Games as P2P Utopia

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The following are excerpted from an essay by Alexander Galloway for CTheory, titled Warcraft and Utopia.



This essay from Alexander Galloway, whose book Protocol (subtitled: How Control Exists After Decentralization) is a very important contribution to peer to peer theory, examines games as utopian ventures. Galloway distinguishes two kinds of utopias, one that yearns for things to come (‘life after capitalism’), vs. one that yearns for life as its once was. World of Warcraft is examined as a case study of the latter, but also exhibits elements of a third form: utopia in the present. However, this article, which correctly states that networks and play are now core features of contemporary capitalism, declares them unusable as alternatives. I disagree: it is not because early capitalism was part of the late feudal structure, that it was not in the end also its downfall. Networks and play are not by themselves threats to the existing order. But intelligently used, that is, differently conceived and used, they can be tools and enablers.


On Games as Utopia


For Huizinga, play is entirely central to both human action and the creation of culture: however, he is also unwavering in his claim that play is totally outside the base unfolding of production. Huizinga writes that play is external to any kind of material gain (if material gain exists, one no longer is dealing with "play" but instead its double, sport). For Derrida, who in most regards could not be more different from Huizinga, play is one of the few philosophical concepts that emerges mostly unscathed. This is rare in the work of Derrida, particularly when the philosophical concept is not a Derridean neologism. Surprisingly, for Derrida play remains an absolutely utopian and positive concept.

But today it would be entirely naïve to believe that play retains its anti-capitalist or anti-work status.


On World of Warcraft specifically


On Networks

“The previous section concerns communicating the threat to capitalism, and how various kinds of threats are put into discourse, or indeed are prohibited from being put into discourse. Let me return to the question of networks and play, mentioned above in the context of World of Warcraft. Historically, networks and play have represented either a departure from or a direct threat to capitalism. Nevertheless, are networks not foundational to market circulation and hence the very fabric of capitalistic exchange? Yes, certainly. Yet, at the same time, threats to capital are also often understood and articulated as networks. This is particularly true of the specific graph form known as the distributed network, which is characterized by horizontality, a rhizomatic structure, and bi-directional links (called "edges" in graph theory). Hakim Bey's notion of the nomadic fits in here, as does Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome; also relevant are the "grass-roots" movements (to use a synonym term for the rhizome) or the new social movements of the 1960s and '70s (in addition to the so-called anti-globalization movements). These are all specifically defined as networks. But, at the same time, Al-Qaeda, and any number of terrorist groups, are also often defined as networks. On closer examination of this protagonist/antagonist scenario, it becomes clear that the opposition to the network is never a network; it is always a center, a power center, whether it is the World Trade Center, or America itself as a kind of hub or authority point for a global empire. In short, the historical tendency is that networks exist in opposition to centers and that networks are the unknown unknown of capitalism.