Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Singularity Will Not Be Divided Into Four Twelve-Minute Quarters (Double Dribble)

I do not think that I ever found video games to be a simulation. Really, I don't understand why you would. I mean, I'm admittedly no expert, but it's always been my working assumption that the similarities between being transported into a world of fire-breathing dragons and living mushrooms is deeply dissimilar to sitting on my sofa pressing buttons. Likewise, having, on at least one (probably exactly one) occasion in my life played a game of basketball, I can say with complete authority that it is almost but not entirely unlike playing Double Dribble.

Although I generally try to avoid letting this blog become a simple catalogue of the various perversities of NES games, preferring to leave that trick to trained professionals. That said, we should probably take a moment and honor what I am fairly certain is the only sports game ever to be named after an infraction. Much as it's fun to invent such classics as False Start, Offsides, High Sticking, and, my personal favorite, Failing to Keep Part of Your Foot Behind the Popping Crease. And we should maybe mention that the Select button is, to say the least, a non-standard choice for "how to skip the interminable opening animation that looks like a bunch of metal filings slowly coalescing towards what appears to be an onion, which then shoots balloons in celebration, all to the tune of the Star-Spangled Banner."

If Konami was trying to capture the intense confusion of a crowded, fast-moving situation, Double Dribble is spot-on. If you have possession it's not too hard to figure out which player you're controlling, but otherwise, all bets are off. Beyond that... actually, I can't get far beyond that. It's a sports game, which has always been a tough genre for me just because the genre is based on an ideal of simulation, despite the marked lack of correlation between that and a good game. Where Double Dribble works is at its most stylized moments, which are fewer and further between than most sports games of the era. Double Dribble aspired towards realism.

And yet it is ostensibly classic, which I can honestly say, I don't get. Which leaves me in an annoying position. Ideally, this blog is at its most powerful if I can expand from the actual games into a holistic view of the culture. That's the point of psychochronography - to use the material relics of history as a lens to reconstruct the whole of the time. But idiosyncrasy plays in. At some point the distinction needs to be made between the historical event - the Reagan-Thatcher era as the end of a period of history that is succeeded by the digital era that Reagan-Thatcher presided over the start of - and the personal - my growing up. The two are not the same.

But that difference is one of absence. Here, something ostensibly exists within the historical moment that just does not exist in my worldview of the time, nor in a secret history. I honestly do not care about Double Dribble, except inasmuch as my intense lack of concern poses fundamental epistemological issues.

Speaking broadly, the Reagan-Thatcher era was the end of an era of conservatism because they and their half-rate successors were the last of the conservative technocrats. Modern conservatism is profoundly non-technocratic, a viewpoint best exemplified in American conservatism inasmuch as its orthodoxy includes the rejection of large swaths of science. Technocracy depends on the fetishization of automation. One of the first things to be discovered in the digital era was that the embrace of technology posed massive challenges to the orthodox views of humanity. Just as the Enlightenment provided a rationalist revolution, the Singularity, debased a concept as that is, provides a post-humanist revolution against rationalism. Accordingly, the technocratic conservative withered and died save for a handful of Redneckbeards.

One consequence of this shift ought to be the abandonment of simulation as a model for technology, instead recognizing that the interaction with technology is such a fundamental shift as to render simulation of non-technological paradigms impossible. By and large, I think this is happening, although the elegance/verisimilitude divide within game design stubbornly refuses to go away and let elegance win.

In this light, then, Double Dribble is easier to reject as a game that falls squarely within a discredited ideology that believed that the orthodoxy of Enlightenment values could survive the technological shifts of the period. It is not a secret history so much as a foreclosed one - one that represents a set of values that simply cannot be recovered.

But what of imagination? Is not the point of psychochronography to reconstruct lost history through the discredited material fetters? Yes. But Double Dribble is not lost history. It's false history - an ideology so completely ruled out by subsequent events that there is no recovery to be had. Double Dribble, for all practical purposes, does not exist and never has existed. It is and was an illusion.

To claim to be able to rekindle the flame it never had would be equivalent to saying that history could be, for lack of a better word, simulated.

1 comment:

  1. Anxiously awaiting the upcoming post on Drs. Chaos, Jekyll, and Mario - I imagine a throughline connecting alchemy, mad science, modern medicine, and your PhD?

    Also: "redneckbeard" has officially entered my lexicon of infrequently used pejoratives. Thanks!