April 25th, 2006

Before catching our flight home from Amsterdam this morning, my fiance and I stopped by the Stedelijk Museum out on the harbor to see the much-publicized “Next Level: Art, Games, & Reality” exhibit. What we found was a good lesson on how not to put together an art and games show. Eh, you win some, you lose some.

As part of the show, Brody Condon had a piece up (one of a handful) running clips of in-game suicides, mostly from first-person shooters. What struck me most — more really than what was supposed to be striking — was just how different an FPS perspective looks when you’re not the person playing. And I noticed something I had never noticed before: You are your gun.

What I mean to say is that, while technically an FPS player is being represented by the extension of a body on-screen — hands, arms, an occasional glance at the legs — what really stands out as an avatar more than these disconnected parts is the guns themselves. They sit smack-dab in the middle of things, turning as you turn, called to attention when you are.

What does it mean to be a gun, or at least to identify with one? Whether or not we like the idea, it’s presented to us clearly though the visuals of the games we take part in. To state the obvious, it’s certain a phallic identity. It’s also one in which weaponry outweighs humanity — though that’s an obvious statement too in worlds where killing is easy but picking the best weapon for the job takes skill.

Tags: Blog

16 Responses to “There Are Many Like It, but This One Is Mine”

  1. Patrick Says:

    In post-modern psychosexualsociologicamable th
    eory (or something) the phallus is taken as a metaphor for cultural power. Some post-structural feminists thought that co-opting the phallus was a method to get heard. In a game’s sense, the metaphore becomes literal, as the player character in an FPS world (which is, in a sense, and closed cultural body) is the most dangerous entity in that world, and the cultural body of levels, semiotics and enemies has no choice but to be fucked, if only for the grace of quick saves.

    Two side questions. 1) Did you do drugs last weekend? 2) Someone wrote into The Escapist this week asking why most of the writers were men, except for the sexuality themed articles predominantly written by women. She asked “what gives?”, and I reiterate this question to you, as a women who writes about sexuality in games for the magazine.

  2. Clickable Culture Says:

    What Does It Mean To Be A Gun?

    Sex/game writer Bonnie Ruberg makes a stimulating, but wholly personal interpretation of the role of the gun in first-person shooter games. These games are generally defined as being played from the character's point of view (the camera is at …

  3. Brummbar Says:

    …as a women who writes about sexuality in games for the magazine.

    Is THAT what Bonnie’s been writing about? Shit.

    ;)

  4. Brummbar Says:

    And the post-Amsterdam question for the Bonster is not “did you do drugs,” but if she did that OTHER thing Amsterdam is famous for.

  5. Player1 Says:

    Sorry to depart from the theme of psychosexualsociologicamable stuff (?), but this post got me thinking about other first person representations that I have experienced. Way back on the Amiga I was a throbbing mass of flame spouting hot rod engine (Stunt Car Racer).

    Ok, now I’m pausing to think about the psychosexualsociologicamable in that representation, and childishly, the potential spoonerism in the title.

    Anyways, in every racing game I have ever played, I have been ‘one’ with the car, viewing the world from the first person view of the badge on the hood/bonnet/front bit. Not even the shiny reflective bonnet makes it into my view of driving. Although, in GT Legends, I’m warming to the more human first person view from the driver’s perspective, rather than the car’s. Not sure what that means. I want to be ‘in’ the car in GTL, and ‘be’ the car in GT4?

    Yes, this is a rambling post.

    So we get to FPS(hooters). The most popular of first person games. But I am not always a gun or a knife. Several times I remember being hands. And very burly hands at that. Hands that could pick locks, or press keypad buttons. And I never thought I was that hand. In the same way that I never thought I was the gun. Most FPS give the playable character enough of a central role, to embody them with, erm, a body. So you see the Master Chief and Serious Sam in cut scenes, Duke Nukem in mirrors, and even though you don’t see Gordon Freeman, you are made very aware of his body through the use of the armour that protects it. The games are trying to get you into the body of the first person from whose view you play, never into the gun. And mostly they succeed. Even Doom’s hero has a blonde haired, square jawlined persona that you are meant to be. I guess, only in the absence of a body for you to fill, will you become the gun, or something else.

    I can only think of Soldier of Fortune, in which the gun is such a central character. And the rest of the game seems to be such a celebration of the gun, that this fits quite well. You ARE the gun.

    Still rambling.

    Watching games, especially first person shooters, is very difficult. Turning an interactive experience into a passive one nearly always constricts the viewer, makes them feel helpless, and has them squirming to take control. Maybe this is why movies based on games are horrible. But yes, you do notice things like the central place of guns. But their importance and the point of their representation is best(IMHO) judged when the medium is experienced as intended – interactively.

    The most interesting thing I have observed when watching, rather than playing, a game, is how much of the screen is obscured by on-screen clutter. In-game, you look past the helath bars, compasses, lap times, maps and stuff, but when just watching, that stuff seems to crowd the screen.

    Now I’m way off topic and will just stop.

  6. Scott Jon Siegel Says:

    And the post-Amsterdam question for the Bonster is not "did you do drugs," but if she did that OTHER thing Amsterdam is famous for.

    …Falafels?

  7. MD² Says:

    Yup. You are your gun.
    The world of video games is nothing if not the world of significant symbiosis. :)

    what really stands out as an avatar more than these disconnected parts is the guns themselves. They sit smack-dab in the middle of things, turning as you turn, called to attention when you are.

    Have you ever played, or at least seen designs of Zone of The Enders 2’s very personal take on cockpits ?
    If not youshould go have a look. You might find it interesting.

    And the post-Amsterdam question for the Bonster is not "did you do drugs," but if she did that OTHER thing Amsterdam is famous for.

    The historical museum of torture ?

  8. Bonnie Says:

    1) Did you do drugs last weekend?

    I, unlike you, Patrick, try to stay on the DL about such things ;-). Let’s just say my experiences in confusion were limited, and Amsterdam was far more fun when I could see straight (although I did have an absolutely hilarious incident with a giant serving of cotton candy).

    2) Someone wrote into The Escapist this week asking why most of the writers were men, except for the sexuality themed articles predominantly written by women. She asked "what gives?", and I reiterate this question to you, as a women who writes about sexuality in games for the magazine.
    First of all, what other women write sexually-themed articles for The Escapist? Am I missing something? As for, why women on sex, men on everything else, what can I say? I’m one person, and this one person happens to be female and also happens to be interested in sex in games. That most other Escapist writers are men is, in some ways, unsurprising giving the general trends in the industry. On a more meaningful level, there are reasons why women have a more vested interest in understanding sex/gender issues – because we’re in the minority, because we’re not in power (so to speak), it’s in our best interest to understand and reevaluate the world of sex that surrounds us. Also, I think sex is still a largely hushed up subject, but since women are in some sense outsiders anyway, they feel more willing to speak. Just some thoughts…

    Anyways, in every racing game I have ever played, I have been "~one' with the car.
    I get that you’re joking, but you kind of have a point. Everything has meaning, in it’s own right, you know?

    And the post-Amsterdam question for the Bonster is not "did you do drugs," but if she did that OTHER thing Amsterdam is famous for.
    It is still weird whenever one of you guys calls me that… Anyways, are you asking if I hired a prostitute? I mean, I certainly strolled around and looked at them, and I must say, to their credit, they’re a lot hotter than I expected. But, as for getting one of my own, 1) I’m engaged, 2)I don’t know if they do girls, and 3) if I were to be looking for some girl-on-girl action, I go to a liberal arts school – the payment-free possibilities already abound.

    The historical museum of torture ?
    That I did do, at like 11:00 at night. That giant triangular block that punctured you straight in the anus… jeezie-creezie that thing was intense!

  9. Brummbar Says:

    And the post-Amsterdam question for the Bonster is not "did you do drugs," but if she did that OTHER thing Amsterdam is famous for.

    Anyways, are you asking if I hired a prostitute?

    No, I meant the Tulip Gardens. Sheesh, you and your dirty mind…

  10. MD² Says:

    That I did do, at like 11:00 at night. That giant triangular block that punctured you straight in the anus"¦ jeezie-creezie that thing was intense!

    I had a hunch you would. :) Pretty depressing, yet fascinating place.

    No, I meant the Tulip Gardens. Sheesh, you and your dirty mind"¦

    Loads of incredible churches worth seeing too.

    Good you enjoyed the trip.

    Anyways, in every racing game I have ever played, I have been "~one' with the car.
    I get that you're joking, but you kind of have a point. Everything has meaning, in it's own right, you know?

    It may hold more truth than you seem to concede (or there may be a joke my tonal-deaf english cannot grasp). When you drive a car, you actualy merge with car to become one entity. When you play, you do the same with your avatar. You are your avatar, remember ? You are one with the car.

  11. pat m Says:

    maybe bonnie’s just the only escapist writer who gets laid? :D

  12. FerrousBuller Says:

    Hmmm…is there such a thing as virtual penis envy? :-)

    On one level, we’re just making fun of an absurd convention of the FPS genre. In real life, of course, you would never fire a gun from low and in the center of your torso – or, yes, groin. [Especially if you’re a guy. Trust me: recoil is not your friend down there.] And I have seen an increasing number of videogames where they attempt to represent your weapons – and you – more realistically (i.e., held high and against the shoulder), to be more immersive.

    And in most FPSs, you can’t see your own body, not even when you look down (though you can see yourself in a mirror, like some kinda reverse vampire). It’s like you’re a disembodied pair of hands and one eye – no depth perception, after all – carrying a whole buncha guns around! :-) So fixating on the gun kinda overlooks the absurdity of it all.

    Sometimes a gun graphic is just a gun graphic. :-)

    OTOH…well, it’s hard not to think of the implicit phallic imagery, is it? If only for the cheap giggles. And more than a few games and gamers have dwelt upon it. For my part, I never identified with the gun. I’ve always implicitly understood it was supposed to be something my avatar was carrying, that it was a crude facsimile of the real thing. I.e., it was a tool I was using, not an extension of my body. [Well, not unless I was a cyborg with built-in weapons or something. Then that’s different. :-]

    Leave it to a woman to presume we’re all so obsessed with our penises, though. ;-D

    “…because we're in the minority, because we're not in power (so to speak)…”

    I presume you don’t mean to suggest that being in the minority equals being out of power – your sentence construction is ambiguous – because if you did, I think there are a lot of South Africans who would dispute the matter with you… :-)

    If anything, history is about the powerful few subjugating the weak masses…but there are better places for history than here.

    As to the more general question: the stereotype, at least in America, is that “real” men don’t talk about sex – outside of locker-room boasting, that is – because we have nothing to say on the matter. All that touchy-feely crap is for girls, right? So if you’re a guy and you wanna talk about relationships and sex (outside the realm of the purely physical rumpy-pumpy)?

    You better look faaabulous in your leotard, know what I’m sayin’? ;-)

    Which is funny, really, because I get the impression a certain segment of the female population would be deliriously happy to discover straight men capable of talking frankly and thoughtfully about sex. And yet apparently straight men are more concerned about the disapprobation of other men than we are about earning the approval of women…

    Or we really are that shallow. Hard to tell.

  13. Bonnie Says:

    No, I meant the Tulip Gardens. Sheesh, you and your dirty mind"¦

    Why, of course. Perfect time of the year for it too ;-).

    You are one with the car.
    No no, I hear you. So what can we make of that?

    Maybe bonnie's just the only escapist writer who gets laid?
    That’s the best answer I’ve heard yet :-).

    It's hard not to think of the implicit phallic imagery, is it? If only for the cheap giggles.
    It’s not a matter of cheap giggles, really. Ooh, penis, haha. I mean, not that’s it’s a super-serious matter either, but it’s important to note these things that we often overlook. Besides, the phallic imagery is just one meaning we could pull from the whole “gun as self” idea.

    I get the impression a certain segment of the female population would be deliriously happy to discover straight men capable of talking frankly and thoughtfully about sex.
    I mean, I would be, but that’s just me. Also, keep in mind the type of guy I find attractive is “effeminate” and debatably “gay.” So what does that say about the whole issue?

  14. RickR Says:

    Way too much is being read into this. The gun you are carrying defines your strategy. The gun your opponent is carrying defines your strategy. The gun needs to be large and visible on another player. It needs to be large and peripherally visible during fast-paced matches when as a player you pretty much tunnel-vision in on your crosshairs. The firing animation of the first-person weapon indicates when you’re ready to fire again. Also many shooters put ammo indicators on the first-person weapon model.
    And yes, small weapons are wimpy.. ;)

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