Computer Game: Play Station

Rules connect the world of games to the province of computation; rules are the mechanism of both domains. On the side of the machine, there is no fraught social predicament where adherence to rule is subject to a contest of will: computers follow rules as long as they are inscribed in the logic of the machine. There is no place for will and no separation between the rule's reception and its being followed. Reading is compliance in the computer. Reading is following, is execution, is work. But for the user, or for the programmer of the computer, the language of computation, the formal procedures of rule making, offer up worlds of possibility, and potentially liquefy the perception of rules' fixity.

Marcos Novak observes that the computer makes every constant a variable.[12] At its most radical, computation can be a solvent of convention, and of representation, and of realism. Programming is a game that is always played at the meta-level. The situation that any given program is only one of many possible programs that could satisfy some arbitrary requirement defines the task of programming. Still the programmer arrives at a solution. All programs are provisional solutions to the problems presented by changing conditions: there is no final solution.

"All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind," write Marx and Engles in the Manifesto.[13] This liquefaction describes the revolutionizing tendencies of the bourgeoisie, as compared to the conservative ethic which preceded them. It would be tempting to fault the revolutionizing tendency of computation with a litany of evils similar to those which they hurl at the bourgeoisie. The liquifactionist camp contains as many demons as angels. But in the final phrase of the sentence they hint that the melting of the solid ultimately will reveal something crucial (that the bourgeoisie are digging their own grave!).

Programmers, like everyone else, are prisoners of superstructral constraints that limit the imagination. There is no reason to value the work of the engineer over that of the garbage collector; to do so only reproduces the hierarchies already well inscribed in our social imaginary, and codified within the rules that govern remuneration. But all labors offer particular insights. What is important within the work of computation is its invitation to variation: both the rhizomatic profusion of difference, and the methodical systematization of variability are characteristic. One would hope that computation could instill a certain suspiciousness of the instrumentalizing subordinations of rule making, and clarify the aesthetic dimension of making rules.

"There are no moral phenomena at all, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena … " we read, again, from Nietzsche.[14] Ultimately, it is the reception of aesthetic gestures that are determinative of their meaning. Here, offering the game, and more specifically, the computerized simulation of the game, as a kind of didactic exemplar is an aesthetic gesture of uncertain efficacy. A gambit …

[12] Marcos Novak, lecture at “Interactive Frictions” conference, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, June 6, 1999, referenced in Lev Manovich, 2001.

[13] Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party," 1848, Marxist Internet Archive, <>.

[14] Friedrich Nietzche, Beyond Good and Evil, Project Gutenberg, <>, §108.