“Space Invaders”

To who or what does “Space Invaders” appeal? It’s a simple question, yet also completely unanswerable. First, one must ask which space invaders? Are the capitals important? Do I refer to the 1978 arcade box? The individual sprites coming down eternally? The nihilistic fight that is playing a game that cannot be won? Or perhaps it’s one of the related text/objects? Perhaps its the Retro Sabotage flash game that shows this impossibility? Or one of the many web, or portable remakes, perhaps Taito’s 2009 Infinity Gene? Or might I be referring to the street/game artist of the same name who places the pixelated characters in city spaces around the world? In a simple answer to what should be a simple question, I’ll simply say I refer to all at once, because that’s how such intertextuality works. There is an original, but it may not be the important point. They all, after a certain point, refer to each other.

This meandering began when a friend mentioned photographing invaders. As she studies street art the first guess is that she was talking about the artist and said artist’s creations, but when I then went to find some sort of image to confirm this (searching for invaders without effort; catching aliens by picture). I opened an entirely different can of worms, or, to follow what soon will be an unwieldy metaphor, a new wave lining up at the top of the screen. However, at the end of this meandering I realized that it’s all the same interwoven meaning.

Invader’s website has a global listing of invaded cities. They are places where works exist, but San Diego, the city in which I live and my friend was catching aliens, is not there. One answer is that the site has not been updated, but it will be soon. Following this meaning the list becomes a sort of status. Which cities are good enough to be graced by the artist’s work.

People on the Yelp forum discussing the artwork certainly point to this: whether the work is fake or not (another answer to San Diego’s lack of appearance on the list), how San Diego has gained this honor (the street art exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art), and that the city has become “bona fide, betches” (Yelp user). Status is certainly tied up in the meaning of Invader’s space invaders. However, there are other meanings of the work: the game, nostalgia, migration and aliens. All of these are tied in the work and the general resurface and re-imagining of meaning.

Space Invaders holds a special place in the 20-40 year old generations as one of the early cabinet games of the golden age of gaming. Like most golden age games such as Donkey Kong, there are memorable characters, but unlike Donkey Kong‘s Jump Man, who was reborn as Mario, Space Invaders‘ player character is rather unmemorable. While Space Invaders had sequels, they are barely remembered. It’s hard to start a franchise when the plot and player are destined for death. However, Space Invaders did start a genre. Hundreds of shooter games followed with equally unmemorable player characters, but ironically these generally had forgettable enemies as well. What Space Invaders did was create a long chain of names, signifiers (1942, R-Type, Gradius, etc), that all pointed back to the original signified, Space Invaders, and its memorable, invading army.

The game has thus remained in cultural memory, to be sparked with each further generic horse beating, as the eternal good fight against an unnamed (but memorable) enemy. However, the past few years have brought a different resurgence. From genre and allusion back to direct reference. The retro/nostalgic trend of the 2000s has brought with it hosts of remakes and demakes, remixes and repositionings. André the Giant becomes a poster-boy for frat boys, Obama spells hope for the masses, beautifully relaxing Mario Clouds float by on a hacked ROM, and Space Invaders goes contemporary political commentary with its pixellated enemy sprites.

Invader’s invaders work on multiple levels. They refer back to the nostalgia of the 1970s and its memorable characters, but they also tie into fears of global migration/movement (invasion if you will) prevalent at the current moment. The invaders are aliens, the same as the “illegals” in the U.S. news and political media. They come in, attack, kill, take over the planet, and of course steal jobs, but they’re so memorable, bordering on cute. Wait, that didn’t come out right, or did it?

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries human movement over borders has reached an unprecedented high if only because the borders have become more pronounced. An equal amount of movement has always existed, small distances, long distances when borders were less national and less guarded, but not as they are now: pronounced, fenced, and racial/nationalistic. What might have been normal movement has become illegal border crossing, and those who cross become illegals. Aliens. Invaders.

Invader’s work is about merging the current fear of the illegal (in play with the original game, all of the generic follows and almost all games in general – particularly the link to Arabs/aliens in most modern FPS games is troubling and obvious) with the loving nostalgia of the past. People like these invaders, but it goes a step further. As the Yelpers demonstrated, invaders make a city. Where at one point it was a skyscraper, a sports team, or a museum, now it is an invader. A city has made it when it has been invaded.

But am I talking about space invaders or illegals right now? Are they?

  • Invader. Space Invaders. Accessed online June 17, 2010. <http://www.space-invaders.com/>
  • Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Viva la Revolucion: A Dialogue with Urban Landscape. Accessed online June 17, 2010. <http://www.mcasd.org/exhibitions/616/viva-la-revolucion>
  • Retro Sabotage: A Strange Kind of Love. Target: Space Invaders: Invasion. <http://www.retrosabotage.com/spacein/invasion.html>
  • Yelp. “Space Invader San Diego.” Accessed online June 17, 2010. <http://www.yelp.com/topic/san-diego-space-invader>

A Note/Warning on My Position

While I advocate for particular strategies and theories of translation, I do so in the historical context of 21st century US sociopolitical irresponsibility and dominance.

I do not speak as a minority, nor as a reader of a language fighting for survival and self determination. Rather, I write as an early 21st century US citizen who has seen ‘his’ country at war for a decade. A decade where significant backlash has resulted against people who look or act different regardless of their relationship to the ‘enemy.’

The US has fought the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq against an undefined terrorist that can best be summed up as ‘different.’ America is at war with difference: “those who oppose our way of life.” And one of the (many) ways this insane fear of, and aggression against, the cultural other has been reproduced to massive levels has been in the systematic representation of the other through and in translation.

A simple result of the discursive regime of domesticating translation (Venuti) is that everybody else – the foreign in books and other media – looks like us. As all translation, all media made by anybody else, is made to look as if it were made by us, we never see difference. All that is good looks like us. All it then takes is the mass display not only of difference, but difference that “hates us,” to spark 10 years of war.

I believe I do not overemphasize the importance of changing the way translation happens in the US.

  • Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2008 [1994].
  • —. The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Destabilization of the Translator | Destabilization of the Translation

There are two new trends in translation that I would like to discuss. Both are postmodern and intentionally unstable, but they have opposite instabilities. One trend destabilizes the translator, and the other destabilizes the translation.

The destabilization of the translator has multiple translators, but a single translation. It has its history in the Septuagint, but its present locus is around dividing tasks and the post Fordist assembly line form of production. Like the Septuagint, where 72 imprisoned scholar translators translated the Torah identically through the hand of God, the new trend relies on the multiplicity of translators to confirm the validity of the produced translation. However, different is that while the Septuagint produced 72 results that were the same, the new form of translation produces one result that arguably combines the knowledge of all translators involved. This trend of translation can be seen in various new media forms and translation schemes such as Wikis, the Lolcat Bibul, Facebook, and FLOSS Manuals.

Wikis (from the Hawaian word for “fast”) are a form of distributed authorship. They exist due to the effort of their user base that adds and subtracts small sections to individual pages. One user might create a page and add a sentence, another might write three more paragraphs, a third may edit all of the above and subtract one of the paragraphs, and so on. No single author exists, but the belief is that the “truth” will come out of the distributed authority of the wiki.  It’s a very democratic form of knowledge production and authorship that certainly has issues, but for translation it enables new possibilities. While wikis are generally produced in a certain language and rarely translated (as the translation would not be able to keep track of the track changes), the chunk-by-chunk form of translation has been used in various places.

The Lolcat Bibul translation project is a web-based effort to translate the King James Bible into the meme language used to caption lolcats (amusing cat images). The “language” meme itself is a form of pidgin English where present tense and misspellings are highlighted for humorous effect. Examples are “I made you a cookie… but I eated it,” “I’z on da tbl tastn ur flarz,” and “I can haz cheeseburger?”[1] The Lolcat Bibul project facilitates the translation from King James verse to lolcat meme. For example, Genesis 1:1 is translated as follows:

KING JAMES: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth
LOLCAT: Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat Maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem. [2]

While the effort to render the Bible is either amusing or appalling depending on your personal outlook, important is the translation method itself. The King James Bible exists on one section of the website, and in the beginning the lolcat side was blank. Slowly, individual users took individual sections and verses and translated them according to their interpretation of lolspeak, thereby filling the lolcat side. These translated sections could also be changed and adapted as users altered words and ideas. No single user could control the translation, and any individual act could be opposed by another translation. The belief is that if 72 translators and the hand of God can produce an authoritative Bible, surely 72 thousand translators and the paw of Ceiling Cat can produce an authoritative Bibul.

FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software) Manuals and translations are a slightly more organized version of this distributed trend [3]. FLOSS is theoretically linked to Yochai Benkler’s “peer production” where people do things for different reasons (pride, cultural interaction, economic advancement, etc), and both the manuals and translations capitalize on this distribution of personal drives. Manuals are created for free and open source software through both intensive drives where multiple people congregate in a single place and hammer out the particulars of the manual, and follow-up wiki based adaptations. The translations of these manuals are then enacted as a secondary practice in a similar manner. Key to this open translation process are the distribution of work and translation memory tools (available databases of used terms and words) that enable such distribution, but also important is the initial belief that machine translations are currently unusable, which causes the necessity of such open translations.

Finally, Facebook turned translation into a game by creating an applet that allowed users to voluntarily translate individual strings of linguistic code that they used on a daily basis in English. Any particular phrase such as “[user] has accepted your friend request” or “Are you sure you want to delete [object]?” were translated dozens to hundreds of times and the most recurring variations were implemented in the translated version. The translation was then subject to further adaptation and modification as “native” users joined the fray as Facebook officially expanded into alternate languages. Thus, <LIKE> would have become <好き>, but was transformed to <いいね!> (good!). Not only did this process produce “real” languages, such as Japanese, but it also enabled user defined “languages” such as English (Pirate) with plenty of “arrrs” and “mateys.”

Wikis, FLOSS, and Facebook are translations with differing levels of user authority, but they all work on the premise that multiple translators can produce a singular, functioning translation. In the case of Facebook this functionality and user empowerment is highlighted; for FLOSS, user empowerment through translation and publishing are one focus, but a second focus is the movement away from machine translation; in all cases, but wikis particularly, the core belief is that truth will emerge out of the cacophony of multiple voices, and this is the key tenet of the destabilization of the translator [4].

The other trend is the destabilization of the translation. This form of translation has roots in the post divine Septuagint where all translation is necessarily flawed or partial. Instead of the truth emerging from the average of the sum of voices, truth is the build up: it is footnotes, marginal writing and multiple layers. Truth here is the cacophony itself. The ultimate text is forever displaced, but the mass intends to eventually lead to the whole (whether it gets there or not is separate matter for Benjamin, Derrida and the like).
While this style of translation is less enacted at present it is not completely new. Side by side pages with notes about choices is one variation centuries old (Tyndale’s Biblical notations, Midrash, and side by side poetry translations), the DVD language menu coming from multiple subtitle tracks is another variation, and finally this leads to new possibilities for multi-language software translations.

While the Septuagint leads to the creation of a single text in the myth, 72 translators translating a single text would produce 72 different translations in reality. The attempt to stabilize this inherent failure of translation argues that one of those translations is better and used, but it can be altered if a better translation comes around. The Bible translation is always singular, but it changes. Similarly, the Odyssey is translated quite often, but the translations are always presented alone. They are authoritative. In contrast, Roland Barthes comparison of modern works and postmodern texts and Foucault’s discussion of the authorial function both lead toward this destabilization of the author [5]. This discussion can be linked into translation studies’ discussions of author and translator intellectual production. The destabilization of translators and translations build off of both of these postmodern traditions, but the latter trend attempts to avoid weighing in on the issue by simultaneously exhibiting the conflicting iterations.

The main difficulty of the destabilization of the translation is the problem of exhibiting multiple iterations at one time in a meaningful way. How can a reader read two things at once, or with film, how can a viewer understand two soundtracks at once? Books and films provide multiple examples of how to deal with such an attention issue. With literary works endnotes are a minimal example of such attention divergence. Endnotes do not immediately compete for the reader’s attention, but the note markers indicate the possibility of voluntary switching. Footnotes are a slightly more aggressive form of attention management s they tell the reader to switch focus to the bottom of the page, a smaller distance that is more likely to happen.

For film, subtitles, which layer the filmic text with both original dialogue and the authorial translation, are a close equivalent to endnotes as they split the viewer’s attention, but do not force the attention toward a particular place. It is entirely possible to ignore subtitles regardless of complaints against them (much harder to ignore would be intertitles filling the screen). Finally, the benshi, a simultaneous live translator/explainer, is an early to mid 20th century Japanese movie theater tradition that most resembles the more aggressive footnotes as the benshi’s explanative voice competes with the film’s soundtrack for the audience’s aural attention [6].

Unlike websites such as Amazon, which have language dedicated pages (.com, .co.jp, .co.de) and block orders from addresses outside of their national coverage, or services such as the Sony PSPGo Store, which disallows the purchase of alternate region software, some sites utilize pull down language options that change the language while remaining on the same page, or provide multiple linguistic versions for purchase.

With digital games the localization process has traditionally replaced one language with its library of accompanying files with another. However, as computer memory increases the choice of one language or another becomes less of an issue and multiple languages are provided with the core software. This gives rise to the language option where the game can be flipped from one language to another through an option menu. Most games put this choice in the options menu at the title screen, but a few allow the user to switch back and forth. The simultaneous visibility of multiple languages or a language switch button would be further advancements toward the destabilization of translations.


[1] Rocketboom Know Your Meme. <http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/lolcats>; I Can Has Cheezburger. <http://icanhascheezburger.com/>; Hobotopia. <http://apelad.blogspot.com/>.

[2] LOLCat Bible Translation Project. <http://www.lolcatbible.com/index.php?title=Genesis_1>.

[3] FLOSS Manuals. http://en.flossmanuals.net/

[4] This conceptualization relates to Bolter and Grusin’s hypermediacy. Bolter, J. David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999.

[5] Barthes, Roland. “From Work to Text.” In The Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Simon During, Donna Jeanne Haraway and Teresa De Lauretis. London: Routledge, 2007; Foucault, Michel. “What Is an Author?” In The Essential Foucault: Selections from Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, edited by Paul Rabinow and Nikolas S. Rose. New York: New Press, 2003.

[6] Nornes, Markus. Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Masochistic Translation

Painful Differance

I recently had a taste of a truly alienating translation: a translation that made me cry from lack of comprehension, and said comprehension was intentional in the author’s method and theory as well as the translator’s. This text, if you haven’t guessed, is Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

I am told that Of Grammatology is forever deferred both in fact and meaning. Nobody gets it enough to fully summarize, but individual chunks might be worked through, as can be terms such as ‘trace,’ ‘sous rature,’ ‘differance’ et cetera. Writing exists in a particular relationship to language and to speech, and this relationship is opposite to that believed by the formalists, structuralists and logocentrists. We cannot get to meaning and the signified; we can only slide around in trace relationships between various signifiers in one time, place, language: one moment. What can be made present is only a partial presence, the trace; what is lost, the arche-trace, can be slide back and around, but never regained.

Spivak furthers this theoretical endeavor by sliding around in her translation, by making a 90 page translator’s preface that forces particular readings of the following 300 pages and challenges the relationship of original and translation through such placement. The preface, which comes after Derrida’s de la Grammatologie, is placed before Of Grammatology and thereby becomes first. Derrida’s text is not signfied to her translation’s signifier, rather there are only signifiers of signifiers, translations of translations, versions of versions. Spivak notes how related all of this is to translation in passing implications on lxxvii then straight out on lxxxv-lxxxvii.

All of this taken as is, reading Of Grammatology is a painful experience of slippery wordplay and neverending deferral of understanding. Reading Spivak’s translation is just that much more painful.

The Derridian (and de Man and Spivak) translational project would lead to very unpleasant translations: Spivak’s case is a prime example. However, she got away with it as she is not writing for entertainment and pleasure. Only for the masochistically inclined is Derrida fun.


Speaking of mascochism, there are such things as masocore games (a term coming from Anna Anthropy’s blog entry on Auntie Pixelante). Not everybody likes or plays them, but they do exist. Said simply, masocore are games that revel in mistreating the player.

Giantbomb  notes masocore is “a postmodern indie game genre in which the designer intentionally frustrates the player. This frustration is typically accomplished by restructuring a preexisting game genre to place it in in one of three categories of frustration.”

“Trial and Error” is the necessity of following an exact path and figuring out that path. This is easily seen in platformers that necessitate exact jumps, or adventure games that require an exact path where alteration of such leads to the inability to complete the game (such as an item that you needed to pick up in the opening scenes without which the game cannot be completed)

“Confusion” is where generic conventions are broken (often resulting in the player having to relearn generic boundaries through Trial and Error). An example of this from Auntie Pixelante is “you jump over the apple, and the apple falls up and kills you. the apple falls up and kills you.” Auntie Pixelante goes on to reject the “merely super-hard” moniker and sides with the belief that masocore games are those that “[play] with the player’s expectations, the conventions of the genre that the player thinks she knows. they’re mindfucks.”

“Play,” Giantbomb’s third category, is the removal of play motivation (end, death, etc) in order to force the player to focus on (uncomfortable) play mechanics.

As Anna Anthropy states in the conclusion of her piece, masocore is visible now because of the intersections of independent gaming and free and easy distribution methods. She writes: “most of these games are simply unmarketable. which is why the masocore game, twenty years later, is starting to come into its own: now there are avenues for freeware games to reach wide audiences. these games have no need to sell themselves to the player, which allows them to be among the most interesting game experiences being crafted right now.”

Key to her statement in my mind is the how the gaming aesthetic of masochism has been enabled by the early 21st century game industry that has expanded beyond the generic as marketable to the niche as marketable.


Masocore, is certainly a recently dubbed generic name, but it has persistent links to previous forms of the past decades. While the third form of masocore frustration (Play) might be unique, the other two forms can be seen in earlier methods of differentiated difficulties (and in general it can be traced back much further to such “games” as gladiatorial combat, martial arts, war, et cetera).

Game difficulty exists for multiple reasons, only one of which is enjoyment. (The relationship between difficulty and profit where arcade games necessitated difficulty to garner maximal profit, but video/computer games necessitated ease to enable the completion and further purchase of another game are ignored here.)

Due to the belief that difficulty is good for some reason (Flow, or any other theory), games have had various levels of difficulty and different methods of implementing said difficulty. Some games were simply really, really hard such as Donkey Kong and Ghost’n Goblins, some included the use of continues to enable the completion of a game (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Street Fighter), some offered different difficulty levels (Atari’s difficulty switch; The standardized Easy, Normal, Hard; Doom‘s I’m too Young to Die, Hey, Not too Rough, Hurt Me Plenty, Ultra-Violence, Nightmare!; Marathon‘s Kindergarten, Easy, Normal, Major Damage, Total Carnage; Halo‘s Easy, Normal, Heroic, Legendary; etc), some went the full opposite direction and made it impossible to lose by re-spawning the player at one point or another through some diegetic method (Prey, Bioshock). All of these are based around the idea that there is some benefit in difficulty, but just what that benefit is, and what level of difficulty is good, is unsure.

One new variation is the use of achievements to create a masocore element to an otherwise reasonable game. For instance, one of Mega Man 10‘s 12 achievements is Mr. Perfect, which requires the player “Clear the game without getting damaged.” In a Megaman style platformer this is nearly impossible and both a new proof of hardcore’ness and an implementation of masocore’ness.

Difficulty changes (as do implementations), but the tendency is neither to bow down to the masocores nor the casuals. Instead, the game industry has increasingly attempted to provide access to both. Difficulty, even masochistic pleasure in the extremely difficult, is increasingly deemed acceptable. The inclusion of the masochistic Mr. Perfect achievement between Mega Man 9 (2008) and Mega Man 10 (2010) and its correspondence to Anna Anthropy’s post in 2008 and the present 2010 point to this process of incorporation. Translation should learn a lesson from this, especially when localization’s main defense for its problematic translational method is that games need to be fun, to be entertainment. Some people like masocore games; some people like Derridian translations. Let’s start having masochistic translations.


Anthropy, Anna. “Masocore Games.” Auntie Pixelante. Posted: April 6, 2008. Accessed: February 14, 2010. <http://www.auntiepixelante.com/?p=11>

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak trans. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Mega Man 10 Achievement List. X-Box 360 Achievements. Accessed: February 14, 2010. <http://www.xbox360achievements.org/game/mega-man-10/achievements/>

TheDustin. “Masocore: Mr. Gimmick: The Best NES Platformer You Haven’t Heard Of (and Sadly Haven’t Played).” Play This Thing. Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2010. Accessed: Sunday, February 14, 2010. <http://playthisthing.com/game-taxonomy/masocore>

Various Authors. “Masocore (video game concept).” Giant Bomb. Accessed: February 14, 2010. <http://www.giantbomb.com/masocore/92-1165/>.

The Task of the Translator; The Location of Localization

I’ve been reading a lot of Walter Benjamin’s “Die Aufgabe des Ãœbersetzers” lately in reference. So much so that I also went back and (re)read the original. The question of course for everybody, or at least as I understand decades later and after Paul de Man, is whether the focus is on ‘translation’ as the ‘failure’ or the ‘task’ of the translator, both of which are built into the German. This comes down to whether the translator tries to translate the ‘what’ or the ‘why’ of the original, the idea of touching and either deflecting or reforming the ‘vessel,’ et cetera. The voice in my head then asks what the relationship between localizations is?

There’s an interesting thing that happens when I read translation work: I don’t feel like I’m barking up a crazy tree. This is nice. However, the other thing that happens is that I wonder exactly how I’m trying to tie things together, which doesn’t exactly work. Too many partial overlaps at once.

Things that are important here are, of course, the failure of the translation process, but also some of the other basics such as translation being not just ontological and spatial, and not just historical and temporal (which Bermann and Wood try to point to, rightfully, in Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation, but also specifically NOT temporal or spatial for localization.

Or rather, that is of course what is the intent with localization.

Translation is a post-production effect. It is written and then it’s translated. Even if I’m going to be difficult, or pomo, and say that repetition, adaptation and the like are also forms of translation there is still a key difference and that is the temporal aspect. However, localization specifically abuses that location of the translation. Game translation (localization) is increasingly moved from the post-production to the central production point. This follows through with the central claims of games as new media: that they have no original and are variable. This moving (temporal) position of localization also justifies the claim that games are not actually translated as it was never officially in one place or another. And more, for the case of simultaneous releases (and better yet releases with multiple languages) they are able to claim a full disabling of the temporal element of translation.

(New Media) Translation After Pound

The 20th century turn toward domestication essentially stems form Ezra Pound’s translations, but impurely, through the modern emphasis of the author mixed with the business of selling books.

According to Ronnie Apter in Digging for the Treasure: Translation After Pound, Pound influenced translation theory and practice in three major ways. First, was the move from “Victorian pseudo-archaic translation diction” to modern style. Second, is by arguing for a criticism of the original in some form: not simply the objective transfer (an acknowledged impossibility by the Victorians as well), but to focus on some particular element and thereby “criticize.” And finally, the creation of a new poem: not just something derivative.

These three were all essential breaks with both the Victorian practice, which focused on three criteria: paraphrase with no additions (subtractions were inevitable, but additions were taboo), the reproduction of the author’s traits (just what the traits were was, however, up for grabs), and the reproduction of the overall effect of the text (whether the “effect was of the original on the original’s original audience, or the original on the modern audience who can read the original text is unknown). It was also an adaptation with the contemporaneous translation theory professed by Matthew Arnold and F. W. Newman.

However, while Pound was translating against the Victorian grain, we have come full circle to a new norm. The fashion of the times has changed to one that embraces Pound’s basics, but not the depths. If “great translators transcend the fashion of their times [and] minor ones merely manipulate it” Pound was a great translator, many minor figures have manipulated his transcendence, but Pound himself would simply be one of any in the current fashion. As Lawrence Venuti has argued, the times and dominant style have changed and another transcendental shift is called for.

What I want to argue is that this shift is called for by the media itself. The move from literary page translation to multimedia and digital forms leads into new possibilities for and understandings of translation. In an interesting way, however, it is Pound’s logopoeia, his style of meta-translation, that can still lead the way. Whereas Pound focused on the meaning of words to bring into focus both the older era and the present, a type of dialectical juxtaposition, the move toward searchable, digital data in opposition to static, analogue data allows the simultaneous existence of both data sets and a new type of logopoeia. This new form of meta-translation involves the layering of translational tracks. Instead of juxtaposition, there is the coexistence of both tracks/languages/cultures.

This is similar to the possibilities evoked by subtitles and abuse (Nornes), but it considers the issue in relation to digital, new media and not simply film considered in an analogue manner. Instead of the ability to simply choose one or another track/language, it gives all, or switches between languages. It renders the possibilities of putting three real languages into a game such as Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 (English, Russian and Japanese to use the fictive world), but more meaningfully (and less deliberately/offensively stereotypically), of switching them on the fly so that one game has the US speaking English, the Russians Russian and the Japanese Japanese, but another switches so that the US speaks Japanese, the Russians English and the Japanese Russian. The media uses its ability to draw from the swappable data files not to simply replace one with another, thereby changing one representation into another, but to abuse the user with a constant active experience that questions the submerged normativity of language that exists with translated entertainment products (games in particular) at present.

Editors and Translators – On Saussure

As I read Jonathan Culler’s Ferdinand de Saussure, the difference between editors and translators is striking. Or rather, their similarity and yet complete perceived difference is striking.

In chapter one Culler notes, “Most teachers would shudder at the thought of having their views handed on in this way, and it is indeed extraordinary that this unpromising procedure, fraught with possibilities of misunderstanding and compromise, should have produced a major work” (Culler p. 25).  He then ends the chapter with the claim that he “shall not hesitate to rectify the original editors’ occasional lapses” (Culler p. 26).

Saussure is the origination point of the Course in General Linguistics. Nobody questions this. However, what of the status of Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, the “editors” to which Culler refers? Saussure’s colleagues, Bally and Sechehaye, gathered three terms’ worth of students’ notes, combined them, ordered them, limited them and in so doing made the Course. Culler calls them editors, and yet could he not also call them translators? What really is the difference?

Bally and Sechehaye are forgiven for their mistakes and counted as a problematic (but necessary) medium from Saussure to air to students to notes to editors. As such, Culler has no qualms about correcting their “lapses.” But how is this any different in the case of Wade Baskin, the English translator of the French original, or any other translator?

An editor is somebody that changes something for the benefit of general understanding. Editors are hated and partially antagonistic to the idea of the author, but are also considered a necessary part of the process. A translator is somebody that changes a text into a different form: it is not for general benefit, but specific benefit to a particular audience, whether that be temporally or spatially separated from the origin. In this case, Saussure in French… and in his classrooms between 1907 and 1911.

So, the Course is a translation of Saussure’s lectures just as the English translation of the Course In General Linguistics is a translation of a translation. And yet they aren’t considered as such, there is an assumed difference between the editors and the translators. Editing is different from translating.

But this makes little sense. They all move the text on, allow it to live, but necessarily alter it.

Translation, Adaptation, History, Controversy (and back)

My own interests with translation have recently come crashing into one of the current big gaming controversies: Six Days in Fallujah. The path of my interest goes form translation to adaptation to the construction of history, of which the game Six Days in Fallujah is a prime example. It is also an example of gaming controversy and protestation.

Recently, Ki Mae Huessner wrote a piece for ABC News about Rendition: Guantanamo and gaming controversy. She lists 9 games that have “gone too far” in that they have brought about large controversies. Some of these games like Grand Theft Auto IV (and the rest in the series) thrive off of this controversy. Others, like Super Columbine Massacre RPG! and JFK Reloaded are completely and unfortunately misunderstood in their intent because of the controversy and crash because of it. The main problem is the conflation of games, children, play, sugar, spice and everything nice, which excludes concepts of art, theory and all things serious. This split has been problematized time and again in different fora (Serious Games, Meaningful Play, Art Games), but primarily dismissed by the people who count: the media (ABC News) and the producers who cave in (Konami). Obviously, my interests are not aligned with advocating for or against  games in general or any game in particular. What I am interested in is the interaction of culture and games, or as it is more often written in conferences sections and on journals, Games and Culture.

At this point I would like to jump back along the windy path of my interest away from controversy, which is generally disinteresting to me, through the construction of history (and knowledge), to adaptation and finally arriving back at translation

Six Days in Fallujah, Rendition: Guantanamo, and JFK Reloaded are all controversial games. They are so controversial, in fact, that the former two are likely not going to be made, and the latter is barely known outside of people who study games and people who study history. All three of these are about ‘history’ and its construction, but that’s not why they’re controversial. Their controversy stems from the particular events that they dwell in/on. Moments of national trauma and embarrassment. Other games, such as Kuma/War, which features John Kerry’s Silver Star mission, or the sundry World War II RTS games do the exact same thing as the controversial games, but spark near no negative reaction as they are based around events of national (and international) pride and success.

History is constructed after the event happens. History is the ordering of the past to fit with, justify the existence of, perpetuate the goals of a given political entity be it nation-state, company, individual, or other. Text books, movies, novels and even historical treaties all do this; games are no different. The problem, of course, is that whereas some of the above have been welcomed into the serious realm games have not. So, games can construct history and the three above games do exactly that. Time for another step backward to the idea of adaptation.

Adaptation involves the re-ordering of logics from one form to another. The intent is that the overarching logic (or under-girding structure) remains between versions/editions/adaptations, but such is of course the difficulty in adapting anything. While most adaptations are thought to be from one form of popular media to another (between books, plays, movies, radio shows, television shows and so on) what must also be understood is that the definition of media need not be so limited. Language can be considered a medium, hence the difficulty in adapting between language/word and visual representation. History is another medium. History games are all adaptations, imperfect re-ordering of the events, feelings, beliefs, half-truths, full truths and lies in order to construct History.

And finally back to translation. While adaptation admits to changing the object (a book is turned into a movie; a historical event is turned into a game), translation hides and objects to this simple fact. Translation is based around the impossible goal of equality that is embedded within the concept of translation (See Walter Benjamin, “Task of the Translator”). (Perfect) translation is, and will always be, impossible. What remains then is choosing what will be successfully translated from one culture to another. History games make a very particular choice in what they translate, but that choice is also what leads to controversy as it does not match up with the dominant perception of what should be maintained.

Back to Six Days in Fallujah. History games are necessary for a number of reasons. On one level they are important in that they are part of the construction of history. Popular culture is one part of historicism despite official history’s denial of such a fact. On another layer, history games are an important step in the definition of games as a medium outside of the realm of (uncritically happy) play with sugar, spice and you get the picture. Art Games, Serious Games and Mature Games (theoretically mature, not thematically mature – Beyond Good and Evil, not RapeLay) are other parts of this movement. Six Days in Fallujah would have done both of these things: critically bring up issues of the interpretation of the past event and construction of future history; oppose the uncritical simplicity of games where you play the unquestioned, good guys and kill the unquestioned bad guys.

Life is not simple. Play is not simple. Games should not be simple.

Playing In/With the Archive

Archives are everywhere. This much is obvious. Essays and books with archive somewhere in the theme or title have increased in the past few decades and recently I have seen a slew of ‘archive’ related conference CPFs.

Of interest to me is the archive’s intersection with gaming, history and memory. There are three points of intersection that I see: acknowledgment and creation of archives, manipulation of archives and playing in archives. These three forms of archival play correspond to three types of games and gaming. One, massive ROMization (MAME, SNES9X, et cetera) and recent (official) migration of old games to WiiWare, Xbox Live Arcade and Play Station Network. Two, sequels and remakes of older games and the creation of a particular genealogy of titles. Three, demakes and unofficial titles that problematize the greater archive.

The first is simply the building of an archive of obsolete platforms and games. Whereas it used to be possible to pull out one’s old NES and blow into the cartridge more people are finding that the technology simply doesn’t work anymore. This goes doubly for games that were/are hard to find. As the technology has become increasingly unavailable it has become obvious to more and more people that an archive/library is necessary for games. However, because the platforms themselves become similarly unavailable it has also been necessary to create a means of playing the games.

Since the late 1990s there have been semi-legal efforts to play ROMs on personal computers. The game’s cartridge information is ripped to a computer and emulators are programmed to play the games. While emulators are made for some of the most advanced systems such emulation has generally been problematic (buggy, slow, unable to play many games), the emulation of older systems like arcades, Atari, NES, SNES, SEGA et cetera have been highly successful. While this method has resulted in a massive archiving of games (even if the platforms and materiality of play have disappeared – television, cartridge, console, controller), one thing that is undeniable is that this ROMization is less than fully legal and companies are losing what they see as a profit.

The second generation of the archive has recently been implemented with the big three game companies (Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft) creating respective means to play previous generational games. Nintendo releases WiiWare versions of previous games such as Megaman that one can play on the Nintendo Wii. Sony releases past games such as Spyro the Dragon through the Playstation Network (it should also be noted that the Playstation, as a DVD/CD console is able to play older generational games (the PS3 can play PS2 and PS1 games; the PS2 can play PS1 games). Finally, Xbox Live Arcade, which has more broadly made available Sega and other games. While all three of these forms have been more legal than the ROM movement in that they prevent ‘piracy’ they are far from successful in the simple archiving project. They pick and choose (and buy the rights for) what they archive on the three libraries.

However, both of these projects are at base simply the creation of an archive for preservation and further use of games. Here I refer to the building and playing of the archive.

The second way in which the archive and gaming interact is something that has been going on since Tennis for Two, but has begun to take a slightly more aggressive turn. While gaming has always been a form of remediation, and sequels have been around (at least) since PacMan turned into Ms. PacMan, there have more recently been remakes cropping up that are slightly different. Previously I discussed the interaction with a form of restorative nostalgia with the remake. The remake, as restorative, acts to whitewash the past and justify a particular reading of history: it is a form of playing with the archive. This is not new or unusual: all history is manipulative and restorative. However, initial implementation that occurs simultaneously with the rise of the second generation of company archiving is interesting. It makes one think of just what is happening when FPS and 3rd person action games are being remade: what happens to the archive when its contents are embellished and highlighted?

Third is the demake and what I want to call playing in the archive. It is also a type of playing in the past. Demakes work with reflective nostalgia and focus on the patina of the old. With games this is crucially ideas like retro graphics seen with the initial MAME movement, but it is also the attempts to translate/adapt modern games to older platforms. That most of these demakes can only be played by emulation is slightly problematic, but one might also point out the longer history of cartridge manipulation (Cory Arcangel’s Mario Clouds) and its progress into the present with efforts being made to put demakes onto cartridges (D+Pad Hero). Here people are deliberately moving into the archive, taking present things and forcing them into the older sections of the archive. Unhappy with the look and smell of a new book it’s given a fake patina and odorized in order pass and pleasure like an old book.

So, these three types of gamic archiving are taking place. We know that the archive is a deliberate (if uncontrollable) cementation of knowledge and indication of a certain mode of knowledge production. So, the question is really what sort of knowledge production is happening with these three types of gaming archives? What is the difference between the first and second generations of archiving? What sort of knowledge is opened up and closed by remaking and demaking?

Remakes and Demakes: Logics of Repetition in Gaming

Note: The following is a work in progress on remakes and demakes, repetition, and remediation. I post now seeking comments and responses in order to help in the rewrite process.

Abstract: Remakes are a form of repetition well known and increasingly engaged with in cinema and literary studies. Recently remakes have spread to gaming and with them has been a string of games with opposing tendencies. These games have been called demakes. This essay explores the oppositional logics of repetition at play with gaming remakes and demakes in terms of technological, representational and historical modes of knowledge production. Whereas remakes follow the dominant cultural trends and help whitewash the past, demakes are oppositional, playing with technology, the past and nostalgia in a different, if not better, way.

Remakes and Demakes: Logics of Repetition in Gaming

Written: March 21, 2009

Both remaking and demaking have a particular relationship to repetition and time. While their obvious relationship is with the present and the past, they also have a stake in the relationship between present and future. Remaking renews the past; demaking returns to the past. Both are crucially involved with concepts of history, memory and nostalgia. However, these aspects of the remake and the demake seem to be elided in the fetishization of realistic representation, technology and economics. In the following pages I will map out the techno-economic, representation/simulational and historico-nostalgic logics involved with the current repetition of gaming texts.

One relatively recent gamic remake is Tomb Raider: Anniversary. Produced by Eidos, the same company that released Tomb Raider in 1996, the remake marks the 10-year anniversary of the original game that began both the genre and property that has now spread to multiple media (game, film, novelization, et cetera) over the past decade.

Tomb Raider is a 3rd person action adventure game. The player controls the now famous character Lara Croft as she explores various environments (Peru, Greece, Egypt and Atlantis) searching for the keys to unlock and eventually explore the lost city of Atlantis. The Anniversary remake uses the same 3rd person genre, narrative and particular locales as the original. The graphics are updated from clunky, early polygonal representation to high-count polygon graphics that produce a more “naturalistic” or “realistic” representation. [1]  The remake could be considered a “faithful” translation of the original as it reproduces the flow and specific scenes/levels of the original, but it works to erase the dated aspect: the graphics. [2]  By this logic the important, reproduced aspects are the play style and the property itself.

The Anniversary remake, as a highly commercial endeavor, reproduces the “good” elements of the original for simple economic reasons. It brings back what the audience has paid for time and again with extras. The generic mode of 3rd person 3D action/adventure genre, itself an update to 2D platformers such as Super Mario Bros., was popularized in the original Tomb Raider. It has been revived as a genre in each Tomb Raider sequel, and the Anniversary remake flogs the tired generic horse enough to make a (significant) profit. The economic logics of “better-faster-more” are of central importance to the remake. Perhaps the only remakes that do not follow the threefold increase are those that attempt to take the game as is visually and transfer the game from a previous, now increasingly difficult to obtain, or simply obsolete, platform to a modern one. Examples of this are the Square-Enix Final Fantasy games that are being remade from the 1990s Super Nintendo hardware to the 2000s Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS hardware. In these remakes additional elements (“more”) are added, but the other two aspects remain as they were in the original (faithfully reproduced graphics and speed).

The remake is thus involved in a process of renewal where “old” is turned into “new” in a strictly linear fashion that posits less < more, slow < fast, abstract < naturalistic, and so forth. This techno-economic logic of “better-faster-more” dominates gaming on the top commercial layer, but it is directly opposed within the discourse surrounding the demake.

Demaking is a recent phenomenon where a game is translated in the opposite direction compared to the standard remaking. The term “de-make” was coined by Phil Fish on the TIGForums in August of 2007. In response to recent remakes, Fish writes:

what about the opposite? relatively new 3d games being remade for lesser platforms. like that guy who ported ocarina of time to SNES, or turning doom into a cellphone RPG… i fint [sic] it highly interesting to see what happens when that happens. see how far you can push a game backwards, and see what gameplay elements remain intact. what got cut, what got added? does it play better? can anybody think of other downgrades/de-makes? can anybody think of a better name for those games? (Fish 2007).

Instead of taking an old game and making it new the demake takes a new game and makes it old either through genre or graphics. Fish uses the term “downgrade” in opposition to the normative “upgrade” assumed with the remake’s advancement along the previous mentioned techno-economic logic of “better-faster-more,” and then asks if anybody can think of another name: a year and a half later the hyphen has been removed and numerous other demakes have been made both independently by interested parties and within The Independent Gaming Source’s Bootleg Demakes Competition.

The demake that I will primarily be considering here, D+Pad Hero, was created by Kent Hansen and Andreas Pederson and is a demake of Guitar Hero a popular music simulation game. Guitar Hero is one of many music simulation games (others include Rock Band, SingStar, GuitarFreaks and DrumMania) where the user “plays” an instrument (drumset, guitar) or sings in rhythm to music and beats displayed on the screen. With Guitar Hero the guitar is unplayable as a guitar and simply consists of five input buttons and a “strum” bar that the player uses in order to “play” the song. The player must press the buttons and use the strum bar in accordance with the cues on the screen, which are in tune/rhythm with the song being played, and a score is given at the end of the song based on accuracy. This logic has been in older games such as BeatMania (1997), Pop’n Music (1998) and Dance, Dance Revolution (1998), but has increasingly been combined with simulated musical production and commercial music. While Pop’n Music forced the player to press five large, colored buttons arranged on an arcade frame in accordance to the cues and a son, the later games put the buttons on a faux instrument. The original Guitar Hero and the other music simulation games have had dozens of expansions and sequels. is in its third release and the other games are around a similar sequel number. The sequels follow a similar techno-economic logic as the remake in that they have more realistic controllers (‘guitars’ where you strum while holding the proper buttons down) and more popular music (Beatles, Metallica, et cetera); the expansions simply have more songs.

D+Pad Hero takes the basic rhythm game formula and reproduces it with 8bit graphics and 8bit music for the Nintendo Entertainment System, a system first released in 1983. [3] The player uses the archetypal NES controller instead of the faux-guitar in order to input the arrow keys and the A and B buttons in tune to the music. The concept of accuracy and score remain the same. Other than simply reproducing the game visually on the NES system, the songs themselves have been rendered compatible with the hardware. The authors took various popular songs and converted/translated them to 8bit midi music. [4]  The techno-economic logic of the sequel and remake is reversed on both sides: the game has old graphics, old music and old hardware, which reverses the technological logic; the game is unsellable due to copyright and instead exists as an economic product solely through donations. The demake is thus a work of love, fun or fan/nerd culture.

The second logic is of representation/simulation. The idea of naturalistic graphics or perceptual realism is related to the concept of “better-faster-more” within the techno-economic logic, but it extends beyond the simple technological fetish for photorealistic graphics. Both the remake and the demake are crucially related to re-presentation and the link (or lack thereof) between production and reproduction, image and meaning, and/or original and derivative. The conflict between true meaning, lack of meaning and drawn meaning are in conflict within the original, remake and demake. One line of thinking extends from the Marxist desire to raise the veil of ideology and thereby reveal truth through Althusser and the inability to ever escape ideology to Baudrillard, the hyperreal, simulation and an inability to every return to any ultimate truth. True meaning ends within the concept of simulation, but the path can also be linked with a separate path that goes through semiotics and Barthes’ differentiation of the work and the text, Foucault’s destabilization of the author, and Manovich’s concept of transcoding from a base. These two lines then culminate in Jenkins and the postmodern celebration of fan culture and the user’s ability to make his or her own meaning. Meaningless pluralism is reached through this path. [5]

A third logic at play in the remake is Historico-Nostalgic. The past, as unusable due to technical incompatibilities (systemic difference in coding and hardware), is bracketed off, and, depending on your outlook, either erased or put into the past. The few choice bits are taken out of this graveyard of the past and become “history.” While Doom is remade time and again, Pathways into Darkness (a contemporaneous 1st person shooter) is written out of the revived history: it remains in the past, but Doom is remade as Doom III and taken out of the past to be redeployed in the present as historical.

The third logic within the remake is one of history and memory. However, the nostalgia is slightly different between the remake and demake. Key to understanding the difference between the two forms of repetition is Svetlana Boym’s conceptualization of restorative and reflective nostalgic tendencies. While restorative nostalgia attempts to fill in the holes of the past to produce a utopian present, reflective nostalgia dwells in the signs of the past itself. This difference is key to understanding the difference between the remake and demake; it is crucial to finding some sort of useful meaning beyond the reductive celebration of postmodern repetition and pluralism.

Techno-Economic Logic

The initial logic within the remake is one of technology and economics. The remake is made in a particular way because it sells and the particular way in which it is made reproduces the dominant trend of technological advancement. [6] Since the 1950s computers have grown exponentially more powerful. The course has generally followed Moore’s law, which posits that the speed of a processor doubles roughly every two years. While historically the technology indeed followed this logic in that things double in speed every two years, whether this is a natural development or a self-developing prophecy due to the industry’s desire to maintain the trend is unknowable. Similarly problematic is the chicken and egg effect of the hardware being forced into obsolescence due to Moore’s Law and the public’s desire for faster computers. However, the result is that computers either needed to, or simply could run more complex applications.

The general increase in computer speed needs to be understood in the computer’s ability to process minute tasks faster, which translates equally into producing more tasks in the same amount of time, which can be further translated into the simple idea of complexity of tasks and possibilities. The computer then went from being able to calculate very simple algorithms to running through detailed, complex algorithms. One way to understand this logic is through gaming capabilities. Within the initial era of gaming there were text adventures like Zork, where input was limited and graphics were non-existent, and games like Pong, which had highly pixilated graphics and simple logic. There were limiting factors on both the storage and retrieval sides of computer applications. Limited memory to store data and limited processor power to retrieve and use the information. As both increased the programs could become more complex, and it is this complexity that can be translated into more detailed graphics and games. A rather jagged progression of gaming consoles is Nintendo (1983) -> Super Nintendo (1990) -> /Playstation (1994) -> Playstation 2 (2000) -> Playstation 3 (2006); such a progression can be understood slightly better knowing that each progression has a more powerful processor (8bit, 16bit, 64bit, 128bit et cetera) and increased storage (ROM cartridges, memory cards, CDs, DVDs and BluRay disks). [7] The 8bit graphics of the Nintendo were pixel dominated, had limited color and music. The Super Nintendo allowed far more detailed graphics due to the increase in processor speed, and the music and sound changed from very limited beeps and boops to a vast supply of beeps and boops. With the Playstation graphics progressed beyond combinations of pixels into polygons and the production of 3D representations instead of flat, pixilated scenarios. Playstation 2 and 3 utilized CD quality sound due to the movement to the DVD and BluRay disk with greatly expanded storage, and increased the number of polygons involved in any graphical representation scenario so that a tube legged, square shoed, triangle breasted, ovoid headed polygonal Lara Croft eventually turned into the far more “naturalistic” if not realistic character of the Anniversary remake. [8] The graphics of the Anniversary remake are far from photo-realistic, but they are certainly an upgrade brought about by a decade of increased technological development.

The increase in calculation power has brought with it the possibilities of an increase in realistic representation. Whether by chance or naturally there has been a parallel development between realistic representation and processor speed as games that have increased their naturalistic representation as the processing power has increased have also sold better. This logic is best seen in the dominance of first person shooter (FPS) games such as Doom as compared to visual adventure games such as Myst (Hutchison 2008). One aspect of the techno-economic logic within the remake follows this assumed parallel between realisticness and economic well-being. Making a remake with better graphics will make it sell even better than the original game.

A second aspect of the techno-economic logic within the remake involves the price to produce a game. Remaking something that has already existed invariably involves less than making something new as long as all other aspects of the production remain the same. This is the same reasoning behind Hollywood’s remaking industry: it is cheaper to remake an old movie than it is to make a new script, figure out how to enact that script and then hoping in the end that the ideas behind the new script were not poor in the first place (Forrest and Koos 2002). The remake attempts to take out that uncertainty by simply remaking a well-worn, sure-shot idea/script. While it is often problematic to map a concept developed for a particular medium onto another medium the logic should hold here. The costs of remaking an older game are cheaper than making a new game from scratch as long as at least some aspects of the storyboards, narrative, character ideas or even code itself are reused. Only certain (popular) games are chosen for remaking, and both the following of technological evolution and low(er) production cost ensure that they will be better economic success than otherwise. [9]

While the remake follows the linear techno-economic logic, the demake exhibits an opposing logic that breaks with both the technological and economic expectations. Unlike the parallel logic of upgrading the computing power and realisticness, the demake’s “downgrade” simulates a previous level of computing power. This forces the creator of the demake to creatively reproduce tropes of the present in alternate ways; as Fish writes, coding a demake involves “see[ing] how far you can push a game backwards, and see[ing] what gameplay elements remain intact.” In the case of D+Pad Hero, the demake fundamentally questions the benefits of the increased graphics as every element of the actual game is reproduced within the demake on a different level of perceptual representation. Gang Garrison 2, a demake of the popular Team Fortress 2, follows a similar logic by taking away the advanced graphics, but maintaining the cooperative team play. This is somewhat different when the demake actually changes the genre. An example of where the demake forces a shift due to lack of processing speed is when Portal, a FPS game, was demade first as an Internet browser game and then as an Atari 2600 game. The generic formula both demakes enacted was of a 2D puzzle game, which, unlike the first person shooter genre, is something reproducible in the current generation of web browsers and on a twenty year old console. This alteration questioned the currently naturalized economic dominance of the FPS game.

The second aspect of the techno-economic logic is also problematized within the demake as all demakes are fan produced programs that are not designed to be (and in fact cannot be) sold. As the Independent Gaming Source proudly proclaims, the competition is of bootleg demakes. Thus, the increase in monetary gain that might come from repetition followed by sale is in fact stymied because the sale cannot happen. Because the demake breaks with the techno-economic logic there must be some sort of logic that drives people to produce such programs. One answer is the old hacker love of taking something apart, figuring it out and putting it together again differently/better (Galloway 2004). A second answer is that such subcultural proclamations do not prevent cooptation. By riding the popularity of a current game, demake programmers might obtain enough popular support to get a break into the official industry. Bootleg subcultural pride often ends with selling out. A third reasoning, the logic that I believe the demake follows, and something I will return to later is of memory, nostalgia and pleasure. For now I will expound on the logic of representation, which connects most with the techno-economic logic of the remake, even if it does not quite meld well with the demake.

Representation/Simulational Logic

The techno-economic logic that flows in a single direction in the remake and is disrupted into unlinked stops and starts in the demake is paralleled by the second logic of representation and simulation. Representation is to re-present something from a different time/space, to bring something from a previous time/space into the here and now.

Roland Barthes writes that “the photograph profess[es] to be a mechanical analogue of reality, its first-order message in some sort completely fills its substance and leaves no place for the development of a second order message” (Barthes 1977, 18). As representation it claims perfect correspondence, but Barthes points to the different orders of meaning within the image that necessarily block any type of objective analogousness. The image has three levels of meaning: the linguistic message that relays a particular meaning, the non-coded iconic, denoted message that attempts to claim correspondence and objective innocence, and the many coded iconic, connotative meanings that disrupt any possibility of perfect representation (Barthes 1977). Thus, representation claims to simply represent what was with a clear, singular meaning, but in fact has numerous meanings and in fact never brings back the entirety of what was. Re-presentation is never one-to-one repetition even though it claims to be.

DN Rodowick notes representation is often “defined as spatial correspondence” (Rodowick 2007, 102), but I would add that the concept of temporal correspondence (present, presence) is just as important, if slightly more obviously impossible to achieve. Rodowick himself protests the image’s (analog and digital) link to both representation and perceptual realism claiming that photography does not provide spatial semblance, but in fact corresponds to “our perceptual and cognitive norms for apprehending a represented space” (Rodowick 2007, 103). Thus, that which is re-presented is not a physical reality, but a mental and psychological one obtained through perception (Rodowick 2007, 105). Obviously, this argument holds that representation is not reality, but that does not answer what it is, nor does it answer why it is both produced and consumed. One way of getting at the questions of ‘what’ and ‘why’ is primarily through Marxist analysis, and the other is through psychoanalysis, but both include a dosage of semiotics.

Following Marx’s conceptualization of the proletariat’s existence within the capitalist mode of production as false consciousness, the Frankfurt school theorists extend from the economic base to also include superstructural false consciousness. Horkheimer and Adorno write, “Capitalist production so confines [the workers and employees, the farmers and the lower class], body and soul, that they fall helpless victims to what is offered them… the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, 133-4). The captivating myth in question is the culture industry’s representation of everyday life.

The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry. The old experience of the movie-goer, who sees the world outside as an extension of the film he has just left (because the latter is intent upon reproducing the world of everyday perceptions), is now the producer’s guideline. The more intensely and flawlessly his techniques duplicate empirical objects, the easier it is today for the illusion to prevail that the outside world is the straightforward continuation of that presented on the screen. (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, 126)

The process they describe is one where the culture industries create a representational system where the world of leisure and entertainment is inseparable from the real world, which results in the molding of people into unquestioning consumer citizens who believe the represented world is just out of their grasp, but still obtainable. For Horkheimer and Adorno the culture industry and the progression of representational technologies leads to increased mass deception against which it is the duty of critical theory to oppose, and it is the duty of Marxists theorists to denaturalize. The intent is, like with Marx, to raise the veil and thereby enable the teleological dialectic of progress to lead toward some (better) existence. While (justifiably) doom and gloom, the Frankfurt school hopes to open peoples’ eyes to the ideological brain washing of the culture industry’s representational system.

Henri Lefebvre follows a similar Marxist methodology in his critiques of everyday life. Lefebvre argues that the abstract capitalist conceptualization has worked on and produced the lived, concrete space of life and experience. This is a similar Marxist idea of production even if he has moved beyond the early Marxist declarations of false consciousness and mass deception. We are not being tricked, but we are living in a constructed world/consciousness that he believes needs to be protested. Thus in his multi volume Critique of Everyday Life he proposes that everyday life is fleeting and sought after: utopian (Lefebvre 1991). Unlike de Certeau’s practical tactics of dealing with everyday life as it is, Lefebvre is unsatisfied with the Situationist practicality and wants to point toward the utopian variation of everyday life, the variation that is just out of reach. Thus in his late work he proposes a new science of studying the rhythms of life. By looking at the rhythms we can see the disjunctions and recognize both the (Capitalist) system and the parts that are out of the system (Lefebvre 2004). For Lefebvre representation is not the real, but there remains the possibility of an out, a denaturalization of the constructed space of Capitalism. Althusser’s work on ideology is one of the first steps of the removal of an out (even if it leaves the possibility of understanding).

Writing at approximately the same time and intertwined with Lefebvre, Louis Althusser’s work is on ideology as an always-already constituted element where there ceases to be access to some untouched origin: the veil might be raised, but nothing but another veil will be seen; you might be outside of an ideology, but never ideology (Althusser 1986). Althusser’s work seeks to answer the question of just why the proletariat revolution never happened by bringing out Gramscian notions of hegemony and formulating a dual imposition of Repressive State Apparatuses and Ideological State Apparatuses. While ultimately side-stepping the ire of the orthodox Marxists by giving more importance to RSAs and the economic base in the last instance, Althusser’s analysis in fact identifies the superstructural process of interpellation through which the person is made one with the society so that he or she does not in fact want to rebel. He argues that turning around to a police officer’s hailing shows a person’s interpellation within an ideological system; another example would be identifying (or seeking to identify with) an advertisement. Even if one rejects the hailing of one particular ideology one cannot escape: such a rejection indicates a separate subjective ideology, but not the existence of being outside ideology, and even then one can still intersubjectively imagine a subject that would be interpellated and thereby still be within the system. The second part of Althusser’s theory holds that because one’s identity is formed within an all-inclusive ideology one can never get back to some untouched, uninfluenced origin. We are always-already within ideology and we are always-already constituted as particular subjects. Because of the formulation of always-already there is in fact no false-consciousness from which we can escape, as it is all we have and all we can ever have.

Althusser’s crucial break from the hopes of denaturalization was enabled in part by Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic work on reality, language and the three orders: imaginary, symbolic and real. The real is impossible to interact with/see/witness as it resides outside of language; any attempts to get back to a real (through representation) are necessarily fractured through the very structure of language. Language then is part of the symbolic order as it structures and stands between the real and the imaginary (experienced) world. Finally, Lacan’s third order, the imaginary, is the world that we inhabit, our subjective experiences. Althusser’s always-already corresponds to Lacan’s imaginary: it is the represented world. Thus, the problem posed by Althusser is not of getting back to the origin, but understanding and problematizing the (grammatical and material) means and conditions of production of desire, the imaginary, ideological world. He has taken away the Marxist out (the veil), but he has left the possibility of understanding the world.

The connection between Lacan, Lefebvre and Althusser ends up with Jean Baudrillard who, in his later work, radically broke with his Marxist background informed by Lefebvre and the possibility of an out by claiming, like Althusser and Lacan, that there is no recourse to the real. Baudrillard claims:

abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – that engenders the territory. (Baudrillard 1994, 1).

Taking a step beyond Lefebvre, Baudrillard takes the possibility of return, of an out from a life in a produced world, away. The territory does not survive the map because the hyperreal/simulation “threatens the difference between ‘true’ and ‘false,’ ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’ (Baudrillard 1994, 3). Baudrillard identifies a very particular moment when wars were being enacted in front of cameras, re-presented to the world, and being reacted to as ‘real’ events: his argument thus states that there is no difference between real and fake events. [10] The representation “has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum” (Baudrillard 1994, 6), which leads to deterrence and simply dealing with the hyperreal as the only reality around. Baudrillard takes Lacan’s imaginary order and runs with it as the only reality to which we have access. While Baudrillard was far from celebratory of the hyperreal world, a few years later Zizek tells us to love our symptom. We have no recourse to the real to denaturalize, so we might as well do the best we can. Unfortunately, this logic combines in an uncomfortable way with the destabilization of meaning within postmodern semiotic theory.

Linked in some ways to his work on meaning in photography, Barthes’ differentiation between a work and a text is important as it points to the point of meaning making and what it means for the text itself (Barthes 2007). The work is singular, has a proper meaning that “closes upon a signified,” has “filiations” to field and author, and is ultimately an “object of consumption.” In contrast, the text “is experienced only as an activity in production,” resists classification as a “paradoxical” thing, is “radically symbolic,” plural and understood within a network and not linked to a father/author. Michel Foucault further questions the text’s link to an authorial function and claims that it is imperative to reverse the author function in order to change the discourse of research from subject based to discourse based knowledge (Foucault 2003, 390-1). Opposed to the modern work, the text is ultimately a postmodern, intertextual production. Both of these claims are important, but become problematic when eventually linked up to the remake.

Lev Manovich does not explicitly bring up the concept of a work or text in his discussion of new media, but his five aspects of new media resemble Barthes’ tropes of a text. Manovich claims that there are five relevant principles within new media: numerical representation (digitization), modularity (workable chunks of data), automation (high and low forms of computer automation), variability (which is linked to modularity and postfordism as well as translation through the concept of the “base object”), and transcoding/programmability. The principles obviously move from old to new media in the same way that Barthes moves from work to text, but the ideas of variability and transcoding hold further interest. Manovich’s concept of variability implies a sort of base object that can be altered into varied new forms. However, unlike translation where there is an original and a translation, a first and a second, the singular base object exists as an incomplete entity and therefore does not actually exist in a power relationship to the varied finished objects. Similarly, “to ‘transcode’ something is to translate it into another format” (Manovich 2001, 47). Manovich’s language of new media renders horizontal the last shred of authorial/original meaning and continues with Barthes and Foucault’s intertextualization of the text so that by the time we get to the original, remake and demake they are all simply transcodings of some other base object of simulation.

It is at this point that I can relate the Representational Logic to the remake and demake. The remake follows the simulational logic that stems from Baudrillard’s discussion of hypersimulation (Baudrillard 1994, 19-20). The remake seeks greater perceptual realism so that one cannot tell the difference between a game and life and in fact doesn’t matter. The simulated bank robbery becomes/is a real bank robbery; the person pushing the button to drop the bomb is the same whether he or she knows or not. In contrast, the demake D+Pad Hero problematizes the simulational logic by moving from the simulated experience of playing a (fake) guitar to simply inputting the buttons on a controller. There is no difference within the coded level of the game itself, but the personal experience is completely different. The progression of music simulation games has increasingly tried to reproduce the experience of playing an instrument. While the movement of buttons to a fake guitar is still far from “real,” the movement of buttons to fake drums is slightly less problematic as the action of drumming is within the fake drumming. In contrast, D+Pad Hero removes the instrument and brings back the four direction game pad from deep in the gamer’s memory. Similarly, the return to 8bit music from an era of CD quality reproduction in the original Guitar Hero disrupts the standard representational experience by forcing the player to return recognize that he or she is gaming and not actually playing music with an instrument.

If we follow Baudrillard’s simulation and the lack of recourse to any real and any meaning we are abandoned in our attempt to differentiate between an original, a remake and a demake. As all three are transcodings there is no real difference at the level of simulation: game pad or instrument, photo-realism or 8bit it’s all hyperreal, postmodern pastiche and pluralism all the way down. This is the logic that Constantine Verevis follows in his analysis of cinematic remakes in the postmodern era. By understanding remakes as intertextuality he leads directly toward the removal of difference through an understanding of the remake as New Hollywood citationality. However, by doing so he limits the possibility of seeing the neutralization of the foreign elements and harsh economic realities of remaking precisely because it emphasizes laissez-faire economics and global cinematic modernity (Verevis 2006). Such details are important in the unequal, disjuncture filled world that we make sense of through personal experience. Like Viviane Sobchack’s critique of Baudrillard that resorted to a phenomenological experience of one person having lost a leg and remembering/knowing the difference, the place I seek to reclaim meaning and differentiate between the remake and demake is in history and the personal experiences of memory and nostalgia.

Historico-Nostalgic Logic

The third logic related to the remake and the demake is what I am calling historico-nostalgic. This logic is about the relations of the game and player to the past and to the future. In order to tease out the relationships between remake, demake, player and meaning I will explore ideas of time, history and nostalgia. On nostalgia, Svetlana Boym writes that: At first glance, nostalgia is a longing for place, but actually it is a yearning for a different time – the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams. In a broader sense, nostalgia is rebellion against the modern idea of time, the time of history and progress. The nostalgic desires to obliterate history and turn it into private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition (Boym 2001, XV). Similar to Boym’s obliteration of history, Reinhart Koselleck writes of the constant need to rewrite history so that it aligns with the concept of the modern present (Koselleck 1985, 250). History is never simply dates in the past, one after another, but a specifically aligned genealogy that culminates in the present and leads to the future. It is this politics of alignment between past, present and future that can be seen in the crisis of memory of which the cinematic remakes of end of the 20th century are a part, as are the gaming remakes and demakes of the beginning of the 21st century. [11]

Especially since the late 20th century there has been a crisis of memory. While some theorists write of the entanglement of memory and history in the production of national or cultural identity (Sturken 1997), others have written specifically of the rise of nostalgic, retro styles such as black and white film in the 1990s (Grainge 2002), or the nostalgic consumption of mid 20th century film and television classics in the home (Klinger 2006). All of these engagements with memory and the past are slightly different: while some focus on cultural/national memory and the construction of cultural/national identity, others focus on personal forms of nostalgia and the individual’s own interaction with his or her past. My contention is that the difference between remakes and demakes lies on the line between memory and history, and to conflate the two forms of repetition leads toward the representational logic, but away from any ability to make useful meaning out of the texts: while they might be tangled, they are not the same thing.

Boym writes of two tendencies of nostalgia that help differentiate between the two types of gaming repetition. She explores the concept of nostalgia related to place and time in her native Russia. Having left for what she thought was for good, Boym returns after the fall of the USSR and explores both her and the national interaction with nostalgia. Her framework establishes two general tendencies of nostalgia, restorative and reflective. “Restorative nostalgia puts emphasis on nostos and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps. Reflective nostalgia dwells in algia, in longing and loss, the imperfect process of remembrance” (Boym 2001, 41). The two tendencies do not map perfectly onto any single example as they exist in relative amounts, but it is possible to use them to talk about the remake and demake.

The restorative tendency aims toward a unified truth generally understood as the national project. It “manifests itself in total reconstructions of monuments of the past” (Boym 2001, 41). Restorative nostalgia can be seen in the active use of the past to form a particular history. As said before, Tomb Raider: Anniversary reconstructs the entirety of Tomb Raider and what it leaves out is in fact excised from history: the reconstruction becomes history, not the past/original itself. As Constantin Fasolt writes against the historians’ rule against mixing the past as immutable and present as occurring:

History is constitutive of modern politics, constitutive of the kind of modern state that claims sovereignty for itself and the autonomy of individuals subject to nothing except their conscience and the laws of the physical universe. The prohibition on anachronism? It merely seems to be a principle of method by which historians secure the adequacy of their interpretation. In truth the prohibition on anachronism defines the purpose for which the discipline of history exists: to divide the reality of time into past and present. History enlists the desire for knowledge about the past to meet a deeper need: the need for power and independence, the deed to have done with the past and to be rid of things that cannot be forgotten. (Fasolt 2004, 13)

Similarly, the remake has unifying, restorative elements within it. Through remaking an old game the producer and industry create a specific history that highlights very specific aspects. Certain games (Doom and Tomb Raider) or genres (FPS and 3rd person action/adventure) are identified as important and a unified gaming history is created that further mirrors the techno-economic logic that both supports and is supported by the Capitalist mode of production. If, as Thomas Kuhn states, “history…disguises the nature of the work that produced it” (quoted in Fasolt 2004, 39), then the remake disguises the nature and meaning of its reproduction. Instead of questioning the logic that revels in increased realisticness instead of realism, the remake highlights the logic of realisticness and simulation, and justifies itself through the basic concept of economics.

In contrast, the reflective tendency can be seen in the demake, which dwells in the ruins, patina and dreams of the old genres, sights, sounds and experiences that the creators of the demakes themselves witnessed, remember(ed) and attempt to reflect on. The demake drive shuns any form of linear progress by flipping back and forth between the present and past modes and in fact brings the singular primacy of natural progression into question. Unlike the justification of certain games and genres the demake highlights those genres that have been abandoned in the past (text adventure, side-scroller and 8bit sound) and those games that have been ignored due to their lack of economic appeal (artistic, serious and cult-classic games such as Portal and Shadow of the Colossus).  While there is the very possibility of such reflective nostalgia to be co-opted back into the dominant mode it is important to note the entire chain of meaning making including the differences in the loop of production, dissemination, consumption and alteration (Du Gay 1997). The production side is still important even if we have abandoned the reductive injection model of media effects.

It is the personal interaction with one’s own past, remembering the games and genres of childhood that is causing demakes and their interaction with reflective nostalgia. Unlike the ultimate reduction through destabilized postmodern meaning on the consumption end and through the simulational equality of forms of repetition, the impetus behind both those making and those playing demakes questions the dominant system. One of the rhythms in life is that of repetition, and the liminal moment of reflectivity, before it is whitewashed out under a restorative move, reveals the cracks in the dominant system. While nostalgia, restorative or reflective, is never literal in that it never actually brings back the past, such protest is important if one still believes in some sort of rendition of a dialectic, of progress, or even of simply understanding reality, be it imagined or Real.

Travelling in Place

Perfect memory is impossible, but it is also undesirable: there is a need on both the cultural and personal levels to forget in order to heal and be made whole as both a nation and an individual (Ricoeur 2004). This impossibility of perfection extends to all levels of repetition including translation, memory, archiving, history, and representation. Further, like representation is never simply re-presentating something of the there and then in the here and now, repetition is never simply repeating something. Repetition always repeats some things, but leaves other things out. The need to forget, to not repeat, implies the selection of particular pasts through a filtering of history, but this does not necessarily lead to the conclusion of postmodern pluralism where there is no difference between what is remembered, translated, archived, re-membered, and written into history, or what is remade or demade. There are important differences that cannot and should not be ignored.

In his reconsideration of theory travelling between contexts, Edward Said wrote that “The point of theory… is to travel, always to move beyond its confinements, to emigrate, to remain in a sense in exile” (Said 2007, 252). While Said writes of the affiliation to Lukàcs beyond mere borrowing or adaptation, he also writes that conflating Viennese twelve-tone music of Adorno with the Algerian resistance and French colonialism of Fanon would be grotesque. Similarly, the demake and remake must be understood as tangled with repetition, but not as inextricably tied, which is something that is impossible through simply following concepts such as simulation, remediation and transcoding. Change is a type of production of knowledge and knowledge is never innocent. As technological, representational and historical modes of knowledge production the remake and demake are neither objective nor innocent and must be understood as such.


[1]  Such realisticness is of course separate from concepts of social realism (Galloway 2006).
[2]  Within translation theory the trope of faithfulness is opposed by an assumed impossibility of perfect translation (also seen in the Italian adage traddutore/traditore) and both are bracketed by sub-methods such as source and target orientation, literary and literal styles, fidelity to meaning or word and finally the opposition of domestication and foreignization. In my thinking translation is an unspoken/unacknowledged trope within the remake and the demake (See: Bassnet and Lefevere 1990, Venuti 1994 and 1998, and Berman 1992).
[3]  The interaction with 8bit culture is not limited to games and music, but extends into the art realm. Cory Archangel’s Super Mario Clouds and the recent exhibit Ich Bin 8-Bit are examples of artistic engagement with 8bit culture (Archangel 2002 and Ablan et al. 2009).
[4]  So far there are four playable songs: Guns N Roses, Sweet Child o’ Mine; Michael Jackson, The Way You Make Me Feel; Daft Punk, Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger; A-Ha, The Swing of Things. Chicane, Low Sun and Daft Punk, Aerodynamic are used in the program, but are unplayable as songs.
[5]  The dead end of Baudrillard’s simulation can also be sidestepped by the logic of “social realism” and the phenomenological link between the simulation within the game world and in the player’s lived environment (Galloway 2006).
[6]  While I refer specifically to the computer’s development, it is more useful to link this technological trend to the teleological view of history and civilization that is dominant in modernity.
[7]  This is jagged as I am ignoring the personal computer’s processor, Nintendo’s later consoles and Microsoft’s consoles. I am using these particular consoles as they are the ones that I know the best at the moment.
[8]  It should also be noted that due to the “uncanny valley“ programmers have in many instances attempted more stylized representation in lieu of unsettlingly real and yet not real CGI and polygonal characters (See: Mori 1970).
[9]  Like with cinematic remakes, gaming remakes can flop (Psycho 1998 is a good example), but the logic remains that a remake is safer than (with the emphasis on the relative aspect) an entirely new game.
[10]  In fact, the term “event,” something real, becomes a rare entity within Baudrillard’s work (Galloway 2007).
[11]  This could also be related to Derrida’s discussion of archives as dealing with the future, through the sur-vival of the event as opposed to forgetting, which is superrepression/anarchive and dealing with the past (Derrida 1996).
[12]  Portal was demade twice as Super 3D Portals 6 and Portal: The Flash Version; Shadow of the Colossus was demade twice as Hold Me Closer, Giant Dancer and Shadow of the Bossus.


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