I was thumbing through Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life1 the other day, thinking about games as dialogic actors in a scheme of mediated interpersonal communication; thinking about about Super Meat Boy and the critical response to it (the grounded, the hyperbolic, the in-between); thinking about Abbot’s upcoming class; thinking about my own upcoming class; & etc.
So my mind was wandering, and I was flipping through Goffman’s introduction2, and I came across this:
[T]he arts of piercing an individual’s effort at calculated unintentionality seem better developed than our capacity to manipulate our own behavior, so that regardless of how many steps have occurred in the information game, the witness is likely to have the advantage over the actor, and the initial asymmetry of the communication process is likely to be retained. (8-9, emphasis added)
This is a great construction that is very applicable to video games in general, if we formulate the game as the actor trying to project calculated unintentionality, and the player as the witness of this projection.3 I don’t want to try a deeper analysis at present; just preserving the present’s food for future thought.
1.The 1973 edition, if that sort of thing matters to you.
2. In which he describes communication as a kind of game: we present a constructed self to others who are also constructed, and who in turn may or may not try to detect the falsity or veracity of our construction, just as we may do the same to them, depending on motives and circumstances, with rules that possibly shift dynamically as the conversation progresses, and it turns out communication is very complicated; it’s a wonder that anyone ever talks to anyone else.
3. I have to admit, though, that my first reaction to the above quote was to be excited for Jonathan Blow’s next game; hence my selective italics.