Another Half-Step into Always Was

I’m trying to talk about a certain kind of feeling in videogames that is just as easily shattered and that I don’t have words for. Think of those horrible sort of game logic jokes for a moment. Jokes about there being containers full of money at every corner, treasure chests with no origin, healthpacks strewn about. Every guffaw and jab about characters holding things without anyplace for them. Ostensibly humor; ultimately a humorless observation of what’s represented clashing with what is imagined to be simulated.

I’m tapping into a principle like the “magic circle” or like “suspension of disbelief”—there’s established language, symbols, shorthands for representation in videogame space. A singular jagged rock model stands in for any kind of rock material when crafting… and whatever you know where I’m going with this. There’s a certain amount of trust and understanding with regards to symbols standing in the place of complex systems and relationships, built up through representing them the best technology could allow, repeated as memes and mantras (like the concept of a health bar).

If you take a step back and stop trusting those relationships they’re plainly nonsense. They’re not nonsense because we understand metaphor and symbol. Though, metaphor is meant to hold poetic or dramatic meaning, not a physical reality. What is real, what is a concluded meaningthat is to be said what is behind a metaphor—is, indeed, not metaphorical. Yet in a videogame it is. This tension, simulacra meant to be actual, exists in most contemporary videogames.

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On ZZT and “ZZT”

Writing about ZZT feels perfunctory. Having only heard about the game a month ago, its importance was to me invisible. Being a ASCII-based computer game released in 1991, present in videogame’s market tested pedagogy, it’s not the kind of game that gets to be remembered. There’s undeniably an essence of iconoclasm to ZZT; I think it resembles a bunch of things, but akin to scenes and art movements, it was a time and a place. It’s not going to be reproduced. In that sense I can’t introduce ZZT, because I can’t hold it in place. I can’t capture what I never knew or saw.

Those who were imprinted by the allure of making ZZT games seem to follow and be followed by artistic pursuit. I see a self-explanatory, self-justified thing. It was a design language people could see and feel demonstrated. An immediate understanding that a videogame was made by a person. The ZZT community was, paraphrasing words that aren’t mine, mostly a bunch of frustrated teens, that through a specific and arcane practice were able to exercise control and interpret their lives. The specificity was kind of special and secret, and it was kind of lonely and isolating. In the late 90s, who was seriously into ASCII videogames, among the advent of 3D?

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