Keeping your head above water: Games and play in liquid modernity
The work of the Gamification Group is intimately concerned with the ways in which humans interact with technology, whether at the micro or macro levels. It is no surprise, therefore, that Black Mirror is a favourite tv show for many of the team’s members. Indeed, Black Mirror has come to occupy a notable niche within wider pop culture, providing as it does largely dystopian visions centred around the socio-cultural, and personal, impact of technology in contemporary life and the near-future.
The tumultuous events of recent years, and 2020 in particular, have given rise to an increasingly common presence at mass protests: signs inscribed with the words “This episode of Black Mirror sucks”. These placards provide evidence of the reach of Black Mirror but, at the same time, serve as a form of commentary on the relevance of both the broader socio-cultural insights afforded by the series, and its ability to reflect individual human experiences during a time of great change. In a sign of the increasingly self-referential nature of contemporary pop culture, and its intimate connection with consumerism, you can now purchase stationery, clothing, posters and more which bear the phrase. Indeed, a mock promotional advertisement for the series played upon both the well-established meme and comments made by the series co-creator Charlie Brooker:
Photo: Faisal Almalki
It is no surprise, therefore, that Black Mirror has spawned a significant number of academic publications addressing both the show itself and the themes with which it is concerned. The latest of these is titled “Reading “Black Mirror”: Insights into Technology and the Post-Media Condition”. The book contains a chapter from GG member Joseph Macey and Dr. Brian McCauley which examines a particular episode, “Playtest”, from a theoretical perspective developed by Zygmunt Baumann. The chapter, titled “Mind Games: Playtest as an allegory for liquid modernity”, examines life in an increasingly gamified world and offers insights into the evolving role of video games in contemporary economic, social, and cultural value systems. Finally, contemporary practices surrounding the consumption of digital games are shown to offer a potential avenue through which individuals and populations can confront, and overcome, the manufactured narratives which shape our current reality.
Reference: Macey, J., & McCauley, B. (2020). “Mind Games: Playtest as an allegory for liquid modernity. Duarte, G., & Battin, J. (eds). “Reading “Black Mirror”: Insights into Technology and the Post-Media Condition”. Transcript Verlag, 69-85.
See the chapter for full details:
This chapter analyses the episode “Playtest”, one self-evidently concerned with video games; aside from the overt use of games to drive the narrative arc of the story, the episode contains numerous references to games, both subtle and explicit. Central to our interpretation of this episode is the gamification of society and the wider cultural logic of Liquid Modernity. We first provide a brief summary of Playtest before demonstrating that the episode functions as an allegory of liquid modernity, one which can be further contextualised through the consideration of life in an increasingly gamified world. Furthermore, given the obvious significance of games in Playtest, this work will examine the evolving role of video games in facilitating and promoting contemporary practices related to the economic, social, and cultural value systems of liquid modernity. Playtest is not simply a body horror tale, it is a means of understanding contemporary socio-economic realities and a possible future which awaits a compliant and unquestioning population. More significantly, however, the episode highlights the socio-cultural and economic importance of digital games in the condition of liquid modernity. As a consequence, we can see that contemporary practices surrounding the consumption of digital games offer an avenue through which we can confront, and overcome, manufactured narratives.
Keywords: Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker, gamification, games, liquid modernity, Baumann, Playtest.