3 Points Toward a More Receptive and Conciliatory Left, Part I

1) Is objectivity really impossible, and what are some pitfalls in valuing subjectivity?
2) Have we placed an undue emphasis on cultural and linguistic factors when considering inequality?
3) When should we commit to ideological positions, and when should we compromise?


Trump is now president, and the Republicans have gained majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the post-election analysis, blame has been laid on 3rd party candidates, the media for covering Trump and giving him free publicity, Clinton’s past indiscretions, unreliable projections, and the electoral college system. One possible factor that the Democrats have identified is that they hadn’t reached out enough to white working-class voters.

I can’t speak to campaign strategies and their miscalculations; however, as a graduate student in a leftist interdisciplinary department, I have been frustrated for years at my fellow scholars’ ideological purity. I believe that a deterioration of civil society is scary, but I also fear that Trump being elected has vindicated a belief on the left that the right is so far gone that we have nothing to work with, while believing ourselves morally and intellectually superior. The use of “social justice warriors” and “feminazi” in dismissive and derogatory ways certainly speaks to resistance on the part of conservatives, however the sheer frequency of these labels makes me believe that the fault does not lie entirely with them.  Finally, the fact that many college-educated men backed Trump, and that even great numbers of White women voted for him, says that there is something we’re missing in the work we do in liberal arts research and higher education, even as we are trying to educate the electorate.

This is a part of a series of 3 posts that will try to answer the 3 questions above. Each of the 3 questions tries to interrogate a concept that, as I see it, has become common sense to thinkers on the left to the extent that we cannot apply it with nuance or communicate its value to non-believers. Each post will explain and give examples of one concept and its goals, then a response discussing its shortcomings and misapplication.


Progressive Concept #1: Objectivity is a fallacy, but the personal is political.

We are taught that it is impossible to hold a belief that is uncoloured by attributes historically deemed to be personal, such as race, class, gender, and sexuality. Following from this, absolute impartiality and apositionality is impossible.  This critique has been leveled the most often at ideas received from straight, Euro-American men of middle and upper classes who have assumed that their ideas are universally applicable and objective. For example, Enlightenment Humanism in Europe established that autonomy and rationality should be recognized as universal human attributes that justified freedom from religious and feudal tyranny, instigating the development of the middle class and the early modern society; however, the rise of a core middle class that came about due to denigrating Black Africans as non-human and profiting from their slave labour (ie in Sylvia Wynter’s scholarship). In the 3/5th Compromise of the US, the Northern, predominantly anti-slavery states did not want to count slaves as human for taxation and representation, because this would give Southern states more power; actual costs and benefits overrode principle. Thus, supposedly universal and objective concepts like humanism cannot be assumed to really be truly universal, because they are contradictory and have been applied selectively to benefit certain groups.

If nothing is absolutely objective or universal, then nothing is absolutely personal either; personal background are informed by forces outside of oneself and have effects outside of oneself. If middle-class White men have failed to generate and apply truly objective or universal principles, then we must ensure that all backgrounds are represented so a diversity of subjective perspectives have the opportunity to reflect upon public matters together. These theories have influenced and are influenced by postmodernism in general, which insists on relativity rather than absolutes.

Finally, because nothing is absolutely private and personal, there is also no such thing as absolutely personal achievements, nor absolutely personal failure. Failures get pinned on people who have been the most directly involved, however there tends to be a lack of awareness of how they have been constrained. One example is attributing healthy dietary habits and weight management to personal effort, and a backlash against obesity being counted as a disability that people could claim benefits for. I have lived in South Central LA for 5 years and seen 2 supermarkets shut down in my neighbourhood, while there are multiple fast food restaurants and liquor stores on every block. Juvenile diabetes is also rampant in my area, as evidenced by multiple PSA posters at bus stops. Even I have difficulty maintaining a healthy diet when busy and stressed, so it would be unreasonable to expect a single mother working multiple part-time and low-paying jobs to provide and teach her children about healthy diets all on her own personal effort. This is a fundamental issue in the disagreement between proponents of more public spending and proponents of less public spending – the former criticizes the latter of mistaking structural benefits for personal attributes and effort when it conveniences them to do so.

Response #1: The personal is not always political, and the personal does not have desired political effects without contextualization and connections to political aspirations.

I should make clear that, as per the first half of this post, I take no issue with explaining personal achievements and failures through structural factors. What concerns me is that valuing subjectivity has been reduced to personal expression, which has been emphasized through consumer culture and mass media. The constant valorization of personal expression leads to:

a) individuals of historically disenfranchised or under-represented groups presenting a personal opinion as representative of their whole group without contextualization

b) disenfranchised groups emphasizing evidence that support their ideological commitments while ignoring evidence that does not, or use the impossibility of being perfectly objective as an excuse to not try to be.

I am also not saying that groups in power have avoided these pitfalls (from the first half of this post, I definitely don’t think they have) but I don’t think that progressives can change things by fighting fire with fire.

That we attribute so much power to personal expression has to do with a system of adversarial democracy and an adversarial justice system (more in Part III). These civic systems lead to a cultural practice of representing one’s own argument, such as in the argumentative essay. However, to me these are not the most significant factors; it is consumer culture and social media that has made the last couple of generations predisposed to broadcasting personal expression with the assumption that the act in of itself is political.

Consumer culture is a significant force in the West: with industrial standardization, most of our jobs are specialized roles that does not allow us to express ourselves, so the only means of expressing ourselves through our personal lives. However, most of what we need in life comes in commodities that someone outside of our society as made. Thus, we create our own sense of self through buying things and paying for services. Marketers take advantage of this through market segmentation, where consumers are divided into smaller subgroups based on different needs; thus, when we buy something, we feel like it is tailored to us, and that we can express ourselves through it, and even become better through it. Car commercials, for example, tell us that the specific car would make us into an urbane professional or a rugged outdoorsman. L’oreal’s famous tagline is “Because you’re worth it.”

More recently, social media can also be seen as a way of marketing ourselves (and also as an extremely specialized way of marketing to us). Self-expression on social media garners positive feedback often not on the content being shared, but the act of sharing. For example, selfies will almost always garner positive feedback about how confident the person is in showing their face / body and sharing it with everyone. This cycles into people posting things online for the positive feedback they get on the act of expressing themselves, rather than deliberating on whether the content of what they are posting actually moves discussion on a topic forwards or achieves any material effects.

Feminist popularized the statement “the personal is political,” however it has been corrupted in recent generations of both men and women. However, I am more critical towards contemporary liberal feminism, partly because I think the burden of doing better should be on the actors who claim they can do better than the status quo, and partly because of negative personal experiences with individuals claiming to be feminists. Two articles about gender representation in videogames each illustrate the 2 pitfalls of emphasizing subjectivity.*

The first is an article about the update to Lara Croft’s representation in the Tomb Raider franchise. Peacock, the author, expresses disappointment that the realism of recent games reminds her too much that Lara is a frightened and vulnerable young woman as opposed to a badass tomb raider on par with men, citing examples such as Lara saying she’s cold, or Lara being assaulted, a scene which evokes rape. It is not that Peacock’s points are invalid, and I appreciate that she describes these conclusions as her own opinion. However, for the Women’s section of a mainstream and prominent outlet such as the Telegraph, I believe that Peacock could have better contextualized her opinion among other divergent feminist perspectives, even if this was an editorial. The new Lara Croft facing realistic obstacles that women face and giving realistic responses for a young woman most likely comes out of ideas that to be equal to men does not mean to be the same as men, and that the capacity for women to show vulnerability means that they have not been brainwashed by patriarchal society to believe that masculine toughness is the only valid state of mind. Giving Lara these traits makes her more of a complex and evolving character rather than the sex symbol of before, and more relatable for female players.  Feminists writing articles based on personal experiences is not invalid in of itself; however, I do think that this partly explains why men (and non-conforming women, such as in the above link) have a hard time approaching feminism, when individual women give divergent arguments, yet each woman insists or implies that their own personal belief is the political reality for all women.

Another article illustrates the problem when ideologically driven research ignores counter-arguments and evidence that does not support their claims. This article is about Rimworld, where the player is in charge of a colony of initially 3 people on another planet and assigning them tasks so they survive and prosper. The gender of the colonists determines different programming for thoughts and behaviour. Lo, the author, takes issue with how, among other things, female colonists are programmed to rarely initiate romance and to be not affected when rejecting romance, and male colonists are never programmed to be bisexual. The effect of this article on me was different than the piece on Tomb Raider, since I know less about programming than about representations and was impressed that Lo managed to dig into the code at all. The tone of the article also seemed fairly objective and her conclusions were not opinions, but rather fairly objective descriptions about the game mechanics. However, I cannot write off the developers’ objections in the comments as he explained that there was a updated version of the game where many of the issues Lo points out had been fixed, but she did not examine that version, and in addition he had asked that his full explanations be reproduced in the article but was refused. The Editor’s Note from Rock Paper Shotgun is that agreeing to reproduce the developer’s interview in full would be ceding editorial control. To me, this says that Lo and the editors already have an angle in mind based on preliminary research, and would exert editorial control to convey this angle even in the face of contradicting evidence. Similarly to representing individual opinions as representative ones, this lack of objective methodological rigour allied with strong ideological commitments can also drive away potential supporters who do not yet share those ideological commitments.

To me, the latter is a more serious issue for society, even though the former bothers me more personally. The reason for my personal discomfort at the former is that I have often run up against 3rd wave Euro-American feminists who assume that their perspectives, aspirations, and standards of femininity apply to me. At the same time, they reinforce one another’s personal expressions while denouncing critique as being anti-feminist, which prevents them from hearing about alternate feminisms. One particularly troubling incident occurred in a senior undergrad art class where the class votes on a semester theme, and the White female majority of the class chose sex; they then voted to replace the usual year-end gallery exhibit with public art installations around campus. Muslim student groups objected when they saw sexually explicit material being displayed in public space, however the art students wrote them off as being repressed and oppressed by their religion. I did not have the language to convince my class and thus my arguments weren’t particularly effective. To this day I am not sure how the professor could have not stepped in to at least clearly lay out what was at stake for my fellow students (There was also an incident where a fellow Women’s Studies TA told her classes that she hated men, which I will discuss more in Part III).

I do think that implying that personal opinions are representative of one’s identity group can be mitigated by having multiple individual opinions in the public sphere, and giving more critical and integrative tools to everyone so they know how to evaluate personal claims together to arrive at a bigger picture. Ideological-driven research that ignores evidence would be more devastating on a larger scale, since it is exactly what the far right does when they ignore how free market capitalism coupled with a limited government would produce mass inequality, and insist it would be better for everyone. At the very least, ideologically-driven policy-making it would lead to ineffectual leadership because certain groups and their interests would be not consulted based on ideological differences, leading to factors that the governing group cannot foresee or harness. Just because everything is at some degree ideological does not mean that we have an excuse to not examine our ideologies and positionalities.

* I chose articles that have to do with video games because gender and gaming has been a very hot topic after Gamergate, and it is the area where men have explicitly and unilaterally defended their identity as men. In addition, as a woman who has recently discovered gaming, I read more about games than any other medium (maybe other than comics, and my own academic reading). Regarding the issue of gender in video games, I think the above post undergirds my opinion. I agree with women who believe that video games and the culture around them exclude women and perpetuate harmful gender standards and should change to keep pace with a changing society. However, I also think that women have been asking for change in an antagonistic, unilateral, and internally contradictory way that doesn’t actually give much constructive plans to work from (such as the article on Lara Croft).

I say “unilateral” because while gender is the most salient factor, it should not be the only factor being considered. Most of my male friends who love games are nerdy Asian immigrants, who would have to combat an equally detrimental system of negative racial imagery to be fit in with mainstream men, and even more so to be desired by mainstream women. I would hazard a guess to say that many people (including men) who are die-hard fans of anything (including games) got into it because they were not welcomed into many other things society has to offer. Men who are excluded on factors other than gender can find community in video games, and thus I do think that gaming culture, if not the maleness thereoff, can be defended to a certain extent against mainstream feminism and its exclusive focus on gender. However, this defense should not be couched in purely gendered terms, and cannot take the form of personal attacks on women and their private lives. Ideally, neither side needs to throw the baby out with the bathwater; both sides should come up with ways to reject gender stereotypes and exclusion in games while maintaining games as a unique culture that many men have deeply identified with.

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Into the Lifestream: Histories and Philosophies of FFVII

Part I – Personal fannish stuff
Part II – Socio-political stuff (Race and gender, Japanese history, Environmentalism)
Part III – Philosophical stuff (The Lifestream, Aerith’s way, Advent Children extensions)
(Because this WP layout has a static banner, it covers the first paragraph or so when you go to an internal link, so you need to scroll up a bit. sorry.)

One of the biggest pieces of news coming out of E3 this summer was that there will be a remake of Final Fantasy VII, and hearing this has made grown men cuss and cry in front of their children. There are 2 decade’s worth of debates on the game’s impact; while my personal reasons might be rather idiosyncratic, I also think a portion of them might be what a lot of fans find appealing when they say they were impacted by Aerith’s death, but they just haven’t articulated it the same way.

I won’t be addressing the technical aspects of gameplay or graphics advancement in the 1990s, since I don’t know enough to judge. What I’d like to focus on here are the themes and the concepts that the character, plot, and the world-building imply. I think what makes this a good story is that while it’s fantasy, it reflects Japan’s concept of itself in the world, and in the end it has a rather modest and relatable view of good and evil, which are locate in the ways we approach life and loss and the world we live in.

Having said that, though, I do think how characters as gameplay elements relate to characters as narrative elements is important to keep. Some of the later FF games have no specializations for characters and they can grow technically according to player choice. Battle system and random encounter mechanics aside, I do think that stats and specializations contribute to a sense of who the characters are. Relying on the table in Section 1.4 here on character stats, it makes sense that a character like Aerith doesn’t grow in strength as quickly as Barrett, who conversely doesn’t grow in magic as quickly as Aerith.

I. Personal stuff

I’m a big fan of FFVII but not through the typical route of “this defines my childhood.” I watched Advent Children (AC) when it first came out in 2005 with the anime club in university, without knowing anything about it. While it didn’t make much sense to me, it haunted me and I watched it up to 5 times in one semester trying to figure out why. I suppose that having had watched a lot of anime, certain dramatic devices and characterizations, such as angst, was familiar. I was also taking a Bible and Literature course at the time and wrote a response paper on Biblical themes and whether FFVII subverted them by making Sephiroth an antichrist figure (especially with the similarity of “Jenova” to “Jehovah”), and whether there was a subtext of Eastern polytheistic religions compared to Western monotheism. Later in this post I will also justify why think in the thematic scheme of things AC is absolutely necessary, even if it retconned half the characters and nothing particularly different from the game happened.

I got into gaming only in my mid-20s, as my family were relatively poor immigrants for whom entertainment in general was frivolous spending. (Advice for the next generation of parents: start ’em young. Gaming is like piano or martial arts, because it requires a very specific set of sensory-motor skills and a “language” in terms of reading what the game wants you to do. The literacy of videogames are different from other visual media like movies and so forth because there is an interface, both in the sense of the actual menus you see and also implicit conventions in what you can and cannot interact with). I played FFVII when I was teaching English in China because I had more time from not being in school myself, and I was also at a telecommunications / software engineering institution where students exercised free will over their lives for the first time by playing games all the time. They were asked to choose English names for the benefit of foreign instructors and one kid actually named himself Sephiroth. He wasn’t my student, but I found this out during a Thanksgiving event, where teachers announced “Sephiroth will be performing Pachlebel’s Canon in D on the violin.”

I guess I took this as a sign and downloaded a PC version of it, though because of my lack of gaming skills meant that I followed a textual walkthrough (from Absolute Steve, who is a great writer for this kind of guide in terms of being clear, comprehensive, and occasionally humorous). It took me a couple of months and the timer in the game clocked out long before I finished it. I didn’t feel attachment to specific characters more to the party as a group, and it got to me to the extent that when I failed to destroy one of the Weapons I actually felt like I let someone down. I did finish everything in the end, though because it too me so long, the emotional payoff at the end didn’t seem as salient. But FFVII stayed with me in a way that has influenced my personal growth; every time I’d get cocky or get overcome with guilt over something I tend to think of FFVII to get me out of it (more about this in Part III, and an excellent interview with Takahiro Sakurai, the voice actor for Cloud, sums this up perfectly towards the end). AsI go onwards with graduate education I also see in FFVII a unique and instructive Japanese approach to the world (Part II). And like most fans of the FF series the music has been a major draw; as a flute player I tend to practice a lot of FFVII tunes (my favourite being “Cloud Smiles”).

II. Socio-political stuff

Race and gender issues

I’ve seen some articles since E3 discussing what should stay in the remake and what should be changed, among them more sensitive topics such as Cloud cross-dressing, and Barrett’s behaviour and speech being racist. While Cloud cross-dressing adds a lot of humour to the game, there is concern that having it simply as a humorous element and having Cloud unmask himself as a “real man” at the end of that sequence sits uncomfortably with queer and transgender sensibilities 20 years on. Though I think even today, if you ask an average straight guy to wear a dress and infiltrate a brothel, he’ll still be uncomfortable, and men he meets in the brothel would still be uncomfortable when they find out. It might be interesting to explore the diversity of orientations if someone were to be attracted to Cloud regardless of whether he’s in disguise or not, even more interesting if a significant character were bisexual or something (oddly enough I can see Aerith being such, also Rufus).

As for the character of Barrett, I would also say that because he’s a rather complex character overall and exists in a fantasy world, I don’t think his behaviour and speech really matter all that much in the end. For Japan, who has its own rather different racial discrimination problems, I thought his character was already pretty progressive. I also don’t know how much of his speech is in translation and how much of it was written in the Japanese version already, and if the latter, whether it signifies differently in Japan (I think in Axis Powers Hetalia, world accents were represented as Japanese regional ones for the Japanese voice acting, so if Barrett has something similar going for him I’m not sure Euro-American fans have enough information to complain). What I would like to see, though, is if he’s meant to reflect a specific racial/class demographic, when the English voice acting take place, the producers would actually consult English the way it’s spoken by that demographic. I’m thinking of the Zimmerman trial where Rachel Jeantel was deemed to behave inappropriately or spoke unintelligible English when it was legitimately a different form of vernacular. Anyways, I always thought his idiosyncracies were more about class than race, and I do think it’s realistic and relatable for a person of colour on the outskirts of the world to have their prior ways of life and economies (in his case, coal) to be interrupted by new technology from urban centres.

I think some things have changed, though, and the sensibilities of a post-9/11 and post-Fukushima world need careful treading around. It might be hard to pull off heroism of eco-terrorists blowing up energy reactors now, even if the heroism is only initial and Barrett recognizes his error later on. Fukushima also makes Advent Children harder to accept, as Geostigma and orphans infected with Jenova-contaminated water is uncomfortably close to the effects of radiation exposure. I’m not sure how the writers plan on handling this sensititive topic.

Japanese history

I’m doing a doctorate in American Studies, which examines the ideas and status of people within the US and the effects of the US worldwide. One of the topics is how Asia has been impacted by the US, and another topic is what Eisenhower calls the military-industrial complex, the consequences of which I think FFVII shows in the Shinra Corporation. If this seems far fetched, a similar thread that fans have also noticed is that Japanese anime, especially pre-2000 ones, has a lot of apocalyptic scenarios involving cities getting destroyed (Evangelion and Akira, to name 2), which people tend to agree has to do with a generation growing up after the atomic bombs.

When Eisenhower came up with the term “military-industrial complex” he was referring to the conjoined interests of legislators, military leadership, and the arms industry in the US. Since industrialization in the Euro-American world, a lot of the industry was privately and not state-owned; governments and militaries would contract out arms production to these private companies, and in turn government legislation would ensure that these private companies would be able to produces armaments smoothly. In broader terms, the military-industrial can also arise from the joint effects of military and economic influence, which would be different from a strictly economic force such as foreign direct investment. Japan would be the Asian nation which has felt the effects of the US military-industrial complex the earliest, with commodore Perry and the navy opening Japan to economic development in the mid-1800s. Rationale for this on the part of the US is numerous, some of which involving needing Japan as a fueling station of sorts, and also wanting to control shipping routes to China, which was seen as a huge market. Japan industrialized quickly and even defeated Russia in modern warfare, but the US didn’t pay it much mind since it was still preoccupied with Europe. Japanese and American interests around the Pacific began to clash during WWII; the incident Americans tend to know from this is the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour in Hawai’i. Then the US dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, leading to the withdrawal of Japan from the Pacific theatre of WWII.

Common knowledge about the US’s involvement in Japan usually ends here, and most people assume that Japan got itself back on its own feet. In the treaties after WWII Japan was forced into complete disarmament due to its encroachment on its Asian neighbours. Instead, the US stations military in Asia and the Pacific region to secure the places that Japan withdrew from (such as the Philippines and Pacific islands like Guam, as well as Korea). In addition to military presence, the US also heavily influenced (if not dictated) the direction of Japanese economic and industrial development into the 50s. Part of the result, intentional or not, was that the Japanese economy also became a military-industrial one to provide support to American engagement in the Korean War, and American influence in South Korea also created institutions to support its engagement in Vietnam. During these Cold War engagements, Japan, Hawai’i, and Thailand served as R&R stations for US soldiers on leave, which some people argue was the start of making Hawai’i into a tourist-driven economy.

I can’t draw a direct connection between Japan’s relationship to the US and Shinra, but I also think that an energy corporation with a paramilitary presence like Shinra would come uniquely from a country which has lived through national development influenced by a combined foreign military and economic force, and it would be harder for Euro-Americans in the 90s to conceive of this particular combination. This is especially salient due to the presence of Yuffie and Wutai in FFVII. Wutai’s cultural aesthetics are heavily Japanese-inflected; it was supposed to have been a strong warrior nation, but because Shinra wanted to set up a mako reactor and Wutai did not, and a war ensued that Wutai eventually lost. In addition, along with becoming a source for energy extraction, Wutai also became a resort destination for non-Wutai tourists, which Yuffie and other Wutai resistance fighters are ashamed of.

This lack of self-determination in Wutai reflects the history I have outlined above, where both Japan and Wutai have little choice but to become a proxy or service for another nation which is stronger both militarily and economically and uses the former to secure the latter. Reading Shinra as the US military-industrial complex might be stretching it, since the US didn’t explicitly carry out military-lead resource extraction; however, a number of US industries and scientists were folded into the nuclear development program during WWII (a good book just published about this is here), and it’s kind of unsettling to add the fact that the US dropped nuclear bobs on Japan to the fact that the nuclear reactors at Fukushima were designed by General Electric, which we tend to associate with benign home appliances. While the intentions of the US and of Shinra might be different, the result they have left on Japan and Wutai are not so different. Because Yuffie is the representative of this, though, the message is “safe” in that most people wouldn’t read threat in a young woman who’s annoyingly cheerful and slightly incompetent. There’s a whole area of research into why Asians like to convey messages in cute things, which I won’t get into, but recommended sources would be artist Takashi Murakami’s Superflat aesthetic (which he links to WWII here), as well as the chapter on cuteness in Sianne Ngai’s Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting.

Environmentalism

Another issue related to the military-industrial complex is environmentalism, which is on the forefront in FFVII. Environmental activism can date back to the 60s as a major movement and isn’t particular to Japan (though it did take place around the same time as civil right and anti-war movements). An excellent academic book that touches on this (and readable for laypeople / Japanese pop culture fans) is Anne Allison’s Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination. Allison argues that Japanese popular culture reflects the social conditions and aspirations that Japan has lived through post-war; one of the effects of industrialization is that areas of untouched nature shrunk, and thus many Japanese people feel a great deal of nostalgia for a natural or pastoral landscape (as a Canadian person, I was amused to learn that Japanese people really like Anne of Green Gables and are the largest group of foreign tourists to Prince Edward Island, which they apparently see as an image of what Japan had been). Allison spends a great deal of time talking about Pokemon; she writes that Tajiri, the creator of Pokemon, borrowed from his childhood experiences of catching insects and fish in his town and tries to recreate this experience of nature as playground, albeit a fantastical natural ecosystem of “monsters.” Allison doesn’t discuss this, but a more sober and ambivalent work in Japanese popular culture regarding the loss of nature would be Princess Mononoke. It’s also no accident that these works emerge in the 80s and 90s, which is when the generation born after WWII in Japan had matured into adults. Thus, while the environmentalism presented in FFVII seems to be a universal issue, it’s also very specific to the Japanese.

III. Philosophical stuff

Another rather Japanese-specific theme in FFVII that gets into philosophical territory is that “nature” in FFVII is not simply a material existence but a spiritual one, and is fundamentally no different from human beings. Hippies and esoteric beliefs aside, most people living in the Euro-American world would see nature as a resource (energy, raw materials) or as a setting for human activity and enjoyment (leisure, beauty, being in touch with ourselves). If we “respect” nature it’s more that we need to survive sustainably rather than for nature’s own sake, or when we fail to predict or control nature, disasters happen and we are humbled. If we “return to nature” upon our deaths, it is decomposition on a material level of the body, which we have in common with the natural world. Judeo-Christian-Islamic thinking has influenced most of us to think that human beings are exceptional for having souls, while beings of “nature” lacks it, even if we are not all religious adherents. The Lifestream in FFVII is a very different world view, where human beings are not exceptional, and everything returns to the Lifestream; thus, everything has some degree of soul, if that’s still the right word for it. Thus it also makes sense that Aerith’s flowers grow best in a church.

The Lifestream and good and evil

Because of this underlying spiritual element to FFVII, I think there are two parallel but linked frameworks of good and evil in FFVII. On the one hand, there is the familiar good and evil of an adventure story where Cloud and his friends, as the heroes, save the world from villains, which are both Sephiroth and Shinra. But what makes Sephiroth and Shinra the villains? And while Cloud is flawed, what makes him good, and what makes Aerith good? I think the other framework of good and evil is whether one acts according to the Lifestream or not. Two attributes of the Lifestream is that a) it is a continuous cycle where, in due time, everything on the planet dissolves into and b) in the flow, everything is broken up, remixed, and appears in a different form. The opposite of these would be a) taking something out of circulation and b) persisting in one form that does not distintegrate or recombine. In terms of nature and environmentalism, this would be plastic in a landfill. In the case of FFVII, it’s true that Sephiroth has killed innocent people, but I think his evil has more to do with being bent on continuing Jenova’s takeover of the planet, which directly affects the Lifestream; and Shinra Company’s evil is that they process the energy of the Lifestream into mako and use it up without replenishing it (an interesting article here argues that Shinra represents capitalism). Sephiroth is also guilty of this; in AC he explains that his aim is to spread his influence with the remnants of Geostigma victims, take over the planet that way, and use the planet to sail somewhere else to find another planet. This is definitely not sustainability either.

These are concrete ways that the Lifestream is affected, however there are more abstract versions of the two attributes. As life attitudes, the attributes of the Lifestream would translate to moving on when it is necessary to do so, and being flexible about what one needs to be. Here is also the reason I think Aerith is such a compelling character, and why Cloud is at first Sephiroth’s shadow but manages to be his own person. This is also where I think Advent Children shows a quite different manifestation of the same theme, a side which is important to consider.

Aerith’s way

In their own extremes, Sephiroth represents stagnation and self-absorption, and Shinra represents waste, while I think what makes Aerith “good” is that she lives her way according to the Lifestream and something like the “middle way,” and through her Cloud learns to do so as well.  This is also why I think it makes sense that Sephiroth reappears in Advent Children, since he is so bent on revenge and world domination that he does not allow his consciousness to dissolve in the Lifestream when it should. Near the end of FFVII, there is a discussion on Cid’s airship regarding whether Aerith planned to sacrifice herself, or whether she planned on returning to her friends (When Sephiroth tricks Cloud into giving one of his avatars the Black Materia to summon Meteor, Aerith leaves the party and goes to the city of the Ancients to summon Holy with her White Materia). The conversation ended on a note that leans towards the latter, but one wonders why, if she didn’t plan to sacrifice herself, did she leave alone and didn’t ask for help.

It’s debateable whether Aerith needed to die to save the world. She could have finished summoning Holy, and if Sephiroth’s power prevents it from taking effect, the party would have finished off Sephiroth in the Northern Crater, and Meteor would have stopped. However, it might be the case that even if events had unfolded this way, the party wouldn’t defeat Sephiroth in time and the Meteor would still be on its trajectory. There are different ways of interpreting the scene at the end of FFVII where the Lifestream rises up to counteract Meteor. It’s possible that the Lifestream would have done this anyways if the Meteor got too close (which is what Marlene describes in Advent Children), however since there is a shot of Aerith’s face in the glow of the Lifestream at the end, and in AC her voice seems to emanate from water, I prefer to think that Aerith was the one that instigated the Lifestream from within to counteract Meteor, and she could not have done this while alive. It’s not that she would have known when Sephiroth kills her that she needed to be dead, either; it’s just that she does what she can while alive, and also does what she can after death as well. This is in line with the attributes of the Lifestream, which is that she accepts what happens to her, moves on and takes on another form, which both is and isn’t Aerith, and makes it work.

Cloud also learns to do this by the end; on the airship he says that they all need to let go of Aerith’s memory; as he and Tifa are hanging from a cliff in the Northern Crater after defeating Sephiroth, he says that he is beginning to understand what the Promised Land is, and he could meet “her” (Aerith) there. Perhaps the Promised Land is the Lifestream and they will all “meet” Aerith upon death as everything recombines; perhaps it’s a place of mind where he understands that she is with them but in another form. Hopefully players also understand this by the end, know that hacking the game to keep playing her character rather defeats the purpose of the game’s thematic development, and most likely Aerith wouldn’t want that to happen. I remember reading fan confusion regarding the intention with her death, with the producer Kitase saying that the developers wished to reflect the meaninglessness and suddenness of death in real life (against the trope of sacrificial deaths in popular media, where sacrifice or love is usually a clear-cut meaning); on the other hand, resurrecting Aerith would take away the meaning of her death. I think what he means is that there is no inherent meaning in Aerith’s death, but her death is meaningful for the emotional and intellectual struggles of Cloud, the party, and the player as they come to terms with it. Paradoxically, one of the ways of making meaning of her death is to accept that it has no meaning to death; if this seems nihilistic, her death has no meaning because it’s a non-event, and she is not really gone, and you can meet her in the Promised Land.

Cloud takes quite a long while to get there though. If Aerith goes with the flow of the Lifestream and accepts that she dies and takes another form, Sephiroth and Cloud are too wrapped up in maintaining their self-image, to their detriment and the detriment of others around them. Sephiroth, for his part, goes on his rampage after discovering that his status as an elite SOLDIER was due to being experimented on by Shinra and Hojo, and strives for revenge and to continue Jenova’s supposed legacy of taking over the world (This second goal never made particular sense to me, since going from “Jenova was meant to take over the world millenia ago” and “I have Jenova cells” to “I must take over the world” seems quite a leap, and my only explanation is mako and Jenova-induced mental instability on Sephiroth’s part, as well as a slightly hamfisted way of introducing the theme of legacies). Cloud is so invested in being a member of SOLDIER that he adopts Zack’s memories as his own and deludes himself and everyone else into thinking that he had been in SOLDIER. Even as a boy, as he explains to Tifa when they are in the Lifestream, he told himself that he was superior to the other children when all he wanted was to be included. And of course, when Hojo reveals that he had experimented on a series of beings (?) in an attempt to create Sephiroth clones, Cloud begs Hojo to give him a number so that he has something to latch onto for his identity. After Tifa helps him to piece things together in the Lifestream, he accepts that he isn’t who he thought he was, and that’s all right, since the party together, with the memory of Aerith, will do what needs to be done.

Advent Children extensions

In Advent Children, though, there exists the opposite problem, where Cloud, presumably coming down from the high of defeating Sephiroth, no longer knows who he is at all, nor do the people who used to live in Midgar. This is the opposite extreme to what Cloud manages to conquer in the game, which is overweening pride; in AC he falls into despair. Geostigma infects people who have lost their will to live, and what looks to be acute Geostigma attacks occur during moments of despair or doubt, such as when Denzel first accidentally calls Tifa and tells her that he doesn’t know what to do with his family dead and home gone, and in midst of crying suffers an attack and passes out. Rufus is correct in saying that Sephiroth, by holding onto himself in the Lifestream, is responsible for Geostigma; his malevolence in the Lifestream overpowers those who let themselves go. Cloud, especially, isolates himself when he’s ill with Geostigma; this would be taking himself out of circulation in social terms. Cloud and other Midgar denizen’s issues in AC also show that while Aerith goes with the flow of the Lifestream, this doesn’t mean that she lacks direction or personal integrity. Whereas Tifa tends to hold back, Aerith acts; in addition to going to the City of the Ancients by herself, one detail I remember in particular is from recruiting Vincent. After Vincent explains that he decided to sequester himself in the Nibelheim mansion due to his inability to save Lucrecia, Aerith responds, “So you decided to punish yourself by sleeping? That’s kinda weird.” Aerith would (and does) disapprove of the way Cloud is behaving in AC, though at the end she acknowledges that he’s grown up a bit more.

I think the events of AC makes sense; heroes don’t save the world and live happily after. Sometimes overcoming a catastrophe means there are still pieces to pick up, which might call on different skills and attitudes from the catastrophe itself. There needs to be a medium between arrogance and despair, between action and waiting, between identity and adaptive flexibility, and finding a way of taking on someone’s legacy without becoming a puppet, which is what Sephiroth accuses Cloud of being. I find that the conflict of AC is more internal than in the game, though because it’s a CG movie it needs to show off visual aesthetics with visible antagonists. Oddly enough, in AC it’s Rufus who becomes the most erudite advocate for a healthy attitude, when he tells Kadaj that it wouldn’t matter if Sephiroth were to return; the cycle of the Lifestream means that history might repeat itself, and any number of Jenovas and Sephiroths would not stop those connected to the Lifestream from living as life mandates.

To put FFVII in context, I think that perhaps Japan, with their pride and ambitions during WWII and quick fall into defeat and surrender, particularly needed these popular culture texts to think through what it means to find a middle way. In the context of Japanese society, I suppose I also understand why Advent Children in the 2000s is tackling despair as the problem as opposed to pride in the FFVII game; the pressures of the education system, plus the recent 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and poor employment, likely gave rise to a lot of young people not knowing what they should be doing with their lives and with some becoming hikikomori in extreme cases.

However, I understand the golden age of Japanese popular culture to be in the 90s, when creators were really trying to grapple with the history of their country and what it means to live life to its fullest potential. Since then, I’m rather disappointed to see tropes recycled a lot without much substance behind them, and also Japan’s national branding project in the 2000s (the Cool Japan cultural policy) means that Japanese popular culture may be more devoted of its global image to non-Japanese, whereas self-searching is perhaps put on the backburner. With a new FFVII remake, I hope that it would carry forwards the social and philosophical ruminations of the original game and AC, and even be thematically different from the game so as to continue to reflect what Japan is internally going through today. Regardless, as a major fan of FFVII, I’m looking forward to what the reunion might bring.

The new and wonderful Alternate Reality Game (ARG)

There are volumes on ARGs in Wiki and elsewhere online, and even portions of ARGs are online. In brief, ARGs are a recent creation in which individuals act as players in a game devised to be set at least in part in the real world. That’s a very stripped-down definition, mind, and because of the flexibility the digital and analog worlds can offer, many ARGs, I am sure, may not fit the mould. Not only can ARGs provide fun as gaming, inherent in its treatment of the “real” is a profound philosophical question of how much reality and fiction blurs, and how we may treat reality in an era of rapidly advancing media.

This is an essay I wrote last semester for an English course (Thank god U of T isn’t as hidebound as I thought it to be). Because it was for a course, it was necessary to bring in a central text of the class, Remediation: Understanding New Media by Bolter and Grusin. A copy of this might be floating around Google books. This text really anchored my discussion of ARGs, and also allowed me to spice up the essay with concepts from an intellectual hero of mine, Jean Baudrillard. Terms and such generally get explained as the essay goes along.

In Remediation: Understanding New Media, Bolter and Grusin argue that for centuries, humanity has tried to achieve immediacy in visual representation by inventing techniques to make the viewer unaware that the medium exists (11). From perspective painting to virtual reality, human beings have promised that the newest media surpasses former media in immersing the viewer in the viewed; but, paradoxically this means that to be true to life, additional media are required to convey more information, resulting in hypermediacy. In addition, each new technique is built upon the techniques of existing media. A recent development of this desire for immediacy, expressed through hypermediacy, is the Alternative reality game (ARG). ARGs consist of planned programs in the real world, often tied to a fictitious background story, in which individuals can participate. They push for an immediacy beyond the immersive realism of virtual reality, and it succeeds at this mainly because of its active incorporation and use of other real world media, and correctly assuming that participants in ARGs would use these media in relating to the game, physical space, and to one another.

According to Borland and King, ARGs involve “improvisational theatre, storytelling, and old-fashioned detective work;” Montola categorizes them under “pervasive games,” which are games which do not strictly obey the mutually agreement that a game is set apart from real life, with its own set of rules, times, and spaces (1). An example of an ARG is the promotional campaign for the video game Halo 2. To first involve players in the ARG, individuals were sent jars of honey containing the anagram of “i love bees,” and the URL of “ilovebees.com” was flashed at the end of the Halo2 trailer. On the surface, the website told of a woman’s bee-keeping pass time, but also showed aberrations which was supposed to have been caused by a sentient alien artificial intelligence taking over the website (Borland and King, I Love Bees), such as black pop-up boxes containing dialogue and programming. From there, the game developers, 42 Entertainment, left clues on the website as to the background of this intelligence and even scheduled audio clips to be transmitted over public telephones. Another canonical ARG is The Beast, created to promote the movie A.I. The Beast includes a number of linked websites which form the background for a murder mystery, involving artificial intelligence, which is set in the time frame of the movie. The content of ARGs can differ, but they are characterized by the way in which they use media and media objects without being limited to the world generated by the media itself.

The central phenomenon of Bolter and Grusin’s book, termed “remediation,” is what the authors describe as a “contradictory imperative” of “wanting both to multiply media and to erase all traces of mediation” (Bolter and Grusin 5). The poles of this contradiction are termed immediacy, the urge to transcend media, and hypermediacy, to multiply and accentuate them; of each, Bolter and Grusin seem to bring forward two forms. One kind of hypermediacy is the proliferation of media in physical space, such as computer games, film, and digital art, to name a few of the examples discussed by the authors at length. Another aspect of hypermediacy is that one medium often contains multiple media or borrows techniques from other media. An example of this borrowing that the computer interface takes the form of a “windowed style,” which allows images, text, videos, and other media to be presented adjacent to one another (32-3). Less obviously, immersive displays such as virtual reality and IMAX films build upon the subjective point of view in traditional Hollywood films (Bolter and Grusin 157, 165). It is often these less obvious remediations which carry the authority of being more immediate. From looking at a flat image on a screen to sitting at the centre of a circular dome of screens, to being immersed in a virtual reality world, to perhaps incorporating haptic feedback (252), each new advancements makes improvements upon the display powers of its predecessors. Like hypermediacy, Bolter and Grusin discuss two types of immediacy. One is the sensory immediacy of not noticing the medium, which the authors call the epistemological sense; another is the “psychological” or “emotional” immediacy experienced by viewers when they feel engaged (70). This second type of immediacy operates somewhat independently of sensory immediacy, for an individual could be aware of the media and yet experience psychological involvement.

ARGs operate under both types of immediacy and both types of hypermediacy, and this carries them a step farther than virtual reality. If new media remediates older media in an attempt to improve upon them by offering greater sensory immediacy, an ARG can be seen as improving upon the mediation of existing computer and online games by offering greater sensory immediacy of space and character. A definitive element of the ARG is its self-presentation: “this is not a game” (Jenkins, McGonigal 2). When reading a novel or watching a film, the audience is aware of the media as media, even if they may not keep this fact in mind. Because ARGs take place in the world and involve individuals as themselves, there is potential for developers never to acknowledge that the players are experiencing a game instead of life. This often unspoken agreement between developers and players is an act of psychological immediacy. The ARG is “a modern version of a role-playing game [which] has dispensed with knights and elves and instead asks players to play themselves” (Borland and King).

Bolter and Grusin discusses the mediated self in the third part of their book, and gives the example of being able to change one’s point of view and take others’ point of view in virtual reality as examples of the immediated self (232). First-person shooter games would be another example, where the player adopts the point of view of the character within the game. However, ARGs seem to go a step further by dispensing with the assumption that the player and the character are two separate entities. If one can speak of a player as a character in an ARG, that character is wholly a character at the same time he or she is wholly the player. This recalls Baudrillard’s idea of the simulacrum as being indistinguishable from the original. Even if ARGs may still require players to project themselves into a narrative, they no longer require the player to project themselves into another being. Perhaps the simulacrum, as expressed in ARGs, is the metaphor for immediacy.

Immediacy is arguably the aim of all games. Video and computer games have been naturalized, and so they succeed in “put[ing] viewers into the same space as the object viewed” (Bolter and Grusin 11). Therefore, it is easy to forget that the game is contained within a machine such as the computer or the console, though it is unlikely that players would be so engaged that they fail to distinguish between a computer game and reality. That is, although games offer great psychological immediacy, they are not truly sensorily immediate, and it is up to the players to project themselves into the space of the game. In the ARG, however, the game “bleeds out of living rooms, off the television screen, and into everyday life” (Borland and King). Although ARGs depend heavily on media to spread its content, the world apart from its media is also increasingly acted upon and altered. For example, edoc laundry was based entirely on clothing styles conveying a mystery to be solved, and players could purchase clothing from the Web and participate in the game’s dissemination (Minchew). Another case would be the Year Zero ARG, promoting a Nine Inch Nails album dealing with a dystopian future where liberal expression is harshly punished. Individuals who had signed up on a website of the ARG, located at “artisresistance.com,” were picked up and taken to a band performance, during which SWAT teams stormed the venue (Minchew). This segment of Year Zero also recalls Baudrillard’s example of a staged hold-up (Baudrillard 465-6). Baudrillard’s argument is that the result of a “fake” holdup generates “real” responses, and that isolating the simulation from reality is impossible. In this case, the developers staged an event that made a location in the physical world correspond to the world envisioned by the ARG, and the conflation between the game and the reality is where immediacy arises.

The experience of an attack upon a concert, although staged, is immediate in that each ARG player at the concert experienced the attack firsthand without knowing that it was not “real.” This is an extreme case of immediacy in space; but by Bolter and Grusin’s definition of hypermedia as existing in physical space, using media to propogate and encouraging player use of media would mean that all ARGs include some sort of immediate manipulation of the world as a game essential. Often, the fact that ARGs overlap with the real world produces a mindset of psychological immediacy in the players, and they may even project the game upon the physical world when actual staged correspondences are not present. Jane McGonigal, ARG researcher and developer, gives the example of certain players mistakening a regular employee in a hotel for an actor because they were in the mindset of looking for clues (20). One may say in this case that the ARG, in giving certain levels of sensory immediacy, imparts a psychological immediacy far greater.

Perhaps what makes ARGs a part of reality is their hypermediacy – the way that ARG content embeds itself in an existing network of media and their constant remediation and existing technology. ARGs to date have used the Web as its most frequent locus of information exchange and action. For example, the participants in I Love Bees were first led into the game through the http://www.ilovebees.com website. In the case of I Love Bees and other ARGs, the websites contain a wealth of information about ARG content in multiple media. Bolter and Grusin, writing about the Web, state that the Web is the development that remediates the greatest numbers of other media, such as audio, text, video, and graphics (202-3), and by using the Web, ARG developers manage to take advantage of all of the Web’s previous remediations. ARG developers have also been creative in how they draw upon the array of existing media other than the Web. Putting letters into honey and using fashion as a code for clues are two examples.

There seems to be a difference between the media format that developers intentionally remediate, such as making use of clothing, and a wider net of media in the real world that are not actively programmed into the ARG but which can serve as important aids. This results in a hypermediacy that differs from the objective of previous media evolutions, where space is seen as a nuisance, a distance to be transcended (Bolter and Grusin 11). In the ARG, because the proliferation of media in the real world is assumed, the space of the real world is not necessarily treated as a nuisance but a part of the game. edoc laundry takes advantage of the ambulatory nature of the human body to send its game into physical space, and the way in which I Love Bees plays with space is another poignant example. Players were sent mysterious codes, which they discovered were the GPS coordinates of public payphones and the times that these phones would ring. The developers transmitted audio clips through the telephones, and players had to give passwords or solve puzzles to hear them. Often the passwords had to be conveyed to another player at another location to unlock their own audio clip. Montola argues that this is different from single-player games based on cell phones, since those games do not take into account the physical location of the player (Montola 1). Using the payphones is the more obvious remediation, but the programming the game in a way to force players to interact across vast spaces while not specifying the tools of interaction is a more subtle reflection of a hypermedia attitude, one in which the world is viewed as being full of media to use at one’s choosing.

Unlike previous developments in the strive for immediacy, ARGs do not only seek to improve upon other media, so much as to utilize as many forms of current media without necessarily establishing a definitive and bounded new media for itself. This is important because instead of a new media form taking time to be naturalized, working with ARGs uses the same skills as navigating existing media in the real world, and with this familiarity comes the assurance that the ARG content is as real as any other content in the same medium. For example, links in The Beast lead to “Bangalore World University” and the page of Jeanine Salla, a central character of the narrative. This site includes logs of interviews, personal journals, images and photographs, and audio files; in short, a hypermedia package set to convince the visitor that there truly is a Bangalore World University somewhere, populated by existing people. The Beast
does not only use the Web to deliver its own varied media, but also uses existing content on the Internet. Certain links take visitors to the university’s search page, where players can type in search terms or click on links in the sidebar. Searches are almost the same as regular search engines of Google or Yahoo, and links generate pages such as sunglasses deals and even pop-up advertisements (The Beast). At the basic level, this would be the sort of “windowed style” discussed by Bolter and Grusin, an example of hypermediacy conveying an abundance of information to achieve fullness and a sense of genuineness. On another level, however, these links to outside the ARG content serves to situate the ARG’s own content in the matrix of real content. If visitors are not convinced by the authority of a university website, then the familiar annoyances of pop-up ads and online sales strategies should convince them. The hypermediated nature of its own content, as well as its overlap with existing hypermediate content, serves to assure the player of the ARG’s immediacy.

Nevertheless, the hypermediated nature of ARGs does mean that technologies remediated have been improved upon, and hypermediacy results when creative uses of existing media draw attention to themselves. Writing about I Love Bees, Henry Jenkins regards the audio component of its narrative as akin to the epistolary and serial fiction of previous centuries (Jenkins). Another perspective, intended by the developers, is that the telephone transmission component of I Love Bees remediates Orson Welles’ radio drama for The War of the Worlds, which in 1938 seemed to be broadcasted as a real alien attack (Minchew). In both epistolary fiction and the radio broadcast, the information flow is primarily unidirectional, from the writers to the audience. This may no longer be the case, as I Love Bees forces players to exchange information, give this back to the developers and thus further the ARG. The Beast, likewise, leaked a phone number and callers were sent an email with clues about Jeanine Salla. These examples reveal interaction in one component of the games, but the entire game could be driven by a dialogue between developers and players. With The Beast, developers started by creating what they believed to be three months’ worth of puzzles, which were all quickly solved, forcing the them to create new content. Often the new content was based on information revealed in the players’ online interaction. One can argue that the staple media of the twenty-first century emphasize interaction instead of one-way broadcasting, and remediation in ARGs seem to reflect this emphasis.

Bolter and Grusin’s idea of remediation is that, although hypermediacy and immediacy may seem like opposite strategies, the two actually work in tandem to provide an engaging media experience. I have already mentioned that ARGs do not necessarily try to improve upon all of the media that they remediate. Along with this phenomenon comes a peculiar twist. The ARG succeeds in being psychologically immediate by taking advantage of the imperfect immediacy of existing media. Because media such as the Web or cannot convey unmediated information, users hold a suspension of disbelief. This psychological phenomenon can be viewed as a forerunner and basis for an ARG’s “this is not a game” presentation. Jane McGonigal and Bolter and Grusin all discuss Tom Gunning’s theory regarding the reaction to watching an early silent film called
The Train Arrives
. The audience supposedly ran from the screening in a panic because they were terrified of the approaching train. Gunning believes that it is not because the audience really thought that a train would come off the screen, but that they had temporarily suspended their disbelief, and their fright was rather astonishment that what they knew couldn’t be real did actually look so real (Gunning, qtd. in McGonigal 5, Bolter and Grusin 155). This suspension of disbelief has become a habit in the case of the Web; the ARG takes advantage of this habit to make players assume that its Web content is as existent as other everyday content. This is the case in the online files for The Beast, which seem to feature a real university website and real blogs and interview archives. What results is what McGonigal calls an ARG being integrated into the real lives of the players (4). The ARG’s content being indistinguishable from reality may draw in players, but it is the players’ psychological desire for immediacy and subsequent suspension of disbelief that continues the game.

Bolter and Grusin talk about how, although we have come to be suspicious of photography and is relation to reality (106), we are still fascinated by the monitoring function of the Web to bring us real events (204-7). It seems to be true that while we have been accepting books as media of fiction as well as fact, and have more recently come to accept photography as manipulated, the majority of websites are still based on concrete events or objects in the world. Even fictional narratives online are often posted with the declaration that they are works of fiction, whereas examples of photomanipulation usually do not comment on itself in this way. In remediating different media, ARGs have become a new medium. Just as important, however, is how the ARG has enabled existing media to evolve. As ARGs convey information over the Internet, it is perhaps a seminal force to change our ideas about the Web and its relation to reality. In addition, ARGs can generate new ways of conceptualizing what Bolter and Grusin calls “networks of remediation” (65). “Networks of remediation” refers to the way in which multiple media saturate physical space and, combined together, deliver related content (Bolter and Grusin 67). This seems to be a process of social and economic development (67), but the endless patterns of using current media in ARGs would mean that such networks could be created spontaneously and with creative intent. ARGs create both sensory and psychological immediacy by taking into account physical space and merging player and character, and achieves this through acts of hypermediacy, contextualizing themselves in a network of other media and putting these media to new uses. If all media strive to present the real (Bolter and Grusin 59), then ARGs are another step in the drive towards immediacy, the fascination with hypermedial creativity, and a new way of remediating the real.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Eds. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2006. 453-81.

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. MIT Press, 1999.

Borland, John, and Brad King. “Bees, ARGs, and the Birth of the Collective Detective.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum. Baton Rouge: 85.2 (2008): 21-24. Proquest 5000. 24 Oct 2008.

I Love Bees. 2004. 42 Entertainment. 18 Nov 2008.

Jenkins, Henry. “Chasing Bees, Without the Hive Mind.” Technology Review 3 Dec. 2004. 29 October 2008.

McGonigal, Jane. “‘A Real Little Game’: The Performance of Belief in Pervasive Play.” Digital Games Research Associaton (DiGRA) “Level Up” Conference Proceedings. 1-25. Nov. 2003. Avantgame. 26 Oct. 2008.

Minchew, Brandie. “Report from Austin Game Developers’ Conference 2008: In ARGs We Trust.” Alternate Reality Gaming Network. Oct. 2008. 1 Dec. 2008.

Montola, Markus. “Exploring the Edge of the Magic Circle: Defining Pervasive Games.” DAC 2005 Conference, IT University of Copenhagen. 1-4. 24 Oct 2008.

The Beast. 2001. 42 Entertainment. 27 Nov 2008.