Oh look I’m not dead. Here’s something:
Just thought I’d draw your attention to Ben Abraham‘s new video, which I plan to talk about in a bit more detail in the future.
Just found this website — allmytweets.net — that puts “all” your tweets on one page. My page stopped on Christmas Eve 2011. I saw this thing I wrote about Edouard Levé’s Suicide that I thought was worth re-posting.
Are blogs too long to read?
Are our eyes too soft and fragile to read off backlit screens?
Remember screensavers? Weren’t they supposed to be important?
Wasn’t the idea that if you left the screen on unsupervised then the light would brand the image of the desktop permanently into the monitor?
Is twitter a screensaver for human eyes?
Are videogames screensavers for human eyes?
If they are, then I prefer the latter. I’m not really that interested in sending messages to people. Not all the time, anyway.
I mainly do two things online these days: a) watch videos b) take notes with my eyes.
The video I made last year was intended to be the first of a series, but I wasn’t satisfied with how it turned out (too derivative; dull voice). That left my ambiguous conclusions (what kind of politics? etc) up in the air. I doubt I’ll ever return to that abandoned series, but I feel like Godard was right about video being a perfect medium for criticism.
Moving images save my eyes from flickering to the next thing. The next thing is in front of my eyes. Screen text is a harsh, blinding desert. Moving image is a lush oasis.
The hoary old discussion of artistic merit in videogames has always been hampered by a general ignorance of art history on the part of gamers. Too often capital ‘a’ Art is treated like some fatherly authority figure: it is good because it is and always has been. On the contrary, the hierarchical and quasi-religious concept of Art is only around 300 years old and came out of the transition from the pre-history to the bourgeois era of capitalism.
Take this video from The Game Overthinker. In it Bob Chipman talks about how the lack of a single, original and finished work of art causes videogames to fall short of Great Art (as illustrated by the Mona Lisa). I always enjoy Bob’s broad looks at the state of videogames, but I think he misses a crucial point about what Art (in the context of capitalism) really is. In the pre-industrial age, an art object would have value for many reasons, often for its use in rituals. The best example in Medieval Europe would be the icon. An icon was usually a painting of a religious figure or scene that would be housed in a holy place. Pilgrims would travel great distances to visit icons. It was believed that touching the icon would cure them of illnesses, or that icons of religious figures like the Virgin Mary would act as a portal to the real immaterial being in heaven. Icons were treated like relics: they were holy embodiments of Jesus, Mary or the saints. In this context it is easy to see why the single, original painting is considered to be the only authentic one, but the value of such objects also comes from the labour and materials required to produce them.
This all changed with industrial production. Now a secular icon like the Mona Lisa can be reproduced countless times. There is no need to visit the Louvre to gawp at the ‘real’ thing. There is nothing materially different about the original painting that gives it value – with one exception: its age. But the Mona Lisa is not priceless because it is old; it is priceless because it was touched by the artist. This is exactly the same process whereby relics gain value. Another way to look at it is to see priceless Works of Art like religious icons: the original and singular painting enables the pilgrim to venerate before the dead and holy Artist, the difference being that before it was the subject of the icon that was venerated and now it is the maker. In secular Art, the Artist has taken the place of God.
This is all old news, of course. The religious and contradictory nature of bourgeois Art was thoroughly exploited and undermined by 20th century modernism. For those of you who scratch your heads at modern art, this is why calling an urinal, a soup can or a pile of bricks Works of Art was such a big deal: because it exposed and undermined the quasi-religious origin of the authority of the Artist and the supposed value of the original Work of Art. The idea of videogames-as-art not only has to deal with the concept of Art in the age of mechanical reproduction, but also in the age of software. Bob is right to say that there can be no single original videogame Work of Art, but – as his example of Star Wars shows – there can be no single original anything in the age of software. This has caused artists to go to ever more ludicrous lengths to justify the inflated price tags of their Works of Art. Take for example Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull (given the hollow-joke title For the Love of God), a work designed both to be sold for millions and to cynically dismiss artistic worth simultaneously. With For the Love of God, the reporting of the price becomes the artistic justification of the naked greed behind making the object. The critique of the Artist and the Work of Art has gone from undermining the gallery system and the quasi-religious veneration of the object (Duchamp) to become the necessary cynical gesture that allows the whole process to continue (Hirst).
I have in the past said that trying to take videogames down this moribund path will only result in artistic suicide. Videogames do offer a challenge to traditional ideas of the value of Art and of the Work of Art, but this is only because the foundations of those concepts are so flimsy that they are challenged by their own shadow. For a while now it’s been understood that trying to make videogames conform to our understanding of other media – film especially – is foolhardy. Instead of trying to paste past aesthetic models onto videogames we should try to understand videogames as a separate medium. That means coming to terms with videogames as mutable software to be played and modified by the multitude, not as oil on canvas catalogued in a museum. As Duchamp put it, museums are the cemetery of visual artefacts. RIP.
I will give you an example of their words. They told me chou signifies a book: so that I thought whenever the word chou was pronounced, a book was the subject. Not at all! Chou, the next time I heard it, I found signified a tree. Now I was to recollect, chou was a book, or a tree. But this amounted to nothing; chou, I found, expressed also great heats; chou is to relate; chou is the Aurora; chou means to be accustomed; chou expresses the loss of a wager, &c. I should not finish, were I to attempt to give you all its significations.
– P. Bourgeois in Lettres édifiantes et curieuses de Chine par des missionnaires jésuites (1702–1776)
I don’t normally respond to flash-in-the-pan videogame controversies for the same reason that I have no desire to become a primary school teacher, but I thought I’d add my tuppenceworth on the accusations of sexism in Batman: Arkham City.
Glib summary of the charge: female characters in the game are routinely referred to as ‘bitch’ in a way that makes the game – rather than the characters – sexist.
So, to get the stuff that’s already been dealt with by others out of the way first, I’ll say I generally agree with Jim Sterling that the use of the word is partly supported by character and context and is partly there because of bad writing and lazy attempts at grimdark-ness. Also, Bob Chipman’s disgust at the knee-jerk, ill-informed and predictable whining by gamers at the accusation is totally justified in my mind. Lastly, while I take The Hulk’s point about the tone of the game not being nuanced enough to justify the use of misogynistic language, I think his points were better made in the second post rather than the first.
But pretty much everyone has said that the problem is emphatically not Catwoman’s revealing one-piece. Catwoman is sexual. It’s a big part of her character. She behaves as if everything turns her on, but strangely, her upfront sexuality doesn’t ever seem to imply that she’s actively looking for a fuck. It’s all about desire rather than pleasure with Catwoman, so it makes sense that she would wear revealing outfits, because she is one of the few female characters whose sexuality could conceivably be a weapon*, if only a defensive one.
But, unfortunately, she’s also rather boring. Her double entendres in Arkham City, rather than letting the air out of Batman’s humourless angst, just seem sad. Rather than being titillated by her, we feel a bit sorry for her. The truth about Catwoman is that she talks about sex like a virgin, which is why it makes little sense to display her arse like it was the star of a porn film.
Then again, Catwoman, as the personification of unfulfilled lust, can be portrayed in a sexy way without it being out of character. This is why most analyses of Arkham City’s depiction of women let character design somewhat off the hook. This is a mistake, in my opinion, as all the other female characters are portrayed in exactly the same way, regardless of character.
Every woman in the game has the same walk, trailing the same up-the-arse camera angle behind her. If the game is not sexist, then why do the character models of the woman all look like they were designed as masturbation fodder for teenage boys? There is a difference between sexually attractive women and sex objects and that difference is the male gaze; there is no denying that the female characters of Arkham City were designed solely for the latter. It doesn’t matter that Talia al Ghul is a martial artist and member of an eternal life cult or that Poison Ivy is essentially a plant. No, what matters is ass n titties. To reel in horny gamers, T&A will take top priority – even if it makes Talia look less like a ninja assassin and more like a silicone bimbo or forces me to imagine a plant’s taint.
But the real political problem with the game is not necessarily just the tedious and lazy misogyny, but also the incessant ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. Riddle me this: if Batman is the world’s greatest detective, then why doesn’t he know that torture is an extremely ineffective way to extract information from suspects? Batman shakes up badguys for a few seconds and the truth drops out of them like loose change. Now, as pointed out by many, Batman is emphatically not a realistic character and Arkham City, despite all the wrinkles and pock-marks, is not realism by any stretch of the imagination. But while the gadgets and the (nonsensical) asylum city plot are essentially harmless, the torture trope is not. That few people commented on this just goes to show how desensitised we’ve become to this nonsense. At least, even if it doesn’t go away, the sexism feels wrong.
* I know nothing of comics, but if this post by Laura Hudson is anything to go by, then I might not make this statement if I did.