Sunday 1 June 2014

I/0: Binarism and Infra-Dichotomism

Videogames are a natural home for violent content. The essential logic of videogames is frequently eradicative. To complete objectives, the player must remove whatever stands in their way. Interaction is commonly a process of erasure. This is not to argue that every game involves gunning down enemies in riotous bloodshed. For example, Mario jumps, Mario lands on an enemy’s head, *bing*, they vanish. Pacman runs over a white dot and “eats” it. It disappears. The eponymous Barbarian cuts off his opponent’s head, the body is dragged away and never seen again. Splinter Cell may be rather more sophisticated looking, but at its heart, it follows the same reasoning. Enemy enters sights, enemy is shot, move on.

It is hardly surprising that this logic is foundational in gaming since the language of computation – binary code – follows the same blunt philosophy. Comprised of 1s and 0s, binary is a vernacular comprised of ‘on’ or ‘off’. It is only to be expected that numerous early games manifested that underlying ethos in its ‘present’ or ‘absent’ interactions. Dichotomism is not only written into the programs themselves: it is the language of programming. Digital computation is delimited by a dialect of existence and non-existence.

The brutal simplicity of binary is disquieting, but only because it embodies the most fundamental and inexorable of sensibilities. We are here or not, alive or dead, ‘in’ or ‘out’ of existence. When I use “violence” here I am not referring to graphic or graphical representations physical bloodshed in gaming exclusively, but to that logic of deletion that undergirds all digital technologies. In order to make that distinction, it may be useful to forcefully interject binary into “violence”: vI/0lence.

Such vI/0lence is not just about a single forceful eruption or one incident. VI/0lence is, as gaming illustrates, a process of constant reification. The single binary incident – the switch from ‘I’ to ‘0’ or vice versa – is itself meaningless unless repeated. VI/Olence begets VI/Olence as the adage (almost) has it. In games, each removal is followed by yet more eliminations. This process is never finished.

This unfinishedness exposes something about binary oppositions more generally. Every dichotomy presented as a discreet opposition is an illusory attempt to quell a tide of similarities. Every opposition reveals sameness. ‘South’ and ‘north’ are both directions on a vertical axis. They can never be truly opposite because they have their vertical axis in common. That commonality means that ‘north’ and ‘south’ are never finished as values. There is always a point that is “more” south than another, meaning ultimate south is never locatable. There is also always a point “less” south (closer to north), which speaks of the grey areas between the two. South and north are imminently closer than the language of dichotomy suggests.

As such, each binary opposition implicitly suggests all states in-between and beyond that illusory dichotomy. Each binary opposition cannot exist as a stable form, being doomed to collapse onto itself into micro-differentiations that are no longer useful as shorthand approximations (generalised ways to understand the world).

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