The sensation of light invites us to turn our attention from the operations of language that have served as the normative medium and model of mourning to photography (etymologically light writing), which Roland Barthes characterizes as a “carnal medium [milieu charnel], a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed” in his own maternal elegy, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, written in the aftermath of his mother’s death. Barthes’s text, whose hyphenated status as his “Photo-Maman book” asserts a fundamental link between photography, mourning, and the maternal, enables an engagement with psychoanalysis that unsettles the paired terms that have exerted a stranglehold on the discourse of mourning since the publication of Sigmund Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917): a centenary that makes this an appropriate moment to revisit this dyad through the lens of another medium.
What, precisely, was the threat that Auerbach faced? And why was philology his weapon of choice? To answer the last question first, Auerbach was trained as a scholar of medieval Romance languages, and acquired an early reputation as a Dante scholar thanks to his groundbreaking book Dante als Dichter der irdischen Welt (Dante as a Poet of the Earthly World), first published in 1929, and subsequently translated into many languages —and still in print in most of them. Philology for Auerbach was not simply a tool for literary study; it was also an ethical obligation to find truth in historical documents. In speaking of his concept of philology in the preface to his last book, Auerbach leaves no doubt as to his moral and political commitment.
The incidental killing of civilians is endemic to modern warfare. Earlier, of course, it was not incidental at all but a primary aim of warfare—a way of driving the enemy into rapid submission by subjecting its civilian populations to widespread injury, starvation, suffering, and death. Such tactics have long been accompanied by a bad conscience, given voice first in Greek tragedy and later through Just War Theory. The principles of jus in bello have frowned upon the targeting of noncombatants since at least the early modern period. But it was not until the middle of the twentieth century, and specifically after the end of the Second World War, that the protection of civilian populations was elevated to a principle of internationally accepted moral and legal norms. These norms are, of course, regularly subordinated to the demands of realpolitik yet they nevertheless do sometimes exert a constraining force. And even when they do not, they demand various forms of official lip service, from ritualized acts of contrition following unusually horrifying incidents to systematic undercounting (along with non-counting) of civilian casualties.
This essay identifies the combat veteran as the folk hero of a new white racial politics. American Indian, black, and Latino soldiers served at higher rates and in more dangerous roles than their white comrades in Southeast Asia. Most came from the working classes. Millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians lost their lives, their families, and their homes. But most novels, films, and news media about the war tell the story of middle-class white men such as O’Brien, Stone, and Wheeler who experience the defeat in Vietnam as a personal crisis. The whiteness of the war in American culture has often been associated with the conservative movement that reached new heights during the Reagan administration. But military whiteness also drew on the discourse of liberal multiculturalism by casting the white veteran as himself a voice of minoritized difference. The figure of the veteran American advanced a subtle case against even the most limited forms of affirmative action by drawing attention to white men’s alleged exclusion and equating it with racial disenfranchisement.
The philosopher Cora Diamond uses the phrase, “the difficulty of reality” to mark “experiences in which we take something in reality to be resistant to our thinking it, or possibly to be painful in its inexplicability, difficult in that way, or perhaps awesome or astonishing in its inexplicability. We take things so. And the things we take so may simply not, to others, present the kind of difficulty—of being hard or impossible or agonizing to get one’s mind around.” Clearly, these are not “difficulties” in the ordinary sense of the term, meaning problems to be solved or resolved. Rather, they are challenges to the mind’s ability to encompass the reality it seeks to comprehend. In this essay I would like to discuss difficulties I have been having with Gettysburg: difficulties in comprehending what happened there in the days and weeks after the famous Civil War battle; difficulties in comprehending Abraham Lincoln’s response, the Gettysburg Address. I have no difficulty with the thought that the historical facts make historical sense. Rather, I am troubled by a sense that something primordial went wrong and that we as a country remain haunted by it.
In the moving railway carriage a tennis ball bounces up and down. Though its path through space is parabolic any object dropped within the carriage falls vertically to the floor. Looking out of the window, the passenger, whose proprioceptors indicate he is in a state of stillness, sees the embankment moving past. One coordinate system describes the carriage as still and the embankment outside the windows as moving, the other posits the carriage moving past a still earth. Sudden application of the brakes to a carriage described at rest can be explained as the rapidly slowing earth in the first coordinate system. The jolt from brakes and sudden slowing to a moving carriage is described as a spatial rather than a temporal phenomenon in the second coordinate system.
If Deleuze and Guattari already use metaphors and similes to mark an analogy between concepts and games, then the following triptych of essays contends that games themselves can also directly generate concepts. To elaborate this relationship, concepts can operate as constructivist mechanics—in the specialist sense of “game mechanics,” the verbs or actions that a player enacts and experiments with in order to participate in and alter the state of play. To put this another way, games are platforms for generating combinations of moves, affects, tactics, strategies, rule variations, mods, and indeed concepts that did not exist prior to play. In this way, these three essays build on Alexander Galloway’s earlier proposal for the importance of building “conceptual algorithms” that can contribute to “thinking about video games.”
To understand games, we must grapple with this fundamental vocabulary of games. We must begin to have a language for discussing this vocabulary, and how it functions, both for familiar, mainstream video games and for new, strange, marginal games. This essay primarily approaches this work through two autobiographical games — the memento mori Passage (2007) and the transition story Dys4ia (2012). By examining them closely, we can see how they adopt and shift—and thereby reveal—the key strategies at work in video games from their beginnings.
This essay particularly builds upon prior work developing the concepts of operational logics and playable models, to offer an account of how these strategies function. An operational logics lens reveals that the fundamental vocabulary of games is made up of elements that cut across the usual categories used in discussing video games: computational processes (sometimes discussed as “rules”), audience communication (sometimes “representation” or “fiction”), and opportunities for play. My particular focus in this essay is on a particularly widespread logic: collision detection, used to communicate the “touch” of virtual objects.
Within the study of video games, the construction of space has been theorized largely from a formal perspective. However, when one turns a visual studies lens to upon gamescapes in order to understand these landscapes as ideological, it becomes clear that these spaces naturalize a certain set of relations through a highly curated framing of the playable environment. This essay asks: how can the combined tools of formal game studies and visual studies to provide new insights into game space and the potent cultural work these simulated sites undertake?
In this essay, I propose three discrete types of difficulty that video games bring to the forefront. First, the interactive and participatory nature of games introduces a type of challenge that depends on performance and skills, which I call mechanical difficulty. Second, certain games share those difficulties that are common to poetry and artworks, which I explore under the broad rubric of interpretive difficulty. Third, through varied medium-specific affordances, video games evoke emotions and generate affects in players that include experiences of anger, boredom, curiosity, complicity, pleasure, and uncertainty, as well as a variety of intensities that accompany gameplay. This final form might be called affective difficulty.
Though I do not propose to account for all forms of difficulty that video games make thinkable and palpable, this tripartite structure offers an analytic starting point. Among these three categories, which appear in roughly the order of critical attention that they have received from most to least, the “mechanical” is in primary conversation with game studies, the “interpretive” with literary criticism and art history, and the “affective” with the interdisciplinary constellation of affect theory. As these types of difficulty are largely heuristic, they intersect and blur in a variety of ways.