For our second essay in this seminar, we were prompted to put forth an opinion about how the social changes in relation to simulation based on a close examination of the various works that we had been reading on video games and their cultural and social implications. I chose to limit my scope of research to analyze the video game primarily in the context of its effects on the sociality of time and space. However, my discussion was limited (ironically) by the time and space constraints of the paper itself. I wish to utilize this portion of my blog as an opportunity to share my original analysis of these elements with you, and, more importantly, to expand my discussion into the limitless virtual bounds of the web. In this way, I hope to answer some of the more pressing questions that my paper left untouched, and to generally encourage and make possible a more thorough explanation of time and space as they flow through the virtual world.
Here I have included a modified excerpt from my essay followed by an auxiliary discussion aimed at expanding my ideas. Note that this discussion leans heavily on the concept of the simulacrum. If you need a quick refresher on this concept, or if you simply want to see the way that I have chosen to analyze it for this assignment, check out my general Social Theory page.
The model of the simulacrum as a method of replication via control makes contact with human culture via its power to absorb human attention, thereby compartmentalizing social time. Bill Nichols gives us a general picture of how this process might take place with his description of the static relationship between the user and the information in film, books, and pictures versus the more interactive relationship that develops with virtual media (631). However, it is Sherry Turkle’s analysis that truly allows us to see how social time is fragmented as it is filtered through the virtual world. She notes that, in video games in particular, “conversation gives way to fusion” as participants do not just interact with media, they wholly identify with it (502). This requires the user to directly act on behalf of the character in the game. This necessity, when combined with the environment of zero tolerance for error that is so prevalent in all competitive video games, makes the “demand that all other time stop” (502). This fragmentation of social time becomes employed quite often as a form of escape from temporal social reality, as can be seen in Turkle’s example of Marty the economist, who plays the game after work to relax. In the game world, “thoughts and cares of the day cannot intrude…[the] rhythm of the game belongs to the machine, the program decides” (502).
Expansive as Turkle’s research was, it was still conducted long before the video game had firmly evolved into its current state of nearly ubiquitous social interconnectedness. Though linear, singular achievement-oriented games in the style of Pac-Man still do exist, many of today’s games center around (or at least incorporate) social interaction. Therefore, while Turkle facilitates an effective discussion of the alteration of social time through simulacra, it is necessary to look elsewhere to explore the further changes that the social undergoes as it interacts with simulacra. Social networking games such as Second Life, as explored by Nicholas Boellstorff, pull in not only time from the social, but also space and relationships as well.
It is here that I wish to break from the flow of my essay momentarily to highlight an important point that I just made. Whereas the video games of Turkle’s time exist via a closed, binary relationship between the game and the “gamer,” the socialized video games of modern times, combined with more ubiquitous virtual social experiences like Facebook, provide a stunning array of connections splayed in all directions. These can be user-to-content, content-to-user, or most importantly user-to-user. In my original essay, I did little to explore how this would alter the experience of the compression of time that one feels when being drawn into a binaristic, nonsocial game like Pacman or Space Invaders. If we borrow a bit from Manovich here, I think we can see that, in some ways at least, time is compressed even further. Social relations via Internet information flow can occur almost instantaneously as the events happen in the physical world. But if we consider Boellstorff’s characterization of virtual social relations as being just as real as the physical world (see here), I think it is safe to say that in virtual worlds like Second Life, time changes very little. It is simply transferred from one plane of communication to another (the virtual). Note that, as I have discussed, this does not seem to be the case with Facebook. For more on this, see here. As I go on to explain in the next portion of my essay, space makes a similarly seamless transition into SL…
Consider the conflict that Boellstorff describes over the construction of a virtual store by the user “Zazzy” in Second Life (89-91). A challenger, Samuel, chides Zazzy for “build[ing] right up to [Zazzy’s] property line” and for creating a general disturbance in a once quiet “neighborhood” with the bright lights of his virtual neon store sign. Perhaps the most important aspect of the social that comes to light here can be seen through the fact that both parties involved, particularly Samuel, treat the virtual space itself as if it were reality. This speaks to the manifestation of a virtual space between participants within which these interactions are occurring. Boellstorff alludes to the limited existence of this type of space with the telephone (92), but social gaming networks like Second Life flesh it out to a much greater extent and generally afford it a more concrete existence. The “land” in Second Life can be devalued by adjacent properties as with Samuel’s argument against Zazzy, and in general, participants get the sense that (as Samuel declares at the conclusion of his tirade against Zazzy) “We live here” (91).
If space transitions seemingly so unaltered into the gaming world, it becomes necessary to question why it is there at all. What adorns virtual social space with Turkle’s concept of computer holding power? What makes it appealing enough for people to forgo their daily interactions in the real world in favor of designing a property in second life? The answer harkens back to the basic concept of total control previously introduced via Nichols. Because social space exists in a world controlled by humans and not nature, human control over it (and the potential for creativity) increases exponentially. Users can design landscapes that would never be possible in the physical world.
Thus concludes the excerpt of the essay that I have chosen to include in this blog. What you may have noticed here is that I attacked the idea of the simulacra largely from a perspective of control; as such, I mostly neglected concept of social play as it interacts with time and space in the virtual universe. While I will avoid covering this topic in full so as not to weigh my blog down with even more content, if you want to explore the idea of sociality through the virtual more, you might want to move from here to my Facebook/Catfish page, or maybe do some digging via my analysis of Clarks’ discussion of cognitive prosthetics.
Additionally, if you are further interested in the general concept of time and space, I would suggest looking at Caroline Meade’s blog page on Ruptures in Time and Space in which she focuses on their alteration in the context of Guattari and Deleuze’s conception of the rhizome, even including Boellstorff’s idea that the transference of time to relations in Second Life adds legitimacy to the assertion that the relations themselves are real although they occur in a virtual plane.
Boellstorff, Tom. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton UP,
Nichols, Bill. “The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems.” The New Media Reader. Ed. Noah Wardip-Fruin and Nick
Montfort. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 627-641. Print.
Turkle, Sherry. “Video Games and Computer Holding Power.” The New Media Reader. Ed. Noah Wardip-Fruin and Nick
Montfort. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 500-513. Print.