Culture Machine, Vol 15 (2014)

CM2014 Article: Eurídice Cabañes + María Rubio

Arsgames: A Political Take On Videogames and Social Networking Platforms

Eurídice Cabañes and María Rubio

Mediating 'Platform Communism' by Joss Hands in vol. 14 (2013) Platform Politics

Introduction by Gabriela Méndez Cota

In ‘Platform Communism’, Joss Hands examines some of the contemporary strands of communist thinking that may contribute towards imagining what he calls a ‘platform communism’. At stake in such a project would be not just social relations but also the material specificities of platforms. As Hands observes, digital platforms are developed and exploited both by corporations and by non-proprietorial and open source players. The problem is that the boundary between them is rather porous. That is, in the absence of a solid anti-capitalist agenda, even cooperative, non-profit platforms are susceptible to the neoliberal governmentality that underpins digital networks at the material level of programming and user experience. In this material context, is an ‘event’, in the radical sense that communist philosopher Alain Badiou gives to the term, possible at all? Not really, says Hands, but that does not mean that the notion of the event is altogether irrelevant for a ‘platform communism’. Communist psychoanalyst Žižek’s take on the event as arising out of antagonism suggests that it is something that can actually be precipitated. However, Hands suggests that this is more likely to be achieved if one supplements Žižek’s Leninism with some ‘more positive’ versions of communism, such as that of Hardt and Negri – who advocate an ‘exodus’ from capital through creative sociality. Well-known hacker exploits, including viruses and worms, ‘find paths and ways to use the protocological controls against themselves, and often also generate emergent effects, evolving from within systems and acting as non-human agents’, he says. Exploits are not events, but rather ‘shocks that bend, stretch and rupture’, as does the Face-to-Facebook artwork with Facebook itself. Whereas ‘fidelity to the hack’ is cast as ‘one appropriate procedure of platform communism’, Hands acknowledges the need to orientate hacking activities towards anti-capitalist aims. In this regard, it is important to remember that besides the protocological or software layer, there is also a natural language layer and an affective layer of platforms that resists total control and can therefore still host political coordination and allow for organisation to take place. For example, the platform AAAAARG.ORG shares digitised books under a tactic of invisibility in order to undermine the artificial scarcity created by the copyright regime, but it also operates as a platform for deliberation towards a commons-based university called ‘The Public School’. In the following contribution, Hands’ conclusion that, if we agree that the Internet is ‘fully integrated with matter, bodies, space and discourse’, there seems to be no reason for discarding either subjectivity or natural language in the struggle to subvert the protocols that govern digital platforms, is taken up by Arsgames. Arsgames is a group of artists, philosophers and other professionals engaging in research into the multiple aspects of videogames. Although Arsgames is legally registered as an association in Spain, its members work from a range of other countries, such as Uruguay, Germany, Italy and the United States. The main areas of their research are Game Studies, Game Art, Technological Innovation, Curating and Education. Among the events and projects organised by Arsgames are OpenArsgames, PlayLab and Gamestart.

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Arsgames takes up some of the ideas that resonate with volume 14 of Culture Machine, Platform Politics, as well as with multiple recent publications which analyse the political role of social networks. In broad terms, we find the literature rather polarised between a technophilic stance which exalts the potential of social networks as spaces for political action, and a hyper-critical stance which sees those networks as tools for control and surveillance of users. In this piece we assume that both stances are partially correct, and that we must embrace the paradoxical implications of their coexistence. On the one hand, it seems clear to us that we are witnessing a veritable revolution in the modes of knowledge production, and not just because of technological transformation but rather because of the fact that such transformation has induced an epistemological jump at the material level. New interfaces work as technological prostheses, amplifying the psycho-sensory possibilities and the cognitive abilities of users (see Neri and Fernández Zalazar, 2008). The close relationship between technology and knowledge has been widely accepted by now, to the point that we now conceive of technologies as creative sources of human culture (see McLuhan & Fiore, 1967; Havelock, 1996). On the other hand, it is evident that corporate-owned social networks such as Facebook or Twitter exercise a tight control over data-sharing – controlling, for example, the time and the way of sharing. This, of course, amounts to both an attack on user privacy and a transformation of users into products. Yet, the majority of studies of social networking only refer to big corporate players such as Facebook, Twitter and Tuenti, and thus they occlude or disregard other kinds of social networks. While it makes methodological sense to study the most statistically significant social network, we think it is equally important to highlight some alternatives to the commercial social networks – alternatives such as Identi.ca (www.identi.ca), which allows brief messaging similar to Twitter. However minoritarian, the latter successfully eschew the mercantilisation of private information as well as the transformation of social networking into a tool of commercial interests. There are alternatives beyond the creation of false profiles in corporate-owned social networks, beyond offering false data or encrypting information shared in them. As an alternative to Facebook, we can find Diaspora (www.joindiaspora.com ), Facecoop (www.facecoop.org) and N-1 (www.n-1.cc), a node of the social project Lorea (www.lorea.org). Lorea is a seedbed of federated social networks, including projects such as N-1, Artelibredigital, Redesenred, Moneda-Bcn and tools such as wikis, blogs, calendars, tasks, mailing lists and microblogging. One of the fundamental concerns of projects ideologically akin to Lorea is privacy and the strengthening of the ciphering methods which can protect it. Lorea has used GPG technology (GNU Privacy Guard) in order to secure the traffic of information. Most importantly, it is an open and autonomous project wherein users can participate in the development, design and maintenance of the platform, giving it a more horizontal dynamics. As hacktivist Spideralex has put it in her review of Lorea’s project:

The federated social web might turn out to be powerful and disruptive enough as to give back to its users their autonomy, freedom and total control over their data. By allowing them to choose how to embed and share their data and simultaneously granting that they can communicate with other platforms, the federation tears apart the walls of Web 2.0. (Spideralex, 2010)

Inter-operability and de-centralisation are notions that are associated with an ideological substrate that is common to free software projects, namely, the willingness to appropriate the Internet as a common space. In sum, the major difference between commercial social networks and their non-commercial counterparts is not just the fact that they are commercial – or not. Rather, the latter can be used simultaneously, without the loss of autonomy.

Our own perspective at Arsgames emphasises that digital social networks are part of a paradigm shift with regard to the construction of subjectivity, particularly in collective terms. At Arsgames we have been working work with videogames since 2006. Videogames are perhaps one of the most criticised cultural products of the last 50 years, and so we approach them in a way that is open, transdisciplinary and holistic. We contemplate multiple and unexpected dimensions of the videogame, including architecture, health and politics, besides design and innovation. We have endeavoured to position the videogame in the cultural sphere of the Spanish-speaking world, where it used to attract little attention. Our focus has been political from the very beginning: we have wanted to orientate the creation and use of videogames towards a pedagogy of experimentation and reflection, as well as to defend free culture by making our products available under creative commons licenses. The defence of the public good, the struggle for the commons and for sharing practices and knowledge openly, is a bet on social cooperation and a commitment to making it sustainable and autonomous. For instance, our initiative Gamestart is an educational project in which, since the year 2010, children between 8 and 18 learn autonomy and horizontal conviviality (including gender equality) through the development of their own videogames. Initially hosted by the Matadero cultural space in Madrid, Gamestart is currently taking place at an independent venue where its activities have expanded from videogames to robotics and other forms of experimentation including comics, cinema, music, painting, sculpture and computer programing. The project relaxingcupofnintendoDSEl emerges at the intersections between art, technology and critical pedagogy, with the purpose of getting children (7-18 years old) involved in the processes of technological invention in a ludic environment where they can become active experimenters as opposed to passive users of commercial technologies. As in Gamestart more generally, participants self-organise and vote in assembly in order to decide the contents of the project, how it will be developed and with what purposes. An emphasis is placed on the use of recycling and open source digital tools so that the participants learn and invent ways of counteracting a growing ‘digital gap’ between the rich and the poor. Due to the continued success of Gamestart, it has become a reference in the Spanish-speaking world and beyond, particularly in critical pedagogy circles, as well as in public Spanish media. Spanish philosopher Antonio Lafuente’s ‘common goods’ are at play whenever a group of people is held together as a group by a desire to take care of, or even create, a collective resource and whenever it self-organizes in a participatory and democratic way in order to serve some wider general interests. Our alternatives to the commercial social networks amount to a bet on the commons, an alliance with free culture and a path that promises some more horizontal forms of agency in the net.

References

Burke, J. & Ornstein, R. (2001) Del hacha al chip. Cómo las tecnologías cambian nuestras mentes. Barcelona: Planeta.

Cabra Ayala, N.A. (2010) ‘Videojuegos, máquinas del tiempo y mutaciones de la subjetividad’, Signo y Pensamiento, vol. XXIX, no. 57: 162-177.

Havelock, E.A. (1996) La musa aprende a escribir. Reflexiones sobre oralidad y escritura desde la Antigüedad hasta el presente. Barcelona: Paidós.

McLuhan, M. & Fiore, Q. (1967) The Medium is the Massage. New York: Bantam Books.

Neri, C. & Fernández Zalazar, D. (2008) Telarañas del conocimiento. Buenos Aires: Libros y Bytes.

Ong, W. J. (1982) Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen.

Spideralex (2010) ‘LOREA: Redes sociales del pueblo para el pueblo’ at http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=143995 [Accessed 03/04/2014]