The Event of Spore

So I bought the new game Spore over the weekend. I have started it a few times and now my most advanced game is in the space stage and my ‘spaceship’ is at the highest level of advancement (‘Omniscient’). Sure I am a gamer, so I was very interested in playing such a hyped game, but I had other reasons, too. This is mainly because of the upcoming Fibreculture journal special issue on Web 2.0 and theories of the event, and Steven E. Jones’ book The Meaning of Video Games: Gaming and Textual Strategies. This post (over the fold) can be thought of as a very rough draft of some ideas that I want to develop for a Fibreculture submission.

In terms of the parts of media theory I am interested in, I am not really interested in the concept of ‘meaning’ and the conceptual tool of the ‘text’. There are sections and chapters of Jones’ book that are relevant for my work and they are quite frankly exceptional, if not brilliant! He manages to almost fully address the problem for media studies scholars of the text-as-an-object in an age when discussing ‘the’ text is problematic. ‘The’ text is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, from theories of reading we know that there is a multiplicity of ‘meanings’ that are produced in the practice of reading. Very basic theories include reader response theory organised around concepts of encoding and decoding. The text as multiplcity means that each individual text is an event, both in the phenomenological sense of an actual practice and correlative comprehension, the text ‘is’ when it is ‘being read’, and in the Deleuzian or even Derridean sense of a virtuality that is problematic in character and can be actualised in a series of different ways.

Secondly, ‘the’ text is problematic from the other end of the spectrum of ‘meaning’ being produced from a multiplicity of actual texts. The text ceases to be a localised event, and becomes an artefact of discourse: a discourse event. I am borrowing the term ‘discourse event’ from Foucault’s Discourse on Language, and mobilising it in a different way. Foucault traced singularities in the archive (econce, statements) to stake out the material conditions of the incorporeal discourse event. The popular archive, however, is ‘problematic’; it is an event without end and the tracing takes on the conditions of a hunt. De Certeau recognised this dimension of Foucault’s method when he described it as a kind of game. The discourse event here is equivalent to Patton’s conception of a Deleuzian media event that he outlines in one of his articles.

The phenomenological dimension of a discourse event is probably best understood following Dayan and Katz’s influential work on the media event. They originally set out to summarise the power of the broadcast media to act as a proxy for symbolic power in the reproduction of key societal scale identities, such as the ‘nation’. However it is the virtual dimension of discourse events is what I am primarily interested in. Instead of examining the actualities of discourse, when the virtual dimension is incorporated into an analysis of a discourse event, the event changes in character from something which is transmitted from the one-to-many of the broadcast model in Dayan and Katz’s work (or one-to whatever of any medium, including the internet) and transcendentally ‘received’ by an audience, to something produced across the perceptual capacities of bodies in an immanent fashion. Rather than a locatable and phenomenological space-time, the virtual dimension is again ‘problematic’ in that it can be actualised repeatedly in different ways. The duration of discourse events is immanent, rather than transcendentally imposed from the power of broadcasters.

Understanding the two dimensions of the discourse event are exceptionally important for engaging with what happens in the causal relations of feedback and feed-forward between them. A media event, following the original Dayan and Katz’s formulation, happens in a discrete time and space, and this is incorporated in the discourse event, but shifting the analysis to the virtual dimension is enabling for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the time-space of the media event is not given, but is rather an effect of the immanent discourse event. In the contemporary globalised media ecology the immanence of a discrete space-time is commonly experienced (if not complained about). Early morning Tour de France, Formula One or World Cup viewings are probably familiar for one generation, or, for another generation, afternoon downloading of favourite overseas televsion shows through peer-to-peer file sharing networks. These shows were broadcast a few hours previously in relative ‘real time’ but were actually broadcast the night before or the day after depending on the respective domestic time zones. Actual events unfold in such a way to produce their own punctuating temporality.

The second important reason for separating the dimensions of the discourse event is the epitext is raised to at least an equal, if not greater importance than the so-called ‘primary text’. Films are classic examples, particularly big budget blockbuster movies. In an era when the publicity budget sometimes rivals the actual film budget, the discourse event of a movie — constituted by the myriad epitexts of film reviews, celebrity gossip magazines, various online sources, direct publicity (previews, posters, promotional fast food meal deals, tie in video games, comic books, etc.) — is fully produced before one actually consumes the primary text. This is what Jones’ work is excellent for thinking about, particularly the chapter entitled ‘Anticipating Spore’ written about a video game that at the time of his writing and publication had not been released. In other words, following the terminology here, Jones is interested in the discourse event of Spore. The primary example of this in relation to Spore is the current ‘protest’ being launched by gamers on the page for Spore against the restrictive DRM that the game features. The game only has a 1 star rating on and an overwhelmiong number of comments are negative and about the DRM.

Thirdly, as I have already suggested, the media event was broadcast from the one-to-the-many and Dayan and Katz were interested in the symbolic dimensions of the coalescence of audience and socio-political constituency. The causality followed traditional media effects-type theories of the power residing in the broadcast content and the mode of distribution. The immanence of the discourse event inverts this power relation, but not in any simple dialectical fashion. The causality of the media event, similar to the time-space, is understood as an effect of the discourse event. The media event is actualised according to the quasi-cause of the immanent discourse event. For example, anticipation of Spore was produced in a historical ‘now’ as an effect of something to come.

Lastly, companies have a vested interest in protecting and promoting their cultural franchises, not on the level of the actual primary text, but through the various epitexts that help shape the discourse event within which the primary text is situated.