Notes for Dale Leorke “Rebranding the platform: The limitations of 'platform studies'”

Key concepts: .


Related theorists: Apperley, Ian Bogost, A. Cambroisio, T. Gillespie, Jayemane, S. E. Jones, P. Keating, Krapp, Jimmy Maher, Nick Montfort, G. K. Thiruvathukal.


Basic criticism of current state of platform studies is that subsequent books merely repeat the model presented by Monfort and Bogost, which diminishes the future prospects of the approach.

(258) Rather than offering a space for platform studies to evolve by critiquing the underlying assumptions and politics of its approach, the series has become a ‘production line’ of texts that apply the same standardised format across each of the volumes.

Platforms have transitioned from neutral to ideological structures; material and figurative understandings.

(258-259) In the context of information technology and computing, then, platforms take on political, even ideological, connotations: they are no longer ‘passive’ and ‘transparent’ infrastructure, but are “active, generative, and opaque” (Keating & Cambrosio 2003, p. 326).

Implication the platform level is fundamental, comparable to computing systems and computer architecture, entangling in material and figurative understandings.

(259) Nonetheless, the authors’ taxonomy implies that there is a linear progression across the various levels, with the platform as the ‘base’ or most fundamental level. . . . In this sense, Bogost and Montfort’s approach to platform studies is thus entangled within the intersection between the material and figurative understandings of platforms that Keating and Cambrosio (2003) identify.
(260) The methodology established by the series editors in the foreword is, at first glance, refreshingly open in this regard. They avoid proscribing a single theoretical or critical approach, instead listing several common traits that all books will contain. These include a focus on “a single platform or a closely related family of platforms”; a rigorous technical analysis of these platforms; and an examination of their wider cultural and social importance (2009a, pp. Vii-viii).
(260) But demonstrating ‘an awareness’ of the platform becomes the series’ mantra: it simply becomes a place for the format established by Montfort and Bogost to be recycled from one platform to another.

The Wii Platform: Platform Studies for the Current Generation

Black box, closed nature of Wii (Gillespie) reduces technical rigor and detail of platform explication, which may support continuing studies of archaic architectures that are open because of their simplicity, at the same time that hacks and mods are part of the gaming experience.

(261-262) A focus on technical rigour and the material architecture of computing technologies is a hallmark of Platform Studies – and, depending on one’s tastes, also its most laborious trademark feature. . . . In contrast to the Atari VCS, which is perhaps much easier for programmers to grasp and ‘pull apart’, the Wii is a typically ‘closed’ system with its technological core concealed beneath its sleek and seemingly simplistic veneer. . . . This is in contrast to old school computer systems like the Atari VCS, for instance, which have given rise to everything from glitch electronica to the development of ‘retro’ games that deliberately exploit their archaic architecture (see Krapp, 2011).
(262) They [Jones and Thiruvathukal] contend that the Wii demonstrates different degrees of openness through its gadgets and peripherals like the Wii Remote and sensor bar, which have been transformed through both gaming and non-gaming hacks and mods.

Notes insight that Wii like Bolter and Grusin hypermediacy while Kinect privileges immediacy, but theoretical approach limited to Juul.

(263) In their theoretical approach, the authors rely almost solely on Juul’s book A Casual Revolution (2010); a useful study of the turn towards casual and social gaming, but by no means the only account of the videogame industry that is relevant to their discussion.
(263) But it doesn’t substantially depart from the formula developed by the first book in the series, with the close analysis of a single platform framed by a lucid discussion of its technical capabilities and constraints in constant focus.

The Commodore Amiga: Back to the Future (Via the Past)

Amiga study appears to pick up with era following Racing the Beam.

(263) As such, the development of the Amiga is examined as both a response the impending threat of the game industry’s collapse, as well as a visionary exploration of the emerging capabilities of the personal computer that would eventually become a commonplace, mundane feature of contemporary culture.

Too much technical detail not directly connected to philosophical study of platforms; concern about limits of book form evident in comment about accompanying website.

(264) It is replete with technical specifications, programming instructions and detailed deconstructions of various programs and applications, to the extent that the lay reader not familiar with the intricacies of computer programming—myself among them—might struggle to extract value from every page.
(264) This attempt to reach out to enthusiasts of the system is reinforced by the accompanying website for the book (http://amiga.filfre.net) which provides a wealth of technical resources and aids such as images and video clips to accompany the explanations provided in each chapter, as well as programs that can be downloaded and run on an actual Amiga console or an emulator.
(264) At times, though, the book is too overeager in drawing links between the Amiga and contemporary digital technologies, without the rigorous historical, discursive analysis that would be required of a scholarly work to make these connections.

Focus on platform invites unfounded hypotheses about influence of particular device, such as relationship between Amiga and Linux, ignoring wider social and cultural connections.

(265) But, like its predecessor Codename Revolution, it doesn’t offer a challenge to or expand platform studies to any significant extent; even as it offers a critical appraisal of the Amiga’s history, it never moves beyond a kind of hybrid technical handbook/scholarly textbook account of the platform in much the same format that previous books in the series have offered.

Stepping Beyond the Platform
(266) One can imagine an endless production line of books— one on the Magnavox Odyssey or Sega Dreamcast, another on Java or Microsoft DOS—that are valuable in themselves, but which don’t expand on the established formula of the series.

Apperley and Jayemane on material turn in game studies suggests more social and cultural connections, Parikka new materialism.

(266) [quoting “'Game Studies' Material Turn”] The genius of platform studies is to locate the platform as the stable object within this complex, unfolding entanglement, allowing it to perform the role of a center around which other relationships may be traced and examined. (2012, p. 12)
(266) So far books in the series have recognised this potential, but there are other ways in which they could move beyond the characteristics favoured by Bogost and Montfort to expand this relationship between the material and social further. . . . There is also consideration of tracing where the components of these platforms—the microchips, processors, cables, casing and so forth—are produced and the material labor that is put into them.

Conclusion

Extensions of formulaic approach laid out by Montfort and Bogost may include reflection on selection of platform to study itself, investigation of implicit claims and limitations of platform level, and the assumed ontological implications of the tiered model itself.

Question whether platform studies approach sustainable beyond manageable complexity also questions book form of presentation; tie to Bogost carpentry and need to do critical programming.

(267) This entails becoming more self-reflexive about what it means to focus on the platform as an object of theoretical analysis.



Leorke, Dale. “Rebranding the platform: The limitations of ‘platform studies.’” Digital Culture and Education, 4:3, 2012. 257-268. Web.