Simulations, Baudrillard, serious games

by Paul Maharg on 16/02/2006

Anyone interested in simulations has to read the Terranova blog.  Talking with Martin Owen of Nesta Futurelab recently, we both agreed that the concept of ‘serious games’ was incredibly important, and needs money and theory and practice.

But not everyone has taken up simulations as enthusiastically as some educationalists, and it’s worthwhile bearing in mind their caveats.  Baudrillard took quite a different cultural view of what he regarded as the tendency of simulation in postmodern society to usurp the real.  We have, he noted, the urge always to control reality; but in doing so we immobilise it.  Furthermore, in ‘seizing reality live’, we create of reality a simulacrum that engenders nostalgia for the real.  The real, in fact, is what we are always yearning to return to.  But computers themselves allow us to move so instantaneously, and so freely, between original and duplicate, between simulacra and real, that the gap between them is almost abolished.  Following Baudrillard’s analysis, we are within a postmodern version of Weber’s iron cage: a deterministic universe of computers where everthing tends to computation and predictability, and where we long, nostalgically, for the sense of the sheer randomness of the real.  (Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser, U of Michigan P,  Ann Arbor, 105.)

It is a dark vision of technicisation.  And yet it need not be so.  Forms of speech that thrive on the web, such as news groups and blogs, are pre-eminently forms of communicative action.  The best blogs are those that enable reply and dialogue, as well as access to levels and categories of information and archives – for example Stephen Downes’ site.  Compare Bakhtin, writing of the novel:

The novel orchestrates all its themes, the totality of the world of objects and ideas depicted and expressed in it, by means of the social diversity of speech types and by differing individual voices that flourish under such conditions. Authorial speech, the speeches of narrators, inserted genres, the speech of characters are merely those fundamental compositional unities with whose help heteroglossia can enter the novel; each of them permits a multiplicity of social voices and a wide variety of their links and interrelationships (always more or less dialogized). These distinctive links and interrelationships between utterances and languages, this movement of the theme through different languages and speech types, its dispersion into the rivulets and droplets of social heteroglossia, its dialogization–this is the basic distinguishing feature of the stylistics of the novel (Bakhtin, M.M. (1980) The Dialogic Imagination Holquist, M. editor, 263)."

Bakhtin is of course writing pre-internet; but his ‘links and interrelationships’ could as easily refer to the stylistics of many blogs on the web.  And not just blogs.  The ease with which one can let utterances support or contradict one another illustrates how the web can be used to foster values of contradiction and contradistinction.  Consider his description of ‘concrete discourse’:

Indeed, any concrete discourse (utterance) finds the object at which it was directed already as it were overlain with qualifications, open to dispute, charged with value, already enveloped in an obscuring mist or, on the contrary, by the "light" of alien words that have already been spoken about. It is entangled, shot through with shared thoughts, points of view, alien value judgments and accents, weaves in and out of complex interrelationships, merges with some, recoils from others, intersects with yet a third group: and all this may crucially shape discourse, may leave a trace in all its semantic layers, may complicate its expression and influence its entire stylistic profile (The Dialogic Imagination, 276).

The passage describes the almost anarchic value of dialogic imagination, far removed from Baudrillard’s dark predictions. It describes how form and structure within a text can create and shape relationships between reader and text.  Note how Bakhtin describes the reader as finding the object.  Indeed, the object is created by the relationship of the reader to the text, and as such can never exist as an essence on its own.  Every reader reads the object differently, albeit within a community of practice, and therefore within a structure of dialogic ambiguity.  It is, in effect, called into being by the social relationships that surround the moment at which the reader encounters the object. To be sure, Bakhtin is talking of novels and fictional prose; but he is also describing the effect of language at a deep level within discourse.  Such complex, layering potential is descriptive of a successful website, which stimulates reading, research and dialogism.  And, I would claim, so does a serious game. 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Breaking into the Academy February 19, 2006 at 15:24

And again… More on Gaming

Okay, so this professor and I here at UGA have this little gaming/video game reading/research group. It is interesting and all, and in that spirit, here are some items that have been posted over the past month or so about gaming and video games.


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