Monday, 29 January 2007

Tetris documentary

To get the ball rolling I offer this tale of two cultures, a BBC documentary about the commercial development of Tetris,


Gareth R White said...

Helen raised an interesting point (which perhaps she'll clarify and expand upon here) about the trans-cultural connection between Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers despite the differences separating their societies. Coming from either side of the iron curtain and with little contact to one another's way of life, I wonder if they were both connected by a shared counter-culture, that of the computer hacker, but also by a shared dominant culture of white, male, imperialistic rationalism. Hearing Alexey in particular talk about why he liked computers ("You could make computer do whatever you want. Literally. You just write instruction and it follows it." - 2:37) is the archetypical hacker attitude which was surely informed by the Enlightenment discourse of "man's" mastery over nature. This is not surprising as those cultures with advanced computer technologies came to them through a shared history of this discourse.

On another subject, there's also something in the way he describes the inception of the game,

"When the very first program version start to 'breath', what I call, when the first pieces appear on the screen and become controllable, that was very fascinating" - 5:29

There's definitely something in this but I don't know what. It sounds very familiar to me (as a programmer) as some kind of desire to animate, to 'breath life into', to create. I wonder if this is a particularly male drive (womb-envy?!) or if it appears common to male hackers simply because other societal forces deny the role of hacker to women? It might be interesting to look into the history of the automoton (c.f. Lister et al.) and further back to identify where this desire came from. I can think of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein as a classic example of the simultaneous allure and anxiety of technologically created life, but I wonder if there are pre-Enlightenment precedents for this theme.

I recognise that my monologue has drifted away from game culture and is now in more distinctly 'new media' territory which is not directly relevent for this blog...

So what about them games, eh!

the playful subject said...

I think there are a number of really interesting questions here that are entirely relevant to considering game culture. The first is the issues around technicity that lie at the heart of what connects Pajitnov and Rogers. Technicity is a way of thinking about common tastes, aptitudes, affinities, identities and desires around technologies that are not reducible to race/nation/gender in a straightforward way. Jon and I write about this in the Game Cultures book and we will be discussing it later in this course as well. Levy's book on Hacker culture and identity is a really interesting read for considering the way in which the 'hacker' identity gets constructed (I have a lot of problems with Levy's account for a number of reasons but it does offer an account of a 'hacker ethos/hacker mythos' that has been particularly dominant.
The relationship between technology and the creation of manipulable 'worlds'.. This apparently influential sub culture is also it is argued characterized by a preference for fantasy (usually defined as post – Tolkein) and science fiction literary and cinematic tastes. Daniel Pargman has noted that this connection has been made by numbers of authors ( see Bennahum, Fine, Levy and Turkle) and argues that at the core of this subculture is an interest in ‘imaginary worlds and that these appeal to persons who bear a fascination and a will to understand and master complex systems that are logical and controllable.’ (Pargman : 2003) .

THe quote you have here from the film about the program 'breath[ing] is very similar to comments quoted from Carmack and Romero and Richard Garriot when describing their enthusiasm for the potentials of computers etc. The relationship here with other issues around history of automata is something we can explore in more depth in our discussions if others are also interested.
For pre-enlightenment versions - see here Mulvey on Pandora “Pandora is the prototype for the exquisite female android… Pandora prefigures mechanical, erotic female androids, such as […] the False Maria in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1925) […] all of whom personify the combination of female beauty with mechanical artifice. […] Pandora highlights the ease with which the seductive android merges into the figure of the femme fatale who reappears as the film-noir heroine..” (p.56)
But there is also Pygmalion myth:
In Greek Mythology the King of Cyprus fell in love with Aphrodite and made a statue of her that he brought to life as Galatea.
There is a lot that we could discuss here if others are interested.

blindfish said...

Well - that's all left me feeling slightly lost, though I'm not convinced that the connection between Pajitnov & Rogers had anything to do with race or gender... I think it's much more likely that they just had very similar personalities - particularly a desire to get things done. This is reflected in Pajitnov's comment about why he liked computers and the fact that Rogers' solution involved going direct to the root of the problem - flying to Moscow with little preparation (e.g. getting the necessary permissions granted etc.)... basically they both seem to be mavericks with a shared interest in computers and they probably had a certain amount of curiosity about their respective cultures. Do we need to read more into it than that?

One thing that stood out for me was how Tetris must have been one of the first examples of the viral spread of a digital artefact (that'll be 'text' to you guys). The fact that the game itself is in many ways contagious and addictive adds to the analogy of a virus...

It definitely falls into the category that I'd describe as compulsive/obsessive. It's incredibly simple yet incredibly compelling and a good example of a game that doesn't appeal to a specific gender (if we do have to bring that into the discussion ;).

And for me the definitive version is the one released on the original Gameboy... but if anyone hasn't played it there's a not too bad online version here.

I managed 84 lines with a score of 46,209, which looking at the high score table isn't that good :(

Gareth R White said...

I just found a Wired article about Tetris. It has some interesting physiological explanation for what happens when you play, though it all gets a bit too pattern-matchy for my tastes in pop-science.

Gareth R White said...

There's some more about the brain's activity over at Scientific American, where they also refer to the mind / body split with some interesting dream interpretation.

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