The poetry of earth is ceasing never. Same goes for the discourse of games. It’s never dead. Long may it live! The fun of playing and thinking, writing and reading about video games; the critiques on more general topics opened up thereby; the further discussion that in turn entails… chef’s kiss. Influential texts in game studies, promising new releases, and wild cards–and the meta-discourse. The nitty-gritty, the airy-fairy. Philosophical presuppositions. Utopian politics and metaphysical claims. The poetry of earth and the poverty of spirit–it’s all there in your podcast feed with Games Studies Study Buddies, which releases new episodes monthly.
As Jacotot noted long ago, but not so long ago as Plato, everything is in everything. But let’s not just quote dead white men. Let’s break the canon open and dismantle this. I mean, Universal Teaching: Mother Tongue and Meno are pretty good, but maybe Lauren Hill says it best in her Miseducation:
After winter must come spring
Everything is everything
Long-awaited summer of classics, let me know what your vibe is.
The Poetry of earth is never dead:John Keats
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
In summer luxury,—he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
Uh. Something like a rap battle mock up.
‘Cause when it hits my chest, it gots to be hot…
I’d like to give a shout out to my people on the blockAnything Can Happen, The Carnival, Refugee Camp All-Stars and Wyclef Jean
For you Silly Willy playin thug cartoon
My infrared scope got your movements on zoom
No, let’s be honest. Quoting widely and waxing poetic won’t avail. “Rhetoric is perverted poetry,” as Ranciere and their tee says. Where hip-hop meets scripture, I can dance all I want, but then I have to bow down and kiss the earth, watering it with tears. Who am I to compete with the likes of cmrn and lutz? Let them stand in for Wyclef Jean and John Keats, respectively, and make beautiful music together. Cameron Kunzelman, PhD in media studies, is assistant director of fellowships and scholarships at Mercer University, where he also teaches; Michael Lutz, PhD in early modern literature, teaches at MIT. I, MA in humanities, teach at The Community School, still playing EarthBound.
I’m neither poet nor professor in this analogy, neither grasshopper nor cricket, not ordering tequila at the bar with them, not playin the thug cartoon against them. I need quite the scope to even see these two. I tried to come to grips with them already in my piece on Huizinga, but they’re supposedly coming out with their own, in which they argue for displacing Huizinga and his tired “magic circle” in favor of CLR James’ brilliant Beyond a Boundary. And you just can’t argue with that. Or at any rate, I certainly can’t.
It seems we lose the game
Before we even start to play
But in the spirit of The Mother Tongue, supposing intelligence is universal, and that we confront one another as fellow learners, nothing more nor less, let’s attempt a few words of gratitude and critique for these two.
Because for anyone interested in finding a way into or around game studies, there are few guides better than Cameron Kunzelman and Michael Lutz, the all-stars behind Games Studies Study Buddies on the Ranged Touch network. I’ve listened to all their episodes, many of them more than once, and even, as a result of listening, read some of the books they talk about. Ranciere’s Ignorant Schoolmaster, for instance, and James’ book on cricket and life. Like many listeners, I appreciate these two as explicators, “old masters,” as much as intellectual partners in founding something important if not new under the sun. As good for stimulating thinking and “emancipated” reading(s) as they are, they’re just as valuable as a resource for cribbing from.
They give masterful contexts for ideas I’m curious about in fields not my own and help me engage, however distantly, with thinkers I’ll probably never get around to reading. They provide the sweep of each book’s argument, make interventions to sloppy or incomplete analysis and correctives to mere name-checking, without ever bogging down in too much detail, and their range and work rate is astonishing. To go through the GSSB library, reading, listening, writing the occasional article (they toss out suggestions for them on the regular) or patiently working up a monograph of the kind they seem to be working on, would be a graduate course in itself. They should look into accreditation, or at the very least some sort of live tour. Meanwhile there’s the discord.
But I run hot and cold with these two. Not so much lukewarm in my response as chilled and heated. Let’s say bookwarm: my podcast project. In many ways my approach could hardly be more opposed to theirs, but it coincides insofar as it is an attempt to bridge the worlds of video games and literature, both academic and popular. I’ve done some reading and recorded talks with scholars in fields like game studies and literature, and while there’s room for different views and different questions altogether when it comes to these things, my worry is that certain views and questions the GSSB tend to care about might preclude them from ever listening to someone like me.
I earnestly wish them the best. And to all appearances, they’re doing pretty well for themselves. But we disagree on what the best is, and I fear that since they’re missing it, they’re liable to lead others down blind alleys. What I love about them is their dedication to the craft of scholarship. Method, as much as content, matters to them. They seem to genuinely care about helping students and listeners do better work, and to keep hustling and improving their own. What I can’t stand is their strident determinism. It comes out in all sorts of ways big and small, summed up in their catch-phrase: “the social is predicated on its exclusions.” First of all, what is that but a new instantiation, in language appropriate to “capital T Theory,” rather than superstition and sorcery, of the magic circle? “The social” is a construct, predicated on beliefs about people. But people are real. I don’t think we know as much about them, about ourselves and what we’re capable of, as the GSSB seem to think they do. But we can and do change the construct, and the company we keep changes us.
Play is the exultation of the possible.Martin Buber, qtd in Mathematics for Human Flourishing, by Francis Su
So I wish they were less concerned about the exclusions and more responsible to holding open all the possibilities that games and theories about them might afford. Especially considering the scale of audience they’re reaching. I hope any impressionable young scholars out there listening will keep more of an open mind about matter and people and whatever else the social is predicated on. The GSSB worry so much about what tech, capital, and social structures discipline us into, they seemingly forget to account for the sort of inspiration that would move someone to make any of the games or write any of the books they talk about. Assemblages and affordances they have in plenty, but do they have any room in their theories for the possibility of such a thing as love to act on communities, to humanize individuals, much less to connect humanity within some larger whole–one that we might more meaningfully relate to as a person than a rhizome? Just maybe. Or have structures and conditions become such a scapegoat for all problems, down to the level of their lived experience, that an appeal to love and responsibility is to be regarded as “pure ideology”?
I wrote these words for everyone who struggles in their youth
Who won’t accept deception, instead of what is truth
I’m sure the GSSB would feel the same; we disagree about where intellectual honesty should lead. For them, it seems to be across A Thousand Plateaus; for me it’s through the ten thousand things back to the way who is.
I’m really looking forward to the episode on The Grasshopper, by Suits. But even more than reading it and thinking it through with them, I hope they’ll take what the Grasshopper says there at the end to heart:
I truly am the Grasshopper: that is, an adumbration of the ideal of existence, just as the games we play in our non-Utopian lives are intimations of things to come. For even now it is games which give us something to do when there is nothing to do.p 176
Maybe they talk about this more in some of their other shows about Homestuck or Fallout or Stephen King, but it bears pointing out that games are more than intellectual artifacts, fodder for discourse. They are more than ideological apparatuses or masks. They suggest, “when there is nothing to do,” the way out of nihilism: the great I am. Or, to put it not quite so succinctly but no less polyphonically, I hope, the way Itoi does in his games and Dostoevsky in his novels: through smiles and tears, through suffering and joy.
Maybe the GSSB would not go so far. It’s only retelling an old myth, they might say, of impossible redemption. But if so, it puts us in good company. Socrates, the story goes, at the end of his life went in for writing poems and fables. Toni Morrison did, too, right up to the end. Here’s a good question from the end of her version of Who’s Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? co-written with her son Slade:
His day is darkest when I leave
with all my music up my sleeve.
Name, fame, blame, shame–
the question is: who’s got game?