Recess! 13 – Game Design as a Nihilistic Endeavour

I have a current shtick that says that game designers harbour no illusions about human reality. Designing and testing a game on people reveal the murky depths of human nature in a way few other pursuits do. Take even the simplest game with the possibility of deception and it will often devolve into the horrible treatment of one player for the advantage of another.

I’ve been enjoying reading Venkatesh Rao’s ‘The Gervais Principle’ a lot. Because I think it also sheds a lot of light on the human condition. He just published the final installment ‘Children of an Absent God’ and I was more than pleasantly surprised to read a lot of game design thinking in it and quite a bit of speculative realism as well.

Take this passage which calls game design a power literacy:

So the process of ripping away masks of social reality and getting behind them ultimately turns into a routine skill for the Sociopath: game design. Once you do it a few times, it becomes second nature, a sort of basic power literacy. An understanding of the processes by which the fictions of social reality are constructed, and growing skill at wrangling those processes.

I don’t know if I’ve read that definition of game design before (and I’ve read quite a few): ‘an understanding of the processes by which the fictions of social reality are constructed and […] skill at wrangling those processes.’ The interesting differentiator I think then is whether the participants in those social realities are willing or unwilling ones.

After that there follows a de-centering of the uniqueness of human experience which is very similar to what we’ve been reading in new materialism and Object-Oriented Ontology:

Social realities exist as a hierarchy of increasingly sophisticated and specialized fictions for those predisposed to believe that there is something special about the human condition, which sets our realities apart from the rest of the universe.

It is nice to see the philosophy I have been reading for the past year being operationalized into a thinking that can be applied to personal power dynamics. But to tie back into Kars’s statement of assumptions, here’s one:

Game design is an endeavour that from nihilism creates something of meaning.

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