Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Gamer Theory (And beyond)

Gamer Theory (And beyond)
McKenzie Wark
Monday July 21 4.30pm
Theatrette 3, Economics and Commerce Building, University of Melbourne.


The study of culture faces two problems. One is to embrace new problems, new sites of conflict and development, in ways that do not merely add these to traditional approaches to the study of culture, but transform them. The other problem is to retain a critical edge to the study of
culture, to prevent critical theory from slipping into hypocritical theory. I will broach both problems -- which I do not pretend to have solved -- with reference to three recent bodies of work that look at questions of intellectual property, computer games, and the intellectual
legacy of the Situationist International, the last of the avant gardes.

McKenzie Wark is the author of A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard UP), Gamer Theory (Harvard UP), 50 Years of Recuperation: the Situationist International (Princeton Architectural) among other things. Originally from Australia, he currently teaches at the New School for Social
Research and Eugene Lang College in New York City.

McKenzie Wark Works
In Virtual Geography, published in 1994, Wark offered a theory of what he called the ‘weird global media event’. Examples given in the book include the stock market crash of 1987, the Tiananmen square demonstrations of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He argued that the emergence of a global media space – a virtual geography – made out of increasingly pervasive lines of communication – vectors – was emerging as a more chaotic space than globalization theory usually maintains.

In two subsequent books, The Virtual Republic, published in 1997, and Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace (1999), Wark turned his attention to the national cultural space of his homeland, Australia. The first of these works examined the so-called ‘culture wars’ of the 1990s as symptomatic of struggles over the redefinition of Australian national identity and culture in an age of global media. The second of these ‘Australian’ books looked at the transformation of a social democratic idea of the ‘popular’ as a political idea into a more market-based and media-driven popular culture.

Both these studies grew out of Wark’s experience as a public intellectual who participated in public controversies, mainly through his newspaper column in The Australian, a leading national daily. He developed an approach based on participant observation, but adapted to the media sphere.

Wark descibed the process of culture by which "the jolt of new experiences becomes naturalised into habit" or second nature and describes the information society as not being new but something that changes through culture the balance between space binding and time binding media. This is described in his book "The Virtual Republic"

Wark emigrated to the United States in 2000. With the Australian poet John Kinsella, Australian novelist Bernard Cohen and Australian memoirist Terri-Ann White, he co-wrote Speed Factory, an experimental work about distance and expatriation. The co-authors developed for this the speed factory writing technique, in which an author writes 300 words, emails it to the next author, who then has 24 hours to write the next 300 words.

Dispositions, another experimental work followed. Wark traveled the world with a GPS device and recorded observations at particular times and coordinates. The media theorist Ned Rossiter has called this approach a ‘micro-empiricism’, and sees it as derived from the work of the philosopher Gilles Deleuze.

In 2004 Wark published his best known work, A Hacker Manifesto. Here Wark argues that the rise of intellectual property creates a new class division, between those who produce it, who he calls the hacker class, and those who come to own it, the vectoralist class.

Gamer Theory combined Wark’s interest in experimental writing techniques in networked media with his own developing media theory. Gamer Theory was first published by the Institute for the Future of the Book as a networked book with his own specially designed interface.

In Gamer Theory Wark argues that in a world that is increasingly competitive and game-like, computer games are a utopian version of the world (itself an imperfect game), because they actually realize the principles of the level playing field and reward based on merit that is elsewhere promised but not actually delivered.

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