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January 8, 2006

A (Mini) Postmodern Critique of Utopian Entrepreneur

Reading literally like The Medium is the Massage, Laurel's book, The Utopian Entrepreneur has great insight for this discourse of video games. Within the first page, she deconstructs common assumptions about feminism and what qualifies as female oppression. Being that I think in terms of Queer Theory and Third-Wave Feminism, this book really struck a chord with me. However, I had no idea how well this book would settle with me until she started to introduce Marxist and post-Marxist concepts.

"It [the entertainment industry] is just doing what prevailing business ethics perscribe: make money, period."
-Laurel, Utopian Entrepreneur

I love that statement! I should display it again, but in the interest of time, I will move on. The problem, like in Koster's theory of games, is not on the surface, it is a much more deep-seated problem. According to Laurel, "the answer for our kids and our culture is not 'no' as a default response. Socially responsible people must take up the challenge of creating games and movies and stories that both engage and nurture young people."

Thus, we must change the "ludemes" of our society and re-evaluate what our value system. For all of you Rand fans out there, hate to burst your bubble, but there is little virtue in selfishness! Marxism is not diametrically opposed to Capitalism. It is, however, opposed to the oppression that Capitalism has the potential to create [1].

Laurel suggests, as I would suggest, instead of throwing out something completely, you have to find something to replace it with. This is a fundamental concept I learned in Motivation and Emotion. You can hate Freud's theory all you want, but unless you have something to replace it with, you have no grounds to complain.

Being that I'm very Postmodern in nature, I see issues being raised in this book that spark my interest. Take for example, the mention of popular culture. The fallacy of this dichotomization of "elite culture" and "popular culture" that pervades contemporary society is a worthy candidate for scrutiny. What I will call "belongingness" (in the legacy of Martin Heidegger's coinage (:) is a method of restriction and control.

It's sort of like two cliques of elementary school children who do not want the other to have the toys they have. If we stick to these assumptions of "high brow" and "low brow," we are not advancing. Rather, we are selfish children who do not want the "elite" to be hip and do not want the "popular kids" to know anything about art, philosophy, etc.

However, I believe that Laurel took a wrong turn somewhere in "traditional humanism." What do I suggest, then? A Postmodern reading of this concept of "Utopian Entrepreneur." I feel that the problem lies not in what message we are sending to society, but the construction of society itself.

The answer is not to propogate and tell people how they should/shouldn't behave. In this Postmodern condition[2], that is all very optimistic, but it won't work. Instead, we must challenge the assumptions that our society holds as true and work toward a dialogue of understanding.

Games, then, in this paradigm will not have a moral, per se. Games will be meant for people to derive their own moral from playing (which would be learning to learn). This may seem self-defeating, even relativistic, but that is only a superficial understanding of the case that I'm making.

Everyone sees the world through their own lens. Therefore, how can anyone know the truth for certain? This is not to say that truth doesn't exist. This is to say what even the Greek philosophers knew: even if the truth was biting us in the ass, we wouldn't know it's the truth. So, the object becomes not preaching the gospel (which really is only our gospel), but finding the gospel.

The object of games, then, is to help us in this process.

1. Maass Rejoins
2. Wiki article on Postmodernity
3. (What is he talking about?!)
-updated: 1/8/06 at 9:33pm-

Posted by EvanReynolds at January 8, 2006 5:52 PM

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If you’re interested in postmodernism and interactive fiction, Linda Hutcheon makes a very brief reference to Zork in her Poetics of Postmodernism.

Hutcheon, discussing the postmodern tradition of emphasizing the receiver’s role in constructing a text, offers interactive fiction as “the most extreme example I can think of” (77).

Hutcheon quotes Niesz and Holland to claim that, in interactive fiction, “there is no fixed product or text, just the reader’s activity as producer as well as receiver.”

Niesz and Holland wrote a glowing article on the promise of interactive fiction, way back in 1984.

Niesz, Anthony J. and Norman N. Holland. “Interactive Fiction.” Critical Inquiry 11 (1984): 110-129.

But Espen Aarseth calls this observation “clearly false; otherwise [IF texts] could hardly be discussed at all” (106), and observes that “Hutcheon’s misrepresentation is understandable in light of the often self-contradictory Anthony Niesz and Norman N. Holland article she refers to.”

Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 13, 2006 9:27 PM

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