This title is originally from an essay in the works from the upcoming work “Technolalia.” * (unfinished version)
There is probably no single most significant restructuring of epistemic/ontological regimes than with the rise of home entertainment systems. This is for multiple reasons, including the commercialization of cheap, intuitive virtual UIs, restructuring and reintroducing idealism through the virtual, and the beginning of the migration of the ontic to the virtual.
It would be to reduce the importance other gaming consoles had at the time to reduce the success of the home entertainment system to Nintendo alone. Still, without Nintendo and its aesthetics of a “future that was to come,” I don’t believe we would have seen the flood of diverse “life”; a Cambrian explosion of competing visions of the future could be.
We could go as far back as the NES or SNESS, but I believe the true paradigm shift came with Nintendos and PS’s rise in 64-bit gaming. This completely changed the landscape of our interaction with virtual space for good. Something that distinguishes video games from traditional interactions in cyberspace via the internet because games are environments established for exchange. Manipulability and interaction can be central to the foundations of knowledge, intelligibility, and concept formation.
Traditionally, most games primarily play/ed along a two-dimensional axis, an x and a y-axis. The limited interaction is this space was constricted by the processing power at the time, which limited the ability to create sharpness and or detail. This often led to rendering exploits that could be used to avoid obstacles or to achieve states that would allow one greater freedom or access to items previously unreachable or unobtainable at particular instances. However, this all still had one major constraint: the extent of manipulativity and interaction.
As beings that inhabit a spatial dimension, it is easy to draw analogous conceptual tools to the 2D realm, but what if the interactions in these virtual spaces were no longer just limited to 2 dimensions? What if this virtual reality which was previously flat, suddenly embodied and became like our own? What could aspects from this virtual space be graphed onto the virtual and vice versa?
The Nintendo 64 has been unquestionably popular because of its staple game titles, like Super Mario 64, The Legen of Zelda, and more. There is a lot to go into here regarding the cultural importance of such titles, but that will be bracketed for the time being. A minor aspect that might be worth flushing out is how the Nintendo 64 retrospectively has a Hauntological part. There is an element of both the weird and the eerie, as defined by Mark Fisher in some of the notable titles by Nintendo, but that would be primarily because “the medium is the message.”
“As we have seen, the weird is constituted by a presence — the presence of that which does not belong. In some cases of the weird (those with which Lovecraft was obsessed) the weird is marked by an exorbitant presence, a teeming which exceeds our capacity to represent it. The eerie, by contrast, is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence. The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing, or is there is nothing present when there should be something.”- Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie.
Both modalities are present in the 64-bit realm of gaming in the form of artifacts. Artifacting Is when unwanted pixel colors, buggy textures, or glitches appear in-game due to the heavy load on the GPU. This is useful two-fold. In games, artifacts may be a result of pushing the rendering capability of the game to the extreme, the same way that pushing our conceptual boundaries creates epistemic artifacts. Second, by pushing our minds to unprecedented conceptual speeds, we have the opportunity of a glimpse at the unimaginable or incomprehensible, but not unrepresented or unintelligible. This is because, similar to how the Nintendo 64 is the computational machine that runs the game ROMs, the ROMs themselves are still restricted to certain meta-logics or heuristics. However, the artifacts can be completely random and may appear chaotic; our conceptual resources still constrict that instance of perceptual information, the same way the game renders the stray code or runaway code as a Cronenbergian monstrosity but still within the bounds of in-game representation.
Now, this is only useful insofar as not all artifacts or glitches are created equal. Artifacting is an example of the weird, “the presence of that which does not belong.” which helps us internalize and conceptualize the “outside” broadening and reformatting our epistemic and to some degree, our ontological assumptions, but there are moments in which we create a theater or “no-clip” directly into what appears to be “the outside,” in these moments we are with an encounter with the eerie.
No clipping is the action of traveling quickly enough to pass through a wall or any solid object. It is often performed when a player uses the character, prevents the camera from being obstructed by entities and things, and permits the camera to move in any direction. This creates a glitch in which all physics or previous logic falls apart, so the player is granted the ability to pass through impermeable structures to access what was previously obstructed.
This is useful in games like Super Mario Bros or Mario Kart to perform record time laps which would be impossible under the traditional logic of the game or to shorten or bypass entire sections of the game to cut down on A presses or to skip ahead or obtain an item which would otherwise require one to follow the linear progression of the game. In some of these instances, the appearance of the game’s backrooms is an example of liminal spaces par excellence. Liminal space can be rudimentarily defined as an intermediate or transitional zone or space. Like a hallway or a corridor, it is a space with no designation; instead, it is merely a space that connects or a zone with no label or function.
Backdoors and no-clipping are helpful conceptual tools to help us escape the shackles of our assumed ontological “realisms.”
“The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing, or is there is nothing present when there should be something.”
These two modalities, which give us access to a heightened sense of our reality, are mediated and facilitated by our intermixing with the virtual. Our manipulability in the in-game world shapes our epistemic constraints. It reformats our conceptual limitations because of our experience with virtual phenomena, which is not directly tied to our direct ontic experience. Our intuitions of these places can only be rendered intelligible by notions of the weird and the eerie, which allows us to see the internal or the familiar from the outer realm. It challenges our ontological realism and makes our reality a bit more malleable; we are still contained. There is no doubt about it, but even within constraints, there is an infinite realm for individuation and stratification, possibility and escape, wonder and horror.