Sunday, 24 August 2014

part 1: Sublimation, God's Unfinished Work, Outside the Symbolic Order and Games

Although psychology cannot withstand Popper's test of falsification, it allows a space of contemplation. Similarly, a gallery of bad art reveals few truths but still allows a place where criticism and interpretation are welcome. What did Freud or Lacan have to say about video games? In particular, what did they have to say about freeware games? This should by rights make for a very short paper, since Lacan and Freud in fact say absolutely nothing about video games. Neither do they say anything about Becket, Lynch, Philip Glass nor Martin Creed. However, as many artists and creators seem to work as silent partners of Freud and Lacan so does modern media help to elaborate and uncover psychological "truths"

Through games our sublimation breaks down.  

 Lacan believed cinema helped highlight certain eccentricities of human behavior, that we lay prostrate to the cinema screen, agape like babes suckling at the nipple in a preoedipal state. I find such notions easy to dismiss, let us now entertain them. That we make ourselves susceptible to the entertainment before us is hard to argue when confronted with the pathetic, child-like squeals of youtube stars. The slack-jawed grunts of appreciation uttered by those who watch said youtube stars again enforces the idea that we enter an infantile psychic state*. In "Civilization and it's Discontents" (1930) Freud mentions that we are left in a comparable childish psychic state in the arms of religion. Religion has come to pass for many people to be replaced by medicine at the end of the last century to be replaced by interfacing in the past decade. In the same work Freud details sublimation - a process where instinctual urges are translated into non-instinctual acts: "Sublimation of instinct is an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher physical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in civilized life" (Freud 1930). Often a positive thing, sublimation can also be a (psychologically) negative thing: a fascination of the anal stage of development can create a got-to-catch-'em-all tendency in a person. Such a person may well have a Steam library of games for reasons other than escapism and entertainment. 

The instinctual energies may well be translated through play and a child's games; the urge to run in circles becomes a race, the need to scream emotion becomes a song. When such urges are refined into physical actions with reactions they can be honed into interfacing with games and, as the game tests you, the sublimation breaks down; rage quit, throws gamepad, praise the sun, beat the level. 

Zizek and the Time he Mentioned Video Games.

Slavoj Žižek has an analogy explaining that god did not finish the world. Said god is the ideology that everything is perfect, thoroughly designed, well-oiled and functional to the core (nothing of benevolence). The Einstein idea that god does not gamble or play dice. However, we got too smart and questioned. Heisenberg looks at the uncertainty principle and finds it immeasurable and is faced with the radical conclusion that it is in itself indeterminable. This is at the quantum level. Žižek presents that god's world is the phenomenological world of face value and that if we look closer we first see the dirty, excessive, insect-ridden nature of things as presented by Herzog and Lynch in their cinema. Then we can look closer, past the Lynchian underbelly, and we can simply see holes - that the universe is not complete. When we play the video game we get to the boundaries of the level and we see in the background trees, cities, sky, Heides Tower of Flame etc but they are not fully programmed. Why? Because it is not part of the game, you cannot go there. Something similar is the lesson of quantum physics.

Lacan's Three Orders/ Big Other as Seen in Video Games.

Lacan presented an understanding of the symbolic order which consisted of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real. The Imaginary, with it's illusions, deceptions and imaginations, where our egos and alter-egos play (here we find the "other" with a little "o" referring to the egos - talking of others we talk about what we imagine them to be like). The Symbolic, with it's systems, laws and structures (here we find the "big Other" with a capital "O", a dominating objective spirit of the socio-linguistic rules that precede us and make up our subjective interactions. The big Other can be (often fantastical/ fictional) ideas of anonymous authority and/ or power; the state, big brother, God, science, Bowser's Koopa Kingdom, the Devs [who-made-this-must-be-on-drugs]). The Real, unatainable, "it is the world of words that creates the world of things". Within the Real there is a second [aspect of] Other, the unknowable x, the Nietzschean abyss, perhaps what Freud would see as Neighbour-as-Thing/  Nebenmensch als Ding. 

These concepts in which our symbolic lives are contained can pleasingly be described through video games. The Imaginary is the game world, the images depicted in the game; the zombie, the bazooka, the race car, the child in the basement shooting tears. The Symbolic is the mechanics of the game, the fail/ win states, the rules of play the double jump. The Real is everything outside; the player, the gamepad, the PC/ WiiU/ PS3, the temperature in the room, the temperament of the player, the phone off the hook and the curtains drawn. 

Lacan's symbolic order provides us with a deeper understanding of maternal and paternal Others, gender, abjection. In terms of abjection, Kristeva saw that the abject object is often perceived outside the Lacanian Symbolic Order. We can see the effects of this in Ivan Zanotti's Imscared - A Pixelated Nightmare and Nik Sudan's Slender Ultimatum, where common rules of play are second to unorthodox mechanics that provoke fear/ abjection. Glitch. Be it fear or humour in the work, explore it for a deeper understanding and you may find that the point of contention lives on the borders or beyond the symbolic order. 

*here the observation is of an observer observing an observer.

NEXT WEEK: Part 2: Dark Souls, Todestrieb
and That Thing we Don't Know
we Know is Missing


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