Artisanal Memes & Destroying The System

When: Second year at Parsons

The next assignment on my journey into video game design had me looking at the idea of infinity, things with no end. I hate infinity, I don’t enjoy thinking about things in terms of forever. Forever is terrifying. I think endings are important, and nothingness is important - but nothingness is also forever - so like my brain just hurts. I don’t like this. I don’t like infinity. I hate infinity.

I hate that last weekend I made out with a girl who had “We Are Infinite” tattooed on her left wrist and I didn’t even like The Perks of Being A Wallflower BUT it was just such a goddamn beautiful thing to see inked on someone you’re sexually attracted to. Especially... when you’re half a bottle of Jim Beam into the conversation and couldn’t care about anyone else in that crusty ass apartment. 

She wanted to go for walk outside in the freezing cold night. I knew, my immune system wouldn’t handle this kind of adventure but I went anyways. I had confidence in knowing that I work hard enough, so if I were to get sick, I could miss a day and not fall behind -- and even if I did fall behind, according to her left wrist and Emma Watson in the movie adaptation of The Perks of Being A Wallflower… “We Are infinite”. So, I have plenty of time to catch up. Infinity. I don’t like to think about it but I will take advantage of it, if it benefits me for ‘excuse’ purposes. I’m a fucking human being. 

Another crucial part of this assignment was to think about culture hacking. I binged Mr. Robot, so I’m pretty sure that’s all the research I need to do for this project. 

The component that was seemingly at the forefront of this assignment was to convey the above, through the use of an existing meme. Adapting the meme, into a video game format which can convey infinity and culture hacking. Which means these fucking memes have now permeated into every aspect of my life. My head hurts, but I’ll chalk that up to still being a tiny bit hungover -- and the fact that probably have tonsillitis, no biggie, just extremely uncomfortable and painful. Hey, Rohil, how about you stay on the goddamn topic for once in your ‘literary’ life.

Fuck off. 

Also, that’s fair. You're right.

So, every week we’re presented with a few readings and questions to help us think about what kind of video game we’re going to create. The readings this week, had less specific moments to latch onto, the examples weren’t as meaty as I would like. It was a little more, "Here’s a broad understanding of things!" The readings were opinionated but not opinionated enough to stir up any real desire to counter or agree.

The first thing I sunk my teeth into was Project Cyberpunk’s piece on Culture Jamming. Which is, really, truly terrifying if you just highlight all the text on the page and then use the ‘Speech -> Start Speaking’ function to have your computer read the page to you.

Truly felt as if I was being scolded by my sentient macbook about my complacency, in being a fat-ass controlled by my television and media. I immediately switched the speech function off and decided to just read the page myself, as my voice is so much more soothing for me to listen to.

One idea I found beneficial to my assignment, within the reading, was this idea of ‘Creative Crime’ -- which was not intended to steal or harm but instead a means of breaking the sedative, like a more sophisticated way of saying pranking or “social experiment” or trolling for good -- not that it would hold up in court -- but it did help me frame an understanding of culture hacking. 

Essentially, remixing parts of a system, culture or society, often times, intentionally making them malfunction to cause some kind questioning of that system among the people who frequently engage with it. 

Like, what Neo, or Agent Smith is to The Matrix. Or an even cooler way of looking at it is, if you knew you lived in The Matrix but possessed the ability to constantly create glitches in order to keep people aware. 

Another pop-culture reference-y way to look at it, is imagine you’re Leo’s spinning top in Inception -- that little object that breaks through to remind him, he’s in a dream (a system designed to sedate.)

The critiques of the media is this reading remain relevant -- the most interesting point to consider was the comment on how the people/corporations that own big networks and programming blocks, are the same people that need to be reported for shady business.

The conflict of interest is insane when you consider it. Even in the more vapid entertainment circles -- think movies that are owned by corps that also own the websites which review those movies. We live in the most propaganda aggressive age because everything is propaganda and everyone is a brand. We are also all so tied to each other. 

The video game DMC (re-imagining of the Devil May Cry series) discusses this really well -- it’s execution is almost flawless. I won’t spoil it -- just watch this boss fight -- it pretty much nails this discussion.


The next reading I jumped into wasn’t really a reading but more so a voice dub/podcast of a man telling us the story of the first Harry Potter book... despite him, having not read the book. It’s an interesting enough play in understanding outsider perspectives and re-contextualizing/re-framing works.

It is a painfully obnoxious thing to listen to, I don't know why they went with such a jarring voiceover. This piece did open me up to explore contemporary videos as a part of online remix culture. The most effective, I’ve found being the “Abridged Series” -- a series of videos that take long running series (the most hilarious being anime) and condensing them down to 10 minute long episodes -- re-voiced and re-edited to point out the absurdist nature within the world's setup. How is this relevant to thinking about my game and the topics at hand?

I think, this is a form of entertainment culture hacking. In order to hit the nail on the head with these jokes, one would need a firm understanding of the source material -- that knowledge is respected among the famdom.

The flaws that have been pointed out are done in a manner that lowers any superiority-complex people within the famodm may have, the goofy disposition now makes the original work more accessible to people who may have not previously given it a chance. It uses humor to get us to re-think something we love and while we can still love the thing -- we can acknowledge its flaws and hold it accountable. 

John Steward, Trevor Noah, John Oliver etc. do a similar thing -- political satire is culture hacking through humor. Subversive movies that break tropes like the recent Get Out. Another great example of culture hacking. 

The term culture, I believe in the context of hacking, is used in reference to the collective sense of social infrastructure and mass perpetrated beliefs. Hacking = infiltrating a system, without perceived permission.  Challenging or permeating mass beliefs is what those examples do -- it’s ideally what I need to do with this game. 

Another reading was a blog post by user “lpham7” on the UNCC Art Writing blog -- even for 2013, it is a dated perspective but interesting nonetheless when considering how to move forward.

Fiscal Cliff meme.

Fiscal Cliff meme.

The example this blog piece gives about the “Fiscal Cliff” was interesting -- to get the joke, or the meme, you’d have to be aware of current affairs (in the U.S. and be able to relate it to your own situation if you don’t live in the U.S.), you’d have to be familiar with old windows operating systems to get the recycle bin prompt and you’d have to have a shared desire to express your distaste/frustration with congress. 

This to me, cements a truth about memes, they are remix culture on everything for the sake of commentary -- based on mass perspective and shared understanding. They are the joke-manifestation of zeitgeist. 

Interesting also, is that these memes are often born in similar spaces that serve as home for practicing hackers. So, there is a shared ideology among certain aspects of their existence. 

The piece goes on to talk about the differences in memes and political/journalistic cartoons and the weight one has over the other/artistry involved -- also about how bloggers and journalists aren’t of similar standing.

This is all less relevant today, as journalistic integrity is laughable -- they’re mostly scum dwellers begging for clicks to keep that ad revenue up. We live in a time where journalists and bloggers are unfortunately starting to hold a similar weight -- as they can reach the same number of people and share the same clickbait bullshit practices. 

Memes are essentially a form of play and share a lot in common with video games. They are built on rules, we play by understanding that set of rules and the game is remixing or re-producing. It is essentially like, "Hey, you start the story and then we all go around and add to the story and see what it ends up being."

Only the story is a long running joke, the joke is relevant commentary on culture (therefore intrinsically a culture hack) and eventually it reaches a point, where the joke becomes self-referential -- and meta, which is also culture hacking! Hacking what its become -- commenting on the culture that has pushed forward the meme -- to show humor in self-reflection.

I'd base my video game on the Increasingly Verbose Meme because mechanically it is far more overtly game-like. The rule is displayed in the design. As the text becomes increasingly verbose -- the image becomes incredibly simple. This represents so much of our culture's feelings towards society and system. 

For example: This could be interpreted as the act of higher powers attempting to project some kind of pseudo-intellectual superiority through verbose language, while the image is a manifestation on how they view the people they are talking too -- dumber and dumber and dumber. 

Another interpretation could be how as we further explore the explanations as to how everything is structured in our world -- we feel more simple and uninformed or out of depth. This 'coming apart' would also play nicely into themes of exploring infinity -- how we unravel at the thought of ideas bigger than our own contained perspective, with regards to our existence. 

There are many abstract spaces this can travel into -- I’m sure you can tell, I'm #deep. So, I won’t need to go into all of them now, in this essay. 

What I do want to do is create an endless runner, one that sees the platforms and world become increasingly ‘verbose’ as the character falls a part. You jump and dodge pseudo intellectual bullshit to get through each stage. You start off as a detailed sprite but by the end of your journey you’re a stick figure -- the reverse has happened for the world around you.

I would like these stages to loop, so that infinity is conveyed through a cycle of feeling confident in your knowledge and then completely out of your own depth -- I think this also builds a tiny bit more on the more intrinsic themes around gentrification in my previous game -- however this time it’s not about seeking to sides within one particular discussion, it’s about seeking real understanding of a universe that is expanding infinitely. 

I believe this keeps the core mechanic of the meme intact, while iterating on it further to a larger idea. Most of the meme iterations make use of social media and social actives to comment on life. What if I applied the meme directly to the experience of living in a system you currently don't fully comprehend -- that kind of thing.