Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pinocchio Theory: Gamer

by Steven Shaviro
Pinocchio Theory

Gamer is science fiction. This means, not just that the movie is set in the near future, in a world whose technology is extrapolated from our own, but also that it explores the futurity that is very much a part of our actual present — the potential for change that is inherent within our presentness. Literally speaking, the movie takes place “some years from this exact moment” (as an opening title tells us). The world of the film is one in which the media — and especially the computer gaming environment — that we know today are taken to the next level. In the movie’s near-future extrapolation, spectacle, virtualization, and “entertainment” in general have been pushed to their logical extremes. Everyone in the world, it seems, is addicted to MMORPGs (massively multi-player online role-playing games). But these games are themselves viscerally “real,” in a way that is not yet the case today. The basic science-fictional ploy of the movie is to envision a form of gaming in which gamers control the actions, not of virtual avatars on a screen, but of real, physical, flesh-and-blood bodies: human “actors.” In this way, Gamer combines, and updates, the two most prominent popular entertainment forms of the current decade: massively multiplayer online gaming, and reality television. Conceptually, Gamer explores these forms of entertainment in order to think about freedom and enslavement in what Deleuze called the control society, or in a world that — as McKenzie Wark describes it — has become indistinguishable from gamespace.

There are two games that dominate the world of Gamer: Society and Slayer. In both of these games, the human actors who actually perform the physical actions of the game have no free will. Thanks to nano-implants, they no longer control their own bodies and motor actions. Rather, they are forced to take orders from the gamers “playing” them. Artificial nanocells are introduced into their brains; these cells reproduce, replacing the original, organic nerve cells with synthetic ones. Once you have undergone this procedure, you have an IP address in your head, and your body obeys whatever commands are transmitted to that address by the player who controls you. You say what they say, and move the way that they want you to move. Of course, this only works one way: actors can’t see or hear their controllers, but the controllers are able to live vicariously through them.

Society is a hilariously sleazy live version of Second Life or The Sims, with gamers guiding their actors through scenarios of drug consumption, partying and clubbing, and (most of all) down ‘n’ dirty sex. Actors rollerskate through crowded plazas, crashing into one another; or they grope one another in crowded dance clubs; or they accost one another with corny pickup lines in bars. The gamespace of Society is visually garish, with hypersaturated colors, and with raunchy costumes and lurid, tacky interior decorations that egregiously shriek out their own “bad taste.” Our first view of Society’s gamespace is hilariously set to the satirical song “The Bad Touch” by Bloodhound Gang (“You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals/ So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel”). Gamer illustrates the relation between player and actor directly, by cutting back and forth between the “actor” Angie (Amber Valletta) and her controller (Ramsey Moore). Angie is ridiculously dressed in a white fur wrap, blue hot pants, pink platform boots, and an orange wig; she is reduced, basically, to being a sexbot in the world of Society. Her controller is a morbidly obese, wheelchair-bound man; we usually see him in extreme facial closeup, sweating profusely, consuming munchies, and licking his slobbering lips as he moves her into one degrading situation after another.

Society is all about sex as spectacle; but in reality, sex is subordinated to economics. The financial structure of Society is simple, and brilliantly capitalist: you can either be a consumer by paying to play, or be a worker by being paid to be played. As Vishnevetsky observes, Gamer is “the sort of movie that imagines what the working class would have to do in its fantasy scenario” — something that is left out of most transhumanist and “exodus-to-the-virtual-world” visions. On the one hand, consumers get a pornographic experience that is still vicarious (and therefore safe) for them, but more “real” than any mere simulation could be. On the other hand, the “actors” receive wages for what is the ne plus ultra of affective labor: the production, not of physical objects, but directly of moods, feelings, and experiences. The sim-actor is not just selling the use of his or her “labor-power” for a certain number of hours (as is the case in classical capitalism as described by Marx); more than this, he or she is actually selling his or her “life” itself as a commodity. Of course, such a “biopolitical” mode of exploitation (which would seem to combine the worst aspects of slavery and of wage labor) is increasingly the norm — as Hardt and Negri argue — in our contemporary world of post-Fordism, “real subsumption,” and immaterial or affective production. Today, profits are extracted from the whole texture of our lives, not just from the labor we perform during specific hours in a factory or an office. Behind both the consumer/player and the actor/slave, there is the billionaire software genius who created, and who owns, Society (more about him below). He not only makes immense profits from user fees, but also acquires massive amounts of economically-valuable data through the technology’s surveillance of everything that streams over the network, or that happens in the minds of the nano-implanted actors.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

No comments: