Jean Baudrillard

Cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard wrote: “Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyper-real which is henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and the simulated generation of difference.”

Artists work in semiotics now, trading in signs for things, rather than representing nature. Or they create hyper-realities that are simulations of things that never actually existed to begin with. This leads some pessimism, “marked by the loss of an organic relationship between experience and the representation of that experience.”

But there’s another person from which we can question why the natural world, or an authentic and pre-existing original, carries so much value.

We do not necessarily revere the painter who can most realistically represent an image; instead, we often value the deliberate or stylistic deviations from realism. That is where the artistry resides. Even with photography or image re-presentation, we look for the compositional or content choices made by the artist, rather than the perfect reproduction of reality. With re-presented images or readymade objects, artists find a way to offer personal expressions or cultural critiques through mediation, or recontextualizing a commonplace object. In video games, visual representation and sounds are secondary; these are elements from traditional media that are less relevant to video games than interactive systems, the differentiating aspect of the medium. It’s through the interactive systems–as related to the player’s agency–that we see the artistry in video games.

If we take this same line of thinking and we factor out the less valued, less characteristic aspects of human existence, treating it as a medium, we can distill it down to what is most germane, most sublimely unique…our emotional and intellectual responses, and our connections to one another.

The unorthodox question that follows is this: Might we be able to better experience, better appreciate these things in a fully simulated space? Again, if we ask why the real world should carry so much value, and we determine that the aspects of human existence that matter most are not related to the constraints of the real world, but to our intellectual and emotional responses, then we might agree that simulated reality is actually a better environment in which to be human.

Further, the nature of the real world is arbitrary; it’s the condition into which we’re born. Much of our experience with the real or natural world is about physical constraints, environmental vulnerability or resource scarcity. We share those things with animals and plants. Our emotional, intellectual and social capacity make us human; those are elements unique to humanity.

We might, paradoxically, have a truer experience swimming together through simulacra; an experience almost exclusively focused on the things that make us human, on the things that separate us from bacteria, shrubs or insects.

I don’t subscribe to this view, but it is not necessarily true that Baudrillard’s theories lead a pessimistic conclusion.


I’m finally home after driving with Brenda Brathwaite to the Art History of Games Conference in Atlanta.

The event was great and timely, since I’m also taking an online art history class with SCAD. As usual, one of the best aspects was interacting with friends (old and new), talking about games.

Some of the speeches given at the conference made me realize that while–in crafting games–designers take up fierce positions and move toward absolutes, critics and academics often rely an elusive series of shifting positions and various lenses as a means of analysis. We tend to drive toward something hard, guided by a core statement or belief that might not hold up as consistent or perfect under intense scrutiny. (But a core statement that might be critical in terms of reaching the goal. Ie, “Multiple solutions to problems,” or “Modeling fight or flight response.”) They tend to ask questions from many different perspective, which is thought provoking and provides insight from earlier efforts.

Ever interesting, games vs stories comes up year after year. People make statements about whether games should include any embedded narrative borrowed from non-systemic, non-mechanical media like fiction or film.

I believe in our medium’s plurality. There’s no right answer. But for me the strongest experiences *right now* involve a synthesis…sublime moments that come from interacting with very analogue systems, wrapped in fiction that contextualizes the experience emotionally.

Best example for me, from the last year, is my 100 or so hours with Far Cry 2. Soon I’ll be playing Bioshock 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2, trying to get the same sensation, which I cannot find anywhere else. Certainly not in film, lit. or art.

Desert Island Movies

Charles Lieurance is an incredibly gifted writer and cultural critic, something that stems in part from his breathtaking intellect but equally in part from his intoxicatingly rich life.

I’d almost forgotten about this, but he asked me to list 5 desert island movies. My response:

Question: Why are we so obsessed with deserted islands? Answer: Because no one wants to be alone.

If I could take 5 movies with me (and none of them could be porn), I’d choose the following:

1) Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998)

I love this movie because it evokes some of the same multilinear feelings that I experience when playing a well-crafted video game. In a game, you often stop and save your progress at a specific point in the timeline. Then you can race forward, trying various tactics and exploring new areas. And if you die or if the exploration cost you too much in terms of resources, you can back up to the point in timeline where you saved then proceed again. Often, after backing up, you move forward optimally. (A side effect of the unique way players experience their own narrative in games.) As a result, when you get to the end of the game, you’ve got this long linear experience, right? Your memories of what happened from beginning to end. Except that what’s missing are all the moments when you advanced, then died and backed up to the point at which you saved your progress. Those are like moments that happened, but didn’t happen. At the end of the game, your memories cannot be untangled; you remembered the things that happened in the actual playthrough timeline and things that happened in the discarded, aborted side timelines. Run Lola Run left me feeling the same way. And I have an intense and inexplicable love for German women like Franka Potente.

2) Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

I love the nihilistic ethos of this film. And I love the music. Brando here is one of the great villains. I like the original version btw. The Redux version is too long and contains some side threads that I found largely irrelevant.

3) The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)

There’s something about small, dying towns that I love. If I ever survive an apocalypse, I will probably choose to live in a small town rather than an urban center. Growing up, my great grandparents had a farm in Moulton, Texas, and it was already dying back then in the 1970s, so I’ve got an innate longing for the spirit of such places. So much happens in this movie, and the scenes and dialogue imply a lot more…years and generations of lives lived with partial success and the accompanying regrets.

4) Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

It’s a cliché for someone of my generation and tastes to choose this movie, but it’s so undeniably great, such an obvious labor of love and vision, that I’ve got to include it. Roy Batty has some of the best lines ever delivered. There’s some lesson in here about a director or screenwriting elevating an actor. Half the movie’s appeal is the vision style and graphic design, but really all the elements serve the whole in a way that’s rarely accomplished. As a 16 year old boy, I wanted a Pris replicant of my very own. I’m actually torn on which version I’d take; I know what I’m supposed to say, but I feel there are strengths to both the original and the director’s cut. From the director’s cut, the darker, more ambiguous ending is a complete win for me. From the original, the monologue adds a lot of depth to Deckard’s character. Sure, we all loved the director’s cut *after* gaining familiarity with the original, but I have to ask: Would the more stripped down version have been as powerful without the context provided by the original, heavier-handed version? I hate it that Ridley Scott feels like he’s answered the question definitively about whether Deckard was a replicant, because—first—the director’s intentions are far less important to me than the audience interpretation, and—second—because the ambiguity and doubt that the character felt about the possibility of false memories, of not being *real* were more powerful than a definitive answer either way.

5) Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

I’ll admit that I don’t normally like movies made before the 1970s. People like Scorsese, Cimino and Coppola brought so much grittiness and depth to film that it’s hard for me to go backward. Casablanca is one of the exceptions. I love fiction that focuses on a specific point in time, when a mixture of events and pressures up the ante for all the standard elements of human life. The love story still chokes me up.

I love Kubrick, and The Shining might have made the list except that if I had to watch it over and over on an island, the nights would be unpleasantly unnerving and I’d probably end up hanging myself from a coconut tree with a rope woven from my hair. And—for the mood, cinematography and sex—I might have included Eyes Wide Shut if, you know, anyone actually got properly laid in the movie.

Link to the original ILUVVIDEO post (and more responses to the desert movies question by others) at