Eugene Thacker’s response (excerpt)

Eugene Thacker’s response (excerpt)

2004-01-08

Eugene Thacker sees ethical acting as a potential stumbling block, one that trips up technological complicity.

Penny asks: what are video game users being trained to do? One answer might be: they are being trained to act instinctually – that is “naturally” – through information and computer technologies. Part of what this means is developing new modes of navigating real world spaces, through the lens of simulation technologies (an upgraded version of Kant’s notion of the senses as “spectacles” that could never be taken off). And because those simulations – be they first-person shooter games or military VR training – have a common logic to them, their modes of navigating the world will necessarily be enframed by a process that naturalizes a kind of “seek-and-destroy” strategy. The problem, ethically speaking, with the link between video games and violence is less a desensitizing to the real world, and more of a resensitizing to the dematerialized and totally malleable world of simulation.

When Penny states that “the interactive image cannot be spoken of in the terms of traditional passive images because it is procedural,” he is asking us to rethink virtuality beyond representation. In one sense this means thinking about agency and ethics in simulated environments beyond a traditional active/passive model. If simulated environments are, or can be, “intelligent” and adaptive, then the individuals acting in those environments are accountable not only for other individuals, but for the system dynamics as well. In calling for a “procedural aesthetics” or an aesthetics of interactivity, Penny seems to be opening the door to building systems that would generate reflexive behavior in real time. Not just the physical inscription of actions and behaviors, but environments that occasion reflexive thought, though that is inseparable from ethical acting. From one perspective, the basis of this is to treat ethics as intertwined with technology, where this does not imply a disembodiedness.

Simon Penny responds