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Games history ezine

Volume two

Issue six

Alternative and speculative histories of games January 2015

Volume two

Issue six January 2015

Alternative and speculative histories of games

Contents Editorial

Rachel Simone Weil

Blood and Roses Margaret Atwood and the dystopian present Michael Lyons

#nodads 2024 Trolling and hypervigilance Zoya Street

Another Brick in the Wall A history of indie games Claris Cyarron

Kill the past Liberation maiden and destructive nostalgia Benjamin Gabriel

Apokalypsis Rapture, death and mythmaking Stephen Winson

Going home Representations of my residences Jefferson Geiger

Comrades in code A short history of the gaming commons Shaun Green

After CyberSyn Chile’s department of simulation literature Adam Flynn

DIY video game history Rachel Simone WEIL

Edited Rachel Simone Weil by and Zoya Street

Editorial Rachel Simone Weil

nobadmemories.com @partytimeHXLNT

Rachel Simone Weil is an experimental video game developer whose 8-bit NES cartridges play at the borders of fact and fiction.

Alternative pasts, speculative futures In how many ways might the history of video games and game cultures as we know them have played out differently? How will video games affect us ten, twenty, or fifty years from now? This special issue of Memory Insufficient focuses on alternative and speculative histories of games. The essays contained herein reimagine gaming’s past or dream of its possible futures. To be frank, the works in this issue can be challenging to read, as they dart between truth, fiction, and blends of both.

When curiosity gets the best of you, you may find yourself looking up dates, names, facts, and figures to discover whether what you’re reading is real or imagined. But it is good that these works are challenging. They confuse our idea of video game history as a stable collection of fact. They grant us the opportunity to acknowledge how much of history relies on chance and invite us to play, quite literally, with history as we know it. They ask us to consider the anxieties we might face in the near future and what role games might play.

It is my hope that these feelings of confusion and curiosity are contagious, that they accompany your reading of all video game texts so that you might call each one into question. Like on Facebook

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Memory Insufficient is published on a Creative Commons Attribution - Non-commercial NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Blood and Roses Margaret Atwood and the dystopian present Michael Lyons

fb.com/HistoryBoys @queer_mikey Michael Lyons is a queer-identified journalist from Toronto, Canada, a contributor to Xtra Magazine, half of the ‘History Boys’ column on LGBT history, and Senior Writer for The Plaid Zebra.

Warning: Mild to extreme spoilers for Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, discussion of violence, sexual violence against women, genocide.

I’m sitting

on a computer at school, trying to calculate the monetary worth of mass genocide in comparison to the value of famous works of art. Canadian author Margaret Atwood is to blame. “Blood and Roses was a trading game, along the lines of Monopoly,” Atwood writes. “The Blood side played with human atrocities for the counters, atrocities on a large scale: individual rapes and murders didn’t count, there had to have

been a large number of people wiped out. Massacres, genocides, that sort of thing. The Roses side played with human achievements. Artworks, scientific breakthroughs, stellar works of architecture, helpful inventions. Monuments to the soul’s magnificence, they were called in the game.”

I start with a Google search of how much the average person’s life is worth — a morbid exercise in itself. I find a LiveScience article titled “What’s the Dollar Value of a Human Life?” that seems on the mark. This places a human life, from a safety analyst’s perspective, at $5 million, which is apparently a conservative estimate. This boggles my mind; I always thought life insurance paid out much less than this. After a brief fact-finding mission, the arcane machinations of modern insurance policies still escape me, so I’ll stick with $5 million/ person. I decided to go with Bergen-Belsen as my test genocide. About 35,000 people died in the Nazi concentration camp, which works out to about $175 billion by the safety analyst’s number.

Pictured above

Next, the worth of a famous work of art. Wikipedia helpfully tells me that the most ever paid for a piece of art in a private sale — with modern inflation taken into account — was $274 million for ‘The Card Players’ by Cézanne. I blink, my mind blanking for a second. That’s worth about 55 human lives by the $5 million estimate. That’s only equal to an École Polytechnique massacre plus a Salem Witch hangings with a few assassinations as spare change. A dozen Cézannes wouldn’t begin to match Bergen-Belsen, let alone the Holocaust. You’d need more than three-anda-half ‘The Card Players’ just to cancel out the 200 killed in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and this doesn’t begin to take into account any kind of monetary worth of the violation of hu-

man rights associated with the arrests and ensuing crackdowns. Must we also assume that some individual human lives — politicians or artists or great thinkers — are worth more than, say, a modest grocer’s?

How do you put a value on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, or Virginia Woolf’s collected works, or the signature of Princess Enheduanna circa 2280 BCE? To think, all I’m trying to do is build a simple, workable paper prototype of Blood and Roses, a video game described by Canadian author Margaret Atwood in her speculative fiction masterpiece, Oryx and Crake, the first in her MaddAddam trilogy. The series is a Swiftian journey into a strange and frightening, though oddly familiar, near-future Earth. Genetic engineering, bio-warfare, eroding democracy, amoral corporations, and a crumbling global environment all feature heavily. In her acknowledgements of the culminating book, MaddAddam, Atwood admits that the series “does not include any technologies or biobeings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory.” Interactive media and video games exist within Atwood’s delicious dystopian universe, and they serve a very specific purpose. I was inspired to think about this recently while enjoying a Game Grumps “let’s play” video of Plague Inc., a mobile-turned-PC/console game where you lovingly parent an ever-evolving pathogen as it attempts to wipe out the entire human race. It reminded me of the beginning of Oryx and Crake, which explains that the novel’s main character, Jimmy/Snowman, has parents who are bioengineers for morally corrupt biomedical corporations. Jimmy has a fond memory of his mother teaching him a scientific computer program that pits digital

cells against microbes: a cellular war game. What, I wonder, is the appeal of watching Greenland’s last living human die of a horrific disease as the entire country goes dark in Plague Inc.? On a close read of the Blood and Roses section of Oryx and Crake, it’s easy to think of other real-life video games that are analogous to those presented in Atwood’s world. In my mind, Atwood’s Kwiktime Osama becomes a blood-soaked Call of Duty-style FPS of “Infidels” versus “Extremists.” Barbarian Stomp (See If You Can Change History!) is a customizable game that pits civilized cities against savage, invading hordes. There’s an easy comparison to be made with resource management strategy game series like Age of Empires and Civilization. Three-Dimensional Waco, which I only understood as a reference to the Waco, Texas military siege on a second read, could easily be a mass-killing rampage game in the vein of Far Cry, Grand Theft Auto or the virulently violent game Hatred. The aforementioned games, whether fictional or real, share a few common elements: kill or be killed, winners triumph over losers, murder as the central mechanic and death of the opposing player(s) as the goal. Even as these series progress into ever more graphically impressive games, or as we explore video games that are more aesthetically elegant like Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock or Final Fantasy, violent conflict, battle, murder and death are the fuel that keeps the proverbial engine going, and this is an industry norm.

Especially as far as video games are concerned, we live in an author’s dystopian reality. There’s another dimension to interactive media that Atwood explores within MaddAddam. The third book describes the early life of Zeb, the abused son of a sadistic, petroleum-worshipping, fundamentalist Christian preacher-turned-mas-

ter hacker, through the eyes and narrative power of his lover, Toby. Zeb discovers his father’s penchant for “haptic wanksites,” available through “Feel-iT-enabled porno installations in suburban malls.” Given the development and popularization of ever more sophisticated virtual reality technology (a couple of years ago I blogged about a fleshlight attachment for iPads with a proposed porno-app that simulates the point of view of the person on top), virtual-reality porn is not too far off. From the comfort of a home virtual reality interface, Zeb’s father specifically enjoys violent BDSM, especially “historical reenactment beheading sites […] ‘Mary, Queen of Scots: Feel This Hot Red-Head Spurt,’ ‘Anne Boleyn: Royal Slut! Did It with Her Brother, She’ll Do It with You, Then You Get To Slice Her Dirty Little Neck.’” You probably get the picture. Anyone in the gaming community who doesn’t somehow inhabit a miraculous, Twitter-free bubble probably knows that many video game players, critics, and players are questioning gaming’s embrace of toxic masculinity and violent sexism. Like the incredible author that she is, Atwood as oracle intuited this issue on the brink of it coming to a boil within the gaming community. Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian, which was an actual game that I’m ashamed as a human to say someone actually created, is not a far cry from the dehumanizing extreme of haptic pornographic beheadings.

Atwood presents video games as an extension of male power fantasy, often with a sexual, violent bent. Within these forms interactive media, dominance and oppression, especially by mostly white, heterosexual male protagonists is reinforcing reality in these fictional worlds — in Atwood’s case, a fictional world within a fictional world — which then manifests itself in reality, becoming a con-

tinuous loop. Jimmy and his friend play chess, the aforementioned Blood and Roses and another game: Extinctathon. Extinctathon is something like the game 20 Questions, but about dead species. Players take a codename that has to be a creature that went extinct within the last 50 years—Pyrenean Ibex, Baiji Dolphin, Saint Helena Olive, Eastern Cougar, Western Black Rhinocerous or the Japanese River Otter, to name a few — and then engage with another player to guess the identity of an extinct species. This is also where the notion of video games as an extension of dystopia is turned on its head. Extinctathon, throughout the series, proves to be a place of resistance, an Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass adventure into a society of anti-corporate bioterrorists and eco-friendly hackers and green intelligence network operatives. The gateway to this society, a form of resistance, hides in plain sight, masquerading as a game. While each are monitored and administrated in various ways, Twitter, Tumblr, 4chan and Reddit can, for better or for worse, feel like this; clandestine meeting grounds in digital spaces, places where resistance can occur just as easily as not. Extinctathon and Blood and Roses are the only of Atwood’s games that I can’t really think of a real-life comparison to, hence I find myself sitting in my school’s computer lab trying to come up with the mechanics of a trading game that matches knowledge of atrocities to human accomplishments. Atwood points out in her description of the game:

“That was the trouble with Blood and Roses: it was easier to remember the Blood stuff. The other trouble was that the Blood player

usually won, but winning meant you inherited a wasteland.” As I’m trying to conceptualize a mathematical equation that will somehow make the Roses side at least equal to Blood’s atrocities — as I consider knowledge, hegemonic power, domination and the dystopian present that gamers inhabit — I can’t help but agree. I decide it’s time I log off and head out into that wasteland.


Margaret Attwood (2003) Oryx and Crake

Image: ‘The Card Players’ by Paul Cezanne. Public domain, photograph via Wikimedia Commons

#nodads 2024

A history of trolling and hypervigilance Zoya Street

zoyastreet.com @rupazero Zoya Street is a freelance historian and journalist from Britain, living in the Bay Area. He is the founder and editor of Memory Insufficient and author of Dreamcast Worlds and Delay.

Originally published as an anonymous blog post on CryptoJournal in February 2024. Reprinted here on a creative commons license.


this year, I found out that my dad is an internet troll. What’s worse is that he’s been one my whole life. Apparently it started withn imageboards in the 2000s and then moved into harassing feminist media critics in the 2010s. Twenty years of this shit! How did I not know until now? My parents, who were in the midst of sorting out the divorce they so desperately deserved, started up yet another raging fight.

And somehow the truth just spilled out: my dad is an internet troll. All those nights that Dad was hanging out in his den? It turns out he was sending vile messages to teen girls, girls my own age, maybe even girls who I followed. He ran through burner accounts to send particularly threatening messages anonymously. I guess the threats are scarier somehow when they don’t have a face attached, when the receiver knows that the sender could be anyone, anywhere. He kept a few pseudonymous accounts running, too, sending seemingly polite messages at high volume that subtly undermined the receiver’s self-esteem in little chunks at a time. He watched these girls break down publicly while drinking a beer after our family dinners together. Mom said that since Dad was my age, this had been his way of feeling connected to other people. As media changed, his sense of being part of something bigger was made stronger. Old trolls acted alone. Back then, they acted in packs, each one able to contribute a little piece that would add up to someone’s meltdown. Old trolls disappeared if they were not fed. But eventually, the trolls learned to feed each other, to feed on the attention from each other and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Old trolls attacked forums. New trolls attacked people, targeting individuals on multiple platforms. I knew better than to be traceable like that. I learned that the hard way early on, when Dad found my first blog. He sent me an email with some choice quotes about people I had crushes on. “Don’t associate your real name with stuff like that,” he said. “There are bad people out there.” He sent me selfies that he’d found of me, that I thought I’d posted under a pseudonym.

“You’ve got to learn how to make your face undetectable. And you shouldn’t be posting pictures at your age. Have you any idea how dangerous this is?” A serial harasser, scolding me for making myself a target to harassers. I suppose that’s how it works, right? He gets to feel that he’s protected his kid, and that if only other people weren’t so stupid as to use social media the way that it was designed to be used, they wouldn’t be so easily targeted by him. Maybe in his mind he was doing them a favour too, by teaching them to be hypervigilant. How did he find those selfies of me, though? I figured it out years later. His implant sends images to a server with facial recognition software, allowing him to find any search-indexed photographs of that person posted anywhere. He essentially gets to bookmark people and access them whenever and wherever the urge takes him. He accessed me and was surprised at what he found. Dad felt entitled to two identities: he could be a good guy at the dining table, and a powerful badass online. The two identities never had to be linked to one another, as long as he kept in place an elaborate set of systems that kept the two lives separate. The internet isn’t real to him. It’s just a game. And yet, it was Dad who told me about the good old days, when your online identity would be more authentic than your real-life identity, when the internet was the place you went to truly be yourself, to explore sides of yourself that you couldn’t present to the real world. He talked about it as though it was a fleeting moment. “SJWs got obsessed with identity, and made it into this whole war,” he said to me.

I asked him once why social justice warriors were a bad thing, and he said I wouldn’t understand, I wasn’t there when all of this stuff went down. “They were all just doing it for the attention.” Over the years since I left high school, I’ve thought more and more about this idea that once upon a time, people turned identity into a battleground, and that they did it all just for attention. Why is that a bad thing? A teacher once told me that attention is the most important currency of the 21st century. Companies founded in the noughties, when Dad first started trolling, today spend billions of dollars to be the thing on someone’s mind at just the right moment. I mean, right now I’m starting to feel distracted from writing, and at just the moment that my mind started to wander I got a message from a particularly cute NPC in Aloka Online. This message has been perfectly timed using biometric data about my hormone levels, my theta and beta brainwaves, and my physical location. The developers paid for access to that emotional moment, knowing that it was the perfect time to get my attention. There have been maybe a dozen moments today when I’ve received messages like that, each one costing maybe a dollar, maybe ten, depending on what’s being sold to me. Around the world, billions of people receive messages like this every day. Attention isn’t a trivial thing. Initially, I felt so angry that Dad gets to play this game with his online identities, while I have to guard mine so carefully. It’s not like I stopped posting pictures of myself online. We all need to see ourselves reflected in something. We all learned how to hide our faces from recognition software with flashy geometric makeup, asym-

metrical hairdos, lighting tricks, draping headscarves in just the right way so that one eye is concealed. You find ways of showing your face to other humans while hiding it from the machine. I had friends who were constantly changing up their style so that their parents wouldn’t just find them by the familiar shapes and colours they cast on their face. But you learn how to read the common elements in someone’s style that computers still can’t read so well: the materials they prefer, the lines that their hand tends to produce.

Trolls like my father turned online space into a sick game. Well, I can play that game, too. And I’m better at it than he is. Dad hasn’t found any of my online profiles in years, because he doesn’t understand who I am. He thinks he can find me by my name or my face. But I have lots of names and lots of faces. All of them are mine, readable only by those who know what they’re looking for.

Resources Adam Harvey (2014) Cv Dazzle: Camouflage from Face Detection http://ahprojects.com/projects/cv-dazzle/ About the header and cover image: Oakland poet Stephanie Young created the Anti-Surveillance Feminist Poet Hair & Makeup Party project in reaction to an internal debate within American poetry after the December 2013 publication in the New York Daily News of a puff piece profiling six young female New York poets. Photographed at the NYC Poetry Festival on Governors Island in late July when the New York poets were dressed to perform in the scorching heat, the article was widely excoriated within the poetry subculture. The poets came to be blamed for having dared subject themselves to the male gaze in public. The backlash was vicious. The Anti-Surveillance Feminist Poet Hair & Makeup Party aims to scramble the gaze. The Brooklyn segment was organized by poet Monica McClure, whose image headed the Daily News article & who therefore became the locus of her colleagues’ vitriol. Adopting the techniques of CV Dazzle by Adam Harvey, the Party thwarts the machine gaze of facial recognition software & disrupts the male gaze of the dominant culture. All via traditional femme grooming rituals & female bonding. Photograph by Emily Raw, used with kind permission.

Another Brick in the Wall

A history of indie games Claris Cyarron


Claris is an arcane laserbabe, trans-architect, wasteland wanderer and narrative agitator. She works at Silverstring as an ineffability consultant and feminist hex evoker.

This piece has been reprinted from the Fall 2024 anthology of The Indie Revue with permission from its original author.


was last week, and although I’m a bit jetlagged, I’m still gleefully poring over the event details I downloaded. I’ve got many memories left to go through, but one of my favorite bits thus far has been the appearance of Kelley Arman, lead writer on the Ancient Crests series, at the hyper-exclusive Flawless Victory party. The whole 5-hour memory is great (and can be downloaded from her Ancient Crests blog), but the best part was when, a little over an hour in,

she climbed on stage and challenged the MC to a dance-off on the pristine, first-gen Dance Dance Revolution pad that had been restored specifically for the event. I don’t want to spoil what happens next, but suffice it say that ten minutes later, the bubble machines were turned on and the party really got started. Peering through the screen at the glamourous world of game designers, watching the weekly video recap for updates on the extraordinary lives of eccentric, exciting, elusive digital artists, viewing the lives they have authored and the episodes sectioned off and commodified for entertainment, one could be forgiven for not remembering that it wasn’t always like this. It’s hard for me to believe it too, and I’ve spent the entirety of my professional life—almost 9 years now—exploring and commenting on the digital art and games scene. But even just a decade ago, going to a game’s PAX booth meant meeting some (if not all) of the devs. Going to a GDC party was as simple as showing up on time and paying the cover charge.

Making friends with your heroes was often as easy as introducing yourself. The goal wasn’t to create a space where artists could continually reach further and push the boundaries of the artform, but to push against the very boundary between creator and player. The goal was to get everyone creating games and to let this movement spill outward to inculcate and inform every aspect of a digitally connected, system-laden world. I suppose it’s easy to look back on this as simply an extension of bygone, starry-eyed Silicon Valley utopianism, but at the time, this radical inclusionism was meant to be in direct opposition to the tech-startup brand of Randian heroics that

led the world into four economic meltdowns before finally lying down to die. The idea was that as long as the class of creative “out-of-the-box” thinkers continued to be the same kind of snotnosed brats (who had no interest in anything beyond their ability to prove their own greatness), the vast potential of the digital arts would be wasted. The best thing for games (and tech at large) to do would be to open its doors to everyone. Or so the story went. Now, as the 10-year anniversary of GamerGate approaches, a few of my colleagues have begun publicly bemoaning the loss of this techno-utopian vision with trite “in my day” nostalgia pieces. So, is this the point where I pile on? Do I think there’s a dangerous or lamentable disconnect between creators and fans? I don’t agree that our community has lost its way, but I do think it’s important to look back over the last decade. Perhaps if we were more historically aware, we’d understand the need for creators to have the space to interact with each other without the ever-present gaze of customers.

Popular history has a peculiar way of compressing time, taking movements and countermovements and stacking them like pages in a book. We stop seeing the pages as being distinct and start focusing on how the words flow between them. Each moment is a complex web of competing potentialities, but in hindsight, we read it as if the narrative was somehow etched into the very fabric of time, immutable and preordained. Without editing, history doesn’t work well as a story precisely because history isn’t a story. Furthermore, loose-ends and counterflows aren’t evidence of poor storytelling, they’re evidence of a complexi-

ty only reality can provide. First of all, ten years ago gaming sites still had comment sections. Yeah. Remember those? Of course you don’t, because they were horrible and you’ve blocked out all memory of them, or you’re too young to remember—lucky duck. Thanks to GamerGate and Hammerfest, the games community was one of the first to completely do away with comments.

Comment sections are a rarity, and you can thank the constant, omnipresent brutality of your fellow humans for ruining the dream of an internet where everyone’s opinions matter and are heard. In the days before and during GamerGate and Hammerfest, however, many denizens of the internet were more interested in protecting a person’s right to speak (even if “to speak” meant “to harass”) than they were a person’s right to be protected from abuse. It’s strange to look back on this and remember that at the time, it was framed as a debate about free speech. Nevertheless, that’s exactly how it went down. Thousands upon thousands of the entitled, petulant masses came shrieking out of the woodwork, crying “censorship!” in the face of (often temporary) bans for violent threats and vile statements. Honestly, despite the justifiable fears toward government intervention, everyone still hoped that the government would eventually sort out the social and technological ills that plagued the internet—at the very least by making online harassment a realistically punishable crime. I don’t think anyone expected that in the wake of the 2014-15 race riots, and bogged down by the protests and

guerilla interference that would later coalesce into the Social Liberation Front, local and federal law enforcement agencies in the United States would simple give up and make it clear that it was up to online communities to police themselves.

The fact is that the games community was forced into this position both by violently entitled fans and by the ineptitude of the systems that are supposed to protect them. When pop-game icon David Jaren received complaints about his absence on the PAX Prime 2022 Mega Blast Mountain design panel, he responded jovially. “I feel very blessed everyday to have my fans’ affection and support,” Jaren said. “Without them I wouldn’t have a job, but I also have that job to do, and attending conventions to answer the same questions again and again isn’t part of it. People will complain if I don’t go to a convention, but they’ll also complain if the next Blast Mountain gets pushed back, so I have to pick my battles.” Notoriously weird art-games creator Paige Leavenworth (winner of the 2019 IGF Nuovo Award and the IGF’s Seumas McNally Grand Prize in 2021 and 2023), paints an even starker, and frankly, more accurate, picture of fans in the poem they posted on their website after they were targeted by Hammerfest hackers last year: We are not kings & queens, held high by our subjects and honor-bound to preserve their lives and vouchsafe their happiness. We are not politicians, elected to our station by popular vote and beholden to keep election promises or else. We are wizards and priests, empowered by the

belief of the common folk and protected not by love or devotion but by their fear. Fear of us— but protected only just. Our flocks and followers are indeed our greatest threat, for demons and darknesses always wear a human face; evil works through people; evil is born of people; it is impossible to know what desires live behind unknown eyes.

Leavenworth came under fire from fans for being in a relationship with gender-abolitionist games creator Quincey Floss and digital art critic Jennie Jones. Jones was an IGF judge the year Leavenworth won their first Grand Prize, and some fans felt that this signaled a potential conflict of interest, calling into question the results of the 2021 awards altogether. Eventually, as things involving passionate fans always do, it escalated to death threats, extreme breaches of privacy, and drone-based stalking. This resulted in the IGF finally deciding to abandon its long-held efforts to keep itself open to the public; last year’s awards ceremony was an invite-only affair, with several popular but relatively small-time creators being denied tickets amid concerns that some of them had been active community members on notorious imageboard 4chan in the past. Other creators were denied invite on the basis that they had connections to the Social Liberation Front. Jeremy Irons, the president of the IGF, was very candid about the matter. “Look, as far as I’m concerned, the fans have brought this on themselves. We are all really fucking tired of being bullied and harassed by ‘fans.’ We’re done being terrorized by people who don’t have the talent or energy to get off their asses and create things for themselves, who just want to tear down other people and their efforts.

We won’t let them suck our energy and time any more. We don’t owe them anything. I’m not sure we ever did. As for which creators got invited last year, all I can say is that the IGF is not interested in providing a platform for extreme views. We’ve built a rich, diverse, nurturing community here, and we’re not interested in radicals jeopardizing that.” Of course, that wasn’t the first time Leavenworth has faced the ire of their fans. You may remember their public refusal five years ago to allow Twitter to put their account on the Zero-Harassment feature track, along with all the other verified accounts. Leavenworth’s argument, which was disseminated in their videogame manifesto, “Never Look Away,” was that as long as Twitter was not fixing the problem for all users, it was unethical for the “elite” to accept special treatment. A few years later, Leavenworth closed their account entirely, citing continued harassment.

I think we all want to feel like we’re an important part of this amazing culture. One day, I hope that I’ll get on that Flawless Victory guest list, but let’s be honest here, some of us contribute more than others. These creators are our best and brightest, and they deserve the lives they have built for themselves and the community they have built for each other. Like musicians and actors before them, these luminaries have been lifted up by the hands of a million (or more) fans only to realize that each hand wouldn’t let go, and so the dream turned into a nightmare. Some amateur designers claim that voices are still being marginalized or excluded entirely in the developer community. Their argument is that the job of including diverse voices was never truly done and that many good folks were simply trapped outside as the walls came up—a terrible fate indeed.

I couldn’t agree more, but that doesn’t in any way lend credence to the idea that the walls should come down. Critics and commentators like myself exist so that outsider creators can become known, and find their way inside. We need to acknowledge the ways we are failing to do that. We don’t need to burn the castle down. The concept album The Wall (1979) by classic rock group Pink Floyd contains songs that tell a story. In it, we follow the life of a musician who is pushed further into isolation and disconnect by the ills of the world. Mentally, the protagonist builds “the wall” to keep everyone out and to keep himself safe. Pink Floyd was trying to comment on how modern society alienates and isolates us all; each moment of the protagonist’s life is another brick in the wall, and in the finale of the album, the wall is torn down and he is once again free to reconnect with the world.

Of course, this was written before the creation of the internet, and the danger for artists today is not isolation but invasion. The fact is, radical inclusivity was a great idea in theory and in history, but it fails to pass muster in practice today. Ten years ago, the narrative was that “anybody can make a game,” not unlike how the idea driving communism was that “everyone’s effort is equally valuable.” We know how well the latter worked out, and now it’s time to put the former on the same shelf.

Tower image rendered and shared by Monteirinho on PlanetMinecraft.com

Kill the past

Liberation maiden and destructive nostalgia Benjamin Gabriel

uninterpretative.blogspot.com Benjamin Gabriel writes about games, music and science fiction. Aside from blogging at Uninterpretative, he has also written for the New Enquiry and writes book reviews for Strange Horizons.

In the mid-2000s,

a new Japanese game designer began making waves in America. His public-facing persona was linked to one phrase: Punk’s Not Dead. His weird game became a flashpoint. Despite being for a Nintendo console, it was as alienating, hyperviolent, and hypersexualized as anything from the Italian exploitation films of the 1970s. It had all the technical abstraction and mythological sensibilities of early survival horror. And it was an onrails shooter. Suda51’s Killer7 dreamt big. It framed its conflicts in no uncertain terms; the shooting gallery was

a game of chess at the end of time with gods as players, the targets (and, ultimately, the shooter) nothing less than global conspirators and avatars of Death. But it still had time for charming characters like a severed head and a grenadier luchador. The size of those dreams was seen, by the fandom, through a glass darkly; the developers’ ambition was not a feature or a narrative choice, but the architecture of the whole project. Killer7, a game obsessed with conspiracy theories, became a thing to be decoded, a text in a Dan Brown novel. Fueled in part by the language barrier between American fans and the Japanese developer, auxiliary material quickly became fetish objects for the dedicated fandom. Of these, a supplement to Killer7 quickly gained prominence. The first half of its subtitle matched a phrase from machine-translated interviews with the developer, and a new three word phrase was born: Kill the Past.

Nearly a decade on, piecing together the information available in English on the Kill the Past slogan is still not easy. It seems to have been a sort of thematic trilogy from Suda51’s time as an employee of Human Entertainment. The games he directed there had something vaguely like a shared world, but were mostly linked by way of a motif; the playable character, at some point, would have to kill something or someone from their past, in order to be able to move on or—according to some fan translations of an interview about the last game in the trilogy—more specifically, to fight the future. Killer7 was looped into this trilogy, despite it consisting of Moonlight Syndrome, The Silver Case, and Flower, Sun, and Rain, because the supplement, Hand in Killer 7: Kill the Past, Jump Over the Age appeared on the radar of a new American fandom. And because—more than Suda51’s more popular

three-word catchphrase—it provided a produckontek.net tive means through which to read games marked For the supplement, see the by his brand. fan translation at delta head translation 2013’s Killer is Dead was heralded as a return to form for the auteur, after a number of diversions; fans anxiously anticipated a return to the themes of Killer7 after years of Lollipop Chainsaws. It was widely rumored that Suda51 had taken a backseat on directing “his” games sometime around the release of No More Heroes; but fans still bought them, in hopes of a return to form. For the trilogy, see

What this mentality ignored was that the phrase wasn’t an authorial signature, but a productive framing. A year prior to the release of Killer is Dead, Suda51’s Grasshopper Manufacture participated in a compilation game, published by Level-5, for the Nintendo 3DS handheld console. Titled Guild01, it was intended as a showcase for Japanese auteur designers. Grasshopper Manufacture’s contribution was Liberation Maiden, a game in which the President of a future Japan (who happens to be a teenage girl) pilots a mecha to fight off “The Dominion” and restore Japan to its natural beauty.

For more on this, see:

Clockwork Worlds

The mecha genre itself was just beginning a resurgence when Liberation Maiden came out. The remake of Neon Genesis Evangelion had begun, and Pacific Rim was well into development. The following year, the compilation’s sequel included a game called Attack of the Friday Monsters! which more directly addressed the conventions and history of the mecha and kaiju genres, and the ways in which they are used to create futures for which we can all be nostalgic. This nostalgia is always haunted. The kaiju genre, and its most famous figure, Godzilla, are well known for being a response to the atomic bomb

and to widespread industrialization. They are political in a way that the depiction of mechas is not, even though the two are historically intertwined. The history, however, is largely avoided when the genres are split; that Liberation Maiden is a mecha game is in some sense an attempt to avoid the politics of history.

A future for which we can all be comfortably nostalgic sits uneasily with the imperative to kill the past. Liberation Maiden manages to create a future which inverts the past. As the player shoots lasers at enemies and buildings, causing them to burst into flora, bits and pieces of narrative are unlocked. These unlocks happen when the player does unintuitive things like “flying to the edge of the combat zone;” not challenges so much as suggestions to play the game poorly. Six of these unlockables are marked “History,” and provide worldbuilding context. “100 years in the future,” Japan is a waning ecological paradise under semi-subjugation by “The Dominion,” and is leading a worldwide effort to resist the Dominion’s stranglehold on the world. The “sole ruler of the Dominion[,] known only as ‘the Chairman,’” never shows up in the game proper. His “ambitions border on madness,” as the leader of a nation whose “radical political philosophy is little more than a front for spreading their own ideals and national interests, leading them to wage war against the entire world.” The Chairman, who is a clear analogue of Mao, also has weaponry described as “[l]acking any artistic aesthetics.” Over the course of the played through narrative, the Dominion is only ever given a single moment of visual identification; after the player has defeated the final boss, a large airship appears bear-

ing a flag with a striking resemblance to the flag of the People’s Republic of China (although resemblance to the Viet Cong flag or the People’s Liberation Army’s Air Force flag are arguable as well): one large, and several smaller, gold five-pointed stars, the large on a red background. The flag of the Dominion is cut in half with blue on the bottom (where the smaller stars are), which brings up the other resemblances. Liberation Maiden takes as its premise a fantasy future in which the roles of the Second Sino-Japanese war are reversed. The chairman is now the imperial aggressor. Suda51’s games have a tendency to engage international politics, but Kill the Past tends to be read as a purely personal theme. The fact that Killer7 uses an America-Japan conflict as its motivating incident is subsumed into the personal conflicts of its characters. Liberation Maiden doesn’t allow for this, though: the only way to read it, in terms of Killing the Past, is politically.

This political reading is fraught. It mirrors the ascendant right wing tendency in Japan to revise the nation’s imperialist aggressions during the second world war. In terms of the game itself, it pushes the ecological themes away from the benign Save the Whales feeling that blowing up buildings to make trees provides and towards something more like Blood & Soil. But the obvious counterpoint, that this premise is largely locked away behind a series of menus and so is not central to the game, is hard to argue ever since it received a sequel. Liberation Maiden SIN might not be available to English-speaking gamers, but the fact that it is a vi-

sual novel indicates that when given the choice, Suda51 opted to expand on the games story rather than its mechanics. That this first iteration came as a mecha shooter, with all its story components locked away, however, seems telling. The scoring system is, among other things, a way to signify its status as in the lineage of arcade games. This lineage is largely a broken one; the decline of arcades, particularly in America, positions any game which engages this idiom as a throwback. Thus two central aspects of the game itself, its aesthetics and its incentives, are themselves of a piece with the past. The Kill the Past trilogy is sometimes read in terms of a theory of trauma; beyond the recurring trope of a head in a brown paper bag, the specific impetus to kill someone (or something) from one’s own past in order to move forward in life gels with a psychoanalytic approach, whereby trauma must be objectified and overcome. Crucial to this dynamic is the hermeticism of the space, in which the analyst functions as an unimpeachable authority figure by way of manner and infallibility of reading in order to provide the analysand with a space in which to progress beyond their trauma. Many of Suda51’s games can be read through this lens, though applying it to Liberation Maiden risks anthropomorphizing the actions of the state to justify imperialism.

Against simply ascribing to Suda51 an unreconstructed imperialist sympathy, then, an attempt to look forward. If Kill the Past is indeed a productive lens through which to read his games, whether by authorial intent or accident of the global distribution of goods, then the rubric itself must be interrogated. The historical revisionism of Liberation Maiden is

For more on Takashi Murakami, see:

Japan Society

a way to apply the lens of the Kill the Past slogan, and a way to read it. If killing the past is a straightforward theory of trauma, then Liberation Maiden is little more than a rephrasing of contemporary visual artist Takashi Murakami’s thesis on kawaii; that Japanese culture is engaged in an endless attempt to overcome the trauma of the atom bomb. That, rather than the bomb, the game centers imperialist aggression is noteworthy, however. Liberation Maiden suggests that the past, in terms of game mechanics and aesthetics, can be productively engaged with as signs and systems. This takes the form of speculative future which looks suspiciously like alternate history. To fight for the future, one must kill the past.

Resources Kontek.net Kill the Past trilogy http://archive.kontek.net/killer7.3dactionplanet. gamespy.com/killthepast.htm Delta Head Translation Hand in Killer7 http://www.deltaheadtranslation.com/adilegian/ HAND_IN_KILLER7.txt Austin Walker ‘A disputed history: Attack of the Friday Monsters and the Kaiju Genre’ http://clockworkworlds.com/post/56557215335/adisputed-history-attack-of-the-friday-monstersand Takashi Murakami ‘Little Boy: The arts of Japan’s exploding subculture’ http://www.japansociety.org/little_boy_the_arts_ of_japans_exploding_subculture Liberation Maiden image copyright Level5


Rapture, death and mythmaking Stephen Winson


Stephen Winson was co-editor of re/Action, and is now a co-founder of content curation platform newsbloQ.

In the long tradition of apocalyptic writing from the ancient world, most stories are framed as the transcription of dreams the writer had, wherein something, usually the future, is revealed to them. The English word, apocalypse, derives from the ancient Greek apokalypsis, which means “revelation.” Opening presents is apokalypsis, as what was hidden is now revealed.

Depending on which version of the Christian Bible you encounter, the final book may be titled “Apocalypse” or “Revelation” for indeed they are the same thing.

The adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire, and its subsequent spread past the decaying state, transformed an apocalypse into The Apocalypse; the specific events that were purportedly revealed to John of Patmos, and over time any other fantastic scenario describing the end of the current social and political order. Despite the major change in the meaning of apocalypse, apokalypsis has not disappeared. All of our stories of speculative or alternative history, and most of science fiction, are apocalyptic writing in that original sense. While we do not generally present them as a transcribed dream to each other, we do say that authors “dream up” the fictional worlds they write about. With that framing, the differences between ancient apocalyptic texts and modern fiction writing blur greatly. Indeed, whenever we write about the future, or consider what might have happened differently in the past, we are passing judgement on our own time in much the same way as the apocalyptic writers of old did on theirs. Sometimes this is explicit, such as the distinct novel and film versions of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. Often it is subtler, such as in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine. The now of the author is always there, constantly examined, regardless of how far in the future the story takes place, or how long past the speculative change it explores.

As with John of Patmos, authors of future and alternative history judge the time they are writing in. The Walking Dead games from Telltale are some of the best written examples of the zombie apocalypse. As with other stories in the genre, The Walking Dead is apocalyptic in both senses.

The societies we live in shown to be brittle shells that are all that protects us from each other, and often ourselves. Our selves are shown to be shells, built for a purpose, and we will become different selves when need demands, often without noticing. Trust is dangerous, especially when survival is impossible without it. The dirty jobs modern societies must do go undone, revealing the true nature of the costs of survival to those who had been living lives of ignorant privilege. Living humans are the monsters, and those who fail to recognize that meet brutal ends. Through the zombies, the natural world reasserts itself over humanity, turning former humans into a thoughtless force of nature. That it is not a supernatural deity who is the driving force in the catastrophe is irrelevant. In The Walking Dead the cold, uncaring universe stands in judgement, and the authors believe our society, not to mention most of us, will be found wanting. The alternate history of Bioshock also passes judgment on the world when it was released. In its most widely recognized mode, it passes judgement on the objectivist libertarianism of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged by exploring how the author believes a society run as such would end up. But there are many direct allusions to the Christian Apocalypse that riddle the text. The name of the city, Rapture, is obvious and explicit. The character of Atlas/Fontaine has many attributes attributed to various versions of the Antichrist and the Dragon from Revelation and various subsequent interpretations of the book. The player’s avatar, a product of the manipulations of Rapture’s Antichrist, bears a tattoo on his right hand, mirroring the Mark of the Beast. At the end, he slays the “dragon” Fontaine, and is the saviour of the Little Sisters, the “chosen few” saved from the tribulation of the end times.

Taken together with its two sequels, Bioshock 2 and Bioshock Infinite, the series expands from an apokalypsis of the doom of any would-be Galt’s Gulch, to warning of the doom from any deviation from the modern, neo-liberal capitalist consensus. Bioshock 2 posits a collectivist opposition to Andrew Ryan’s objectivism taking over in the ruins of Rapture, and judges those principles to be failures in practice. Bioshock Infinite extends this judgement both to modern neo-Confederate conservative reactionaries, and militant resistance by the oppressed. Taken as a whole, the series becomes something of an Apocalypse of Professor Pangloss, the mentor of the titular main character of Voltaire’s Candide. As the professor says at the end of the novel: “There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: if you had not stabbed the Baron: if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts.” This repeats all across speculative fiction. Star Trek posits the ultimate triumph of 1960s liberal American idealism. Fallout warns of the consequences of our overweening sense of control over our fate, and belief in progress, echoing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Gears of War is a neo-conservative morality tale for the War on Terror, exhorting its players that the only response to our implacable enemy is total war, total victory, or total destruction. Dead Space presents an atheist morality tale of the horrors that could be unleashed by deluded theists in the future. The “secular heaven” posited in the late Iain M. Banks Culture novels is a more modern, European take on the idealistic apocalypse of Star Trek. Employing apocalypse even extends to the stories our political leaders generate about the kind of

government they and their opponents would implement. In the United States of America today, we are deluged by the duelling Apocalypses of the Republican and Democratic parties. Apocalypse, and its apokalypsis, is fundamental to our modern understanding of the future and the past. It gives us the narrative of history. The whys and wherefores.

Without that judgement of the present, the future isn’t the future, and the past isn’t history. Without that, it’s simply stuff that happened, or might happen, or might have happened.

Image: Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov. Painted in 1887. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

Going home

Representations of my residences Jefferson Geiger

jeffersongeiger.weebly.com @geigerjd Jefferson Geiger is a graduate of Colorado State University’s Journalism and Technical Communication program. He is fascinated by developers who push narrative and mechanical boundaries.

“We’ve cleaned up the mess at DIA.” I blink at the screen. I’m playing Assassin’s Creed while sitting uncomfortably on a futon made for 2 1/2 people at my brother’s apartment in The People’s Republic of Boulder. To my left is a cat who hates me and on my right is my brother’s roommate, passed out. I want to show him the screen, but I’m not sure if he’s either getting over a hangover or a high. Maybe both. I was just lazily skimming Warren Vidic’s emails, but now I read them more carefully. Denver International Airport is only forty minutes from here. I’ve been there more than any other airport. What could have happened at DIA? My DIA?

A few weeks later, my family and I drive to Peña Boulevard, the throat of DIA, for a trip east to visit our past. Even though it’s night, the moonlight bounces off the snow and makes the city brighter than hours before. We pass cluster of buildings and I do a double-take. Was that—no, it couldn’t be. There’s no way a random business park has the same logo as Abstergo Industries. Has that water tower always been there? Maybe Ubisoft borrowed ideas from the present, too. 2012, the year Assassin’s Creed takes place, came and went without any excitement. The blue mustang statue with demonic orange eye outside the airport that killed its own creator didn’t even claim another life. It’s not that I was hoping for an incident to occur, it’s just that I was curious. I didn’t want the world to end from the Mayan Apocalypse, mainly because it would mean that I spent my whole life in school, but surely I wasn’t the only one wondering if something would happen. *



I pop Left 4 Dead into the Xbox 360 after school while my friends all grab a controller off of the coffee table. We start a new campaign for probably the sixth time. A few levels in, the excited profanities shouted at every encountered Witch or Tank settle down as the game is paused for bathroom break. I’m crouched behind an abandoned car staring at the license plate for a couple minutes.

Even though the screen is gray and blurred, I recognize the stripes. Blue. White. Yellow. Pennsylvania. Wait, that’s where we are? My old home? I’m the one person in the room who has been to The Keystone State, let alone live there for 15

years, and I only noticed the setting because I was bored. With the generic names like Fairfield and Newburg I never realized it was Pennsylvania. The camera at the beginning of Blood Harvest pans over a sign that says “Allegheny National Forest,” but I must have been goofing off with my friends or skipped the cutscene. I’ve never been to the forest in person, so it’s not like I would have recognized it, but the name “Allegheny” is so Pennsylvanian that I should have known sooner.

Instead, each new locale was Lorem Ipsum, USA to me: a quiet placeholder meant to not distract players from their objective of survival. After the zombie slaying session I become slightly disappointed at this new information. Granted, Pennsylvania isn’t the most exciting state, but I feel as though Valve could have thrown in more unique environments. Imagine cutting through hordes of undead civil war soldiers on the fields of Gettysburg, running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art like Rocky to get to shelter, or knocking a corpse off of one of Pittsburgh’s numerous bridges. Six years later I get the level design I’m looking for. *



Everyone on Twitter can’t stop talking about The Last of Us and I give in. Rather, my Playstation 3-owning friend, who I also convinced to get Journey so I could experience it, gives in. I watch the Hank Williams trailer from Gamescon over and over to sate my desire as he plays. When the credits stop rolling he calls to me from down the hall. The eerie guitar of Gusatvo Santaolalla, the game’s composer, pours out of the subwoofer as light from the TV illuminates the otherwise pitch-

black room. I plant my posterior and play. Ellie, Joel and I leave Boston and drive to Pittsburgh. I sing along to the Hank Williams track that I’ve now memorized and recognize the bright yellow Fort Duquesne Bridge in the horizon. I stare in awe and wander around the familiar sights. There’s the Mellon Building right next to the US Steel Tower. A few moments later I pass the Highmark Building. Naughty Dog’s artists did a speculator job with aging real life environments 20 years. It’s like I’m visiting my family in the future that probably won’t happen but I already believe it has. When I recognize settings in movies it’s like looking at someone else’s photographs, but when I experience it in games it’s like I’m rewriting my memory. Eventually Clickers ruin my scenic tour and it’s time to move on. The most livable city isn’t so livable anymore. As I head west, my friend tells me that I’ll soon see another familiar sight. “Where’s this lab of theirs?” Joel asks. “All the way out in University of Eastern Colorado,” says Tommy. “Go Big Horns,” replies Joel. I sit in silence and go over the dialogue in my head. There’s no University of Eastern Colorado. Colorado State University’s mascot is a ram, which is a male big horn sheep. My alma mater is only a 40 minute drive to the Wyoming border and it’s also more eastern than University of Colorado, the state’s other major school and rival to CSU. A tattered green and gold banner, my university’s colors, with a Big Horn logo flaps in the wind as Joel approaches on horseback.

I look over to my friend with wide eyes. I am on CSU’s campus playing a video game where I explore a fictional version of CSU.

I’ll admit that the brick architecture is more like CU’s and the science building is probably their medical facility that churns out MDs, but CSU is known for it’s world-class veterinary school. The game didn’t specify what kind of science lab. In reality I understand it’s an amalgamation of the two for legal reasons, but you’ll have a difficult time convincing me CSU doesn’t turn into a Firefly lab in the near future. I lean out of the room and picture zombies run down the hall. What buildings on campus would be the best hideout in 2033? With twelve stories Westfall and Durward are the tallest, but that might be a bit too isolated. The third floor of Morgan Library is centrally located and has a good amount of real estate. One the other hand, the top of Yates gives two more floors and the chemistry labs could prove to be useful. I should have signed up for Humans Versus Zombies this year. *



I’m jealous of Californians, New Yorkers and Martians. They get to have all the fun in their own video game worlds. The latest SSX has a map in The Rockies, but the 3,000 mile range stretches from New Mexico to Canada. Instead of going south and exploring Colorado’s 20-plus ski resorts, the game focuses on three peaks in British Columbia and Alberta. South Park: The Stick of Truth takes place in a mining ghost town. Without locals-only references like in the Guitar Hero episode, the mountains might as well be Skyrim.

This summer I hiked around Mt. Massive, the location for Outlast, and didn’t spot a single abandoned building, let alone an asylum. Given the state’s mass shootings history, de-

velopers should shy away from a modern, openworld game in Colorado. However, The Centennial State’s past is rich with video game setting opportunities. I would love to play an Assassin’s Creed in the late 1800’s with Tesla as the go-to gadget guy crafting tools out of his lab in Colorado Springs. If Red Dead Redemption ever has a sequel, it could move further north into Colorado and follow the mining boom, train industry or Zebulon Pike’s expedition. Throw a dart at the map and you’re bound to find something worthwhile. The coasts have been in the spotlight long enough. I want more people to experience what I did in The Last of Us. Go big—I mean, rams.

Image: Sketch of Mount Massive Buffalo State Hospital from Outlast by DeviantArt user Aiden2107

Comrades in code

A short history of the gaming commons Shaun Green

arcadianrhythms.com @shanucore Shaun lives by the sea in the south of England. He enjoys video games, science fiction, punk, history and politics. This is his first visit to this timeline.

With the solemnity of Remembrance Day so close behind us, it is a fine time to look back on a near-century of near-global peace and recognise what this fertile bed has allowed to take root and bloom. In particular it is a time to acknowledge the importance of the Gaming Commons - and to understand how this revolutionary concept was brought into being. As gamers, we often fail to afford sufficient attention to the tools and support structures that have historically enabled developers to create the experiences we love. Some may consider it tasteless to draw a connection between a monument to human barbarity and senselessness like the Great War and a cultural medium that, perhaps by dint of its youth, is often unfairly re-

garded as frivolous. The response to such accusations is to note that just as the tapestry of history provides ample inspiration for the conceptual and thematic grounding of games—as in mature works that seek to explore the world around them—so too do the errors of history suggest how events might have turned out very differently. Consider Germany. As gamers we may know them chiefly for development collectives like Akiba and Blue Byte, alongside distribution co-operatives such as Kalypsian. Such groups benefit from their nation’s strong economy; German love of engineering and precision may be a running joke, but the country extols the European ideal with its economic stability, long-standing social democratic and socialist governance, and its many leading scientists, philosophers and technologists. Germany’s game developers, too, have often been at the forefront of games as an explorative medium. Take, for example, the 1996 RPG Albion, which used the science fiction and fantasy genres to bring to vivid life a tale of colonialism, callous exploitation and, finally, war—all defeated by an alliance of minds that spanned nations and worlds. It is difficult to imagine such a game emerging from an imperial Germany, so critical is it of the narratives that once defined the nation.

Similarly, political experiments in MUDs became popular in the country in the 1980s, allowing players to speculate upon and participate in a fictional Germany governed not by socialist councils but ruled by oligarchs and despots. With these and many other achievements borne in

mind, it is interesting to note that following the Great War and its 16 million dead—including 2 million German conscripts and volunteers—there were serious proposals among the victorious nation-states to bill the cost of the conflict to Germany. Latter-day economists have analysed such proposals - actually annulled several years after the war ended, following changes in British and French political leadership - and argued that they might have destroyed the viability of Germany as a nation, so preventing it from growing into the leading role it plays in Europe today and simultaneously inviting the disease of nationalism back into its bruised national psyche. What might have happened had Germany’s people suffered in such a way? We can only speculate, yet it is likely that the country would have followed a very different trajectory, perhaps with ramifications for all Europe. Let us set aside speculation and focus instead on less disputable positions. Arguably the most important feature of the modern games development landscape, the Gaming Commons allows developers to source assets from a vast library and draw upon the coding expertise of their comrades.

Entire modules can be taken from the Commons and repurposed, enabling sophisticated, proven mechanics and components to be implemented without building them entirely from the ground up. The origins of the Gaming Commons can be found in the tape- and disk-sharing traditions that rose alongside early personal computing in early 1980s Europe, the USA and, later, the PSUSR. European and American users would exchange disks containing the primitive software of the time, often hand-cod-

ed by hobbyists, using their creativity to solve software problems that the hardware manufacturers of the time had scarcely probed. Ironically, given the late arrival of personal computing in the Post-Soviet States, it was a PSUSR factory on the outskirts of Leningrad that first began to ship its products with compendiums of such crowdsourced software pre-loaded in 1985. This approach spread like wildfire around the Old World, despite political resistance from the New—which continued, as it continues today, to cling to its particular vision of intellectual property. Yet the physical nature and memory limitations of disks restricted the degree to which software could be exchanged, and the logistics of collating, organising and okaying the use of software at manufacturing or distribution hubs compounded the challenges of interchange. This is where NORPLNET and ARPANET come in; the precursors to today’s internet.

While the history of the internet is generally well-known it’s worth acknowledging the ideological clashes that characterised its ancestors. ARPANET came first in 1969: a triumph for the American capitalist model. Yet its intended use in military research programs proved enough of a political sticking point that European nations opted to produce their own independent super-network. Although the modern global internet only came into being much later, NORPLNET was hugely valuable in helping to refine the common practice of software exchange into something much greater. When the academic and research network was opened to industry and the general public in 1988, computing enthusiasts seized upon it as a channel for mass discussion as well as data exchange. The exchange of software,

previously limited by physical media, geography or the reach of distributive co-operatives, became intertwined with the free passage and exchange of data between post-capitalist Eurasian nations, and the resultant boom in both innovation and refinement of software inspired still greater things—including, later, the Gaming Commons. Although digital gaming was still young, and largely recognised by mainstream culture as an American and Japanese eccentricity, its enthusiasts were disproportionately represented among these proto-internet pioneers. Many early NORPLNET users were themselves software developers, and the 1980s had been a fine era in which to exercise personal creativity—which meant that large numbers of computer games were produced. Yet as computers became increasingly powerful, and software concurrently grew more sophisticated, challenges began to emerge. Developers consistently found themselves in the position of, if not reinventing, then recreating the wheel: coding parts of their games and crafting assets that, in truth, had been made hundreds of times before by other people. How to solve such a problem?

The answer came in the form of a student project at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, completed in 1990, which they dubbed the Asset Repository. These Spanish comrades invited software and game developers around the world to contribute small programs, sub-routines, modules, even art and audio assets to this repository, and to take from it anything useful for their own development projects. “The origins of our Asset Repository lie in the variety of our modes of thought, and of our... respective age and youth. I was a child during Franco’s attempted coup, and remember all too well how

Europe might have fallen into a new Dark Age of fascism and corporatism. I turned to study late in life, but was determined to find ways to build bridges, between nations and between citizens, not only politically but creatively. My many talented comrades on this project, with their youth and technological brilliance, and their belief in this humanitarian vision, were able to make dream become reality.” - Bernadita Martin, Asset Repository Project Lead, interviewed in 2005. The project proved such a resounding and popular success that the primitive infrastructure of NORPLNET struggled under the strain of packet exchange, and the students at Madrid had to rapidly secure additional servers to support the Repository. These were happily directed to the university, at the behest of the country’s Syndicalist government, from one of Spain’s leading computer manufacturers. It wasn’t until delicate international political treaties were signed between 1992 and 1993, signalling amongst other groundbreaking developments - the union of ARPANET with NORPLNET into a single ‘internet’, that developers from the Old and New Worlds were able to exchange ideas and assets as freely as is the case today. This digital union was celebrated by many online initiatives, among them the renaming and expansion of the Asset Repository into the grander, more communitarian Gaming Commons, thanks to international co-operation between numerous academic, government and unaffiliated syndicalist datacentres. Yet despite today’s Gaming Commons only having come into being when Old and New united, it’s probable that the original concept of the Asset Repository would never have been willed into being without the comradeship between nations that characterises the past four-score years of socialist and democratic Europe - all brought about thanks to the harsh lessons taught by the experiences of the Great War and the associated follies of capitalism and imperialism.

The spirit of the old Internationale, of collaboration between European citizens and nations, and of a citizenry free to work and self-express for the good of themselves, one another and the citizen body, is what ushered the Commons into being. What capitalist state could have permitted such widespread free exchange without the intrusion of the commercial imperative, or provided support structures by which citizens could pursue creative endeavours that have no clear, immediate ‘market value’? “It’s undeniable that the socialists and communists of Old Europe have chanced across something brilliant. It’s also undeniable that, once American capitalism and entrepreneurial spirit is brought to the table, this Asset Repository will soon be a relic of the past.” - Unattributed quote, Microsoft Board meeting, 1991. Fortunately, although the distribution of American commercial assets via the Gaming Commons was and remains restricted, its new availability in 1990s USA following years of proven success inspired many American citizens to make use of decades of European, Asian and African ingenuity. The projects that these American entrepreneurs released—typically marketed and sold domestically, and freely distributed outside the United sphere of influence—shook the American gaming industry from its Atari-dominated complacency.

The seismic impact of the Gaming Commons continues to be felt throughout the USA today.

US corporations such as Microsoft have attempted to set up their own competing commercial endeavours, though these have achieved limited takeup and success. Several smaller companies have experimented in de-commercialising aspects of development, funding creative ‘farms’ to allow for greater freedom of experimentation—all in the hopes of later benefitting from the sales of new product, of course. Perhaps most importantly, the number of games autonomously developed and released by citizens has shown exponential growth year-by-year since the Repository was made available within the USA. Today the fruit of the Gaming Commons is enjoyed by millions of gamers and developers around the world, and the games, stories and experiences that people create continue to foster the empathy and understanding necessary to advance communitarian art and culture. There is beauty in seeing a Congolese artist realise a vision that draws upon the richness of her cultural heritage, and for it to have been made possible because of the contributions of hundreds of comrades around the globe. There is also beauty in the way that the Gaming Commons, by making trivial the communal overcoming of technical challenges, encourages creators to focus upon ideas, redoubling their efforts to make their games mean something. It is true that there are valid criticisms of the Commons. Today, with the majority of the world’s population already online, and with millions of creators around the world all clamouring for attention, we are faced by a serious curatorial challenge that NORPLNET’s early Asset Repository users could never have foreseen. But they only had to imagine the solution to their own challenge—how best to manage the logistics of sharing—in order to bring it into being. So too do we. Unlike our comrades stranded in the hinterlands of capitalism, our future is only constrained by the limits of our imaginations. Image: Shukhov tower, Moscow. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Lite CC-BY-SA 3.0

After CyberSyn

Chile’s department of simulation literature Adam Flynn

splendidvagabond.blogspot.com Adam Flynn collects thoughts & notions orbiting the topics of media theory, convergence culture, interactive shenanigans, anomalous pasts, and weird futures.

Chilean mathematicians working on problems of uncertainty, adaptation, and “exceedingly complex systems� in a resource-limited environment led to notable advances in parallel distributed processing and the formulation of adaptive resonance theory in the mid-1980s. They continue to lead in research related to neural networks.

From Spacewar onwards, American computing and computer games were born and molded in the shadow of the American military-industrial complex. As such, they carried with them an emphasis on topdown control, zero-sum rivalry, and victory by conquest. Chilean cybernetics, by contrast, fostered an emphasis on decentralized autonomy, multiplicity of perspectives, and collaborative optimization. This led them to perceive problems in different ways, and build different techno-social systems to address those problems. It fed into different developments in both mathematics and the arts. The story begins, as one might expect, with politics. Salvador Allende was elected in 1970 on a platform of

enacting socialism within the nation’s existing democratic framework. This might have caused great consternation in Washington but for two events: the election of Robert Kennedy in 1968 and the subsequent attempt on Kennedy’s life by former CIA operative David Sánchez Morales.

Kennedy had campaigned on a platform of non-aggression, and the latter event provoked the dismantling of the CIA’s covert operations branch. Given the Bratislava Accord in August 1968 among the Warsaw Pact nations to tolerate Czechoslovakia’s path towards “socialism with a human face,” there was an international opening for third-way experiments that had not previously existed. You probably know that it is possible by electronic simulation to make a ten-year-ahead projection instantaneously, and then to change your policy and see what difference it makes. This is to take an experimental approach to policy making, doing the experiments in the laboratory of the control room. So instead of experimenting on the poor old nation, and discovering ten years later that your policy was wrong, you can test and discard a dozen wrong policies by lunchtime without hurting anyone. After lunch maybe you will find a good policy. -Stafford Beer (1973) Allende’s plan to deal with social and economic inequality included changing the economic base of the nation by nationalizing critical industries, all the while preserving individual liberties. This was a tall order, but at the same time its challenges and constraints created an opening for new perspectives in computing and problem-solving. It began in July 1971, when British cybernetician and management consultant Stafford Beer was contacted by Fernan-

For more information on the topic, consult the masterful Cybernetic Revolutionaries by Eden Medina

do Flores, an engineer with the Chilean Production Development Corporation (CORFO). Flores was interested in applying theories of scientific management to the nationalized sector of the economy. He was likewise attracted to Beer’s philosophy of decentralized autonomy. The result of their collaboration, Project Cybersyn, was a remarkable achievement of real-time many-to-many coordination and adaptive decision-making. Following the trucking strike of 1972, economic conditions improved in Chile and political tensions gradually eased. The Allende administration threw its full weight behind Cybersyn and a host of programs meant to modernize and optimize the economy as a whole. By 1974, the practice of intensive simulation training inspired by the Apollo program was well in place at the top, allowing cabinet officials to respond to crises with remarkable ease.

Futuristic control centers were not particularly scalable; to help train workers and managers at lower levels, they had to look to other tools. “The worker is not the problem. The problem is at the top! Management! […] Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.” -W. Edwards Deming (1993) The nationalized sector continued to suffer from a lack of qualified managers at ground level, and while they did commit to intensive training on the Japanese model of total quality management, CORFO did not

Bottom-up feedback sometimes led to revisions, which occasioned the original tools for version control, dependency tracking, and edit-ripples.

have the computing power to let them all run computerized simulations. Beer was familiar with the TutorText series of instructional game-books in the UK, and suggested a specialized set of forking texts for managers to “play” with little more than a paperback book. Over time, this series of “programmed learning” was expanded, with each forked ending including the telex number to contact the relevant expert for clarification and explanation.

Prosaic and humble as they were, these texts were an essential groundwork for the creative explosion in game-books and story-simulations that came after.

The now-celebrated writers room pioneered the system of index cards, pinned to a wall, connected by different colored strings with knots to indicate paths and dependencies.

The production of the instructional texts required skilled writers to craft plausible responses for what the numbers spit out, and CORFO were fortunate enough to employ Roberto Bolano, a young writer recently returned from Mexico. Bolano, already familiar with non-linear writing from the works of Julio Cortazar, Jorge Luis Borges, and the “tree-literature” of the French group Oulipo, took to the form with gusto, inserting characteristic flourishes into what were otherwise dry passages of industrial optimization and consensus-building. He made use of CORFO’s card-catalog-on-corkboard system to manage forking narratives in his off-the-clock writing as well, starting with a short choose-your-own story where the reader took on the role not of a governmental manager, but of a fugitive poet waiting in a cafe for an absent lover. Esperar proved divisive within the Chilean literary community. Certain conservative critics suggested it was not to be grouped with literature at all, that Cervantes never needed to tell his reader, “To tilt at the windmill, turn to page 6.” Another writer included the telex extension of the CORFO writers’ room in his work, prompting a flurry of poetic submissions from factory workers. This

The archives of these projects, nicknamed “The Library of Babel,” came to be housed in the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Santiago and can be seen upon request.

(perhaps inadvertently) led to later works assembled into branching poems of staggeringly complex and mysterious structures, simply attributed to “The Chilean People.” “No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same […] In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of the others. In the almost unfathomable Ts’ui Pen, he chooses—simultaneously— all of them. He thus creates various futures, various times which start others that will in their turn branch out and bifurcate in other times. That is the cause of the contradictions in the novel.” -Jorge Luis Borges (1941) Influences also came from the field. Augusto Boal left a deteriorating situation in Argentina to bring his “Theater of the Oppressed” to disadvantaged communities in Chile. By 1976, he was provided a small recurring grant to create theatrical scenarios for the technocrats at CORFO, putting them in the role of indigenous peoples, factory workers, peasants, and other communities in danger of being less-heard. Gradually the process moved from a didactic process to one of dialogue. By the 1980s, rural schoolhouses had corkboards and telex machines of their own for members of every community to create their own branching stories, even as the simulation literature departments were moving on to microfilm and semi-computerized Memex systems. Writing for the newly-created Department of Simulation Literature was demanding but transformative; the rate of turnover meant that an entire generation of writers, playwrights, poets, and the occasional systems theorist spent time being paid to tackle issues of branching, complex, cross-dependent narrative. By the time personal computing came about in the 1980s, Chile was primed for an outpouring of computationally-driven creativity, and finally prosperous enough to afford it.

*With one exception: William S. Burroughs visited in the late 1970s, curious about the implications for systems of control. He wrote a few letters musing on the potential, but remained unconvinced, and left to investigate psychedelic substances among indigenous peoples.

The golden age of Chilean games was in full swing, even if no one* in North America knew about it. Chilean influence into the Anglophone world slowly grew into the 1980s. Giannina Braschi introduced branching call-and-response spoken word to the downtown New York scene, already amenable to the concept of modular performance given the work of Merce Cunningham and Fluxus. In games, Meretzky’s A Mind Forever Voyaging for Infocom was the first American entry with a definite Chilean influence in its emphasis on simulation, politics, and the voice of the oppressed, soon followed by Gasperini’s Hidden Agenda. Outside of the US, Chilean cybernetics and simulation gaming gained its widest audience by means of its shocking run to the quarterfinals of the 1986 World Cup, a success made possible by the team’s sophisticated use of analytics, modeling, and preparatory simulation. While it proved no match for Maradona’s “Goal of the Century,” it shed light on the remarkable national culture that had developed in the decade and a half since the development of Project Cybersyn. American games, of course, advanced into VGA graphics and the questionable pleasures of shooting people from a first-person perspective by the 1990s. Yet certain influences remained, particularly in the field of strategy games. SimCity perfectly captured the dynamics of town hall meetings and deliberative democracy (obviously influenced by the real-life practice of “legislative theater” popularized by Boal in Santiago and Sao Paulo), while X-Com’s peaceful hidden ending is now a trope of the genre. Among recent games, Kentucky Route Zero most definitely functions as a neo-classical love letter to the era of Chilean magical realist adventure games. In any event, makers of games (and literature, as if there were a barrier between the two) continued apace on their own path, one most recently marked by the de-

velopment of purely generative games authored by artificial intelligences that some say pass the Turing test.

Chile’s path could not have come by replicating that of the United States, nor that of the Soviet Union. Instead, it followed its own way. Two roads diverged in a wood; Chileans learned to take both, and that has made all the difference.


Eden Medina (2011) Cybernetic Revolutionaries Image: Project Cybersyn operations room, 1972


Video game scholars refer to 1988 as the “Year of ______________________________” due to the popularity of _______________________________. Whether in _________________________-style arcades or on home consoles, games such as ___________________________ delighted players and retailers alike. Games released in 1988 are notable for their _____________________________ graphics, their ________________________-tinged music, and their impressive sales figures. The head of marketing for games publisher __________________________ remarked on the trend of ____________________ in games, stating “___________________________________________ ____________________________________________ ____________________________________________ _____________________.” These hallmark games continue to influence not only contemporary gaming but also _____________________________.

DO-IT-YOURSELF VIDEO GAME HISTORY, vol. 2! Fill in the blanks, then keep it, trade it, or submit it to a scholarly journal. Printable versions available at nobadmemories.com.


Video game scholars refer to 1988 as the “Year of ______________________________” due to the popularity of _______________________________. Whether in _________________________-style arcades or on home consoles, games such as ___________________________ delighted players and retailers alike. Games released in 1988 are notable for their _____________________________ graphics, their ________________________-tinged music, and their impressive sales figures. The head of marketing for games publisher __________________________ remarked on the trend of ____________________ in games, stating “___________________________________________ ____________________________________________ ____________________________________________ _____________________.” These hallmark games continue to influence not only contemporary gaming but also _____________________________.

DO-IT-YOURSELF VIDEO GAME HISTORY, vol. 2! Fill in the blanks, then keep it, trade it, or submit it to a scholarly journal. Printable versions available at nobadmemories.com.



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Alternative and speculative histories of games  

Memory Insufficient volume two issue six

Alternative and speculative histories of games  

Memory Insufficient volume two issue six