Inventing the Self

Looking for function in aesthetics

December 3rd, 2013 by Jason Scaglione · 1 Comment

As someone with a deep and abiding love for games and game culture, I was surprised by how little I identified with Ito’s and Bittanti’s breakdown of “gaming practice.” I don’t think leading with a question about games’ functional place in the life of the gamer is the right angle for all cases. I can understand their categories, and appreciate the “academic spirit” with which Ito and Bittanti examine the medium—but I find my relationship nowhere in their explication. I sometimes game online to “hang out” with faraway friends, but my primary enjoyment of the medium derives from another place. Honestly, I may have more in common with the manic undulations of Cooper’s narrator than with the functional analysis in Gaming.

My sense is of games as aesthetic objects. They are not their content, their pixels, their mechanics. Not all games qualify as art, but many are foremost an aesthetic experience for the player, distinguished from other forms of media by the nature of their participation. I mean, all aesthetic experience is participatory—defined by an engagement with the things of our perception. And what is unusual about games is not the fact that they are designed: we see aesthetic design in paintings, in movies, in literature, on TV. All art is designed, and probably all “contains” in some way an artist’s vision, seeking to connect with an audience thru some aesthetic participation. But what is unusual about games is the significance of player input to the experience. A game, unlike a film, will not complete itself if you sit and watch intently for two hours. Whatever vision an artist poured into the work, it literally requires us to seek its completion. Our engagement is guided to varying degrees by hints and echos—by the ghost of an author. But we must mix with her intentionality and imbue it with agency to make real its contours.

We are the artist’s vision in operation.

My experience with games is something like this—having the sense of ongoing synthesis toward an aesthetic object. What does that do for me? Only God (Jr?) knows…

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1 response so far ↓

  • Matthew finston // Dec 4th 2013 at 3:57 pm

    I like this contribution. I don’t relate to seeing a game as a work of art, although I do appreciate the Artistry that goes into making it. What is interesting is that the Ito article didn’t explore this relation to gaming. I have heard other gamers also describe their experience of gaming in a similar way. I think this view is a bit more complicated. I wonder if complexity is discouraged from anthropological research because it complicates a thesis. Anthropologists have a bad track record of cultural imperialism. I wonder if relying on younger less developed understandings of gaming is a type of internal imperialism. And not including this mode of experience is related to preferring the ‘savage discourse.’

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