On personal games

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May 092013

I don’t have any tales of games saving me from depression.

I mean, I did go through a period where I was depressed. I dropped out of high school while living overseas and basically just didn’t go anywhere. I slept for 23 hours straight. I woke up to eat something and read. It was listlessness, pointlessness, it was like a blank. I didn’t feel sad. I felt… absent. Eventually I was dragged to a doctor who basically prescribed sunshine and a lot of vitamins, and a swift kick in the ass.

The terror of reintegrating into life was enormous. I was shaking and trembling as I caught the bus to downtown. Walking onto the campus had me breathless. And the perfunctory disbelief as I tried to explain to the school administrators what had happened was shocking: idle curiosity married to not caring. Their response to my terror was to say “well, just go back. It’ll be hard.” It was. And it comes back, every once in a while, though never as bad.

But games didn’t save me from that.

I don’t have any tales of games being my lifeline as an outsider.

I mean, I did grow up an outsider in many ways. I was an unusually smart half-Latino kid in a rural New England town. My grandfather, still in some ways the Puerto Rican campesino, cultivated an enormous garden. Maybe it would be better to term it a small farm. He played the Venezuelan cuatro on the porch, and hung a woven hammock there. My mother told me that there were sometimes racist remarks, but I don’t remember hearing them. I was reading adult books when I was two. The teachers loved me, but the older kids would challenge me to spell p-s-y-c-h-i-a-t-r-i-s-t while we waited for the buses to take us back home. This is the time that shapes my personal mythology, the idyll of me.

Then uprooted at age nine, to South America, where I did not speak the language, where men with machine guns guarded the street corners, where mysterious crumbling sand temples full of buzzing bees and potsherds sat next to my elementary school. The teachers loved me again, but also said things in class like “well, the one thing I’ll say about the gringos, they work hard. Much harder than we do. Look at this kid here.” I didn’t get it, I was blowing off all the schoolwork I could. I’d rather stay home and try to master BASIC on my Atari 8-bit.

I was there six years, a gringo in a country that was fighting corruption and communists. They blew up the Pizza Hut. They blew up the Kentucky Fried Chicken. They blew up the mall where the only arcade was. I saw the cardboard and corrugated metal places where they lived. I couldn’t really blame them. Riots and bombs were kind of like the weather. I scavenged for videogame magazines at newsstands and begged my mother to pay through the nose for them. I made boardgames by the dozen, and played AD&D with my small circle of friends. When I left six years later, I was given a farewell packet of notes and letters from dozens and dozens of schoolmates, and it profoundly shocked me.  These kids were my friends?

But then I was in another country. A white kid in a black country in the Caribbean, this time, a country where the white kids were all surfers or visiting on vacation. This was where I dropped out. (I wonder now, briefly, if it was because it was expected of me.) I had five friends. We would cut our mandatory sports classes where we had to learn cricket, in favor of sneaking off to the computer lab and playing games. I didn’t make boardgames for them, and I was spending my time writing instead of programming. There were no machine guns at all; my greatest fear was the barracuda in the water as we dove off the jetty, the cops stopping us on our unlicensed bikes.

But then I was in another country. Now, without having changed our income at all, I was a very rich kid in a very poor place: still white, I suppose, though we spoke only Spanish at home. Now the men with machine guns were guarding us, and our cute little white condos perched on the side of the mountain. I sipped piña coladas served poolside when I was fifteen, listening to the drums of vodoun across the valley. I had no teachers – all the schools were closed, and it was too dangerous to leave the compound. Oddly, someone who knew my best friend from Peru happened to move in. It was my first lesson in how incredibly small the world really is, when measured from human to human and not mile to mile.

Years later, that place was pancaked by a massive earthquake. The woman who cleaned the little condo, who came to help us when our first child was born, was never heard from again. I saw the aerial photos. I am sure the drums still play.

Then I moved. Then I moved. I married, and then we moved. Then we moved. Then we moved. I became a new person every time.

I have never made a game about any of these things.

They call people like me “third culture kids.” You’re probably a gamer, so I can try to tell you that it is like adjusting your FOV in a first-person shooter. I live wide. Most people live narrow. But so what?

None of this is special. Some of it is personal – and believe me, I have left out affecting, scary, heartbreaking, and charming stories. But games didn’t pull any of them out of me. I hesitate to share them with those who share so much of themselves in their games, because, well, why? Having a wider FOV means knowing exactly how little a bomb here, an earthquake there, a man with a machine gun, or a piña colada really matter. Knowing how everything is not special means knowing very well how not special you yourself are.

There’s a lot of discussion lately about the ways games mean, the Whats they can mean, the Who’s they reveal. A lot of discussion about the Whys. A lot of it has been personal. We all have our personal.

Right now, I find myself really wanting to make games, and more, really wanting to make games that aren’t actually very personal at all except in the way that any game I would make is personal, and feeling inadequate because I did not tell you the above stories in a game. Like it’s somehow being an artistic poser to not have shared these things in that way. Like telling my (not very special) stories is a price of entry — and yet, they’re not very special, so they are like offering up a pocketful of paperclips and rubberbands when everyone else is proffering shiny coins. Like I shouldn’t even engage in the conversation, because I see personal games being made that humble me.

I find myself wanting to make games that are not what I have made before, that effectively will leave behind the friends I made in another country.

To some degree, it makes me feel listless. Blank. Pointless. Paralyzed. Like I need a swift kick in the ass. Maybe some vitamins and sunshine.

I don’t have any tales of games saving me; except that it’s obvious now that games were glue, a thing that held me to other people, even if only briefly, while everything swirled.

I have made games about the ways in which we are all connected. About the ways in which we get along and don’t get along. About the marvels we can make when we work together. About finding your footing in a world where you can do anything. About the ability to carve a place of your own from a foreign land. About not being pinned down to an identity. About the startling ways in which we are all the same, that so often outweigh the differences. I shouldn’t actually even say what they were about, I suppose. To say it is to betray it, almost.

Making glue is just fine. I think maybe it’s what I have always done, in making games. I don’t need to get personal to make glue.

And so, I move.

This was written as a (personal) response to a few things circulating lately, especially


  63 Responses to “On personal games”

  1. In a way, I see these conversations and the way in which anyone can join the discourse, as glue too.

  2. Agreed! Though I do think that the discourse is not always very welcoming, and it’s one of the things that I see getting talked about.

  3. This is the best article I’ve ever read on your website. Thank you.

    A challenge to you, though: Those rich themes you talked about in that last paragraph…was that really what those games were about? That was the number one thing you kept in your mind when you made them? You sacrificed features, cut extraneous ones, made tough choices about game design, all for those themes? When a game is truly about “finding your footing in a world where you can do anything” then you’d cut parts of the game not about finding a footing, and you’d highlight other parts where you do find it. I’d love to hear you talk about that kind of stuff more.

  4. As someone who grew up transcultural and bilingual, I always felt that the biggest illusion is that we are all separate, that our cultures are so profoundly different that we cannot understand one another; and recently I have been increasingly disturbed by the degree to which instead of defending our common humanity, a lot of people are actually reinforcing those artificial borders in the belief that “the personal is the political” and that they are helping to end oppression by doing so. But the world isn’t neatly divided into the oppressors and the oppressed, and while the personal certainly matters, it isn’t all there is to art or to politics. If we don’t believe in people’s right to create the things they want to create – that women can but don’t *have* to create games about women, that people from one country can but don’t *have* to make games about being from there – then we don’t really believe in freedom. Identity is a powerful thing, and it can be the source of great art, but it can also very easily become a trap. We must avoid all forms of nationalism, literal or metaphorical, and instead, as you say, make glue.

  5. Yeah, actually.

    I allowed playerkilling to continue in UO because I felt it was incredibly important for communities to self-determine.

    I push classless systems in MMOs out of a dislike of rigid identities. Also anti-clique.

    I got “the arts” into MMOs for similar reasons.

    I consciously go towards loose economic systems because of what it says about human interdependence. One of my absolute favorite comments about my games ever came from a post on a forum that said something along the lines of “Raph’s work is about the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.”

    And I have written about all those things on here. You can actually find blog posts and articles describing the vision statements for UO and SWG and Metaplace saying the above. There’s 15 years worth of posts here, though, so you have to dig 🙂

  6. Love it, thank you. 🙂 Own that, man. You have to treasure that. Clearly you’ve no need to feel inadequate!

  7. The point that I liked out of all of this is that any game is personal in some way. I think that’s worth further discussion.

  8. As someone who grew up transcultural and bilingual

    Jonas, I hadn’t even thought about how that aspect would resonate with you.

    One of the reactions on Twitter was about how this article is “shaming” and “silencing” because of a claim of greater perspective. But that perspective is a curse, and it’s very hard to convey that. When a whole country goes through national trauma because of bombs in Boston, I feel weirdly, profoundly alienated, and it’s not a good feeling. It’s a feeling of disconnection, of not belonging. It is harder to love one of something when you know how many places it exists; it is harder to be upset at one tragedy when you see many. It’s desensitizing, and hard work to fight against. We play FPSes with narrower FOVs for a reason.

    A bomb in Boston can be both something that happens every day somewhere in the world, and deeply impactful at the same time. Same as falling in love, or tough life circumstances, or anything. That’s true of everything expressed in a personal game too.

  9. Is that the spin on teh twittarz? Wow. It’s pretty amazing the stretches people are willing to make to make you The Man, there, Raph.

  10. But that perspective is a curse, and it’s very hard to convey that.

    I don’t think it’s a curse. It doesn’t make life easier, that’s for sure, but only because it doesn’t allow you to embrace certain comforting myths. It’s easy to fall for nationalism, especially when a nation is under attack, but that doesn’t mean it’s a constructive step to take. If we don’t understand that a bomb in Boston is as tragic as a bomb in Baghdad, there’s nothing we can do to stop the transnational systems that produced both tragedies.

    I’ve tried to make that point before by talking about Greece. The country I grew up in, a country I genuinely love, is being intentionally destroyed in order to make a few banks even richer. The things happening in Greece right now are utterly horrifying, and in countries like Germany (where I currently live), racism is being used to make it appear that the people of Greece “deserve” this. And some Greek people – genuinely oppressed people, who have lost everything, whose lives are in danger, whose whole world is collapsing – turn to nationalism as a response. It’s easy, it’s comforting, and they have every right to be angry and frightened… but that doesn’t mean that their resonse isn’t one that actually reinforces the system that is ruining their lives. Nationalism may seem justified to those who are experiencing unhappiness both in Germany and in Greece, but as long as they think of everything in national terms, they will not be able to defend themselves against a system that operates on an entirely different scale. The same applies to other forms of identity politics; we can’t undo the oppression caused by concepts of identity by reinforcing binary discourses.

    (But when I say that, people tell me that I just want everyone to talk about Greece, or my personal experiences with racism.)

    So I think this perspective is important, in more than one way. That doesn’t somehow make personal (or autobiographical, to be more precise) games wrong or pointless or bad. I don’t see how anyone would take that away from what you’ve written unless their perspective was distorted, as mine was when I attacked you in Designing for Grace. You shouldn’t have to defend your right to want to make games as a human being rather than as the expression of one particular political and/or artistic ideology. The whole point is that you have value as Raph, not just as “guy who experienced the following events pertaining to concepts of race, gender or nationality.”

  11. Chaosprime, no, I would say that the spin on twitter has been 99% very positive, and one person who felt that way.

  12. Jonas,

    Well, I do feel it as a curse sometimes. 🙂 It’s… distancing, is the best way I can put it.

  13. Ahh, cool. Well, I think you made a fine statement about how games don’t need to be exercises in narcissistic self-regard to be deeply personal, so I give it about ten minutes until somebody figures out how to really rake you over the coals for that.

    I’d like to say I don’t know why I’m so cynical today, but that’s not true.

  14. I went and looked at the Wikipedia for “third culture kid” and it took me to “alienation” and I stopped reading. “Distancing” is a good way to put it.

  15. Moving is good.

  16. Just out of curiosity (and I know it’s beside the point) what adult books were you reading when you were two? I got my kicks from Boxcar Children and Hank the Cowdog until I was 12.

  17. “None of this is special. Some of it is personal – and believe me, I have left out affecting, scary, heartbreaking, and charming stories. But games didn’t pull any of them out of me. I hesitate to share them with those who share so much of themselves in their games, because, well, why? Having a wider FOV means knowing exactly how little a bomb here, an earthquake there, a man with a machine gun, or a piña colada really matter. Knowing how everything is not special means knowing very well how not special you yourself are.”

    This statement struck me. I’ve met activists, feminists, etc. who’ve expressed similar views, and they tend to come from extremely multi-racial/lingual/ethnic/cultural backgrounds. I think it’s important to acknowledge that such a relationship to the world exists, that there are people very serious about fighting oppression that have it, and that such people are for whatever reason not very present in the discourse Raph is addressing (which is perhaps why he feels the need to articulate it, though not on activist grounds).

    I can imagine how this might be controversial in the context of the current debate surrounding personal games, because I can see how one might read it to imply that being “personal” is somehow invariably being self-centered. I cannot speak for others, but I certainly don’t read this statement in such a way. I read it like an extension of Anna Anthopy’s reminder that context is everything, and that a more global context is often missing from this discussion. A bigger FOV isn’t necessarily a better FOV, just a different FOV. We need both the global and the local, don’t we?

  18. I got in trouble in preschool for taking “The Bourne Identity” to school with me. It was probably a little older than two. But I was indiscriminate — I was reading Ferdinand the Bull, the Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew books, CS Lewis, and Theodore Sturgeon all at the same time.

    My grandmother was a schoolteacher, so she taught me to read when I was very young.

  19. Matt,

    Yeah, it really doesn’t have anything to do with personal being self-centered. I have written plenty of personal poems, for example, or put deeply personal things into short stories. And, as mentioned earlier, a wider FOV isn’t a better FOV, it’s a different one, with huge tradeoffs.

    In the context of this discussion, the place where I have felt it most keenly was around the questions of marginalization, emphasis on artistic sensibility. To me, there wasn’t any chasm between the formalist camp and the artistic camp. Certainly less of one than between both those and say, the big data scientism camp. So I merrily went along mixing contexts, and it blew up. Was a wider FOV a help? Nope, the opposite.

  20. This memorial day, I’m camping with some folks I bonded with over SWG. Yay for glue.

  21. Neils, alas, I can’t click “like” on a WordPress comment 🙂

  22. A comment, as promised. I want to focus on this claim because it’s my main sticking point:

    “Having a wider FOV means knowing exactly how little a bomb here, an earthquake there, a man with a machine gun, or a piña colada really matter. Knowing how everything is not special means knowing very well how not special you yourself are.”

    In the 1980s, feminist science studies and feminist epistemology started to try to tackle some pretty weighty questions about objectivity and knowledge. If what has been masquerading as a value-neutral, objective “view from nowhere” is, in fact, a very particular (read: male) perspective on the world, then how can we make any “objective” claims about the world? Or should we abandon objectivity altogether?

    Broadly speaking, people in my field went in two directions with this: 1) the postmodernists (and I’ll include myself in this camp for present purposes) became deeply suspicious of any claims to truth or objectivity and 2) some feminist science studies scholars rallied around a notion of “strong objectivity” which held, basically, that the more oppressed you were, the *more* objective your knowledge was. So those in camp 2 didn’t want to throw out objectivity and, in fact, said that objectivity could get BETTER if only oppressed people produced scientific and philosophical knowledge.

    What’s puzzling to me about your claim is that you at once pose a sense of detachment from the world characteristic of a traditional, masculinist objectivty (e.g. –and I’m paraphrasing — “these things don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, from the broad perspective that I have access to) and yet you claim that this is a detachment that has resulted from your many experiences of uprooting and alienation. So you’re claiming “strong objectivity” but your version of strong objectivity is acting like the old-school, “I can see everything” objectivity.

    So what bugs me is that it seems like you’re trying to have it both ways. You ARE wielding your personal experience in a very specific way to shore up this claim of having a “wider FOV” but also using that “wider FOV” to be, yes, a little dismissive of people who are concerned very much about the bomb, the earthquake, the machine gun and the piña colada.

    I’m suspicious of anyone’s claim to have anything other than a very particular knowledge, your claim to a “wider FOV” included. And I’m honestly a little sad that having this sense of having a “wider FOV” makes you feel like these things don’t matter, or are cosmically insignificant in some sense. Each bomb matters, each earthquake matters, each death matters. I’ll take particular attachments, whatever their limitations, over detachment any day.

    Thanks for a provocative and challenging piece.

  23. I wouldn’t make any claims for the wider FOV being objective. It’s just more remote. Being at a greater remove doesn’t remove subjectivity.

    Rather, I would claim for it a position in an interstitial space looking in on other spaces. That carries with it it’s own subjectivities, many of which are, as you say, perhaps depressing.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid is a decent overview.

  24. I’d add that it’s not like this sense of distance renders one emotionless. Of course every bomb matters.

  25. Don’t feel “inadequate because I did not tell you the above stories in a game”. That’s like feeling inadequate because you didn’t tell the stories in a novel or a painting. It’s not where their power lies. Sure, you CAN write an autobiographical book or paint an autobiographical picture or design an autobiographical game, but the worth of it is in the autobiographical payload it carries, not in the work itself.

    Games are means of expression. You make the game not to tell a story but to SAY something. What that something is is expressed by the game. That’s why you have to make the game rather than simply write it or paint it or sing it or dance it. It’s not a case of “how can I use a game to tell people about X”, where X could be “my life” or “global warming” or “relationships” or “what it’s like to grow up with an identical twin” or anything else. That’s where self-indulgent “art” games come from (and also serious games). It’s more like “this is a game that, if you play it, you’ll know what it’s trying to say”. You might have a vague notion that it’s something about displacement, or friendship, or identity, and you may come to understand what you’re trying to say more as you design the game – even to the point that you don’t need to finish the design or make the game. The game IS what you’re trying to express, though, not a mere procedural encoding of something you can express in other ways.

    I don’t feel humbled by “personal” games as games. I might feel humbled by someone else’s extraordinary courage or whatever, but not by the game-as-vehicle any more than I would be by the book-as-vehicle.

    What are your games trying to tell me? If the answer is “I can’t tell you except through the game”, I want to play them.

  26. If what has been masquerading as a value-neutral, objective “view from nowhere” is, in fact, a very particular (read: male) perspective on the world, then how can we make any “objective” claims about the world? Or should we abandon objectivity altogether?

    It’s not the main point of this discussion, as Raph has pointed out he’s trying to describe a different subjective view, but I think it’s worth noting that there are plenty of progressive intellectual movements that would reject this perspective and its underlying assumptions. We’re not all coming at this from the same place.

  27. I moved a lot as a kid. I don’t think we ever spent more than three years in one place. I learned not to get too attached to anything.

    In high school, when my family was planning another move, I said “enough”. I legally emancipated myself at 16, moved out, and immersed myself in school. I was editor of the school paper, vice president of the student senate, president of the drama club, and I had all the ribbons and trophies I could stuff into my backpack.

    And it didn’t really matter, because I moved after graduation to go to college, and I moved from one college to another, and another. My life has been one long directionless drift, pulled along by the currents, occasionally flicking an oar to stay out of the rapids.

    Consequently, I’m nobody. My teachers expected with my test scores and aptitudes that I was destined for greatness. They were wrong. I was destined to drift. I never published a game, just a few very minor additions to other people’s games. I kept up with science, but I never contributed to it. The requisite novel and screenplay sit in my closet, gathering dust. Blank canvases litter the spare bedroom. The few dozen people who have heard me play my bass or guitar or drums have been very polite at concealing their dismay.

    Raph, if you want to leave behind everything you’ve accomplished and do something completely different, I think that’s great. If you want to go back to what you’ve already done and revitalize it and bring it back from stagnation, I think that’s great too.

    Just don’t drift. Grab those oars and ROW.

  28. thank you Raph.loved being able to talk to you in metaplace and continue to appreciate the parts of your life that you are willing to share. connecting as humans, each with our own way of seeing the world makes life intriguing.

  29. […] on-personal-games Blog: On personal games: http://t.co/dQMae1j0Ya cc @ibogost @flantz @tinysubversions […]

  30. Jonas, I’d still maintain that the use of the comparative “wider” makes it seem as if Raph is making a claim to a broader understanding.

    And, since we’re being terse (re: “We’re not all coming at this from the same place”), I’ll shed my postmodernism for a second to say that if you disagree with the assumption that men have historically controlled knowledge production and universalized from their particular perspective in the process, then I think you’re wrong.

    I presented my background in feminist STS objectivity debates as a way to introduce the vocabulary I would use to talk about Raph’s claims. You’re free to disagree with the assumptions behind that vocabulary, but your tone in that last sentence is profoundly irritating, and makes an assumption about me and the spirit in which my comment was intended. We’ve had some quasi-polite disagreements in the past, so I’m a little surprised, actually.

  31. Samantha, I’m curious which works are you referring to in your comments about feminist critique of objectivity. I’m not that familiar with the field as a whole, though I am moderately familiar with people like Haraway (who I assume is one person you mean?), and it sounded like you had at least a few other people in mind.

  32. The reason I used “wider FOV” as my analogy was because

    – gamers who have played FPSes have probably encountered it
    – it’s a setting that visually affects what you see — not what is actually there
    – it does let you see more, but ALSO distorts what you see and can be profoundly disorienting. Stuff in front of you is much farther away.
    – it is sometimes used by players as an attempt to gain an advantage, but most people don’t use it even if they know about it

    I feel challenged by how to discuss the experience in question without using terms that sound like “claims.” Factually, it’s about having experience of a larger number of cultures during formative years than most adults get in their entire lives. I wouldn’t claim this as a more objective viewpoint; if anything, one of the key lessons it taught me is how much that is a fallacy. At the same time, what it does is create a natural skepticism about ANY claims that a given culture has the “right” lens.

    Or put another way — you are responding to what I am saying very much from within a feminist studies perspective, a particular culture, and so on. You equate distance with objectivity because of the culture, ideology, and philosophy of that perspective. I have no issues with that whatsoever, but at the same time also see it as arising out of that stream of thought, that philosophy, that practice.

    If it didn’t sound like too much of a “claim,” I would suggest that with three people in this thread with similar experiences presenting similar perspectives on how it makes them feel, perhaps there is something real there, in terms of the psychology it engendered? And that by the very philosophical underpinnings of the school of thought you come from, you should be addressing this perspective inclusively, not by challenging it. After all, we’re discussing subjectivities here. By saying “you cannot claim a {wider/more varied/distant/whatever} subjectivity” you are kind of denying our experience of the world, or at least claiming a more objective perspective on our experience than we have. And to cap it with “I feel sorry for you” (massively paraphrased, but that is what I got out of your gentle tut-tutting about emotional detachment) — isn’t that exactly the sort of thing that your ethos says is the wrong reaction?

    I hesitated to even post this article in the first place because saying something like “When a terrorist bombing happens, I don’t feel what you do” opens me up to all sorts of judgement. It’s easier to just not talk about it. I wince when I am asked “where are you from.”

    Frankly, people who haven’t experienced it don’t get it. And that sentence should sound familiar to you from other contexts.

    Sigh, sorry, this response maybe spun out of control. I am explicitly not trying to make comparisons because this is NOT as important, not a case of oppression, not a critical social issue, like the issues your life and work has you immersed in every day. But I feel the need to point out something that feels like a philosophical inconsistency on your part.

  33. You’re free to disagree with the assumptions behind that vocabulary, but your tone in that last sentence is profoundly irritating, and makes an assumption about me and the spirit in which my comment was intended.

    No offense was intended; I was trying to keep my post short, because I didn’t want to derail the discussion. I just thought it was important to point out that we’re coming at this from a variety of directions, and that it doesn’t ultimately boil down to something as simple as group A versus group B.

  34. […] to some and one of the key architects of Ultima Online during his time at Origin Systems, has posted a lengthy missive in which he talks mostly about his life and history, and its relationship to games and his career […]

  35. Hi, let me sum up some thoughts because I think we’ve finally reached the root of a fundamental disagreement.

    Matthew, Donna Haraway’s deal is “situated knowledges” in which everyone speaks from their location. Sandra Harding is the one behind “strong objectivity,” which is the controversial claim that the farther down the ladder you travel, the more objective your knowledge becomes. As I mentioned, postmodernism kind of swept strong objectivity away in feminist theory especially with folks like Joan Wallach Scott critiquing the use of personal experience in an evidentiary mode.

    Jonas, thanks for clarifying.

    Raph, thanks for your response. I’ll clarify as best as I can. I’m not discounting the experiences you have had as a “third culture kid,” as you put it. What I’m pointing out is that, like it or not, you are playing an epistemological trump card. You can rhetorically back away from claims of objectivity, but your argument always returns to this use of a comparative statement of “you” against “most.” In the original article, this work was done by the phrase “wider FOV” and in your recent comment it appeared in the “larger number of cultures” claim.

    If you’re going to put me in the feminist box and say “that’s your particular experience,” then I’m going to put you in the “third culture kid” box and say “that’s your particular experience.” My fundamental issue is that your comparisons set you apart and say, “I’ve had MORE experiences” rather than “I’ve had DIFFERENT experiences.”

    I’m skeptical of the rhetorical punch that you get out of that comparative. If you can explain why you need the comparative statement rather than the difference statement, I think we’ll get somewhere new. I’d be really interested to hear that. I think that’s the heart of this thing.

    Lastly (and in case this is the end of the discussion), let me say that I RARELY delve into comments threads but I’ve really appreciate the relative level of civility and respect over here. I apologize for my original comment ending on that implicitly patronizing note. I do value inclusivity which is why I want to clarify that I’m not dismissing your experience but that I just take issue with the particular way in which you are wielding it to make an argument.

  36. A little poking around revealed Harding pretty quickly, but I didn’t know about Wallach Scott. This is all super super helpful. Thanks!

  37. Thanks for the response, and I do think we are getting somewhere. The culture of comment on this blog has been carefully managed over the course of fifteen years, and though discussions can be sharp, I don’t let them get uncivil.

    So, the first thing is, I’m NOT making an argument with this essay. It’s apparent that you feel I am implicitly making one with at least that “wider FOV” statement. But it leads me to ask, do you feel the essay as a whole is making an argument? That’s sort of a sidetrack though.

    To be honest, I can’t come up with a way to explain the KIND of “different experiences” without reference to “more.” I am so challenged by it, in fact, that I wish you would tell me how to do it. 🙂 (I’m serious!) You are far far more read in feminist and postmodern thought than I am. Can you describe the nature of the different experience that arises from living in/participating in many disparate cultures from an early age, without making reference to “many”? How would you do that?

    To answer your specific questions… The reason why “more” rather than “different” feels TO ME like it matters here is simply because the “more” informs the ways of difference. That’s pretty much the extent of it. It is a descriptive characteristic of difference. It is, in fact, kind of the fundamental one, the most important one. I am, in fact, at a loss as to how to even convey the nature of the difference without this comparison.

    Here are the facts: before the age of 18, I had lived in four countries, and multiple states within the US. I had been exposed to daily speech in three different languages. I had gone through multiple different educational systems. I had gone through more than one externally imposed racial identity (though frankly, I pretty much ignored most of that). And so on. Essentially, I am describing context-hopping.

    Now, as far as how it makes me perceive other things, cultures, etc, it comes down to the following subjectivities, that may seem mutually contradictory.

    – I see every viewpoint, culture, etc, as its own thing
    – I perceive that there are tremendous commonalities
    – I don’t emotionally belong to any of them individually
    – I feel that there are subjectivities, and there are verities

    Can someone arrive at this viewpoint without this set of experiences? Presumably. All I can speak to is how it feels like to me, to whom every context is ALWAYS local.

  38. From a postcolonial standpoint (including postcolonial feminism), the point of criticism is to *deconstruct* the idea of a rigid national or cultural identity; the point of critiquing Orientalism or similar phenomena, that is, is not to say “you don’t understand Orientals” or “you should respect that we are different” but to show that the very idea that there is such a group of people and that they share one common set of features is dehumanizing – even when the traits associated with this identity are positive, as with the Noble Savage. But to take apart the idea of “container cultures”, to oppose essentialism and Othering and binary discourses, means precisely to assert that “wider POV” of realizing that nations and cultures are social constructs tied to specific historical processes. Thus one of the central fields of study is precisely the area where these invented borders break down: hybridity and transculturality, concepts of which Raph is a perfect example.

    From a Marxist standpoint, one would add that these forms of identity (including nationality) are the method by which capitalism obscures the fundamental economic divides in society and creates false consciousness, setting people with common interests against each other in the name of ideology. One might also add that the resolution of such social antagonisms by liberal capitalists functions as a societal pressure valve, allowing economic antagonisms to continue.

  39. Have any of you played a game with adjustable FOV? Setting it wide conveys certain advantages, but there are costs as well. People and objects may appear warped and distorted. The ability to discern fine detail can be lost. And arbitrarily switching FOV for different purposes can leave you disoriented at critical moments. If I tell another player that I’m using a wide POV, I’m not saying “I’m better than you”, I’m just saying “I can spot movement on the flanks, but my accuracy in the middle is compromised”.

    Maybe that’s mangling the metaphor, but that’s how I see it.

    As for the rest of it, I’m not sure I want to play anybody else’s deeply personal artistic game. I’m afraid I’d do it wrong and ruin it. I like those gluey games. Fitting into a community is challenging for me, but I value it more for that when it happens.

  40. It might be more helpful to put it negatively: a wider FOV misses the trees for the forest. I actually find it unsettling to have it described as “better”: the loss of precision is fairly painful as an experience to me, and is one of the reasons I usually prefer to debug code rather than write it from scratch. The precision is a lot more comfortable and less threatening to me.

    Also, @Yukon, high five from a fellow drifter who’s lucking his way through life with no meaningful accomplishments either. Here’s to trying yet again to make something of ourselves.

  41. Recently, I have been wondering, if video games can be seen as a medium that enables experiencing the point of view of Third Culture Kids (Tckids).
    As you say, growing up in between of different cultures has a profound impact on the formation of a person. However, as I visited Chicago for the first time a couple of weeks back, the city still felt familiar to me, just because I had seen many similar scenes in games I played. Since then, I have been wondering, if games are not predestined to ‘enlighten’ the players by opening up new horizons and realities to the players.

    Rather than using “FOV” as an analogy, maybe it would therefore be possible to use being embedded in a gaming culture to demonstrate how every human lives in several disparate cultural environments. An active MMO player might spend a significant part of his waking life playing that game, essentially in quite a different cultural setting than he spends the rest of his time. To make this point, consider the “flame culture” of MOBA’s, or how Guilds / Clans are organized and communicate during play.

    Obviously, gamers are influenced by what they play and in which societal context they play. This is comparable to my experience of having grown up in Africa – just less pronounced.

  42. You have no shortage of friends who will happily give you a swift kick in the ass, and vitamins. 🙂

    Seriously, I appreciate all the games that are trying to say something personal; seems good to me. But it also seems ALL Art is glue, holding us together. And it doesn’t always have to get more complicated than that.

    As a game developer, I’m much more interested in mechanics and experiential structures, not about the story the Art tells. I’m all about the “Ludonarrative”, so much that I think it’s a shame that what we call “Ludonarrative” isn’t simply called “the narrative”, since I feel the player’s story is so much more important than any story the author can express.

    “Like it’s somehow being an artistic poser to not have shared these things in that way. Like telling my (not very special) stories is a price of entry”
    I totally don’t feel this way. Leonardo’s horse is a counter example. Sometimes an artistic effort is about the complex and technical modelling, not shared stories, and that’s OKAY.

    Others are talking about complex understandings of the world and our place in it. What I heard from this post is that games are often just games, amazing in their way but not always the root of Who We Are.

    “Right now, I find myself really wanting to make games”
    So get busy. 🙂

  43. What happened to games? If you folks want to make a statement, write a book or a column. You’re missing the point of games.

  44. Raph, the glue you make is oh so special. Please come back to the gaming industry.

  45. Mingo, I haven’t left the game industry! I left Disney/Playdom not very long ago, and am currently working on starting up something new. 🙂

  46. Just do it. Less analysis, more creation. It was great fun and a privilege listening to Gary Burton talk about improvisation theory at Berklee 35 years ago. But, ultimately, it was a hell of a lot more satisfying to listen to him jam. If all he’d done since then is talk about it, I’d tell him the same thing: shut up and start playing! 🙂

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