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Agency as Art

Started by droqen, February 16, 2022, 09:22:23 PM

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C. Thi Nguyen's "Games: Agency as Art"

Quote from: p3, footnote 1For simplicity's sake, I will speak as if there is a single game designer, when in actuality, games are often designed in large teams.
Quote from: p3, for example[..] the fact that the game designer specifies goals and abilities [..] is precisely what makes games distinctive as an art form.

I think this is wildly... irresponsible? Something? If there is often no singular "game designer," why talk about it this way?


Quote from: p19But games also offer one more promise. They can function as a refuge from the inhospitality of ordinary life. In practice life, the world is mostly fixed, and our values, relatively inflexible. Most of us cannot help but desire company, food, success. The recalcitrant world and our inflexible values generate certain obstacles. These are not the obstacles we wanted to struggle against, but they are the ones we must overcome in order to get what we want. So we must try to sculpt ourselves and our abilities to fit the needs of the world. The world tells us we must eat, so we must find a job and pretend to ourselves that we enjoy it. The world tells us that we must find romantic partners, so we learn to be witty, or at least to make a decent online dating profile. The world tells us that if we wish to be professional philosophers, we must grade an endless sea of student papers, no matter how mind-numbing we find the task. So we put nose to grindstone and force our way through.

I hold in great contempt the attitude that art is valuable because real life sucks and art isn't real life.


I think I'm done reading this book. All I can find are viewpoints that I find borderline reprehensible. I'm sure there is some wisdom in these pages, but the tenor has been set and I want nothing to do with it anymore.

Quote from: p211Suppose I start wearing a FitBit for the sake of my health [..] Then I become obsessed with beating my friends at the FitBit measure. Suppose that, in fact, taking a lot of steps per day turns out to not be a good path to health for me. Perhaps, given my physical history, I would have actually been far better off with a balanced program of running, yoga, and weight training. But since yoga and weight training aren't counted by FitBit, I'm not motivated to do them.


The value clarity that FitBit provides is seductive. It distracts me from my goal

The issue here is not with gamification or value clarity, but with the author's given example of submission to it. On the next page Nguyen says "value clarity can undermine my autonomy, since it runs against my attempt to form a good heuristic for my value," but value clarity is synonymous with good heuristics. FitBit provides some number of excellent heuristics; as with games, you choose to submit to its rules, and only once you're no longer participating in the activity, no longer inside the magic circle of "do a million steps," you are truly free to examine the effects.

Full, knowing participation in a system with high value clarity is a beneficial way to practice getting into a focused mindset, where the far-off goal ceases to matter quite so much. That's a valuable state to be able to slip into when necessary -- you can get a job because you need to eat, but then forget about your need to eat in order to immerse yourself in, and dare I say even enjoy(!!!), that job in the moment.

What a concept, that doing a job might be enjoyable. :/


I plan to revisit AaA at some point to clarify my earlier feelings.


Okay. From the top. Nguyen is plainly using stuff given to him by other authors and thinkers decades ago, in particular from The Grasshopper here:

. . . with the goals of games, we often need to look backwards. . . . In ordinary practical life, we usually take the means for the sake of the ends. But in games, we can take up an end for the sake of the means. Playing games can be a motivational inversion of ordinary life.

To me this reads as high school plagiarism, which I find extremely frustrating. Just quote Bernard Suits, Nguyen!!! It's okay!!! I don't know why he felt the need to paraphrase something so old, in such an overt and mediocre way. There's nothing new at all being introduced here to Suits' idea that "games reverse the ends of means of other activities."

. . . the essential nature of games.

Nguyen commits another sin in the next paragraph, in the very next sentence actually: he transparently claims that the titular concept of his book is going to illuminate "the essential nature of games." This is a lesser sin, if only because I've seen it happen so much, too much, already, in similar literature. If I'm going to get through this I'll have to see the surrounding claims as the limited, local, lenses, held to the eyes of passionate videogame-cultural devotees, that they are, rather than getting frustrated at their holders.

I, too, once held these lenses to my eyes.