the affective potential(s) of ARGs

In this post, I’d like to think about how ARGs can demonstrate many of Massumi’s ideas about affect. My fellow classmates have already posed the question of how ARGs fit into the post-truth era, which inspires me to think more about ARGs and the the role of affect.

As we talked about in class, the McIntyre reading sort of comes to conclusions that seem a bit too optimistic. She ends the final chapter by arguing that we take a few tactics: challenging falsehoods before they can “fester” and diversifying the information we get on newsfeeds (157). As we talked about in class, these means just seem overly simple and ineffective. In addition, McIntyre doesn’t account for the times when people do attempt to challenge lies, but it doesn’t matter – the lies take root anyway, and it oftentimes seems like a futile battle. The blindspot in her analysis, I think, is that affective quality – the way that politicians have mobilized affect for their campaigns is not something we can fight by emphasizing the facts, if we’re sure we even have them. I think the documentary showed this, both in Roger Stone’s campaign style but also in his presence as a political figure. Across the documentary, I was shocked to see people addressing him and thanking him for his “service,” which is usually a term saved for military officials. The affective quality of “service” implies a sort of solemn, self-sacrifice, right? It holds a kind of weight that is hard to describe, especially within American patriotism. Even if I tried to explain to Stone’s fans some of the facts about what he’s done, that kind of support would act as a barrier. I often feel the same way in regard to Trump.

So if affect makes a difference, how can we understand it better and mobilize it to our own use? I think ARGs are an excellent case study for this, since as a designer you are creating affective experiences for players within your narrative. In addition, the player/designer relationship in ARGs sort of mimics the kind of “doubling” that Massumi talks about (213). Since the players are at once being affected by the narrative but also play a role in affecting it, they have a lot more room to experiment. In this way, players may learn about their ability to influence things outside of the magic circle, too. Within the fluid nature of the ARG, there is an enormous amount of potential.

In addition, ARGs are a sort of manifestation of the radical belonging, immersion, and participation that Massumi outlines as a part of affect. Thinking more about potential, Massumi says, “But no matter how certainly we know that the potential is there, it always seems just out of reach, or maybe around the next bend. Because it isn’t actually there – only virtually. But maybe if we can take little, practical, experimental, strategic measures to expand our emotional register, or limber up our thinking, we can access more of our potential at each step, have more of it actually available” (215). In a sense, playing an ARG (or even a LARP, if we’re thinking particularly about expanding our emotional register) allows players to “limber” their thinking, experiment in a safe space, and then take those lessons with them elsewhere. This, theoretically, can help them understand and access the amount of potentials available to them.

Moving from that, the other aspect of ARGs that maps nicely onto Massumi’s discussion is the idea of belonging. On page 224, he says that a “politics of belonging” would include a kind of “correlated emergence instead of separate domains of interest.” If we think of the collective and collaborative nature of ARGs, we can see how they might encourage this kind of thinking. Later, near the end of the chapter, Massumi also discusses how “you would have to abdicate your own self-interest, up to a point, and this opens you to a risk” (241). However, some of this risk of placing oneself in a “fairly indeterminate, fairly vague situation” might be mitigated by the safety net provided by an ARG, where giving up one’s self interest is better for reaching one’s goals, especially when working with other players (241). In addition, this is a good mindset to take when creating. Earlier in the text, Massumi talking about “inhabiting uncertainty” together – is this not also a part of an ARG (219)?

I want to end by pointing to the importance of participation (243). This is where the interview stops, on a note that affirms that our participation, in some ways, is what makes something real. This notion works really well when thinking about ARGs, since they are voluntary experiences. However, I also think we might be able to push on this a bit if we’re thinking about politics. In many ways, we do have a choice in what systems we participate in, but the penalty for not participating often is too high to really even call that a choice. (Choice, of course, is a whole other concept that we can complicate, as well as the idea of “feeling” like something is a choice or not.) Aside from using affect in the construction and play of ARGs, I do wonder how these kinds of tactics would manifest in systems that don’t have a sort of safe space around them. The end of the chapter, much like the McIntyre, ends on a positive note. Massumi states, “…lived intensity is self-affirming. It doesn’t need a god or judge or head of state to tell it that it has value. What it means, I think, is accept the embeddedness, go with it…and that’s your reality, it’s the only reality you have” (243). If we’re thinking about multiple realities – with many potentials – how does participation operate as a sort of political move? Can it, or is it difficult to say if we’re already sort of embedded in the flows of power and capitalism that Massumi describes? It’s sort of hard to imagine a way around, which is in part what makes fiction so attractive. I do wonder how much of the affective potential of ARGs can be brought with us back to one version of our reality.

2 thoughts on “the affective potential(s) of ARGs

  1. I really like your analysis of affect in ARGs, and I think it points to ARGs as a kind of practice, almost like rehearsal for out-of-game engagement. The way ARGs build belonging and participation seems like it encourages a way of interacting with a world that I think can translate to broader engagement, in politics, activism, or so on. I do wonder if there’s a way to make that connection more direct, like to turn playing an ARG into a direct form of social action, but I’m not really sure how that would work.


  2. I think your analysis of ARGs and their significance is really interesting. The thought that one’s participation in an ARG might have a political significance is also really interesting and seems to emphasize the fact that ARGs have the potential to make really big impacts on different parts of society.


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