Galloway and Thacker on Video Games

Skeptical of any “democratic” or “liberatory” elements to networks, Galloway and Thacker write:

In this sense, forms of informatic play should be interrogated not as a liberation from the rigid constraints of systems of exchange and production but as the very pillars that prop those systems up. The more video games appear on the surface to emancipate the player, raising his or her status as an active participant in the aesthetic moment, the more they enfold the player into codified and routinized models of behavior. […]
Just as the school, in Foucault, was merely preschool for the learned behavior necessary for a laboring life of the factory floor, so games from State of Emergency to Dope Wars are training tools for life inside the protocological network, where flexibility, systemic problem solving, quick reflexes, and indeed play itself are as highly valued and commodified as sitting still and hushin up were for the disciplinary societies of modernity. (The Exploit 115)

I’m down with the critique of school–John Taylor Gatto’s Against School is one of my favorite essays to teach. And, thanks to Foucault, we know that discursive disciplinary practices produce their own counter-discursive practices.

But here’s my question here–and this is authentic–what is wrong with “flexibility, systemic problem solving, quick reflexes, and play”? This is in many ways my one sentence rebuttal to Gallaway and Thacker, whose insights into the underlying hierarchical nature of networks is a lively and interesting read. What are you looking for? Is there any form of social organization that you wouldn’t critique? And perhaps their honest answer would be no–that the very purpose of critique is to always push for something better, or to cast attention on the unattended. But I’m with Jim Gee on this one: unlike the silent conformity demanded by “school,” video games teach skills and ethics valuable for social life. Perhaps they define flexibility differently than I (they do at one point argue that “we are tired of being flexible” (98).

There’s more I’d like to write about this short but interesting book (particularly their sensitive reading and misapplication of Levinas’s concept of the Face), but I’ve got two conference papers to write and a pile of papers to grade.

Hope everyone else’s semester is ending well.

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