Meta-Communication for Sport and Profit

The Map is not the Territory.

This is one of the big problems we face in rhetoric and critical analysis. Communication always requires some degree of abstraction. The word that represents your name is ultimately a abstraction of the name itself. And the name, itself, is a highly abstracted representation of the thing it references- i.e. you. The difficulty, it seems, lies in trying to maintain a balance between how much needs to be abstracted to communicate versus what gets lost in the abstraction.

Play is a pointed example of this meta-communicative tension. A game, or a play-experience, is just a stylized abstraction of another activity. Tag is an abstraction of hunting. RPG’s are an abstraction of social interaction. Call of Duty is an abstraction of modern warfare. But they’re not the things themselves. It’s a signification. An abstraction.

A game.


* How ‘meta’ can you take this before it gets ridiculously postmodern? Can you do a game about games?

* Robots and 3D models of humans can be seen as abstractions of humans. They also suffer from the uncanny valley. Can a similar phenomenon apply to abstractions or simulations of non-human objects?

Game walkthroughs are also abstractions. Really, they’re abstractions of abstractions- like a rough sketch of a map of a place.  They usually read like, “be sure to only go through the middle door once you’re in this room.” It implies a certain degree of knowledge coming in, and a presumed awareness of space and context. In rhetoric, the author will usually try to illustrate some points and background information to frame the argument. Now, you might say that walkthroughs don’t make arguments- they just provide advice for beating a game. However, there are examples of walkthroughs making arguments and advocating a point-of-view. They can be highly critical of the game it’s depicting. And though the degree of sophistication can vary, we still have some form of critical analysis of a work- which itself is an abstraction. This is mediated by at least two levels of abstraction between the critic and the work. So, abstractions of abstractions, which are then abstracted. Then put down in words- which itself is a collection of abstractions.

It’s okay. My head hurts too.

Which begs:

* If you incorporate walkthrough-esque gameplay guidance into the work itself (i.e. really detailed tutorials), is it then part of the work itself (and thus no longer an abstraction of it)?

* Is critical analysis an appropriate device to use in a walkthrough?


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