restricted access 7. Systems, Games, and the Player: Did We Manage to Become Human?
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s e v e n Systems, Games, and the Player: Did We Manage to Become Human? For Richard Macksey Systems are under siege—in their tangible capacities, their delivery, their resilience, and their conception. We find ourselves at a sociocultural juncture when reading the daily newspaper has become an ordeal. The panoply of the liberatory functions, institutions, and settings in the infrastructure of culture is in a disabling state of social marginalization, its credibility and credence seriously overdrawn. A global condition of religious hyperthyroidism is merely the symptom of a general withdrawal from freedoms of an intellectual, secular, communicative, and psychosexual dimension, constituting a stopgap solution to our world’s proliferating and competing complexities (in such domains as demography, ecology, and the sustainability of the biosphere and human communities). Systems that we have delimited and deconstructed for generations, whether relatively ‘‘purer’’ ones, delineated by Kant and Hegel, or their more ‘‘dedicated’’ counterparts , configured by Marx and Freud, continue to furnish an edifying domain for thinking and writing. This is in large measure owing both to the PAGE 194 194 ................. 17885$ $CH7 10-20-10 14:49:40 PS Did We Manage to Become Human? 195 exhilarating breadth and outreach that such constructions encompass and to the intricate intellectual organization that they entail. It is nothing less than thrilling to encounter the world through the mediation of an organizational viewfinder programmed in different ways by the above-mentioned and other systems thinkers, one simultaneously encompassing and coordinating architectural, logical, conceptual, rhetorical, structural, semantic, and subsemantic levels and elements. In the present critical and integrative exercise, we have not so much a stake in systems per se as in the correction, reprogramming, and creative dismantling and redirection that can transpire under their aegis. Play may well emerge as one of the most productive rubrics under which to group the possibilities and strategies for assessing the give, resistance, or openness conditioning the overarchingness or inevitability that often seems to characterize systematization. It is around the notion of play that certain transvaluations in the environmental impact of systematic administration or governance occur. As Benjamin pointed out, in ‘‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,’’ the one-armed bandit at the gambling casino marks the spot at which the automatic work gestures of the factory assembly line are metamorphosed into playful, and probably expensive, phantasmagoric battle against economic fate and fortune. Most games structured enough to be recognized as such are fitted out with rules, patterned interactions, and interconnected repercussions, which endow them with indispensable systemic parameters. We might say of the game, then, that it is a system tilted in a direction that affords its players the illusion of control, allowing them—to a certain degree, and the specific context of this degree is debatable—to participate in the programming and output of the system. So play, or gaming, seemingly a frill or luxury commodity, turns out to be a core concept related to whatever freedom prevails in any number of interconnected domains: our personal liberty and a matrix of legal, professional , and administrative systems, all cybernetically implemented, that grow toward one another, as we hold on for dear life to our two or three e-addresses, our implanted identities and fixed points in an electronically wired Cartesian universe. But play may also go far in helping us conceptualize the options we exercise as critical, theoretically informed participants in the ebb and flow of information and the output of cultural artifacts. We attain our own critically nuanced perch in this vast output only by playing out our options as cultural programmers. The critical disciplines remain PAGE 195 ................. 17885$ $CH7 10-20-10 14:49:41 PS 196 Systems, Games, and the Player indispensable to an electronically wired universe of discourse and cultural memory. We lose this always tenuous critical edge or foothold amid a sublime proliferation of output and additional controls the moment we abandon our marginal positionality as players. A hard edge attends this critical monitoring of social, judicial, industrial, technological systems that is tantamount to the exercise of our personal liberty and discretion, defining our interface with various communities or packs of cultural reception. The notion of ‘‘hard play’’ that I am proposing here, then, attests to the resolute and persistent dimension of what might be otherwise viewed as frivolous, nonessential , or nonproductive activity, whether the programming of uncanny artifacts (what could be, from certain perspectives, more useless than a poem?) or the undirected consumption of the cultural artifacts and...


Subject Headings

  • Criticism.
  • Social systems.
  • Literature -- Philosophy.
  • Books -- History.
  • Books and reading -- Sociological aspects.
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