Looking back at the time we gave these talks I can't help myself but try and re-access the state of mind I was in when I wrote this. It was written very last minute sitting at a too small dinner table at an Airbnb in Milan, exhausted from a flight and a day job that was really really bad for my health. My hair falling out in chunks. And this trip was a personal experience of stepping outside of my usual reality that had started to feel more and more claustrophobic at that point. And writing (and now transcribing) this talk reminded me of the giddy elation felt when stepping into a newly discovered expanse (thank you for the birthday oysters!).
Like most of my talks it is less coherent presentation of "done" thoughts than an accumulation, an accretion disk for ideas that needed the point of gravity of a speaking engagement to attract each other into...something I guess.
1. Masochistic drives
Games are transient objects, immaterial systems, doomed to be overruled and erased by the next software updates, whole ecosystems of them lost in the purgatory of not-yet-emulated
and yet we make them.
Our backs might hurt from sitting long hours after already sitting long hours at our day jobs that pay our rents
and yet we make them.
They drive us crazy with all their tiny moving parts, the newest Unity update breaking our projects in the most unforeseen and annoying ways
and yet we make them.
The question stands: Why are we all masochists? We could have chosen to paint or dance or write or film, to pursue photography. The reason why we do the things we do is a central point of reference. I remember that when I studied this was a question that everyone seemed to avoid asking. The WHY can tell us a lot of things.
2. ACID as method
These are all comments from a Let's Play video of our project Data Mutations. Notice the references to drugs and psychedelics in particular. It's funny to see that these comments are actually pointing towards something that we have been talking about for a while now.
Before his untimely death in 2017, Mark Fisher was working on a new book on what he coined “Acid Communism” a concept relating to the consciousness raising practices of the psychedelic countercultural movements of the 60s and 70s , envisioned as an counterpoint to the Capitalist Realist “there is no alternative" (to the neoliberal reality that is) narrative.
Acid meaning psychedelic, reality rendered malleable, expandable. Acid as corrosive ontological agent. Exit or egress from our reality filter bubbles.
3. Malleability and corrosion
You most likely remember the intense rush of euphoria when you made things in a game engine react to each other, to you, for the first time. Being the architect of a system of interlocking parts. In the end this is what games are. Games are systems, objects programmed to interact, retract, combine, fight, children inheriting properties from their parents and on and on it goes.
And as systems it might be hard to find another framework as uniquely equipped on commenting on other systems of any kind.
In a way there is this prevailing idea that beautiful computer graphics are the ones that are invisible. that interlace perfectly with our lived realities. The stain of technology meticulously removed by an invisible army of 3d and visual effect artists. the seams burned out as best as possible. since real time computer graphics allow videogames to emulate pre rendered graphic standards more and more we see more games being praised for their realistic graphics, nature-like nature and human-like humans. Patterns are the most fundamental underlying structures of the videogame (shoutout to Em Reed who is the victim of a very bad misattribution in the origial talk here, sorry Em!). They used to be much so more visible, in the tiled textures, looping animations, blocky polygons, ever repeating dialogue parts etc. Now all those things often times being considered an ugly and eerie other. Computers are made to be really good at making the same thing over and over again, copying into infinity. but more and more patterns are receding from our perception. AI driven animation, markov-chained dialogue, realistic physics engines creating the illusion of a "tile" free or better seamless experience. that makes me think of services like Uber or even Deliveroo or literally Seamless whose self-accaimed selling point is an ultimate seamless engagement of both customers and workers. ugly systems being effective because their code vanishes into the background. Ambient game-like governance.
4. Edges and Seams
There is this meme: 1 hour you spend working in Unity: you have a cube and it looks like shit. 1 hour in Unreal: you have a cube and it looks amazing. The software tools that we are using are inherently biased. Unity is apparently very good at making 3d games with harsh lighting and a moving capsule collider and so on. The softwares we use in our creations are built on patterns themselves, they all have seams at which they break easily revealing the machine underneath like a freudian slip.
So I urge you to look at the things others might consider ugly or faulty design: the seams of repeating textures, flipped normals, z fighting planes, stand and revel at the edge of terrains, as we all have our borders, an uncharted place beyond the HDRI skybox.
So what if we can use working in game engines as a method for self-outsiding, making and playing games as techniques of ontological widening, to imagine our lives in different ways as well?
5. Game building as culture building
When we define a culture as a conglomerate of rules of how things interact with each other, as patterns of behavior and reaction then in a way the systems that we build in game engines can be described as cultures as well. With this in mind it becomes clear that culture is something that is designed, it's people coming together and setting up rules for interaction. It's a mental antidote to the overarching feeling that things around you are static, forever. The mainstream media landscape mirroring and amplifying this feeling that we all share. Forthcomes the eternal ever expanding expanded franchise in which actors will never grow old or die or the blood of the young is being drained into the veins of aging libertarian silicone valley technocrats (also quite literally so). Immortal narratives in eternal temporal suspension. Apex individualism. Undying capitalist realism.
As game creators we will always ingrain our conscious, unconscious ideas, hopes and dreams, fears and regrets into our creations. And there is a reason why we chose to do projects together as AAA, as a collective. Designing games that way and experimenting with new forms of countercultural organization in the end being one and the same thing. We are setting up another mode of production of cultural objects in order to make expressing new narratives even possible for us.
Roleplaying as if a better place is already here.
to hone our desire for an outside
so make your games your drugs
become a drug yourself
and then let's hope we can become each others drugs
acid acid acid