Game arthritis, physical deformations and other video game induced diseases: game studies beyond agency and materiality

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1 Game arthritis, physical deformations and other video game induced diseases: game studies beyond agency and materiality Paolo Ruffino Goldsmiths, University of London London South Bank University Gamification Lab, Centre for Digital Cultures, Leuphana University ABSTRACT Game Arthritis 1 is an art project presented at the Venice Biennale 2 in 2011 by Matteo Bittanti, adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts, and the collective IOCOSE. Game Arthritis is a photographic documentation of a 'systemic study of video game induced diseases' (Bittanti and IOCOSE 2011). It investigates the topic of the alleged effects of video games, particularly from the angle of medical and scientific discourse. The project is inspired by, and directly refers to, a series of papers published in peer-reviewed medical journals which, until the early 2000s, claimed that video games would affect an entire generation of teenagers by altering their bodies due to prolonged use of video game interfaces. Game Arthritis, the art project, displays, in 2011, what should have been the scientific evidence of the studies published until the early 2000s. The photographic 'documentation' shocks the viewer with its disturbing images, which should appear familiar (as this is what we have been told video games can do to our bodies) and yet unfamiliar at the same time, as an actual image to prove the alleged effects of digital games has never been provided. Game arthritis and other reported disabilities are also symptomatic of a deterministic narrative which permeates both the scientific and mainstream discourses. According to this view, video games can harm people a narrative not necessarily dissimilar, in its logic, when reverted through a positive connotation, as in Jane McGonigal's (2011) recent claim that video games will save the world (see Carbone and Ruffino 2012). Game Arthritis summarises, through a series of images, a potential narrative of our physical relation with the hardware of the medium, with its materiality. At the same time however, it disputes the tendency to abstract such relation allowing deterministic discourses to become institutionalised interpretations. Game Arthritis' move is to ridicule such abstraction proposing occurrences, examples of players actually affected by their continuous contact with the materials of which video games are made. Yet, it is precisely by switching the focus from an abstract discourse to the contingent embodiments of which the various 'game arthritides' are made that game arthritis, the disease that Proceedings of DiGRA 2014: <Verb that ends in ing > the <noun> of Game <plural noun> Authors & Digital Games Research Association DiGRA. Personal and educational classroom use of this paper is allowed, commercial use requires specific permission from the author.

2 officially existed until about a decade ago, is revealed to be a rather uncanny and probably biased narrative. In this presentation I will read the artwork Game Arthritis as an example of the ways in which debates on the materiality and agency of media and technologies often tend to produce narratives with a performative potential, that is, that are also strategic and normative (Bassett 2007, Zylinska 2005). Discourses based on the concepts of agency and materiality bring about those same realities they describe through the authority of scientific discourse. As I will discuss, the study of media archaeology is not dissimilar in this process, as it tends to re-narrate the ways in which human beings engage with materials in different historical and cultural contexts and remediate previous experiences, and yet fails to acknowledge the performative aspect of those same narrations. From a Foucaultian perspective, game arthritis and the other differently named disorders (the '3D Optical Disorder', 'Playstation Thumb', 'Wii Shoulder Dislocation' and so on) could be seen to have been brought about by authoritarian statements, such as articles in medical journals on the evidence of their emergence, and reinforced by mainstream newspapers and video game magazines. Game Arthritis is about the narratives that we (both scholars and gamers) tend to formulate to make sense of our engagement with video games. It investigates the context in which those narratives are formulated, and ultimately the different ways in which the truth about media and technologies can be said. I intend to explore the implications of how the study of video games and their players could be like when moving beyond the notions of agency and materiality. I propose to reconsider the notion of performativity and the strategic role of narratives in bringing about ideas about the properties of video games (drawing on Bassett 2007; Lyotard 1984; Haraway 1984). When we start thinking about the properties of the materials of video games as narratives, then we can also imagine stories which are intentionally false, as is the case of the art project Game Arthritis. However, their fakeness sheds light on what video games are for us and what else they could be. I believe game studies have been too much obsessed with saying the truth about how video games work, are made and used. I propose to investigate instead, in a more Foucaltian way, what the conditions for saying those truths are: what is it that brings us to discuss about the effects of video games through the notions of materiality and agency? What other different kinds of truth could be said? As proposed by Joanna Zylinska, this probably means abandoning a descriptive approach to theory, where the main question is how things are, and embracing a normative approach, where we ask ourselves how things should be, or could be (Zylinska 2005, pp.3-5). Keywords Game studies, materiality, agency, media archaeology, game art

3 Figure 1: Bittanti and IOCOSE, 2011, Game Arthritis (WASD Syndrome), C-print, 50*66 cm. Figure 2: Bittanti and IOCOSE, 2011, Game Arthritis (Atari Skinning), C-print, 50*66 cm

4 Figure 3: Bittanti and IOCOSE, 2011, Game Arthritis (3D Optical Disorder), C-print, 50*66 cm. Figure 4: Bittanti and IOCOSE, 2011, Game Arthritis (Nintendo Arthritis), C-print, 50*66 cm

5 ENDNOTES 1 Documentation of the artwork is available at More information and references are available on IOCOSE's website at 2 The prints have also been later exhibited at several artistic contexts, including GAME: The Future of Play at Science Gallery in Dublin, Ireland and the Polytechnical Museum in Moscow, Russia and at the Fabio Paris Art Gallery in Brescia, Italy. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bassett, C. (2007) The Arc and the Machine: Narrative and New Media, Manchester University Press Bittanti, M., IOCOSE (2011) Game Arthritis. A systemic study of video games induced diseases available at Last accessed 15th May 2014 Bogost, I. (2007) Persuasive Games: the Expressive Power of Videogames, Boston (MA): MIT Press Bogost, I. (2011) How to do Things with Videogames, Minneapolis (MI): University of Minnesota Press Carbone, M. B., Ruffino, P. (2012) Apocalypse postponed: video games from noxious objects to redemptive devices, in GAME journal vol.1 n.1 Crogan, P. (2011) Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation and Technoculture, Minneapolis (MI): University of Minnesota Press Foucault, M., (2005) The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the College de France , New York (NY): Palgrave McMillan Haraway, D. J. (1984) Manifesto for a Cyborg Feminist in California American Studies Association meetings. April 29, Heidegger, M. (1971) Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. by A. Hofstadter, New York (NY): Harper and Row Ingold, T. (2011) Being Alive. Essays on Movement, Knowledge, Description, London and New York: Routledge Kember, S. and Zylinska, J. (2012) Life After New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process, Cambridge (MA): MIT Press Lyotard, J.F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Manchester University Press McGonigal, J. (2011) Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, New York (NY): Penguin Press Zylinska, J. (2005) The Ethics of Cultural Studies, London: Continuum

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