Title: Videogames and the Spirit of Musement
In 2013, game designer and scholar Eric Zimmerman declared that the twenty-first century will be defined by games, writing in his "Manifesto for a Ludic Century" that games will not only be the dominant cultural form, but that experience playing and designing games will be crucial for navigating a world increasingly defined by complex systems and information aesthetics that demand forms of thinking and interacting native to gameplay. There is much to recommend this view beyond the dazzling growth of the industry and mindshare videogames command in popular culture. We can point to the many distributaries of game design explored in the last decade, including games for change, games for health, serious games, gamification and other expressions of the "gameful world." Together these aspects of the growth and evolution of videogames beyond the entertainment model document an optimism about game media that we should nurture. However, we must also acknowledge that the dominant design practices of videogames have a synergistic relation to the behaviorist designs that we increasingly encounter in our everyday experiences of the contemporary media ecology. These designs address our habitual desires, patterns of perception, forms of thinking and interacting with digital media at their best, or narrow the role of our imagination and strategically exploit our cognitive biases and limits at their worst. It is this unacknowledged experiential, aesthetic dimension to the Ludic Century that will frame my engagement with videogames in this talk.
Extending Paolo Pedercini’s argument that we must “hack” videogame media, the “aesthetic form of rationalization” in our age, into “expressive machines,” I suggest they must also become "musement" machines by design if they are to increase their critical value in the face of the prevailing dynamics of the media ecology. In order to explore this idea I turn to the work of Brian Schrank on the videogame avant-garde to develop a new perspective on the field, drawing insights on musement from the pragmatist aesthetics of C.S. Peirce and John Dewey along the way to discussing design strategies for what we might call a "poetics of musement" in some examples. The resulting view of the videogame avant-garde will not only confirm its traditional significance as a generative resource, opening up videogame media to new artistic communication, but suggest that its cultural visibility and influence on dominant design practices may be something of an imperative in the Ludic Century.
Terry Schenold believes that video games are a vital organ of cultural change in the twenty-first century. He is a doctoral candidate in English and a founding member of the Critical Gaming Project at University of Washington, teaching media and game studies courses for the Comparative History of Ideas Program. He is also adjunct faculty in the humanities and sciences department and occasional collaborator in design at Cornish College of the Arts. His most recurring research interests include reflective reasoning in ergodic media, digital media poetics, philosophical aesthetics, and digital game design and culture. He has published in the motley field of game studies, including an essay related to this talk, “After Ergodics: Noematic Work and the Function of Diegetic Information in Computer Roleplaying Games” (McFarland 2014). He is currently planning his defense and developing a course in experimental microgame design for fall 2018.