How We Are Playing: Category Simulation and Imagination

I wrote a recent post on how imagination is key to how we act in the world inspired by The Dawn of Everything book, despite its middling issues with using imperial time (an issue that is both big and small and to be addressed in the future and not necessary to read right now). Do check out my hyperlinked readings as you go though, if you get lost with this half baked train of thought, especially the one on imagination above if you want to follow, as this isn’t an easy to follow piece yet without this scaffolding.

I was watching this today on seemingly iterative game design to give form to the RPGs I dabble in. It is both generative of a potential space to realize possible complexes of relations different from the current status quo, but at the same time is an example of how the sexiest simulation formats are stuck (I don’t think willingly in this linked case) in their fixed category weddedness. Just think about the non-fixed-place-based cultures in The Dawn of Everything for an example that upsets this simulation engine.

The funny thing is that this gaming talk is basically a much more advanced and better version of how simulation is currently used in the world of policy and associated science to arbitrate and scientise what we should do and how we see life as I explore in this short blog-post. In light of that, the management of life, at least within the bureaucratic frame, is light years behind the gaming people, and pretty lame on all fronts in light of the ‘procedural generativity’ version linked above, despite its own limitations. But its also those very limitations that are the same ‘stuckness’ at a categorical level I highlight in piece on ‘policy style thinking’; explored in this article by Graeber.

On top of this if we are to not simply reject simulation as a usable form of imagination generation technology, to help rather than hinder, then we need to think about the ‘nerd games cultures’ they are embedded in and realise the way liminal and normal space work in relation to each other. For example, online nerds have to invert the normal and liminal to make liminal normal in terms of engagement with analogue and digital, hence why super online game nerds can be defunct in the analogue but beautiful creatures in the digital.

Meaning simulations cannot be simply seen as a utopian vison of a possible future as that’s not how liminal space works. Something people who read cool sci-fi believe by implication when they read sketchings of the future but utterly fail to understand, from an anthropological perspective, the relation between different kinds imagination, simulation, the imaginary and ‘normal life’. In short, do you make game space a mockery of the normal, an exaggeration for purposes of denaturalising the normal in the liminal, so when you go back you live with the rules, but know they are made not natural. Or an expression of what is suppressed in normality, a reinforcement of common norms (e.g. football) – a space to naturalize and push deeper the made as natural. See the introduction for Why We Play for more info on that.

If you followed all that then one obvious point is not to conflate ontologies with categories, a version of the epistemic fallacy, but more importantly here I am asking what role simulation has? Can we adapt to overcome its category stuckness? The dynamic nature of ‘procedural generativity’ is a nice start that fixes an older different problem but in doing so does suggest the problem I raise is overcome-able. I think it can be done in aid of political imagination to inform the analogue, or at least its worth experimenting with. I hope to unpack this soon, both in writing something intelligible without reading hyperlinks and also am in process of trying to do so in practice by experimenting with my teaching/learning environments.