Fantasy, salience, assessment…and school?

The analysis of Dead Space and Deus Ex: Human Revolutions (DE: HR) presented at the FROG conference in September (now being published in the proceedings) is being written up as two separate full papers. The Dead Space paper discussion section turns back to the Williams’ article on body genres. The DE:HR analysis looked at the various perspectives on augmentation that Adam Jensen encounters in the game-world. One option is that the representation of professional identity will be explored as something that is volatile and unstable, that must be continually re-enacted. Adam Jensen is at work. He combats other employees. He must be protected, augmented and over-powered to get ahead, to the extent that he can punch through walls and lift photocopiers.  He constantly participates in testing and assessment. Certain conditions make a particular fantasy salient, attractive or pertinent at particular historical moments. Which begs the question: what might be fuelling the fantasies on offer in DE:HR?

Could it be about school?

This post is quite long and it moves from Deus Ex: HR and school – to comments about The Last of Us, zombies, modernism and leprosy.

Post continued under Comments.

One Response to “Fantasy, salience, assessment…and school?”

  1. playhouse Says:

    Post continued.

    Adam Jensen is a compelled to wear prosthetics in order to function in required ways (and to survive?). His ongoing participation and agency are depicted as fragile. His qualifications (to act, to progress) are constantly questioned or negotiated. He is often thwarted. Ability is expressed in tests, assessment, and the performance of quantifiable expertise or skill, as well as referenced in comments from other characters. Thinking about this in terms of fantasy, anxiety and experience, could mean wandering into the domain of the sociology of education. If I consider aspects of DE:HR as hinging on the relationship between Adam Jenson and knowledge, then DE:HR begins to look like a fantasy about school.

    For instance, forms of knowledge are on offer in the game world. These must be identified (ludic resources, strategies, space and mobility options) and applied. The environment is basically hostile, combative and competitive. Bernstein, Bourdieu etc. argue that formal education has had a limited impact on social equity, because pivotal resources (cultural, linguistic) are not equally distributed across social classes. There is a discrepancy between the declared purpose of school and the lived experience of school. School is a context where the relationship between acquired knowledge and social/cultural/economic achievement is played out, and where discourses of attainment, work, achievement are reiterated, and where existing inequities are reified (due to a concurrent set of undeclared, implicit knowledge/social practices). So, school is paradoxical.

    In DE: HR a re-assembled subject ventures through a game-world where knowledge is represented in particular ways. Knowledge in this context can be accessed, it allows for progression and empowerment, it is applicable and it has local meaning. So, by depicting the relationships between a learning subject, knowledge, and assessment in a particular way, the game provides a site to play with the anxieties associated with the experience of school-as-paradox? Perhaps. Aside – the links between knowledge, expertise and status are frequently fretted over within game cultures. Games as assessment machines? Fictional panopticons?

    Sociological accounts of assessment might apply, by which I mean literature on the relationships between historical context, technology, assessment and subjectivity. On a related note, disability theorist Lennard Davis has written about the historical emergence of ‘normal bodies’ and that the norm replaced an earlier point of reference, that of the ideal (Davis, Enforcing Normalcy, Verso 1995). Nobody was ‘ideal’ whereas once you have a norm then you get the measurement of deviation, the emergence of the standard and substandard: notions integral to medical and educational discourse, and implicated in the development of various technologies.

    Anyway. Maybe there’s something here about DE:HR knowledge and context, and something about technology, knowledge and work. Not sure where that goes yet – if anywhere. Except to say that issues of knowledge, augmentation, assessment and subjectivity are likely to be discussed in the Deus Ex paper, while the Dead Space paper will conclude with a section on gender, disability and genre.

    More notes…
    There is something about assessment (and the relationships between status, assessment and technology) and it seems brought into sharper focus if a futuristic setting like DE:HR is contrasted with a post-apocalyptic setting such as Walking Dead or The Last of Us. I don’t know if this is worth following up. These are just notes.
    In both WD and TLOU, ability (the way it manifests, is enacted, is measured and is depicted) is very different to ability in DE:HR. TLOU and WD – it is not about a continuation of a paradigm (ability demonstrated and assessed in new ways) but about a break and change. In WD and TLOU the break is the viral/mutant apocalypse – but the apocalypse acts like a platform for pondering fatherhood.

    It is a bit like the animation Despicable Me, when Gru’s relationship with his assessing/dissatisfied mother is turned around by his switch in circumstances (tough Gru has a professional crisis to deal with, rather than the undead)

    Thinking about (not sure if this makes sense)…Nostalgia in post washing machine worlds where technology is collectively scavanged and collaboratively opperated. It is in bits. There are echoes of this in one of the possible endings of DE:HR – the option to drown the installation (and everyone in it) in order to prevent knowledge circulating. Thinking about – unreliable technology in post-apocalypse scenerios (WD and TLOU). Nostalgic tone. Post-apocalyptic road trips? There are kinds of measure and assessment going on in TLOU, but they are not about technology, they are more about fatherhood…Walking Dead, The Last of Us – and The Passage (Amy and the FBI guy)…Adoptive fathers of daughters.

    These comments so far focus on the male protagonists. Perhaps it would be useful to think about things like technology, knowledge and social order while looking at the games’ antagonists. In Walking Dead and The Last of Us (TLOU) the undead (infected, zombie, zombie-like or mutated…) are the enemy (mostly). Anyway, I’m asking about how the figure of the zombie functions in these particular fictional worlds, which are depictions of collapse as well as survival (more or less), and where an orderly ‘before’ is contrasted against a disordered, predatory present. And zombie-ness is the catalyst for this deterioration. I was thinking about TLOU in relation to the issues raised by Davis in Enforcing Normalcy (about the rise of the ‘norm’, the construction of disability) and associated forms of measure and assessment…while reading an essay by Kim and Jarman called ‘Modernity’s Rescue Mission: Postcolonial Transactions of Disability and Sexuality’ (pp 89 – 100, in Different Bodies, edited by M.E. Mogk (McFarland and Co, 2013).
    Kim and Jarman analyse the feature length animation Princess Mononoke (and a documentary). Here’s a long quote: “Disability studies scholarship has developed strong critiques of many oppressive strategies developed under the auspices of modernity to diagnose, exile, institutionalize, normalize, or rehabilitate people with non-normative bodies and minds. Characterized by a near-obsession with order and progress, people with impairments have been either actual targets or positioned as the symbolic focus of many modernization projects.” (Kim and Jarman, 2013 p 89).
    Kim and Jarman’s work on Princess Mononoke is relevant, because the authors write about modernity as project, and leprosy. Leprosy has served in particular ways in discourses of development and international intervention. They write that “the existence and rescue of lepers carries specific cross-cultural meanings” (p 92), and use Foucault’s account of the disappearance of leprosy from the Western imagination (via confinement and segregation) and its later re-emergence in Western imperialist discourse, to argue that “the projection of this stigmatized disease onto other cultures works in two directions: it further conceals the disease’s existence in the Western world, and lepers in colonized spaces become overly representative of their own cultures, a process which further constructs Western power.” (Kim and Jarman, 2013, p 92). Hence leprosy is associated with a “logic of segregation and institutionalization” – and with “the rationale of modern institutionalization, which promises protection to vulnerable populations, but actually serves a greater mission of protecting “normal” society from contact with its marked others” (Kim and Jarman, 2013, p 92). I discussed similar dynamics in Resident Evil 4 (Carr DiGRA paper 2009). But in the RE4 paper, I wrote about the villagers, disorder and disability. There is something here about discourses of leprosy in particular that I want to consider in relation to The Last of Us.
    Does the zombie fill the cultural role previously served by leprosy? It is not just about contagion. It is about contamination. So the practices of segregation, measurement, institutionalization – these have broken down. The technologies that supported these practices are kaput. What’s that mean? That without empiricism, positivist assessment and systems of classification, distinction and segregation – that everything will implode and “we” will be zombie fodder? To go back to the beginning, there is a question here about cultural salience and context.

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