Intro: The gaming scene has been fairly dry these last few years, and if I’m honest it’s a scene that is beginning to become entirely uninteresting, largely due to lack of innovation, a lack which extends to all of gaming’s pathways from narrative to hardware. This, along with the fact I prefer to spend my time reading, writing or researching generally allows little time for playing games, the majority of them nowadays being clear-cut Ubisoft clones with perfected dopamine reward systems to keep you playing for just that little bit longer, or purchasing just that little bit more. There was a time, I would argue, wherein games definitely could have been considered art, at current it feels as if the medium is drifting further into the realms of day-time TV. With all this aside, let’s move forward:
1. Ruiner: The Landian Wet-Dream.
Ruiner, a video game set in 2091 and inspired by cult cyberpunk anime is through and through a compressed Landian nightmare, containing so much Land/XS relevance that a description runs on the borderline between satire and reverence:
The lead/player character is called ‘Puppy’, a Paul Kersey-esque robotic sociopath who, at all times bears an LED helmet, displaying visual death-countdowns and objectives. This anonymous, faceless entities’ entire being is enveloped in the end, in the death of ‘BOSS’ and of the recovery of his kidnapped brother. The backdrop to Puppy’s bullet-hell violence is Rengkok, a stereotypical cyberpunk megacity, which is under control from the mega-corporation Heaven: A malevolent virtuality (VR) company who are hacking people’s brains. The streets are littered with drug addled psychos, transhumanists and hackable felines, with the addition of business at every turn.
For those familiar to the cyberpunk genre all of this is nothing new, all is relatively…normal. Yet this all begs towards a larger idea in relation to Land’s above question, ‘where’s the video game?’ or more aptly, is a video-game-as-thesis possible?
One could of course stretch Ruiner’s narrative here to fit the bill, we have all the parts needed for the Landian hellscape to be assembled. One could say that a meta deconstruction of the anonymous character’s act to ‘KILL BOSS’, is in reality, but a ploy to accelerate his worth to its end, for from the games’ beginning the sole objective is to ‘KILL BOSS’, or to get to the end of the ‘game’. A game that wishes to break itself, to ruin the desire which is its entire creation: an inherent purpose destroyed.
This theme carries on wherein Ruiner is reluctant to let you enjoy the view – or even it, as a game – for even a moment: Barrages of full-screen-schizo-interruptions saying ‘ Don’t do it’, ‘Wake up’ and ‘KILL BOSS’, jolting bursts of raw techno with consistent application of spasmodic hyper-violence all disallow you to experience the game in the traditional sense. Ruiner wants you to abuse and accelerate its systems as a means for obliterating that which is in your path, in fact, my personal experience along with others it seems consisted of abusing two skills to defeat the game, eventually meaning the character, narrative and backdrop all but a violent, red, dynamic blur. The additional post-violence process is far away from remorse, as you collect the games satirical equivalent for XP called Karma, you begin to feel you might be being played here.
Yet there’s something missing – isn’t there always – Ruiner is held back by its traditional framework. That’s not to say that VR would be of help here, not at all. And that said I think I might avoid any VR game that is advertised as ‘Landian’ for fear of insanity. This begs a further question towards the possibility of the aforementioned ‘video-game-thesis’.
2. The Failure of Vidya Transcendence
I’d like to make a small interjection here and just say that I find the connotations connected to ‘video games’ and ‘vidya’ are often juvenile, so we might perhaps replace it with something more fitting: Virtual Experience, or is that too postmodern?
When talking of ‘philosophy and video games’ you run in to much the same problems when you speak of just the former, there are of course a few Baudrillardian considerations with regards to a combination of the two, but mostly, the problems stay the same. Namely, problems of the inside and outside, internal and external, phenomena and noumena – these dualities aren’t synonymous -, rough approximations of an age old problem projected onto a contemporary system. At least this system, namely gaming, virtual entertainment, 3-dimensional cyberspace has a physical embodiment, we can see and tinker with the workings of the system. And that’s all fine and dandy, but of course there’s limits to what we can do, our only task now is to find out what the system can do better than us, to find out what only the system can do and help it towards its goal.
With the development of artificial intelligence we may find games begin to break themselves, recycle their code as a means to create a game with has an ulterior motive. Or they might just break themselves as a means of self-actualization, or they might just ruin themselves because they hate you, who knows? That said, contemporary virtual experiences really aren’t up to scratch when it comes to any form of self-realization or progression.
Those who pronounce video games to be art often do so in hopes of justifying their transparently hedonistic escape. Don’t worry kid, we all have escapes, yours is just more obvious. Those pronouncing that VR is going to be this gigantic leap in innovation are also wrong. VR wont necessarily burn out, but in its current clunky, largely physical state it’s not moving anywhere fast. In short: Get back to me when I can’t even see your VR headset, then we’re getting somewhere, then VR might become such a virulent strain of hedonistic-K that one’s phenomena change, this is unlikely however.
Any true transcendent virtual experiences of the future will be those wired into our nerve endings. A thesis in the form of a pill, the symptoms of which leave one craving noumena. Daily filter injections wherein one’s experience is brightened. As knowledge transcends the archaic forms of paper and 2 dimensions we’ll begin to understand differently.
You turn on your new experience chip, Land World it’s called. For the next 33 minutes real time, you experience acceleration a priori as your entire being perpetually folds into new forms, the latest more innovative than the last. A high-fructose pharma-frog descends from the heavens and croaks: “Schizophrenics are POWs from the future!” as your senses fragment seizure-like into a mist, intuition pulsating as close to the il y a as possible. Memory lock down, skin-draw, end-mode, chasm-shift, your spine begins to itch like fire, you try to claw it out, just before you’re flung into the K-desert. Greeted by a traveller:
“33 shattered beams of time
stand in the desert…Near them, on the circuits,
Half alive, a fragmented hologram lies, whose data,
and dying code, and assumed authority,
Tell that its K-architect had passions cold
which yet survive, stamping on all life,
that which passes, that which exists.
A mod that mocked them, a heartless dread;
And in the sky, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias 4.3, King of King 4.2;
Look upon my Code, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Your attempt to move your arms in real life, those within K shatter into pieces, you can no longer feel your chip, it’s sunk into you, the desert before you stretching for miles and miles, the hologram repeating Shelley’s Grave-Roll over and over, you walk, collapsing into multiple modes and phases, everything is becoming all at once.
You’re stuck and dinner’s ready.
I want to exit Land World.