The itchiness of identification
When I’m playing The Sims it bothers me that I can’t take Tiger Slut shopping that often (note: can not find a clothes store in my town… do I have to buy clothes from EA?). The line of wishes and activities, my grueling work day at the Sports Stadium, the 3 hour lunch she had with her boss today, all kept me from getting her new clothes. For the 3 days I’ve played, my poor Tiger slut has been wearing the same trench coat.
A slight itchy feeling comes over me, I can’t stand her clothes, I want her to be comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt or to at least have proper evening wear. I force her to take a cab home in the middle of the day and shower… twice.
In psycho-analytic film theory identification is considered to be one of film’s many hallmarks. In real life we might pass by a Leonardo DiCaprio or a Selma Hayek in the mall and never think about them. However the screen has a magical ability to extend identification, the character on the screen becomes part of us and for two hours their desires and our desires co-mingle. We become entwined with someone.
Cinema’s use of identification is similar to plays and bears a relation to novels. If the character on screen is attacked by mosquitoes, we get itchy, the idea of applying lotion to a film’s protagonist isn’t possible because of the movies’ absence of interactivity. Games have typically used identification in remarkably different ways, the extension of empathy leads us to treat the in game character differently. When Mario falls, we feel a sudden rush of panic, that panic becomes urgency, and navigating the platforms of Super Mario Brothers becomes an engrossing experience. But what I’m experiencing with The Sims 3 and many players are experiencing today is identification of a whole other order.
The itchiness of Tiger Slut is simply a feature of the game, the same way that the burn of coke convinces you to take another sip, addiction requires a little pain, we like to chew on our lips for a little while. The game Team Fortress 2 has recently updated with a Mannconomy update. Players can now produce hats and weapons for players in the game. What has resulted is a kinda competitive consumption in which players are consuming for effect.
The hats in fact don’t do anything, they don’t make you faster, they don’t improve your weapons, they just sit on your head and look cool.
But so addictive is this game of war and dress up that the mannconomy has allowed a few modders to live and work at home.
Identification has become com-modified. That place in the Id that sees itself in others, that desires to be others, has been given a straight line to your credit card. Impulse buys at retail outlets are based of small needs, a stick of gum at the cash register of Old Navy (is this brand even around anymore?) or a bar of soap at Victoria’s Secret, in games impulse buys are things that further the connection we feel with the character on screen. Team Fortress 2 used to be a fun game for me, now I just feel annoyed that I have to pay 5 USD to get a baseball hat for my Doctor. Image is so com-modified, I worry about decking out my Pyro. Yet, this has added something to the game, the deepening of connection has made the frag all the more precious. Tiger Slut is me in a different guise, I love her in a weird way, like someone you see at a bar and think is so cool, but never get a chance to talk to. Games are turning the space of identity, into the commodity they sell over story or even (as is the case in The Sims) game play. Identification used to be a tension that game play involved, now it has become an entire make up counter on which you pout and gloat. Dragon Age 2 for instance isn’t even much of a game (IMHO), but I absolutely loved the character creation screen, and having those weird blue glowing eyes. I stopped played after about 30 minutes, but I’d pay to have a cellphone app that let me customize like that. I want my Facebook profile to have those same glowing eyes.
Identification is one of the major signs of the subconscious externalizing itself. When we identify, our internal is asking for something external. In reality the difference between see-able reality and the subconscious with in us is in fact switch able, the way we experience the external is a product of the internal, and the internal is influenced by the external. A library will quiet down your insides, a football stadium will perk them up, what these games are doing those is changing the relation of identification. If you’re watching a movie and think George Clooney is gay, it will remain that way until your opinions change or the film moves in another direction. In many modern role playing games, you can simply open an editor and change your character right there. Fall Out 3 gives you an entire scenario to figure out who you are before your character becomes etched in the memory card. The id is being allowed to shape others, and through it it is reinforcing an image of itself. Before the singularity even hits (if in fact machine intelligence will over be similar enough to human to really make such a transition practical or desirable) we are working towards shaping our bodies virtually. This is actually a good thing, the Eve online editor I tried to youtube to ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqvniuVIvro ) is an excellent example of the power of casting your own image into a narrative, but what’s disturbing is that outside of any economic theory, capitalism in fact works by leeching onto our desires, porn will never go away unless we don’t have sex drives, we consume candy because refined sugars and flavors have turned taste into terrain of extremes, now the act of constructing a self has a credit card, was been given license to purchase and consume, what this will do to our sense of self is questionable, but I’d imagine we’ll be demanding ourselves in reality a bit more in the future.