1. Virtual Pet Manifesto|
A videogame is a virtual pet. You take care of something and make sure it doesn't die, you monitor their happiness so they don't become bruised and sluggish like a beat-up doomguy. Non-personified videogames like Sim City are lichen cultures, jellyfish. Do you complete the levels? Yes, some kind of praxis is also a need in life, like eating and urination. Sky Kid must drop bombs on all the buildings - this is a capability manifested in his body, like original sin, not so much a drive towards evil as an inescapable affordance for it. We view him in a spirit of sympathy and gentleness, we suppress our tears and smile bravely and encouragingly as he floats chirping through the sky. Rather than loving or hating commercial culture we view it with the compassion reserved for those without the self-sufficiency of making even bad decisions. A spirit-strengthening ethic of charity. And the cruelty that comes with charity, or with the power to withhold it, that faint half-second of exasperation. What? Jump through the blocks? Well... If you must. Well... Just this one level. And then pulling out the power cord before it's through. Poor things!! Well we can try again tomorrow, if I have the time. A videogame is a virtual pet with the same ominous prospects that those incur. Everyone I knew buried their tamagotchis in sock drawers, hid them in a closet til they stopped beeping, "accidentally" put them in the washing machine. To "love" commercial culture can be to maim yourself by internalising its limitations, to "hate" it can mean severing yourself from your own history of experience in ways that can leave you reeling, obsessively circling the wound. Our goal is to care for it, treat it gently, and with kindness, the dim prospect of a bathtub drowning, as we move on to the next thing, suddenly laughing, nails flashing, unspeakable, Animal Crossing villages overcome by weeds.
- Neopet Emancipation League
2. Automatic Manifesto|
Make games to watch robots play. For too long the exhausting manual labour of actually playing videogames has been outsourced to irregularly compensated, non-union Youtube employees at tremendous psychic cost to all involved. We propose that the function of Let's Plays become accounted for and automated by the game developers themselves, thus eliminating a brutal and unnecessarily cruel occupation, allowing developers to enact a tighter grip on their own video marketing/revenue streams, and reducing risk of PR gaffes on the basis that robots are less likely to be racist (sic??).
We support the growing acceptance of the notion of spectatorship as an integral component of "the medium", not just Let's Plays and speedrunners but also just watching a friend or a relative, peering over someone's shoulder in an arcade, watching the demo reel because you have no loose change, and the many weird formal developments that will result from this acknowledgement - but we also believe this change in emphasis to be an essentially historical one in nature. It has been a while since the notion of videogames as being "about choice" has been floated, maybe because an industry so visibly stagnant and apparently unable to break out of the same rut it's occupied for decades makes an awkward poster child for the concept of an interesting decision or indeed any kind of decision at all. But it could be time to reclaim the term. The original rhetoric of games and choice bore the stamp of the famous Californian Ideology - "the present with more options", the idea of technology- and market-enabled new domains of choice spilling fractally into all domains of life, of an infinite alterity and the newly meaningful individualities that would emerge from all those self-made choices. Consider videogames,a "new media" par excellence, a mass medium founded on cutting-edge technology which became in itself a driver in the movement of that technology, and seemingly a case study in itself of how new technologies leading to new forms of interaction would lead to a new focus on personal choice as it emerged from the background of those interactive systems..... which never really happened. Where choice in videogames survived at all it was mostly as a handful of hyper-reified, hyper-atomised pseudo-decisions, of picking discrete options among a handful of more or less interchangeable prefab content blocks - which is more or less what happened in real life as well, with messaging about choice emerging hand in hand with accelerating monopolization into a handful of transnat singularities and the dismal task of picking between them.
Videogames are about choice - choice deferred, choice suspended, choice avoided. To grind in an RPG is to make a small decision in the hopes of avoiding larger ones, to say that wasted time is still preferable to the chore of having to actually think about and react to battles. Microtransactions are just the official acknowledgement of economies of deferral which already exist, cheat codes passed on through friends, strategy guides, maps, sitting down and working out how to get through an area without actually developing the motor reflex skills and internalization of concepts that it seems to require. The ease with which the task of making choices can be passed on to videotaped professionals is a mark of the contempt in which those choices are held, the shared awareness of their paltry and irremediable shittiness and futility. This contempt is a historical verdict. The gruesome pretended multiplicity of the free market sits encased in amber in every corporate tweet asking whether you put lettuce in a sandwich (37% for / 58% against / 5% undecided) and in every videogame proposing Interesting Choices in which those choices are uniformly blasted past impatiently as the lowest of low filler.
We reject the idiot moralism by which reluctance to engage with the false choices of a videogame or any other maimed and useless system is treated as an individual failing rather than a sign of life. We reject the technocrat aestheticism which holds that sufficient formal development within some medium is enough to make up for the brutality of circumstances in which it's developed and is used. Videogames are a haunted house ride in which the dreams of CEOs and consultants and their pocket intellectuals re-emerge as bogeys and changelings, a bloody head floating through the dark, mouthing what only sounds like a language. Our task is to perform maintenance and expansion on the machine, keep it running, automate it as much as possible - so that nobody has to go there, but at night they can feel it, the distant prospect of choices unmade, like a metallic background whine, a train going past, carrying the dead.
- Malevolent Society of Crypt Keepers
3. Weepy Sleepy Manifesto|
WEEPY: "Interesting"! "Interesting"!! Sleepy! Is there anything more nauseating than hearing a videogame described as "INTERESTING"??
WEEPY: As if... every second spent playing these things is time invested, to be someday repaid as an invitation to some kind of interminable cosmic dinner party, where we all get together to say INTERESTING things about INTERESTING ideas and deliver mildly poignant takes about Monster Hunter...
SLEEPY: Or we died and are there already.....
WEEPY: Like the idea of just reading enough books that you become "well read" and somehow transcend the pettiness of the world. I hate the phrase "thought-provoking", it makes me think of prodding a snail with a stick to watch it retract its eyes. I don't want to be PROVOKED, mother fucker, I want to DIE. I want this stuff to be like a concrete wall I can ram my head against!!! Videogames should be an ABYSS, unsayable, unthinkable, the void in a Neo-Geo Pocket format, absolute exteriority that you push your absolute interiority against to discover the limits and the movements of both.
SLEEPY: But Weepy, they already ARE an abyss. There's, like, 100 Sonic games.
WEEPY: That's not the same!!
SLEEPY: You can go to a store right now and then sit down and play through more than a thousand hours of continuous Sonic games before you experience the same content twice, like going through that hole in Amigara Fault. I will help you. We can do a Let's Play.
WEEPY: 1000 hours of Sonic....
SLEEPY: The opposite of consciousness...
SLEEPY: The Adversary...
WEEPY: I mean, yes, but at the same time, you'd be playing those games and your body would be dying and your consciousness would be disintegrating but then your last living thought would still be, like, boy, I hope I didn't miss any of the Chaos Emeralds. You'd be IN the void but not FACING the void.
SLEEPY: I think wondering how many Chaos Emeralds you have is facing the void!
WEEPY: But it's NOT, because there's a multimillion industry around it!! People think about Chaos Emeralds every day!! They still go to WORK.
SLEEPY: But they're part of the abyss as WELL, so there's no reason it should surprise them--
SLEEPY: You're anthropomorphising the abyss as something necessarily startling or threatening or unfamiliar or subversive, but it's just THERE, Weepy! If I saw the abyss I'd say "Look, it's my good friend, Sonic".
WEEPY: Hold on, so I'm the one anthropomorphising but you're the one--
SLEEPY: I mean--
WEEPY: Sonic is "anthro", right
SLEEPY: I'm not having this discussion
WEEPY: OK, but it could at least be demarcated without filler or distraction, you know, like you could at least have a Sonic game which EXPLICITLY TRIES TO KILL YOU, or something, right-
SLEEPY: But they DO, Weepy--
WEEPY: --RIGHT, but they could still be MORE EXPLICIT ABOUT IT, OK, more open and alarming and confusing about it, more threatening and vertiginous, inhuman and inhumane, more--
4. Small Game Manifesto|
Small games must be protected from their own defenders!! They must be defended against a rhetoric of convenience, as if fitting helpfully into the meagre free time allotted us by rentiers was something to be proud of rather than something to grind against - they must be defended against the meagre virtues of "minimalism", parsimony, elegance, the values of those with enough cultural cachet that they can afford to speak softly, and which hold the same relation to an actual human economy of wants and needs as does a millionaire who doesn't tip. The value of small games is in the nearness of the gap between the there and the not-there, between the felt contingency of what's imagined and the felt necessity of what exists as an object. Stuff that exists without needing to, but which can never be undone. Like a pebble, a certain thing-ness, an externality too narrow to let you inside, but which is always there - a creaturely quality, a creatureliness forever being swallowed by the efforts to exert ownership, whether by the claims of some discourse or of a digital platform "lending" you a title with perpetual caveat of pretending that it never existed or by the title itself, eager to dissolve into feeling or to memory. Objecthood is an underground ecology. I'd like to see more trivial games, which come and go without saying anything, unfinished games which cut off immediately, ambitious games which only have 1% of projected content filled in and the rest a void, useless games, unnecessary but sitting around, catching in shoes...
- MR. GAme Day
5. Large Game Manifesto|
Excuse me but isn't all this discourse about small games getting rather macho, all that DOING and TERSENESS and deed-focused unimaginativeness and "simply create". I'd rather not!! Doing anything is usually a poor decision! Stay in bed! If you absolutely have to make something for whatever unresolved psychic pressures I'd rather it be long, long, dreamy, long, unfinished, unfinishable, long, long, just a daydream, keep all the art assets inside the game itself so you can walk around on them, keep your notes as blocks inside the game, wander as a little guy through the temple of your own poor decisions, watch them spread out, into landscapes and fields, build an apartment for your guy in the middle of the clutter, keep adding to the clutter, long, long, long... then you die, and nobody finds out about it, or ever has to play it. There are already plenty of games around anyway.
- MR. GAme Night
6. Gummi Hamburger Manifesto|
A videogame is a game in the sense that a gummi hamburger is a hamburger. The hamburger shape is externally applied to a gooey and gelatinous mass in earnest hopes of bringing forward some qualities of the medium (tastiness, modularity, function as a snack) and of relegating others (made of goop, no intrinsic organisational structure or internal limits). The gummi hamburger is a matrix of desire in which two disparite drives are held in provisonal suspense. The history of hamburgers is not of much use for thinking about the gummi hamburger, except to display what's not there (the slow historical development of some decision eg pickles, onion in context of some definite circumstance or limitation vs the uncritical reproduction of same decision in a context without that circumstance or limitation). You can come up with a universal theory of hamburgers to include both gummi and the non-gummi kind, but the result is likely to be very weird. You can try viewing regular hamburgers through the lens of the gummi ones but it's uncertain how helpful the result will be. I believe that gummi hamburgers can become one of the premier formats of the 21st century once they can eliminate the bourgeois and it's possible the same is true of videogames, as-well.
- Wimpy PhD.
7. Bad Erotic Games Manifesto|
"The human is afraid and panics / when love transforms into mechanics" and indeed I don't know anything in videogames as universally reviled as the dreaded "Sex System", be it in dialogue tree, RPG battle, sliding tile puzzle or god help us rhythm-action game formats. All of a sudden we are all very refined about our videogames. The clumsy, honking stupidity and sudden imposition of win/loss systems we can apparently accept in every other subject, but not here. No... please! You can turn every other aspect of my life into some variant of QTE... but not my dick!!!!! AIIEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!! To which the only respectable response can be to laugh and do it harder.... Of course we're talking about the overt systemisation of what recieved wisdom holds as the privileged site of what's "personal", "intimate", "unique" in all our lives, and the natural resistance that this inspires, but as students of the computer game we should not be afraid to dive deeper, into the murk.
Deviantart will confirm that all videogames are sexual, apart from sex games, which are about something else. The process of both playing and developing a videogame is that of vague waves of affect becoming reified, slowly coagulating into named acts or structures which can then be connected causally and extrapolated infinitely, they become the components of a sort of self-perpetuating Meccano kit that just builds itself in all directions. There's an affinity with sexuality (or at least a 'modern', capitalist conception of sexuality - but videogames are a modern, capitalist format) which extends not as deep as the base affects of each or as high as the eventual outcome of either but takes place in the process of gestation, of becoming, in the conversion of feeling into currency which can be spent, invested, loaned out, multiplied. That process of construction, more than the beginnings or the end result, is the true charm of each, and the power of the affinity lies in its vagueness - in the ability to suggest without constraining, to enable a comforting fugue of possibility by juxtaposing two different nebulous processes. To make a game that is itself supposedly erotic, then, is to flip hard in the opposite direction - to fold both processes into one, to solidify them both into some known new structure, is to have their most jarring discontinuities and awkwardnesses suddenly thrown up in new light, jarringly decontextualised. The process of imagination becomes alarmingly material. A game like FZone96's "Trampling Simulator" (since removed from gamejolt?) is exemplary - RPG Maker sprites of characters from Five Nights At Freddys stand vacantly in long rows, in an empty room. You walk up to the rows one by one, and a "battle" occurs - you trample the animatronic with your giant shoe, killing them instantly. The line moves forward, and a new FNAF character is added to the end. Repeats indefinitely. For years this Klik N Play vore game compilation was one of the first things appearing in search results for the engine and has a similar ethic of pillaged consumer fragments methodically twisted into endless variations of a theme. Here we see the structural imagination in action - what are we thinking about? How to prolong that? How to repeat that? So it repeats forever? But with variance? OK - but newly shorn of the comforting duvet of the purely conceptual, jarringly rewritten in commercial debris. A genuinely mimetic videogame, a materialist understanding of the imagination, an ethic of videogames founded not on aura but on process - all this could be ours... and all you have to do.... is give me..... one thing..................
- QTE Squadron X
8. Formalist Manifesto|
A videogame is a series of terrible decisions.
- Cid Meier
9. Dream Dream|
There was some interview with Lou Reed where he talked about doing Coney Island Baby for, like, somebody gets off work and goes into a bar and puts the Chi-Lites on the jukebox because they just don't wanna hear it, or the same kind of vibe. I can picture the bar and I can picture the song, and I can picture the listener, static and empty of any particular thought or any particular desire, listening to a song that never ends, and it's a beautiful image, frozen. And I can also picture the same image, but in an actual bar, you gotta pull your seat out from the counter, the chairleg screeches on the floor and sounds louder than it would because things are so quiet, there's the bartender but also always the old guys in the corner watching teevee or reading a paper and the song starts and then it ends again and you're left with yourself. And I think the appeal is that one of these pictures is one without consciousness, and the other is one with a consciousness, an inescapable consciousness that keeps going before and after any particular moment where it might seem nice to stop, rest. The third Velvet Underground album has a lot of these images, and they're sort of moving because untrue - songs called "Jesus", about beginning to see the light, about being set free. I don't think "Jesus" is about Jesus or the desire for Jesus or the desire to have that desire for Jesus, I think it's about a desire to be the kind of person who would write a plaintive song called "Jesus", to have a desperation with the possibility of finding comfort and identity in an inherited form. The dream and desire for a circumscribed consciousness, one with settled limits, that could almost be turned off and on like a tap. I don't know if "sincerity" is a broad enough idea to encompass this desire, which has inevitable intimations of sarcasm and contempt as well, of the perversity that comes from felt difference. "Ah, I wish I had your problems!"... There's something true mixed up in it but there's something true in the desire to distance and undercut the same thing as well, in the negative drive to not be totally identified with whatever you think of or dream about, in the imp of the perverse. Can they be seperated? Do they need to be?
There are lots of things you can be sincere about but I also see "sincerity" offered sometimes like a get out of jail free card for human consciousness, a way to get out from doubt and awkward self-awareness by just being yourself, and where being yourself seems to mean trying to fossilize your tastes into a kind of plastic battlemech you can move around in without disintegrating or falling apart. Become a person With Qualities, with the kind of solid get-what-you-see-ness of a minor character in an old novel. Have a personality, have a background, have tastes - the powerful, inviolable permanency of an adult seen from the eyes of a child, or of a cartoon character. And I think it's a tendency which became caught up and accelerated in a hypercommercial culture, things that have been cut off from any particular background or context, things which are interchangeable, that repeat or are retconned and adjusted or withdrawn for reasons far beyond your power. You can turn yourself into a person with settled tastes, firm and known and understandable, like the guy eternally listening to the Chi-Lites in the bar. There's an industry of sincerity, of people who've successfully turned themselves into cartoons offering up their personae as a do-it-yourself guide for other people who don't feel like they have a personality but think they might like one, and if the basis for that personality - on "tastes", on fandom and canonical best ever x's and being part of the privileged elite who played Nintendo as a baby - is ever shaken, they react like it's a personal attack.
If I keep coming back to that third Velvet Underground album it's not because it's sincere, it's because it presents the desire for sincerity in a way which makes clear the negative and evasive and underground currents that go into that as well, because it can contain sincerity without being limited to it, because it can give you the Chi-Lites on the jukebox without letting that be all there is or can be. If you closed the door I'd never have to see the day again.
- Boo Reed
10. Collecting Balls Manifesto|
A videogame should have 100 levels and you have to collect all the balls, and when you get all the balls the game says, Great!!! Please publish my idea!!
- Stephen Gillmurphy, 2018