[iDC] Play and Counterpower

Julian Kücklich julian at kuecklich.de
Mon Jun 22 22:01:55 UTC 2009

Hi all,

Brian asked me for some references for my work on (de)subjectification
and play. I am happy to oblige although this might feel slightly
tangential to the current discussion:

1. (2009, in press) a techno-semiotic approach to cheating in computer
games or how I learned to stop worrying and love the machine. games &
culture, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 158-169.

2. (2009) virtual worlds and their discontents: precarious
sovereignty, governmentality, and the ideology of play. to be
published in: games & culture (special issue on virtual worlds, edited
by thomas malaby and dan hunter).

> What I was hoping to get at was the idea that because play holds open
> internal spaces of uncoerced action, it has effects on internal
> systems of control as well as external ones.  Certainly this is part
> of my own experience of play and games - they act much more directly
> on my internal regimes than on my external situations.

Having just spent 2 hours playing Rolando, I can hardly dispute that,
even if I wanted to. But I agree, play does contain both "ruled" and
"unruled" spaces, which is something I try to express in the metaphor
of the seki. The interesting thing is that sekis are hard to achieve,
even when you are a very good player (which I am not), and require a
strategy of collusion ("playing together") that is in and of itself a
form of intersubjectivity or, in Batesonian terms, metacommunication.

In other words, I don't think about it in terms of coercion but in
terms of a logic of play, which is always already ideological because
it doesn't accept refusal. Forms of refusal can only be created by
engaging with the logic of play and taking it to its logical extreme,
where it starts to break down, or transcend into a higher-order logic.
This is where the concepts of re-entry, oscillation, and emergence
come into play.

This means in order to turn the logic of play against itself we need
to be players, and in order to refuse the ideology of play we need to
collude with it. Importantly, I think this can only be achieved
through strategies of intersubjectivation, which effectively disperse
the nuclear target of subjectification in a network of
unit-operational subject-particles. If the 20th was the century of the
self, let's make this one the century of the selves.

> Also I'm a little troubled by the idea that there is an inherent
> problem in forms of activity, work or play, that are compelling for
> their own sake.

There isn't, or at least I don't think so.  Work, play, sex, food,
war, conversation, etc. are mechanisms that can be used for both
exploitative and non-exploitative ends, and in most cases they are
exploitative and non-exploitative at the same time. That doesn't mean
that they are "neutral", it just means that they are neither
inherently right nor inherently wrong. The term "playbour", however
unfortunate a neologism it may be, is intended precisely to
differentiate forms of play that are more exploitative than others.

> To me this is an open question.  Do forms of unalienated experience
> reduce someone's potential for instigating or participating in social
> change, or do they increase it?  We could argue it both ways. The idea
> that unalienated experience might the basis for revolutionary action
> (or whatever milder version of social and political change) is often
> viewed as highly romantic or even unthinking.  And yet...

I still think the alienated comes with the unalienated, and vice
versa. Okay, if you are one of the few who are wealthy enough that you
don't have to worry about paying the rent, and getting food on the
table, then you could be said to be unalienated, and the motivation to
change something about the status quo is fairly low. But apart from
these exceptions I don't see much truly unalienated labour.

But the problem of alienation is that it is still entangled in a
binary Hegelian opposition of subject and object, ie if you are not a
subject you are an object. The revolutionary power of
intersubjectivity, which is based on the axiom "tertium datur", lies
precisely in the possibility to refuse to be a subject without
automatically becoming an object. So I am not so worried about
alienation, I am more worried about subjectification and

> Another of the questions on my mind is whether unalienated labor and
> play are really the same thing,  Or maybe more accurately, whether
> unalienated labor is really a form of play.  It's often playful, yes,
> or "ludic," but rather than letting work and play completely collapse
> in our discussions there might be ways it's advantageous to keep them
> apart.

For Schiller, yes. For me, no. Play and work often coexist in the same
activity (which doesn't necessarily result in playbour), whether it
serves power or subverts it. As far as keeping them apart is
concerned, this is entirely up to you (I am a great proponent of
Spencer-Browns first law of form: "Make a distinction"), and if you
are able to uphold it you are a better logician than I am (not that I
am a very good logician to begin with, but that's neither here nor
there). In my experience, re-entry is inevitable.


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