Sunday, 14 September 2014

Toys Are Us

After reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal, in which a broad plan for “saving the world” is outlined through the deployment and cultural up-taking of ubiquitous gaming (my phrasing), the readings for this week took on an interesting slant, because Tamagotchis and Furbies are not simply robots; they are specifically toys. If we identify a toy as “a tool that is used for playing games with, both Tamagotchis and Furbies make a lot more sense than if they are simply "sociable robots", which could conceivably be autonomous in their actions and responses, geared towards a very broad, general concept of what is “sociable”; a toy robot's actions responses will always be designed to both respond to and constitute the rules of the game that is to be played. And the game one plays with these toys is a game of caring for a living being, or a being that is “alive enough”.

What makes it a game, according to Jane McGonigal’s line of thinking, is the arbitrary and voluntary basis of this undertaking on behalf of the “player”: we do not need to care for a Furby, but we do so anyway because caring is what Furbies exist to have done to them by us. By this logic, it seems as though all toys and games are systems that use "players" to perform themselves, rather than the players performing the game.

But factoring into this Clark’s suggestion that, rather than the human brain preceding the technology it invented, the two are and have always been caught up in a reciprocal, ongoing developmental cycle without which neither could exist, it is not so much a question of whether we are playing the game or the game is playing us; rather, it is the question of whether there has ever been any other state of affairs, and if this is not precisely how we human beings have become what we currently are.

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