Suspension of Disbelief?

Being my mother’s only son in the U.S., I receive lots of weird things in the mail. This picture, whose allusions to a rather famous chapel ceiling will be more apparent as you read the rest of this post, for instance:


The mannequin hand was a random occurrence in my mail one day (the cloud from a cartoony/Commedia production of Comedy of Errors at my alma pater). Recently the mail also has included Seed magazine. Not surprisingly, a lot of the focus of the magazine for its September/October edition is on Spore. At least three sections speak on it: how faithful is it to science and how it promotes intelligent design, looking at games that are attempting to utilize science through game mechanics, and a discussion between Jill Tarter and Will Wright. Part of that discussion is available as a video on Seed’s own site, here.

Seedmagazine.com The Seed Salon

Reading through the discussion in my hands, however, and around 2.10 in the video, Wright discusses how players transcend the boundaries of a realistic model found in games. He states, “They start arguing with the assumptions of that model, saying, ‘Hey, I don’t think that’s the way cities really work. I don’t think mass transit’s really that effective.'” It isn’t. Oh boy, is it not. At least in Chicago.

Anyway, Tarter goes on to press him as to how that builds on to the structure of a game. By allowing a discussion to occur on how it differs from real life. The implications would then become that after engaging in intelligent discussion, a desire to see and apply changes to the game model persists. To either isolate incidents and go through the scientific method in exploration of how things run, or to break the system. This would then lend itself to wanting to do the same in real life. Later in the discussion Wright also points out that games can teach in a vastly different manner because they are not couched in academic and pedagogical discourse, which can be very off putting to many children.

Is suspension of disbelief, the theory that we purposefully overlook certain inconsistencies to maintain an illusion, something that we necessarily seek in games, then?

Wright doesn’t provide narratives, however. He provides tools for us to create our own narratives. His suspension of disbelief, the fact that Spore is about evolution when it can clearly be argued that the player is actually the intelligent designer, seeks to beg us to ignore our own world in lieu of understanding similar concepts to ones we have in another house, neighborhood, or even galaxy. His games are a frame through which we explore our own understandings of social and scientific reactions.

The conversation later develops into discussing whether or not games are developing an acceptance of transhumanism in today’s gamers. Because through games such as the Sims franchise and Spore, we are able to push humans and species beyond normal limits, are we becoming more attuned to the idea that we as humans will force our next step of evolution on ourselves? Will we even be able to recognize our future selves from where we stand now?

An interesting read and/or watch, to be sure. Meanwhile, I believe I’ll go read some more on biodiversity and the tracking of human evolution despite civilization until I can go finish downloading the last bits of Spore myself tomorrow.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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