Walking has been a theme of late. Sarah and I on a walk delight in a burst of edgeworthia that edges a sidewalk in our neighborhood. Walking brazenly onto our campuses, meanwhile, alt-right groups push, harass, assault Marxist professors. Let us care not that these self-styled “alphas,” the members of white supremacist organizations Kool Kekistani Kids (KKK) and Identity Evropa, think us “betas.” What care we what they call us, as this mind-murdering culture of ours steers us into a setting sun? Let us rally, though, to demonstrate solidarity with those comrades of ours who have been assaulted in their places of work. Darkness now. Binaural beats transport me to enchanted lands, where voices sing to me with flute solos and light percussion. Waves are heard crashing, seagulls crying. A violin and a cello duel one another as per the anxious pace of animated film composer Carl Stalling. Lightning-quick odes to speed. My mind, hanging like a weight behind the back of my head, hears snippets of voices interspersed with the sound of a finger compressing a rectangular plastic button on an old car stereo. Did the flickering lights of old video game cabinets stimulate Dreamachine-like hypnagogic states? Video games and cartoons: because of how, when, and where I was raised, these are the languages of my unconscious.
An assortment of tasks, given a spin, directs force toward its center. Bound together thus, like a top or a Tasmanian Devil, these tasks are made harmless, the rooms they occupy cleared for better acts of enjoyment. Luck having turned for once in my favor, a turn for which I shall remain eternally grateful, I now possess the opportunity to teach three sections of a literature course of my choosing. What shall I choose? Given how wary I am of loading myself too heavily with work, I’ll most likely just opt for some variant of my present course. There will be time enough to experiment next spring.
Eyes closed while listening to Grand Ulena’s Gateway to Dignity, I imagine a pair of animated graffiti high tops stepping frenetically across a generic late-80s-videogame-graphic brick wall. Perhaps what I have in mind here is Ghetto Blaster, a computer game I played on my Commodore 64 when I was a kid. Minds orient themselves otherwise than toward disaster.
Operators were warned early in the game that their minds would one day melt under the pressure of neoliberal operant conditioning dispersed across the gameworld through takeover of the phenomenon known as work. Foreknowledge of a danger lacks consequence, however, when one is powerless to change one’s course. Several well-received monographs have already been written on the subject. Yet here we are—integrated into the narrative despite ourselves. An enterprising young cartoon skateboarder rolls up and says, “Feel free to customize the pipes on your virtual persona!” Practicing a few simple laws, our overseers have grabbed and conquered. “Just like that,” says the skater, fingers snapping. His friends arrive and line up beside a food truck. “Welcome to Biscuit Town,” mutters one of them. We roll our eyes and look grimly upon the scene ahead. To a rhythmic interplay of xylophones, triangles, and cowbells, they tie us up, they weigh us down. Their employer, from another hemisphere, gives a command like so. Push/pull. A scuffle. “Nobody move,” shouts a man in a mask, “it’s a stick up.” And like that, they rob us blind.
My countrymen turn to one another. “Is this the apocalypse?” they ask. “I thought it would be a bit louder.” They see the world entranced, fragmentary mirror images morphing and quivering as in a kaleidoscope. Observation of beautiful forms. Symmetry is a special kind of doubling. The repetition begins at an imaginary center point. “Somehow it’s all connected,” we tell ourselves. We just don’t know how. We need keys to unlock other parts of the game-board. Study maps, search for Ariadne’s thread. Do we wish to escape our prison, or do we wish to know ourselves to be bound to a plan, our every step designed? All I know is, 4:20 comes around and it’s like I’ve leapt levels. The mind-world is mine to do with as I please, or so it seems, the object-world confronting me but for money like a floor laid out with puzzle pieces and Legos, or like a playroom, an amusement park from my youth. Or better yet: a forest or a beach or a library. As part of me rejoices, however, another part of weeps, for the world melts and drips. I take action upon reading Denise Levertov’s “The Unknown.” “The preparations,” she writes, “are an order one may rest in. / But one doesn’t want to rest, one wants miracles.” So out I go for a walk. Some part of me announces, “Any politics that has recourse to Law is of no interest to me.” I gasp for breath at times, the pressure of my workload crushing me. I feel better about being alive, though, upon watching the 11-minute Oscar-nominated trailer for a new videogame called Everything.
Players toy with object-oriented ontology, a mix of identification and detachment as one directs one’s focus among multiple scales of being. I feel it may be time for me to learn about the game’s creator, David O’Reilly. We have arrived at the precipice of a new teaching, now that we’ve devised a way to think it: the Interactive Nature Simulation. Philosophy’s new frontier.
I sometimes pray silently to the equivalent of a program, a ghost in the machine, in hopes that it will take pity on me by unlocking invisible doors onto other quadrants of the game-board. And it does, language leading me to Ian Bogost’s “The Metaphysics Videogame.” Finally — a theorist of videogame ontology. Weed is a kind of rhetoric that delivers its arguments not with words or images or programs but through chemical reprogramming of neurons. It alters perception so as to dodge any system the General Intellect might try to impose onto Being. I wish to operate free of rules devised by others. This is why I’m writing and blogging. Games too often feel to me like a distraction from whatever aspect of Nature is described in terms like grounded, earthy, and wild. My fellow Marxists don’t take the Romanticist theory of Nature as seriously as they ought to. Even if just for the sake of personality and mental health. I like sunlight. I like sitting outdoors. Dr. Andrew Weil takes me on a “sonic journey to where healing happens.” Profound states of relaxation lead listeners down into a realm Weil calls “the Deep.” Of course, it’s all just schmaltzy classical music. A total betrayal of psychedelia’s revolutionary beginnings, the latter co-opted and, in true bait-and-switch fashion, replaced with something tacky and false. I want videogame theorists who, rather than trying to sell me on games, are instead able to help me better understand how videogames have influenced the way I think. The warring halves in me cause my ego formation to vacillate back and forth between an outdoor nature associated with public pools and summer camps, and an indoor nature associated with comic books, paperbacks, and videogames (but also movie theaters, roller rinks, and malls). Against both of these natures stood the culturally imposed tedium known as “school.” That boredom I experienced in classrooms as a kid makes me deeply cynical about my profession. If corporations weren’t the ones funding it and shaping the content, I would happily watch Viceland’s “The New Classroom” and say, “Yes, we should all integrate VR technology into our classrooms.” But really I’m more of a back-to-the-lander. I like to sit in the woods and read books.
Beyond the edges of the game-space runs a single, circular backdrop, a projection. I no longer have access to the polis, I think to myself, the space where the coding occurs. My only access points are ideology and everyday life. The rest of it lies beyond the game-space: visible, but inaccessible, and thus, for all intents and purposes, immutable. I dread most nights having to wake up the next day and work. I despise that capitalist society compels me to dispense by its means my daily labor-power. That shit ought to be mine to hoard or spend as I wish. Each of us should be free to act in accordance with whatever chemicals we wish to add to humanity’s neuro-cultural evolution. The hero has no parents and has to invent through testing an identity in relation to the ever-reloading, ever-renewing game-world. Others, in their mere being, pose for us the question: “Which rules shall we let be of consequence?” What keeps us from devolving into mere rage monsters? Predators who reduce others to roles as props or prey. Games reveal the limits they impose on being only through their play. And since we can only ever be within games, these limits can only ever appear for us as neither necessary nor contingent but both-and. I’m bitter. I don’t like this game! I seek everywhere for some way to rebel. How do we convince our fellow players to grant us freedom to think, while they bend, lift, haul dirt? What is “consciousness,” when those are one’s conditions? Rapt attentiveness to objects and material processes. Rules learned, tasks assigned, one does as one’s told. To reverse this, one would have to step out of character — the ultimate risk — and convince others, in a church-forming act of assembly, to do the same.
Broadenings are sometimes later discovered to have been narrowings. Linguistic parts dropped off in transit. On certain nights, I hear it better than on others. Liquid goes down a wrong pipe, so I drink some water to clear my throat. At length, I feel awakened. The automatic self accepts its demotion to a mere infernal device running its engine out back in the garage. Words will not go wanting after that one, though it’s so hard to shake the sense that there are right and wrong ways to write. I pause and scrutinize too often. I lock myself in a spartan linguistic universe. I wish I could see — and not just see but enter — the landscapes depicted in the Kay Sage painting, “I Saw Three Cities.”
Daily life is too often that from which I want to wake. Become the Godhead; cross beyond the Proscenium Arch. I’m kind of liking this website Melt: “an archive of esoteric and contemporary culture.” But then I realize it contains dead links; the content I request is unavailable. In his final, four-part video “Parallel I-IV,” Harun Farocki narrates the invention of the first houses and trees within virtual reality.
Imagine a sped-up maximalist vaporwave version of DJ Spooky’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer. Midway through, a voice intrudes, echoing forth through the void, the planetless space, to ask, “Does the world exist if I’m not watching it?” It appears out of emptiness, and to emptiness it returns. Is the world generated by the gaze that falls upon it? These are all names for the virtual creations of an alien-human Other. Who are we in relation to this Other-projection? A storybook made of videogame parts. Is that how the pre-Hellenics viewed the world? Games haven’t just become more realistic — they’ve also become more abstract, overlaid with graphs and maps and floating perspectives. Farocki’s Parallel videos reveal piece by piece an entire metaphysics of virtual worlds. “Google that shit, homes,” I tell myself, whispering inwardly for the self below.