Got two e-mails this week from two old digital player-pals announcing their new books, and inviting me to their launches.
The one I'd love to just jet to New York to make (ok, take an eco-zeppelin) is McKenzie Wark's Gamer Theory - the book of the website. The one I may well trundle along to is Richard Barbrook's Imaginary Futures: from thinking machines to the global village (see these press releases). More below on both - but the ludic canon is growing apace. Might just have to start myself a 'Play Foundation' to organise it all...
First McKenzie Wark's Gamer Theory. From the excellent press release:
Ever get the feeling that life's a game with changing rules and no clear sides, one you are compelled to play yet cannot win? Welcome to gamespace. Gamespace is where and how we live today. It is everywhere and nowhere: the main chance, the best shot, the big leagues, the only game in town. In a world thus configured, McKenzie Wark contends, digital computer games are the emergent cultural form of the times. Where others argue obsessively over violence in games, Wark approaches them as a utopian version of the world in which we actually live. Playing against the machine on a game console, we enjoy the only truly level playing field--where we get ahead on our strengths or not at all.
Gamer Theory uncovers the significance of games in the gap between the near-perfection of actual games and the highly imperfect gamespace of everyday life in the rat race of free-market society. The book depicts a world becoming an inescapable series of less and less perfect games. This world gives rise to a new persona. In place of the subject or citizen stands the gamer. As all previous such personae had their breviaries and manuals, Gamer Theory seeks to offer guidance for thinking within this new character. Neither a strategy guide nor a cheat sheet for improving one's score or skills, the book is instead a primer in thinking about a world made over as a gamespace, recast as an imperfect copy of the game.
Richard Barbrook, workers cap firmly in place, has been at nearly every decent cyber-event I've attended in London for the last ten years. I thought this book was going to be called the Dotcommunist Manifesto, but it's come up as this - a kind of recent archeology of various techno-futurisms. From the press release again:
He argues that, at the height of the Cold War, the Americans invented the only working model of communism in human history: the Internet. Yet, for all of its libertarian potential, the goal of this hi-tech project was geopolitical dominance: the ownership of time was control over the destiny of humanity. The potentially subversive theory of cybernetics was transformed into the military-friendly project of 'artificial intelligence'. Capitalist growth became the fastest route to the 'information society'. The rest of the world was expected to follow America's path into the networked future.
Today, we're still being told that the Net is creating the information society -- and that America today is everywhere else tomorrow. Barbrook shows how this idea serves a specific geopolitical purpose. Thankfully, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the DIY ethic of the Net shows that people can resist these authoritarian prophecies by shaping information technologies in their own interest. Ultimately, if we don't want the future to be what it used to be, we must invent our own, improved and truly revolutionary future.
Though you should read this alongside Lawrence Lessig's new book - see my recent post and review - to observe how American authoritarianism over the internet might just as easy slide into American constitutionalism over the internet (ie, you might want to DIY-shape the net, but we want to make it accountable and frameable).
Recommended reading, clearly, both of them.