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Erotic control, narrative in the computer game

April 3rd, 2011 by DaunDedalus

A couple of things occurred to me as I read through Turkle’s chapter, which I’ve heard about so many times but never gotten around to actually reading.

I think the standout qualities that really struck me were, on the one hand, the way that Turkle describes the allure of the computer game as a dynamic interplay of control and subjection, activity and passivity. In many of the examples she explores, people play computer games as a way to experience a feeling of control in a microworld that they cannot experience in the real world, but there’s also a pleasure for them in being subject to the fixed rules and non-random construction of the microworld.

Interestingly, in the examples of many of the youngsters she describes (runty Jarish, awkward, slurring Jimmy, anorexic Cara), the thing these children seem to feel unable to control is their embodiment, and the way their body circulates in the social world. For Jimmy, this discomfort has a distinctly sexual dimension:

He does not like the way he sounds. He has not made peace with his body. He fears that people are noticing him, “thinking that I am ugly. I especially hate being around girls.” (511)

And Turkle starts off her essay with a similar description of the foul-mouthed girl playing Asteroids:

For the girl in the café, mastery of her game was urgent and tense. There is the sense of a force at work, a “holding power” whose roots are aggressive, passionate, and eroticized. (500)

I don’t want to argue that the holding power of the computer game is reducible to sexuality, but I do wonder about the degree to which Turkle understands sexuality to be an underlying (Freudian?) force behind what she calls “the game’s seduction” (501).

I was also interested in Turkle’s struggle with the computer game that offers a narrative experience, as opposed to one that offers a rule-based, high score-driven, meditative exercise or an open-ended, user-defined experience of prolific creativity. The closest she gets to imagining such a narrative game in a positive light is what she calls the “interactive novel” (506), something that hadn’t yet been created, it seems, at the time of writing. Based on how she describes it, such a game might be desirable, but whether it’s achievable seems uncertain to her.

My introduction to the world of computer games, like many people of my generation, I think, was Myst, which I consider to be just the kind of interactive, narrative, almost literary experience that Turkle imagines. Myst gave me a craving for the immersive point-and-click, logical and integrated thought puzzle type of game that — in Turkle’s terms — taught you not how to play a game but how to inhabit a microworld. In a number of ways — allowing the player to be her/himself inside the game, being self-reflexive about the medium, placing the player in an environment haunted by human presences and held together by technology and a world-building language — I’ve always thought that Myst represents a monumental artistic achievement, one that realizes some of the things Turkle speculates about… The fact that it’s stayed with me so vividly for so long (I first played in it 1993, so 18 years now?) says something to me about its potency as an aesthetic experience… I wonder what Turkle would have to say about it, had she ever written on it?

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  1. sarahw said,

    on April 5th, 2011 at 12:48 am

    BTW – sha towers from our sister node at Baylor posted this clip of Sherry from the Daily Show:

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