Yesterday I wrote a long piece on how Doom Eternal as a video game, while being visually impressive, was really just more of the same old relatively pointless run-and-slaughter gaming-franchise paradigm. Here is another one: Rage 2. My main reason for sharing these things is not so much any latent boyish fascination with things that go bang, cars that go fast or sultry and seductive female promotional voice-overs which are very likely not spoken by exotically-proportioned and scantily denim-clad sports-models with long, dark fake eyelashes and ruby lips (hrmm, ok, maybe that was just my mental image, then).
What is fascinating about all of these gaming systems and their concomitant attempts to cultivate and promote that Next Big Thing in rapid investment returns and pop-cultural immortality is that they actually reveal interesting, if indirect, facts about culture and psychology. If what is being produced, exploited and commercially celebrated in these games does not at base or in any fundamental sense change or evolve into something new this is because that elementary competitive logic and adversarial algebra of conflict does not, really, ever change.
The various motifs, stylistic elements and details of representation and other such superficial layers are under constant metamorphosis but the essential logic and goals or rules-sets hardly ever change in anything more than to the most trivial extent. The details are amplified, intricately modelled and rendered at higher and higher degrees of resolution but the binary switches of living and dying, of the peculiar tribal celebration and participatory recreational engagement with graphically-violent symbolic carnage, this is all a something of a cultural constant. I do not think I should really have to spell it out (but will anyway) that the actual real-world violence and carnage of war and organised violence follows precisely this same digitised arc into higher resolution, accuracy and extremities of conflict while similarly, at base, remains fundamentally and (perhaps) irreducibly the same logic of mayhem and madness that it always has been.
Is there any hook or closing narrative-barb, sting in the tail or hypothetical revelation to be asserted here ? Yes, there is. If shallow innovation represents the reproduction and (in whichever context or narrative theatrette that may be most appropriate or relevant) the reconfiguration, reshuffling or resequencing of elements, entities and components within a logical rules-system or notional game-theoretic framework, then deep innovation represents the recombinatory metamorphosis of at an axiomatic level. Breakthrough mega-hit popular games franchises, for instance, are those which remake the rules, not just the presentation-layers of appearances and superficialities. Similarly, foundationally “game-changing” technologies or ideological, political or geostrategic stratagems are those that do more than just repaint the walls, they rethink the structures at a preemptive, architectural level.
If conflict, or at the very least competition, is in some regards innate or inevitable in cultural systems at both representational and material/physical levels of manifestation or implementation, might it be possible that the endless self-propagation of internecine warfare and conflict within and between nations is itself a logical template or identifiable, reproducible and alterable pattern of some foundationally simple sort and that this, like all logical frameworks or axiomatic systems is also indefinitely extensible in uncountably-many ways ? We may, culturally and symbolically, be collectively imprisoned by an adherence to a narrative of conflict, difference and aggressive conquest but the fact remains that if a logical or patterned and axiomatic foundation can be identified, it can also be usefully, gainfully, creatively and (who knows, maybe peacefully) extended in fundamentally new ways.
Wars might in this way be “fought” at levels of abstraction far beyond conflict and violence. I call this “leveling up”.