lately i have been thinking about this idea that’s a little contrary to how people usually think about games. people tend to think of a game’s programming as an obligation you must concede to for the essential ‘game’ which exists in your head to exist. i have spoken before how these rationalist and essentialist ways of thinking give us unnecessary distinctions such as ‘bugs’ from ‘the true fundamental nature of the object’, as if an individual will may define what the object scientifically is. many games, as well as the rise of glitch art, exist which push back against this faulty dichotomy of western moralization.

following that up, here i object this idea that code is a formality to produce these pure headcanons artists have of their own work. videogames are a medium defined by existing on machines and being given form through code and processors, so naturally (especially as a programmer myself) it follows for me to believe the most exact way to perceive what a game is isn’t just the output code produces, but the ideas that the code structures themselves represent. like anything, when we code we instill our ideologies, specifically here the ways we believe entities to relate to each other, into the code itself and ultimately expressed through the running game. this is a difficult way to think of things for somebody who is not a programmer, that there is no distinction between code and videogame, but that is not necessarily the point. the point is that we, those of us who create games, imbue our assumptions about the world into our games and that those assumptions become reflected into the ideology of games themselves. the ways we program categorizations of entities (player, enemies, powerups, projectiles, obstacles, etc.) and the relationships between them suggest a worldview.

unfortunately, these worldviews in videogames are commonly unhealthy at best and fascistic at worst. i do not believe it is a coincidence at all that the people who apologize for these structures the most staunchly also tend to have strongly internalized those ideologies themselves, either out of juvenile naivete or contemporary malice.

it is interesting to see the reactions to a game such as Undertale, (if i may be forgiven for being topical, but it has genuinely affected me) a game which subverts the deep-seated ideologies of RPG systems which typically glorify conquest and internalize fascist ideas about the world being against you and the necessity of massacre. those deeply attached to these genres have often rejected or dismissed it, which is interesting considering its carries many of the same ludic devices point for point. rather, it is dismissed for denying the underlining ideology which, in popular videogames culture, has become synonymous with genre. it is such a simple thing too: the game still has a ‘you’, stats, an inventory, static environments, and characters who are not you. it merely rejects the idea of the ‘enemy’, and this rejection is reflected in the fiber of the game’s code.

i say all this hoping to offer a way of looking at videogames that is more cohesive and substantial than the misconception that code is a tedium which impedes the brilliant idea existing in your head. no illustrator blames their brushes for not doing a stroke the way they want it, the illustrator blames themselves for not understanding their brush well enough or for their arrogance in thinking they could imagine every detail of a painting which does not exist. i believe the same dynamic to exist for videogames as well, no matter whether you’re coding through assembly or C++ or javascript or Unity or Twine or Warioware D.I.Y. i believe embracing code as medium puts us on a path to more meaningfully wielding the tools available to us and more genuinely understanding the things we create.


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