Books

Gaming by Alexander R. Galloway

Mike Schiller

Galloway should be commended for his work.


Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
ISBN: 0816648514
Author: Alexander R. Galloway
Price: $17.95
Length: 168
Formats: Paperback
US publication date: 2006-05
Author website
Amazon
"[Sid] Meier's Alpha Centauri...position[s] the player in the ultimate expansionist haven, outer space. This has the added bonus of eliminating concerns about the politics of expansionist narratives, for, one assumes, it is easier to rationalize killing anonymous alien life-forms in Alpha Centauri than it is killing Zulus in Civilization III."

-- Andrew R. Galloway, "Allegories of Control", Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture

For an awful long time now, video gaming has gone beyond the label of "kid stuff". Even so, it's still quite difficult to explain that development to someone to whom you mention video games as a hobby. A little condescending smile, a giggle, or even a question usually follows such an admission: "Aren't you a little old for that?"

This is why, by default, a lot of gamers are predisposed to literature that takes their pastime of choice seriously. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, a collection of short papers from NYU assistant professor Andrew R. Galloway, is just such a book, one willing to take video gaming seriously enough to discuss it as a relatively new, potentially infinitely varied method of cultural expression. It is especially interesting in that it actually largely takes the point of view of the gamer rather than the developer of the games -- rather than try and dissect the thought and the cultural implications of those creating the games, Galloway chooses almost exclusively to investigate the philosophy behind the play of the games. Of course, the two can never be completely separated (the two sides of the spectrum invariably influence each other), but his choice of point of view makes it far easier to relate to what he is trying to express, rather than simply to understand it.

What Galloway presents us with, then, are five essays dissecting the social and cultural implications of video gaming. Two of the chapters serve largely as setup -- the first explains his thesis on the four "moments" of video game play, quadrants formed by using an X-axis to represent the Diegetic and Non-Diegetic nature of events in the game (that is, events that happen within the game's "world" vs. events that happen outside of it) and a Y-axis to represent the source of events in the game (whether it be human or machine). Using this as a jumping off point, he goes on to describe in the essays that follow ways in which the relationships between events in the four moments give the game players varying emotions and senses of control; in his second essay, entitled "Origins of the First-Person Shooter", he plays compare-and-contrast between the feelings and emotions prompted by a first person view in games and in movies, and in the fourth, "Allegories of Control", he shoots down the idea (or, perhaps, the label given to the idea) of "history simulators" such as Civilization by pointing out the inherent fallacy that history could be simulated via any combination of finite game code. He even goes so far as to point out the ethnocentrism that is so prevalent in both the choices Civilization gives its user and the strategies that user is encouraged to employ in order to achieve something resembling success, a revelation both humorous and horrifying to those who may enjoy the game.

The most interesting of the essays, however, is the final one, an essay called "Countergaming" in which Galloway explores the effect of various game "hacks" on the part of the gamers themselves, ultimately finding the current incarnation of countergaming rather useless in the context of the medium it tries to revolutionize. This is because most of the hacks available separate the "play" from the "game", turning the game into another medium altogether. These hacks are unplayable and, in many cases, uninterpretable, making them interesting only by the fact that they exist.

Galloway's exploration of these topics makes for interesting, if not quite riveting reading. He never talks down to his audience, actually giving his work the air of academia in his choice of vocabulary, not to mention his historical and philosophical points of reference. Perhaps most importantly, he is very, very effective as a persuasive writer, exploring each of his points step-by-step, punctuating each of those points with at least one example (and often many more), arriving at his conclusions in a calculated, methodical manner. Even so, it is the parenthetical in that previous sentence that often dooms his writing, at least for the reader not interested in repeatedly poring over the text he has been given -- Galloway has a propensity to overuse his examples, to the point where their inclusion becomes a distracting annoyance. This is a habit that extends beyond his videogame examples into other realms where comparisons are necessary; his movie examples are particularly pervasive in "Origins of the First-Person Shooter", where he uses them as both platforms to jump off of and points of comparison.

What such a glut of examples does also serve to demonstrate, however, is just how knowledgeable Galloway is of his subject matter, and how much he cares about it. Someone who doesn't care deeply about the acceptance of video gaming as a legitimate source of cultural study could never have written these five essays, and in turn, those that do care deeply about such matters will find much comfort and interest in this collected set of works. It is only through writing such as this, as opposed to the mainstream media's constant, redundant concentration on the effects of videogames on children, that the concept of gaming as a healthy adult hobby will ever be taken seriously. Galloway should be commended for his work.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image