Anahid Kassabian (University of Liverpool): ‘Where does it go?!? YouTube, Stupid Games, and Time’
In this paper, I will begin to theorise how small units of culture, such as the run-of-the-mill 3-5 minute uploaded video (which is suspiciously like the ‘required’ length of a pop song) or the ‘stupid game’ (Anderson, 2012), seem to swallow enormous amounts of time.
While this phenomenon is widely discussed, it continues to grow without serious challenge. Using both the ideas of distributed subjectivity and listening as I developed them in Ubiquitous Listening as well as materials from neurology and psychology on time perception, I will argue that such small units of culture are nearly inevitable, given the prevalence of affect marketing and other developments that make longer attention spans increasingly difficult to maintain.
Anahid starts by describing the history of the 2013 game Flappy Bird. The app was withdrawn from the online stores for reasons that were unclear (the programmer apparently ‘couldn’t take it any more’). The explosion of particular casual games seems to take society by surprise every time it occurs.
Quotation from Juul’s A Casual Revolution (Google books full text link).
There are two views – player-centric and game-centric. We now focus on simple but highly addictive games (Tetris, Angry Birds, Bejeweled, Fruit Ninja). Andersen – “We are living, for better or worse, in a world of stupid games.” (NY Times article).
Sometimes I would lose her in the middle of a conversation: her phone would go brinnng or pwomp ordernalernadern-dern, and she would look away from me, midsentence, to see if her opponent had set her up for a triple word score. I tried to stay good-humored. I told her I was going to invent something called the iPaddle: a little screen-size wooden paddle that I would slide in front of her phone whenever she drifted away, on the back of which, upside-down so she could read them, would be inscribed humanist messages from the analog world: “I love you” or “Be here now.”
One tiny masterpiece, Plants vs. Zombies, ate up, I’m going to guess, a full “Anna Karenina” of my leisure time. One day while I was playing it (I think I had just discovered that if you set up your garlic and your money-flowers exactly right, you could sit there racking up coins all day), my wife reminded me of my old joke about the iPaddle. This made me inexplicably angry.
Anahid now muses on ‘time’ philosophy, noting that she draws on the relationship between changes in time and changes in modes of production. There is an historical clash between merchant and church time, for example. There is a time-space compression industrial capitalism. Discussion of ‘temporal relations of industrial society’. There are complex relationships between musical and scientific descriptions of time. Anahid is trying to find a connection between these theories of time and the time that is ‘sapped’ by video games.
8-bit loops (e.g. Chiptune) are now discussed, and the affection people have for them is contrasted with how annoying/disruptive they can be. Most players of online games (with 8-bit soundtracks) turn off the sound – partly because it annoys, and partly because it is disruptive in social casual gaming contexts (e.g. waiting rooms). A similar example is the Angry Birds Cannon 3 music, and we listen to this plus an example from Forbidden Arms.
In these time-killer games the music is perhaps a ‘filler’ and if the music provides atmosphere it does so only at a very basic (and in some cases arguably racist!) level. The sounds may make some unreal visuals ‘feel material’. In Bookworm clicking on the tiles gives a tile-clicking sound – interface feedback. Candy Blast Mania provides an example of the blurred boundary between sound effects and music in video games. In Angry Birds there are clear sounds of destruction that add to the realism of the experience.
If the music has any relationship to these games it is simply to mark them as members of an ‘arcade game family’. The ditties hark back to the days of 8-bit games and annouce the gameplay as limited in scope. Sound is used to root some events in a visceral experience – providing indicators of how the events would sound if they were occurring in reality, outside the cartoon-like game environment. This is part of how games ‘occupy Russian novel-like stretches of our time’.