Month: September 2015

Simulation, Metaphor, and an Obese Pink Monster

Here’s the extended abstract of the paper I’m giving on my research leave (August – Sept 2015).



Simulation – in Gonzalo Frasca’s sense of systematic modeling of behavior – is arguably game culture’s greatest asset and greatest liability: it is the source of the compelling verisimilitude we derive from gameplay and, according to its critics, also the source of the pernicious attitudes and behaviors inculcated through that same gameplay. Rather than dwell on its putative effects, however, more can be done to theorize the workings of simulation in its own right. Although the critical and cultural theory, from Plato to Baudrillard, Jameson, and Deleuze, offers productive material for a historical and theoretical framework for the concept, so too does 20th century cognitive science. Mental simulation is a cornerstone of “theory of mind,” a research program that is deeply invested in the practice of imaginatively calling forth – simulating – fictional minds and worlds as we experience stories across media. The discourse on simulation in videogames tends to be dominated by visual and proprioceptive fidelity, but we have much to gain from considering the mental simulations of cognitive science alongside the artifactual or aesthetic simulations that arise from creative computational media. The two are, after all, mutually interdependent.

A necessary task of theory then is to develop a better understanding of “critical simulation” (after Simon Penny 2004) that reconciles the kind of simulations that take place in human minds with the kind of simulations that take place on computer screens and in kinetic and participatory digital environments. The proposed seminar first makes some gestures toward that reconciliation; then, with a nod to Steven Johnson’s early writing on “interface culture,” it explores an inverse relation between metaphor and simulation, making detailed reference to the game Papo & Yo (2012) by Vander Caballero to advocate for the respective virtues of both in contemporary game studies. I will suggest that where metaphor is strategically deployed at the level of action in gameworlds, it in turn opens spaces for richer simulation of other, often cognitive phenomena. In this case of Papo & Yo, this play of simulation and metaphor involves the power of one’s imagination to cope with the trauma and fear of physical abuse.