If we’ve been headed in the right direction with our last few symposia and playversations, immersion turns on an identification of the player, through the ruleset, both with clearly recognizable focal points of identification such as avatars and player-characters and with less obvious focal points like NPC’s and enemies. According to the theses we began advancing in July, the ruleset of a game (or other sort of play-performance) controls identification through immersion by means of this fluid investment of self in a way that we might even call insidious, an analysis of which might lend force to arguments of the “against immersion” kind: even in immersive situations where our principal point of identification apparently cuts against standard ideologies of privilege (femSheps, for example, in Mass Effect), the insidious operation of the identifications of the entire ruleset, it seemed to us, might serve to inculcate those standard ideologies of privilege nonetheless–as for example femShep must follow the standard power-fantasy determined by paternal figures like Anderson and the Illusive Man. Similarly, the apparently subversive Journey (its violence severely constrained, its quests given by maternal figures within an apparent narrative of the restoration of life), might be accused of reinforcing a masculinist ideology of desire and lack simply through its linear structure, no matter how disguised that structure by an apparently feminist eternal cycle, since that cycle could be read as the same castration imagined as instantiated in the lack that leads to the journey.
Our conversation on Thursday will start from this point, and will attempt to come to a preliminary answer as to whether it’s possible and/or desirable to design rulesets that subvert the identification that effects immersion.
As tune-up reading, I think we could do much worse than a piece David came across, by Natalie Reed, about signifying gender. If you’ve read any Lacan, or, really, postmodern lit-crit in general, this will seem like old hat, but I thought a brush-up couldn’t hurt any of us, especially as Reed treats language the way we’ve been treating rulesets, which is a position very near to my heart.