units can also be understood as a special form of complexity. . . . The last decade has witnessed an explosion of interest in a specific kind of complexity theory, often called complex systems theory or complex network theory.
Harman provides a basis for extending human philosophy into machine being via Heidegger applied to the built environment, not really sensible in print and emulsion versus electronic media milieu.
(5) Often, systems become units of other systems. . . . The word object is a suitable generic analogue, one used by philosopher Graham Harman in his innovative and related concept of an object-oriented philosophy. Harman interprets Heidegger's analysis of Zuhandenheit, or readiness-to-hand, as a quality available to entities other than Dasein.
Bogost prefers units to objects to include material manifestations of complex structures like racism.
I am avoiding the term object
especially the phrase object-oriented
as I will discuss later, these concepts have special meaning in
computer science. Nevertheless, understanding units as objects is
useful because it underscores their status as discrete,
material things in
the world. . . . Harman insists on inanimate objects as necessary
subjects for philosophy; while I include in my understanding of units
ordinary objects such as the ones Harman favors (“person, hammer,
chandelier, insect, or otherwise”), I also claim that units
encompass the material manifestations of complex, abstract, or
conceptual structures such as jealousy, racial tension, and political
(5-6) When thought of in this way, units not only define people, network routers, genes, and electrical appliances, but also emotions, cultural systems, business processes, and subjective experiences. . . . In a famous example, autopoietic system theorists Francisco Valera and Humberto Maturana showed that the neurology of the frog operates as a system that regulates the organism's behavior. . . . In Luhmann's systems theory, communication is the basic unit of social systems.
Stable experience inside an operating system versus complex network.
(6) Unlike complex networks, which
thrive between order and chaos, systems seek to explain all things
via an unalienable order. . . . Stability, linearity, universalism,
and permanence characterize system operations.
(7) Systematic scientific work seeks to quantify, measure, and control the world, drawing it further away from human experience.
(7) We cannot escape systems, but we can explore them, or understand ourselves as implicated in their exploration. Heidegger's essay on technology is structured as a haptic analysis, akin to a walk in the woods, by which the stroller happens upon matters of interest. He takes this casual encounter as a paradigm for resistance. Like Heidegger's logic of the promenade, unit operations meander, leaving opportunities open rather than closing them down.
Not sure what he means with this distinction between procedural and structured besides a preference for unit operations with a corresponding deprecation of system operations.
(7-8) In systems analysis, an operation is a basic process that takes one or more inputs and performs a transformation on it. . . . In the language of Heidegger, unit operations are creative, whereas system operations are static. In the language of software engineering, unit operations are procedural, whereas system operations are structured.
I want to rebel against this gross stereotype of uselessness of post post-structuralistic, operating in same plane as Bogost and Badiou, systems thinking.
(8) The movement away from systems thinking is really a movement away from the simple, orderly, static categorization of things.
Spinoza network like superstructure for material relations.
(9) Spinoza's philosophy sets up a network-like superstructure for almost any kind of material relation. . . . The crucial seed that Spinoza plants is that of innumerably re-creatable relations between objects. Such language looks forward to forms of material relation like Valera and Maturana's autopoiesis, as well as the dynamic structure of software information systems.
Badiou application of set theory to ontology, whom Zizek also invokes.
(10) Perhaps the closest philosophical precedent for unit operations is contemporary philosopher Alain Badiou's application of set theory to ontology.
As Harman provides the contemporary treatment
of Heidegger, Alain Badious application of set theory to ontology
(11) Badiou's philosophy offers a concept of multiplicity that simultaneously articulates coherent concepts and yet maintains the unitarity of their constituents. . . . This concept of membership, borrowed from set theory, forms the basis of Badiou's ontology: “To exist is to be an element of.”
As simple as the return value of a function call instantiates Badiou count as one in software by programming.
(11) As a process or a frame for a
the count as one produces a particular set;
it takes a multiplicity and treats it as a completed whole.
(12) A situation is Badiou's name for an infinite set; being is a matter of belonging to a situation.
A war machine: playing philosophy by instantiating what is taken for granted in programming software.
(12) ZF formalized contemporary set theory's dedication to the extensional approach to set definition. Badiou's philosophy simultaneously extends set theory into the sphere of philosophy and remedies analytical philosophy's previous cooption of set theory for the support of top-down structures of knowledge.
Badiou count as one referenced in Alien Phenomenology.
(13) Badiou offers a means of thinking about the process of configuring things of any kind – the multiples of sets – into units, namely the count as one.
Not just formalizing, but encoding into losslessly. Murray.
(13) Procedurality is a name for the computer's special efficiency for formalizing the configuration and behavior of various representative elements.
Unit forming procedurality ligature between computational and traditional representation.
(13) The figure of the count as one helps serve as a ligature between computational and traditional representation, creating a common groundwork for understanding texts of all kinds as configurable. The count as one is the closest extant philosophical concept to what I am calling unit operations: an understanding, largely arbitrary, certainly contingent, of a particular situation, compacted and taken as a whole.
Difference between ontologies in computer science and philosophy is that the former enable functional relationships between constituent parts of software systems, but do not specify them.
(14) As such, ontologies in the computer sciences sense of the word enable, but do not specify, the functional relationship between their constituent parts. Unit operations, however, strive to articulate both the members of a particular situation and the specific functional relationships between them.
Compare unit analysis compare to Hayles MSA.
Definition of unit analysis as critical practice to discover unit operations.
(15) Unit analysis is the name I suggest for the general practice of criticism through the discovery and exposition of unit operations at work in one or many source texts. . . . Each medium carries particular expressive potential, but unit analysis can help the critic uncover the discrete meaning-making in texts of all kinds.
Unit analysis of The Terminal reveals various modes of waiting.
(16) As different characters interact along one or more of these time horizons, the film's unit operations become apparent, and The Terminal reveals itself not as a film about a man struggling against governments for his identity, but as one about various modes of waiting.
Distinction between unit analysis and system operation for criticism.
(19) Analyzing an artifact like The Terminal as a unit-operational film about themes of waiting rather than a system-operational film about the story of a handful of developed characters thus demands a novel critical framework. . . . Such a distinction is core to the critical process of unit analysis, which privileges discrete components of meaning over global narrative progression.
Structuralism and Computation
(22) By breaking the boundary between objects and a transcendental sphere, Aristotle establishes one of the first conceptions of the unit.
Need to develop understanding of tension between unit and system operations; Saussure parole versus langue as example.
(23) The tension between Aristotelian dualism and final causality offers an instructive model for the tension between unit and system operations. . . . For Saussure (and Lacan, Derrida, and others after him), signs bear the fruit of meaning only in a play of relations within a larger system. Semiotics grounds the evolution of both structuralist and poststructuralist models of literary and social analysis as trends toward unit operations.
(23) Saussure develops a linguistic
semiotics that influenced much of twentieth-century structuralist and
poststructuralist analysis, from Levi-Strauss to Barthes. He
concentrates on the kind of sign Peirce calls a symbol:
arbitrary signs that bear no necessary connection between the verbal
utterance and the corporeal world.
(23) In semiotics, particular uses of signs (parole) are unit operations. The broader flows of signification (langue) are system operations.
What if the value is in studying the system.
(24) Even more than was the case for structuralism, poststructuralist tactics like Derrida's differential play of meaning or Barthes's death of the author underscore the dynamic, referential functionalism of unit operations.
Reusability of stored programming units, long a key component of functional and object oriented programming.
(25) Stored-programming makes units of each program reusable and executable based on programmatic need rather than physical arrangement.
Von Neumann architecture beginning of unit versus system operational computation; why not consider both concurrently, following Suchman the plan (system) and situtated action (unit) or units are concurrent processes or threads in multiprocessing von Neumann architecture networks?
(26) The von Neumann architecture marked the beginning of computation's status as unit operational, rather than system operations.
Digital computing conditional control transfer universalizes representations.
(28) Universal they may not be, but
analog computation systems do begin to universalize certain
representations in the same way the conditional control transfer
would later broaden.
(29) N. Katherine Hayles's approach to cybernetics offers a useful alternative to both the digital and the theory-centrist obsessions. Hayles argues that cybernetic systems function within a dialectic of pattern and randomness.
Invites investigation of software for creators and critics in digital humanities; does this go far enough in describing what can be done by writing computer programs to do intellectual work on our behalf, such as the symposia project I am proposing for cascading into popular digital culture? Not the quote I am looking for tonight, meant to find reference to “counting as one” operations that Bogost claims is at the foundation also of unit operations.
(30) The promise of universal computation is precisely what the logic of unit operations must take care to exceed. If we have indeed begun to represent and understand the world via discrete, encapsulated logics that both include and exclude a variety of conditions, then we must understand how these unit operations work, where they attach to one another and to our understanding of the world, and how we should approach them as users, creators, and critics.
Humanism and Object Technology
(31) The ontological claims of information technology and literary theory have much in common, especially critical and technological approaches in which ontological questions uncover temporary relationships between discrete units.
(32) When assembled in appropriate configurations, they constitute the units of an approach to a curative process.
(32) Fixated on the breaks between the operation of the conscious and the unconscious, Lacan designed his entire oeuvre as a material performance of this very gap.
(32) For Lacan, the subject's relationship to the objet a is an impossible one. . . . Lacan encapsulates the function of fantasy in the matheme Sda, read as “the barred subject's relationship with the other.”
Examples of unit operations in Lacan and Zizek, dealing with threat of returning to systematicity; Harman criticizes Zizek for restricting causality to human perception.
The Freudian tension between unit operations and system operations is
magnified in Lacan, both through the use of mathemes and the inherent
return of the system to a state of predictable compunction.
(33-34) While his rich, creative work certainly exceeds this simple characterization, Slavoj Zizek has made his name by invoking and using the discrete principles of Lacanian psychoanalysis as unit operations. . . . Does the critic seek to illuminate the subject of criticism, or merely the act of criticism itself?
(34) Graham Harman argues that the problem with Zizek's retroactive causality is not this tension itself, but Zizek's strict restriction of causality to human perception.
(34) Zizek's critical faculty successfully leverages Lacanian tools without returning necessary control to the Lacanian project.
(35) The event is not an ordinary happening, but an unprecedented and radical alteration of the situation's status quo.
(35) The same threats of a return to systematicity that characterize the evolution of psychoanalysis also plague the evolution of media technology.
(36) Media theorist Friedrich Kittler reads McLuhan from a strictly ontological perspective. Kittler reverses McLuhan's claim, arguing that we are in fact the product of the technologies we use, the would-be-rulers who turn out to be mere subjects.
Kittler and Postman inspired entry to understanding machine embodiment, calling for procedural literacy training.
But both Kittler and Postman
universal binarization to Turing, who first raised what Kittler
editor and critic John Johnston neatly calls “the recurrent specter
of a totally programmable world.” . . . No matter the talent or
manipulation of the human programmer, human experience of the machine
(which must always be mediated by software) is limited by the
architecture of the hardware. . . . Because human relation, with the
computer is software-based, we need to understand technology's own
agency, and how hardware relates to particular software
(37) Postman seeks to understand technology from the perspective of the monster: the system's inevitable control over its master.
Component objects developed to address growing mass of software libraries to encapsulate intellectual capital in black boxes.
(38) To negotiate the conflicting
demands of protecting proprietary symbolic code and leasing that code
to thousands of independent developers, the notion of component
objects was born.
(38-39) This method of encapsulating intellectual capital in human-machine accessible black boxes characterizes the software development practice known as object technology (OT), also called object-oriented programming (OOP). . . . OT attempts to close the gap between human experience, its programmatic representation, and its computational execution. Computational systems thus strive to create more successful implementations of automated human needs.
Definition of OOP includes the four official properties, while putting socio-economic spin on it; compare to Manovich and others.
(39) Software must exhibit four properties to be considered object
oriented: abstraction, encapsulation, polymorphism, and
(39-40) According to Manovich, transcoding is new media's tendency to computerize aspects of nondigital organization, conflating their structures with the structure of the computer itself.
(40) In other words, unit operations can help us expose and interrogate the ways we engage the world in general, not just the ways that computational systems structure or limit that experience.
41) Encapsulation is often tied to capital exchange, and, for better or worse, it founds the primary basis for the defensible intellectual property of software systems.
Example of unit operations in banking customer-account relationship and licensing.
(41) By encapsulating the customer-account relationship, and by
reinforcing the behavior of banking through software systems, the
banking industry has succeeded in remapping the material reality of
capital exchange with its objectified, encapsulated object
equivalent. In other words, our relationship with banks have become
(41-42) Can one construe the same unit operational strategy in literary and cultural artifacts? . . . Licensing is an example of the fungible use of a unit operation in the cultural, commercial, and legal registers.
Landow use of Derrida privileges theory over technology, but well exemplifies fungibility of Derrida between philosohpical and technological discourse, as if could pass off as von Neumann or Kay.
(42) The content of Landow's analysis [of “Signature Event Context”] is indeed exciting; he is, even if implicitly, drawing a connection between the practice of literary criticism and the method of a kind of technological production. Indeed in the right circles, one could probably pass off the Derrida passage as a quote from John von Neumann or Alan Kay, discussing the conditional control transfer or the software object.
Discreteness a principle property of unit operations, relating to encapsulation.
(43) Discreteness is one of the principle properties of unit operations, and it relates to the property of encapsulation that characterizes object technology.
(44) The Human Genome Project is possibly the worlds most audacious system ontology.
(45) Perhaps the most well known proponent of units of cultural evolution is Richard Dawkins.
Does not analyze all four concepts, giving very brief but believable starting points for abstraction and polymorphism.
(45-46) I have already introduced in some detail the notion of encapsulation and shown how literary criticism shares this property without articulating it as such. Reviewing the definitions of the properties of OT, one can see a correlation between abstraction and the transcendental signified, or between polymorphism and intertextuality. . . . But it is not my wish to show how culture, philosophy, and critical theory can be made to “look like” object technology.
to consider procedural over object aspect by moving to Murray
(46) Janet Murray offers another way to look at the relationship between narrative and technology, what she calls procedural authority. . . . Critics and creators can use a common toolkit to approach art and cultural objects that have equal home in both the worlds of the literary and the technological; we can understand unit-operational systems both inside and outside technology.
Comparative Videogame Criticism
(49) The scientist strives to create events by means of structures, whereas the bricoleur seeks to create structures through events.
(50) Together, comparative criticism and videogame software development entail the bricoleur, the deft handyman who assembles units of preexisting meaning to form new structures of meaning.
Early history of digital humanities mostly instrumental; enter Aarseth, OGorman, and videogame studies.
Even today, projects in the “digital humanities” are almost
entirely instrumental, providing instructional and research tools for
traditional humanistic research; part of Aarseth's unequivocal
reaction against literary studies is fueled by these early
(52) Today, just short of ten years after the first publication of Cybertext, the field of videogame studies reads what it sowed—functionalist separatism. . . . does the “hard core” comprise those researchers who forgo all other critical activities in favor of videogames?
(52) In one such column, DiGRA president Frans Mayra offers and especially unambiguous vision of “three theses” for game studies.
(53) For better or worse, this essentialism has its origin in Aarseth's functionalism, an approach that, even if “eclectic,” still privileges the material at the cost of the expressive.
Socratic question answered by artificial automata fantasized by von Neumann, focusing on expressive rather than functional aspects of videogames.
(53) I want to turn away from this kind of pure functionalism while
still retaining Aarseth's otherwise useful analysis of games as
configurative texts. . . . Such a comparative videogame criticism
would focus principally on the expressive capacity of games and, true
to its grounding in the humanities, would seek to understand how
videogames reveal what it means to be human.
(54) Comparative videogame criticism would not turn its back on functionalist approaches, but rather would recognize the utility of functionalist approaches to games as a useful lever for explication. Such a criticism would focus on the aesthetic meaning revealed by a cybertext's parts. Functionalist questions about videogames—what they are, or how they function—are not invalid or even unwelcome. But equally, or dare I say more important questions exist: what do videogames do, what happens when players interact with them, and how do they relate to, participate in, extend, and revise the cultural expression at work in other kinds of artifacts?
Critical bricoleur methodology for new discipline, while focusing on expressive, cultural aspects of videogames and other media.
(54) In the figure of the bricoleur, the critic and the videogame share the same processes of selection and configuration. The ad hoc, even hackneyed process of comparative criticism should include those artifacts left out by Aarseth's cybertext: poetry, film, fiction, and television are media that are not obviously made configurative by the author may but may be made so by the critic.
Videogames and Expression
(55) But the game engine dramatically increases the scope of unit-based abstraction compared to other forms of cultural production. The first-person shooter (FPS) has played a fundamental role in founding the industry of game engines, assemblages of common software components and tools used to make other games.
(55) Common gameplay in works of the same genre makes it possible to develop new games based on the code written for existing games. Aarseth made this observation of early adventure games like Zork.
Materiality of game engines lends them to unit analysis moreso than other literary objects while structuring possible narratives, going beyond remediation creating similarities between works based on literal sharing of components, exemplified by clever comparison to psychoanalysis for Half-Life and Quake.
Like component software, game engines are IP. They exist in the
material world in a way that genres, devices, and cliches do
(57) But first-person shooter game engines construe entire gameplay behaviors, facilitating functional interactions divorced from individual games. Genres structure a creative approach to narrative; they describe a kind of story. While one can imagine a conceptual description of the film genres just mentioned, it is much more difficult to imagine the unit-operational underpinnings of such a genre.
(58) Taken as a unit of gameplay, Tank took the notion of vector geometry as a mediator of competition between two players. . . . Tank, Pong, and Combat's relation to one another is far stronger than interpretive notions like intertextuality or new media concepts like remediation allow.
(58-59) Bushnell recognized that the social experience of arcade play constituted a unit operation that could be transferred from adult venue to family venue. Interestingly, this kind of social play was largely lost during the 1990s, until first-person shooters reintroduced multiparty gameplay in LAN and Internet-based arena matches.
(59) Most important, the relational meaning between the two games Pong and Tank, for example, as person-to-person combat simulators, aggression-release devices, or pub traffic generators, is materially bound to the common logical structure of the works themselves.
VCS focus foreshadows Racing the Beam and platform studies, making the staking that future scholars will muse about the experience of playing these games, as current scholars may muse about the original experience of drama, music, poetry, special types of books.
(59) In fact, the entire hardware architecture of the Atari 2600 (also called the Atari Video Computer System, or VCS) was crafted to accommodate Pong- and Tank-like games.
Formal relationship between games due to shared core portions of code accentuate merger of functionalism and materialism.
The truly componentized, unit-operational game engines of modern
games only further accentuate this merger of functionalism and
(61) Although one could argue that Half-Life has anxiety of influence for Quake as a father figure, their relationship is more formal than even psychoanalysis can characterize accurately. Half-Life literally embodies core portions of Quake, the abstracted unit operations to which the engine provides access.
Differences of unit operations and traditional literary relations, even new ones like remediation: legal, not discursive; material, not psychoanalytic.
IP as an external mediator also differs from Bolter and Grusin's idea
Remediation does describe a technique that may be at work in
but the “borrowing” is mediated by outside forces, both legal and
commercial. The game's very access to the unit operations it seeks to
borrow from Quake
themselves redeemed through another unit operation: licensing.
Licensing is a legal function, not a discursive one.
(63) The discursive carriage of the FPS will change further as game engines, tools, and libraries move beyond killing, racing, and visual effects to emotional conflict, jealousy, and disappointment.
Programmer presence embedded in API exemplified by Micheal Mateas in Facade and its A Behavioral Language (ABL).
Important for developing critical programming that Mateas and Bogost are both theorists and practicing game designers.
In the case of a game engine, a code framework, or an SDK (software
development kit), the programmer does not seek to remove the traces
of his or her presence, but rather seeks to embed that presence into
object-oriented systems that both enable and limit any works that
(66) The unit operations of the ABL API encapsulate abstract functions for human discourse, while engines like Quake II concentrate on abstract functions for object physics. . . . The confines both facilitate and limit discursive production, just as the rules of natural languages bound poetry and the rules of optics bound photography.
(67) Aaseth's and Eskelinen's preference for formal analysis underscores a long-standing debate within game studies that continues to fester: what is the relationship between the study of games (ludology) and the study of narrative (narratology)?
(68) “Ludology vs. Narratology” may be a nice shorthand for the tension between rule-based systems and story-based systems, but as Gonzalo Frasca has pointed out, narratology is a somewhat vague contender in this prize match—the debate does not seem to orient ludology against followers of traditional narratologists like Todorov and Genette. Ludology has been characterized by its coverage of the unique features of games, and narratology in the traditional sense of the word is the study of narratives across media, including oral and written language, gestures, and music.
(69) However, the procedural generation of new genres of digital stores—the principal future vision of Murray's book—represents only a subset of the representational possibility space for unit operations.
(69) Jenkins's arguments call to mind recent research that attempts to align narrative with cognition. AI researcher Roger Schank explicitly argues that “we think in stories.”
(70) Most notably, Giacomo Rizzolatti's discovery of “mirror neurons” suggests a relationship between cognitive understanding and discrete, nonnarrative actions.
(70) Mirror neurons suggest ways of understanding units of representational meaning that do not necessarily have recourse to narrative.
Displace narrative as heart of subjectivity using mirror neurons example.
(70-71) We should attempt to evaluate all texts as configurative systems built out of expressive units. This entails training ourselves not only to “understand simulations as interpretations of the world,” as Janet Murray suggests, but also to understand narrative texts as simulation.
Encounters across Platforms
(73) As part of the evolution of game studies, and to further the resistance to the overly simple opposition of functionalist versus expressive analyses, we ought to spend time looking at how other kinds of cultural artifacts implement their expression through unit operations.
(73) The concept of the chance encounter is a founding archetype of modernity.
Baudelaire motif, per Benjamin, is a unit operation to Bogost, and flaneur role is configurative.
Together, Baudelaire's lyric encapsulates these figures and tropes
into a framework, or rule set, for living the modern life. Benjamin
calls these rules motifs.
I would call them unit operations.
(75) As a figure in transition across an anonymous urban expanse, the flaneur's role is fundamentally a configurative one.
(75) The work of the flaneur is constructed of these individual unit operations, some of which he configures as he traverses the city, come which configure themselves for him based on the emergent effect of actions taken by all the other individuals in the vicinity.
Benjamin figure that fascinates goes by other names by famous theorists: think of the exotic object on We Have Never Been Modern.
(77) The poem expresses a unit operation for contending with the chance encounter. On the one hand, it is the crowd that thrusts the narrator into th enew confusion his situations exposes. On the other hand, that very exposure reveals a useful tool, what Benjamin calls a figure that fascinates.
Imagine doing unit analysis on early (8-32 bit, non internetworked) computer games (and what back then was not a game besides special purpose control systems) as Bogost does so masterfully with traditional literary studies interpreting literary texts metaphorically as programming: the degree of depth in critical functions of modern games that is practiced in philosophical study of past generations of computing machinery (platform studies) that Bogost performs with modern, web based games, is taken over into personal software projects.
Unit analysis of Baudelaire through Bukowski poem.
In the time between the two poems' writing, the figure that
fascinates has become an effective unit operation, a tool for
engaging modern life. . . . What is important about Bukowsi's
representation of the figure that fascinates ins not that it could be
construed as a software system, but rather that Bukowski's poem
relies on a consolidated version of Baudelaire's figure, that it
enacts this figure by playing by its rules.
(80) But the unit-operational logic of the chance encounter becomes more visible when it starts to break down.
(81) Amelie shows us that the chance encounter is such a replete structure that it can be acted out as a unit operation. She has become the programmer of her own procedural urban encounters.
Interpret software like The Sims in terms of the analogies he just made to poetry, fiction, and drama in Baudelaire.
Fitting that his instructional example unit operation is the chance encounter, only to deprecate the trope, replacing it with a new style of philosophizing, and tonight I started by musings with philosophy is the sexual partner of programming.
(86) Unlike “A une passante” and “A
Woman on the Street,” which offer poetic significance by their
formal characteristics, meaning in The Sims comes
solely from the generative effect of numerous codified rule
(87) The Sims: Hot Date finally takes the ultimate step in representing the chance encounter as a unit operation: it encapsulates it into the code of simulation.
(87) That said, The Sims' very structure of character encounters in code exposes the chance encounter as a unit operation ready for conceptual retirement.
(89) By laying bare the figure of the chance encounter in the form of software, The Sims invites players to examine their own satisfaction with this 150-year-old social rubric, and to choose for themselves how to act—or how not to act—in the material world. This model suggests that videogames, like art of all kinds, has the power to influence and change human experience.
Cellular Automata and Simulation
Cellular automata as unit operations getting closer to computational objects and further from traditional literary objects.
(93) Using simple computer models developed in his own program Mathematica, Wolfram attempts to reinvent every discipline of the sciences, from biology to motion dynamics, according to simple logics. The complexity of these systems, argues Wolfram, “is generated by the cooperative effect of many simple identical components.” Cellular automata offer another example of the logic of units operations at work.
(94) Cellular automata offer a way to understand complex systems by breaking down large-scale behavior into simple generative rules.
Frasca and Murray argue simulation extends narrative by immersion; also an ideological context is basic software studies premise, implicating subjectivity.
(98) Frasca argues that computational simulation amends
narrative expression with the ability to “model behavior.” . . .
Janet Murray calls this phenomenon of first-handedness
immersion, or the ability to construct new beliefs through
interaction with computational media.
(99) the relationship or feedback loop between the simulation game and its player are bound up with a set of values; no simulation can escape some ideological context.
(99) What simulation games create are biased, nonobjective modes of expression that cannot escape the grasp of subjectivity and ideology.
Reflecting on ideological context most important aspect of videogame studies because it is where code operates upon the world via rhetorically engaging humans.
Like Frasca and Bogost argue for studying videogames in social context, I argue it is why the study of childhood computer usage can be a modern echo of Freudian method.
(99) Frasca hints at this idea in his definition that simulations represent something to somebody, but I think this point needs to be much stronger. Videogames require critical interpretation to mediate our experience of the simulation, to ground it in a set of coherent and expressive values, responses, or understandings that constitute effects of the work. In this process, the unit operations of a simulation embody themselves in a player's understanding. This is the place where rules can be grasped, where instantiated code enters the material world via human players' faculty of reason. In my mind, it is the most important moment in the study of a videogame.
Experiences construct mental models of what the game includes and excludes; recall McGann criticizes Murray for providing four fundamental concepts that do not pertain exclusively to digital texts, and calls her work inspirational versus critical as he does Aarseth.
Janet Murray's interpretation of the game as a representation of the
unfettered demands of global capitalism would become much more
comprehensible to the uninitiated player if she explicitly correlated
the game's unit operations with the real world characteristics she
has in mind.
(104) In my experimentation with the sarin gas simulator and Starr's account with Sim City, our experiences construct mental models of the simulation that converge on an interpretation based on what the simulation includes and what it excludes.
(105) Instead, games create complex relations between the player, the work, and the world via unit operations that simultaneously embed material, functional, and discursive modes of representation.
Paul Starr seduction of sim; link to Kittler on Phaedrus and of course to Derrida.
this “black-box effect” the “seduction of the sim.” He
worries that the absence of debate about the unit operations a game
like Sim City deploys
makes the medium as troubling as it is promising.
(106) If the experience of a game takes place in the player's mental model of its unit-operational rules, then game criticism would do well to give voice to these mental models and the ideology they communicate.
(106) [quoting Turkle on Starr] One can accept simulations on their own terms . . . . Or one can reject simulations to whatever degree possible.
Can simulation fever and resignation be linked to free, open source ethic, for access to the source systems, since its rhetoric pull on subjectivity to follow its algorithms, founding preference formation, taking me back to my early interests in the free will problem.
Simulation as gap between rule-based representation of source system and user subjectivity; Starr simulation resignation and simulation denial: compare to Turkle simulation anxiety and Derrida simulation fever.
the blind acceptance of the limited results of a simulation, because
the system doesn't allow any other model of the source system. This
is the kind of response that worries Paul Starr. Simulation
the rejection of simulations because they offer only a simplified
representation of the source system.
(107) A simulation is the gap between the rule-based representation of a source system and a user's subjectivity.
(108) The cure to archive fever is a process of working through this discomfort. Together, we might call Turkle's two kinds of responses to simulations simulation anxiety, or following Derrida, simulation fever.
(109) Starr and Turkle suggest that part of the cure entails creating new simulations that revise or rethink the ambiguities, omissions, errors, or controversies of previous simulations. This is indeed a worthwhile project. But, a more accessible and readily fungible strategy is to create a body of criticism for simulations that relate their rules to their subjective experiences and configurations.
An Alternative to Fun
(112-113) As art breaks from cult practice, it games a new function, that of politics. . . . Benjamin suggests a further ligature between psychoanalysis as a unit-operational practice and film as a unit-operational practice. . . . In essence, Benjamin is articulating the film camera's properties of procedural recombination, which makes possible unit-operational observations of the lifting of a spoon, the lighting of a cigarette, the stride of a step.
Benjamin Arcades Project as intentional unit operational pseudo code calls for language machines to experiment with it, which fits McGann deformation prerogative.
(113) Some presume that the manuscript was merely a collection of
notes and citations, a kind of notebook for a book to be written. But
given his affinity for units of structural meaning, it is reasonable
to conclude that Benjamin had this very structure in mind, an
experiment in a text of reconfigurable, unit-operational
(114) Buck-Morss calls these images “politically charged monads,” a merger of Leibnizian unary being and discursive cultural production.
(114) As procedural systems, videogames extend Benjamin's unit-operational logic of film—games create abstract representations of precise units of human experience.
Engaging philosophical survey of play and fun affecting subjectivity, mainly to explain why it is difficult to deploy social commentary, and perhaps why scholars have ignored their deep study (excepting Gee) including Huizinga, Benjamin, Callois, Gadamer, Postman, Koster.
In the spirit of the Hollywood film industry, the ESA's unspoken
ligature between “entertainment software” and “video and
computer games” reveals contemporary culture's inherited ideology
for games: they are amusements, distractions that have no place
(115) Although Huizinga has become required reading among scholars in the ontology of games, the complex relationship between play and seriousness is frequently trivialized.
(115) But rather than contrasting play and seriousness, Huizinga's characterization of play bears more similarity to the kind of ritualistic activity Benjamin calls cult practice.
(116) For Callois, play is make-believe, “accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality, as against real life.”
(116) Play, argues Gadamer, serves as the artwork's “transformation into structure,” or in Heideggerean terms its “unconcealment.”
(116-117) Although Postman does not share Benjamin's vision for the political applications of mechanically reproducible art, he does acknowledge that such imagery has begun to overtake written language as our primary means for “construing, understanding, and testing reality.” . . . With the space of television, according to Postman, we sacrifice interrogation and dissent for entertainment, for fun.
(117) Videogames are thus subject to two equally strong forces opposing their use as tools for social commentary, social change, or other more “revolutionary” matters. On the one hand, the anthropological history of games has set the precedent for their separation from the material world. On the other hand, videogames inherit a mass-market entertainment culture whose primary purpose is the production of low-reflection, high-gloss entertainment.
Default philosopher of computing Koster has position similar to Gee, who refers this feedback as pleasantly frustrating but aims for its highest state as substantiating critical learning; to prove it out, we must imagine critical games could be used in a philosophically oriented digital humanities course.
For [Sony Online Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Raph] Koster,
fun is very nearly a pedagogical category, “the feedback the brain
gives us when we are absorbing patterns for learning purposes.”
(119) We might call Koster's alternate fun fun' (fun prime), a kind of alternate-reality fun that entails the social, political, and even revolutionary critique that Benjamin first envisioned for mechanically reproducible art.
(119) In late 2003, Gonzalo Frasca released a small Web-based game called September 12, the first in a series he calls Newsgaming. The Newsgaming series is an attempt to make social and political statements with games, much like political cartoons.
(120) These games seek to create a correlation between the player's mental model of the game rules and his understanding of the real world. The same gap between subjectivity and unit-operational rules that motivates criticism also underlies the rhetorical and educational possibilities of games.
Games that simulate adjustable value systems become rhetorical opinion texts.
Games like Balance
of the Planet and
the player to simulate an adjustable value system, to witness the
effects of that value system, and to carry that perception beyond the
(121) Under this rubric, games become rhetorical opinion texts whose positions players explore rather than merely take to be true.
(121) Jesper Juul contrasts emergent games with what he calls “progressive games,” or games in which the player performs sequential actions to reach the game's end, such as action/adventure games.
(122) Replayability in this sense implies self-reflection, debate, dispute, and a host of other contentious activities. It is a special kind of simulation fever, an openness to the unresolved crises such representations create.
(123) Like literature, editorial, public oration, and countless other forms of rhetorical speech, videogames participate in the struggle between authorial intent and interpretive freedom. Videogames require players to create a subjective understanding of the synthesis of one or more unit operations.
Badiou subject constituting event reached playing biased videogames.
(123) This process of engagement with artworks can constitute an event in Badiou's sense of the word, and in so doing it constitutes a subject and commences the process of fidelity at the heart of his theory of truth.
(125) Since MMOGs often function at social spaces as much as games, it is tempting to call the cantina and bazaar design defects, failed efforts to create meaningful social spaces.
(125) The cantinas, filled with mindless, preprogrammed jabber, could represent a number of anonymous public social encounters; but especially it represents the unit operation of waiting tables.
(126) Taken together, SWG's cantina and bazaar culture could be taken as unit operations for one real-world referent in particular: Southern California.
Social commentary of Southern California embedded in Star Wars Galaxies cantina and bazaar.
(127) Star Wars Galaxies may not service Benjamin's longing for artworks that serve revolutionary ends, but the game does break from its supposedly primary role as entertainment software and become social commentary.
The Simulation Gap
(129) For example, in critic Wolfgang Iser's conception of reader-response, the text provides controls for the reader's experience, like signposts, but leaves “gaps” that the reader must fill in. Roland Barthes's notion of the “death of the author” frees the reader to approach a text unburdened by the limits of authority.
(130) The user never disappears from the cybertextual experience, but Aarseth shifts the focus of the ergodic experience from the user to the text.
Insightful combination of Iser, Barthes, Aarseth, Eskelinen, Hayles to raise specter of analysis devolving into simulacral system operations in cybertexts; the crucial task is exploring game rules manifest in player experience.
(130-131) Cybertext theory does open up a mode for approaching texts that takes into account the indispensability of these three components. However, in so doing, cybertext theory also risks undermining the importance of the user's individual subjectivity. Responding to an approach to cybertext theory by Markku Eskelinen, N. Katherine Hayles notes this elision of individual media into one master medium. . . . Just as Hayles sees cybertext theory as diminishing material specificity, I see it as diminishing subjective specificity. As a computational strategy, unit operations embody representations of the world inside abstract, formal containers. These units are not anonymous forms bereft of ideology. Thinking of cybertexts as a mode of understanding, a “perspective,” threatens to close down the feedback loops of individual user experience. At the extreme, cybertext theory becomes a system operation, forgoing all the gradations of a work's subjective uses in favor of their common roles as configurations. For this reason, exploring the manifestation of game rules in player experience is perhaps the most important type of work game criticism can do.
September 12 game teaches lessons about simulation fever.
The subject matter and simplicity of September
several lessons about simulation fever.
(133) First, unit operations are biased. . . . Because of their ubiquity and incredible computational power, computers often make us forget that they use forms of human representation, rather than transcendent formalisms. . . . The transfer of representations from less to more encapsulation increases the controversy surrounding those representations.
(133) Second, the dialectic between unit operations and subjectivity that constitutes simulation fever is extrinsic, not intrinsic, to the game.
Gap in the Magic Circle
(134) Game designer Chris Crawford cites a form of the magic circle in his four characteristics of computer games: representation, interaction, conflict, and safety.
(134) This suggests that the magic circle of the game world ruptures into the material world, but yet it does not disappear entirely. . . . The idea that “you're either playing a game or you're not” or that games offer an “artificial space” that contrasts sharply with the material world needs to be revised in light of this new understanding of the magic circle.
Simulation fever compares to Feenberg invocation of de Certeau to arrive at his democratic rationalizations.
Far from an unbiased activity, then, games take a position much more
akin to Michel de
idea of the practice of everyday life, in which individual and group
actions can reclaim the autonomy lost to statist and commercial
(135) There is a gap in the magic circle through which players carry subjectivity in and out of the game space.
(136) All games convey ideas, and those ideas may instill a process of subjective interrogation and altered mental state. The history of serious consequences to cultural works from Socrates to Mao has not gone unnoticed by world civilization. The legitimacy of the media effects debate notwithstanding, videogames have sparked considerable controversy regarding the effects of representational violence and hatred.
Simulation fever as an autopoietic, emergent, reflective awareness between how game unit operations represent world and subjective understanding of player.
(136) The residue of this interaction infects both spheres, causing what I earlier called simulation fever, the nervous discomfort caused by the interaction of the game's unit-operational representations of a segment of the real world and the player's subjective understanding of that representation. Huizinga lamented the fact that play in modern society has become relegated almost entirely to sport, a field of mere distraction. The idea of simulation fever insinuates seriousness back into play and suggests that games help us expose and explore complicated human conditions, rather than offering mere interruption and diversion.
From Design to Configuration
(139) The rhizome gained a sudden boost in popularity in the 1990s, first as a potentially useful device for understanding new electronic hypertexts and later as a compelling theoretical model for the Internet.
Connecting nomadism if rhizomatic theoretic model to unit operations constituting subjectivity via Badiou.
(144) To be closer to unit operations, nomadism would require some kind of ratification at points along the vector of an assemblage where the nomadic subject is constituted. This structure would find affinity with Badiou's event but on a less consequential scale; at this ratification point, a unit operation experiences an acknowledgment of the gesture that just took place, and its foundational structure relies on that acknowledgment.
(144-145) In computer science and digital circuits, one application of automata is in finite state machines (FSMs), models of behavior that proceed in discrete steps from one state to another.
Most discrete process control systems are also FSMs.
Today, the most common entry point into complex network theory is
through the notion of six
degrees of separation.
(147) Researchers in a variety of fields, from physics to sociology, have since showed how interconnected complex networks, and especially scale-free networks, underlie many kinds of phenomena, from the worldwide outbreak of AIDS in the 1980s to the spread of the latest teenage fad.
Nomadism calls for network-based subjectivity; compare to true emergent games like Go (Juul).
(149) Nomadism is not about following one's whims arbitrarily;
rather, it is a statement that subjectivity should overcome isolation
and constitute itself in assemblages of relation, along the lines of
something like what mathematicians and information theorists call a
(150) Juul makes the implicit value judgment that more emergence yields more variation and thereby more universal value (“emergence is the more interesting structure”). Go, Chess, and Mancala are good examples of “true” emergent games.
Virtual reality is dream of wiring ourselves into deliberately selected unit-system relationship.
(150) Virtual reality refers to the dream of wiring ourselves—literally and figuratively—to operate according to the unit-system relationship of our choosing.
(155) In complex network theory terms, GTA [Grand Theft Auto] derives its representational power from the links or edges that connect the player's possible unit operations together. . . . In a short review of the game, Gonzalo Frasca suggests that most players call this ability freedom, and they cite it as the most important and compelling feature of the game.
I think this is why I feel such nostalgia for playing Ultima III on the Apple II.
(156) Deleuze and Guattari's [Body Without Organs] project focuses on removing boundaries, in rejecting the idea that boundaries create meaning. Instead, meaning is always provisional, in a state of openness.
Complex systems are state machines that nonetheless sustain themselves. Hopefully they are well taken care of by design and support.
(157) In so doing, the game suggests a subtlety of relation that calls to mind. Badiou's critique of Deleuze. . . . But even if networks offer a multitude of possible paths resulting in a very large number of potential arrangements, any singular arrangement implies a set of definitive decisions that both include and exclude a multitude of other options. Complex systems and nomads are state machines that must persist in some form, even if they constantly rearrange themselves.
Configurative Literary Spaces
(159) GTA's structured configuration of possible actions within a larger space suggests a broader expressive tactic: space is used not for the repleteness of exploration, but in order to structure smaller, singularly meaningful experiences.
Examples from Flaubert and Joyce of concurrent virtual realities encoded in a book showcases mastery by Bogost of traditional humanities literary discourse of course also demonstrate unit operations, hopefully enriched through developing awareness of procedural rhetorics.
In a particularly crucial moment in Flaubert's novel Madame
as the agriculture fair scene, the adulterous Emma's lover Rodolphe
declares his love for her while a provincial country fair takes place
around them. In this scene, Flaubert weaves together two distinct
incidents, the speeches and awards given on the platform at the fair
and the increasingly passionate tete-a-tete
Rodolphe and Emma. Flaubert takes on a difficult task in this scene,
namely, how to render in prose two contemporaneous spaces that
overlap and move between one another.
(167) Each individual action in “Wandering Rocks” structures either a response to a plot movement (Mulligan and Haine's conversation about Stephen) or a character's inner motivations (Stephen's reflection on Dilly's home situation). The spatial configuration of individual relationships is haphazard, but these connections are not insignificant; they influence the mental states of the characters.
(168) Alternatively, one could understand the shallow NPCs as the game's primary strategy for alienating the player from productive social interactions, a unit operation for sociopathy.
Apply Foucault to Grand Theft Auto through unit analysis as active practice of power and discipline.
The simulation fever GTA instills arises out of the dissonance
between these activities not only within the game itself, but also
between the game world and the real world. . . . GTA
could be considered the ultimate punctuation of the Foucauldian
genealogy of power,
an active practice of the relationship between power and
(168-169) Relational networks of unit-operational meaning might also demand that we rethink the technological goals for rich interactive experiences. . . . GTA suggests how videogames may resist the common opinion that dematerialization of the literal body is a necessary step toward greater interactivity (another theme of A Thousand Plateaus).
(171) One can assume that Schonfeld's equation of games and lubricity is more provocation than reasoned argument, but his implication is clear: even if videogames are a viable object of study, any admission of such study in public would offend the institution's traditionalist fancies.
Critical study of digital games both subject of derision and university programs, like OGorman remainder of scholarly discourse.
(172) Whether related or not to the American academic puritanism
underscored in Schonfeld's response, it happens that many such
programs can be found in northern Europe. The IT University of
Copenhagen, Denmark, and the University of Tampere, Finland, among
others, offer bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees exclusively
in digital games.
(172) Through each individual conflict, segments of the university structure were slowly created. Although not emergent in the same way as Stephen Wolfram's fundamental units of science, these plans were not centrally controlled but emerged slowly out of the combinations of individual conflicts.
(172) Instead, I contend that the future of unit analysis relies on a critical strategy that embodies the logic of a unit operation itself.
(173) In the past twenty years especially, universities have embraced the idea of interdisciplinarity as a way for multiple departments to take advantage of each other's expertise and human and material resources to facilitate convergences between like-minded interests.
(173) Interdisciplinarity is, by definition, an exception; it requires stable, formal disciplines between which to construct working relationships.
Imagine unit-operational university transcending interdisciplinarity, which requires traditional disciplines, resembles software and project-based organizational structure, which he calls a postdisciplinary critical network; faced with new problems like interoperability leads to interesting discussion of web services, demonstrating ability of Bogost to argue in the technical register as will as the liberal, again hopefully cultivated through procedural rhetorics.
(173-174) A unit-operational university would look like a complex network: a series of constantly changing relations between highly disparate groups, ideas, and resources. . . . Intellectual projects would structure themselves more like software: units of encapsulated production with structured ties to multiple potential applications.
Web services exemplify original goal of interoperability of object technologies via defined unit operations using XML and SOAP forming network of networks.
(174) Recently, a technology standard
called Web services has emerged that claims to offer a solution to
the problem of interoperability. . . . The standardization of the
data format and the transfer protocol represents a radical break from
the traditional foundational concepts of jargon and intellectual
property discussed earlier.
(175) Web services transmit data in two common formats, XML and SOAP. . . . The primary benefit of Web services is that two computers with nothing in common architecturally can mutually invoke software routines and share the results.
(175) The unit-operational properties of software objects I discussed earlier do not change; however, the unit operations of networked data communications extend the reach of these units, creating a network of networks. If the Internet has created a complex network of information through shared viewers, Web services strive to create a complex network of procedural systems through shared applications.
(175) The transition from isolated object technology to Web services is a transition from unit operations in semi-static isolation to unit operations across a complex network.
Extend model of exchanging procedural unit operations form networking to research would yield postdisciplinary critical network.
(176) No matter one's moral opinion
about the value of ubiquitous computing and its impact on
contemporary social practice, the process and infrastructure for the
exchange of procedural unit operations now makes possible alternative
models for production. Conceptually, extending this logic to the
practice of research would yield a network of units of criticism, a
kind of postdisciplinary critical network.
(176) Underlying the founding principles of [Mark C. Taylor and Herbert A Allen's Global Education Network] GEN is Taylor's claim that the values of the modern university, inherited directly from the Enlightenment, are outmoded and obsolete.
(177) The pursuit of knowledge is often likened to an economy of expenditure without return made famous by Bataille, Derrida, and Levinas.
(177) The ostensible goal of such positioning is to protect the so-called low faculties from the high faculties' attempting to colonize, hold responsible, or otherwise capitalize on them. . . . As Taylor points out, such a position is fundamentally inconsistent with many of the basic tenets of critical theory, including Derrida's many analyses of the undecidable ambiguity between risk and opportunity, poison and cure. A conceptual reorganization is in order.
Conclusion that videogame criticism instantiates Badiou thinking not just in text but in world as well to rejuvenate the university, inspiring dreams of new types of videogames produced by dissolving organizational divisions, especially between profit and nonprofits, and different educational institutions.
(177-178) Critical networks require an
embodied study, a fusion of theory and practice. Badiou's name for
this is a thinking.
. . . Thinking produces what Badiou calls events,
disruptive restructurings of a situation. . . . Successful
comparative videogame criticism strikes me as another kind of
thinking, one that musters the cultural critic as much as the
programmer, the artist as much as the marketer.
(178-179) Taylor argues that the most important barrier to break is “the wall separating for profit and nonprofit organizations and the wall separating different educational institutions.”
Example of Virtual U videogame funded by Sloan foundation as alternative to cutthroat commercial videogame landscape that ironically perpetuates traditional educational systems.
Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Virtual U
a videogame that teaches its users how to manage an American college
or university. . . . But ironically, by seeking to train Ed.D.'s in
the practical art of perpetuating the University of Berlin and its
progeny, Virtual U threatens
to perpetuate the assumptions that prevent critical networks from
coming into being in the first place.
(179) The [commercial videogame] landscape is cutthroat for developers, who rely on publishers for funding, distribution, and marketing. . . . With game development budgets reaching tens of millions of dollars, developers must rely on publishers for financing, and to get that financing they have to present a game that the publisher believes can make money. Although privately funded projects akin to independent films are conceivable, continued industry and public support in the form of commercialization remains the industry's prime mover.
Visionaries required to take changing public needs into account; therefore, plenty of work of videogame criticism.
(180) Videogame criticism has a role to play in this cutthroat corporate ecosystem. The market does take the public's changing needs into account, but only visionaries who are able to understand the types of cultural texts that will prove successful will succeed themselves. It is here that a configurative relationship between criticism, production, marketing, and other fields can evolve industrial, humanistic, and artistic responses to videogames. . . . Videogames ask the critic to ponder the unit operations of procedural systems. It is only appropriate that we also begin thinking of such criticism as a thinking, in Badiou's sense of the word: a set of relations between parts, not just in the text, but in the world as well.
Bogost, Ian. Unit Operations : an Approach to Videogame Criticism. Cambridge : MIT Press, 2006. Print.