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Month: February 2014

Unit Operations IV

Part I defined the foundational terms (units, operations)

Part II applies the principles of Unit Operations, arguing for a “comparative approach to videogame criticism that identifies and analyzes configurative expression in multiple media”.

Part III was on “procedural subjectivity”: the the nature of simulations, their limitations, and the critical role of the user.

Below Bogost writes on complex network theory, Deleuze and Guattari’s Schizoanalysis, “and the limits of nomadism and complexity as expressions of unit operations”, an extended analysis of “freedom in large virtual spaces” [I excerpt from this on Grand Theft Auto], and a “vision for the future of videogame criticism and research that models itself after the configurative approach to analysis I advance throughout.”

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Unit Operations III

And for me, a circle closes. As I’ve mentioned before, the Simulation Gap was one of my first darling games-analysis-tools. I had picked it up from the far less dense Persuasive Games, which was clearly more meant for practioners than Unit Operations, whose audience is a little more difficult to discern (Media Studies?).

It’s been two weeks and a few thousand words since the last Unit Ops notes:

Part I defined the foundational terms (units, operations)

Part II applies the principles of Unit Operations, looking at mechanical and representational views on games and other media.

I. Simulations

Bogost starts by referencing Wolfram, and outlining how cellular automata offer an example of “the logic of unit operations at work”: the accumulating complexity resulting from the relations of simple logics- generative rules. The classic Game of Life is used to the same effect.

He then discusses how SimCity is in essence a “social simulation”, based on simple generative rules. I’ve harped about SimCity here and there, and I don’t feel the need to dig too deeply here.

“A simulation is a representation of a source system via a less complex system that informs the user’s understanding of the source system in a subjective way.”

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Text Dump: Maneuverability, StarCraft, and human override

Post-heavy week this week- Unit Operations excerpts tomorrow and Wednesday, and then if I can clean them up, maybe some more coherent posts at the end of the week.

Below, some loosely related threads that are incubating.

Posts like these are an opportunity to share some recent thoughts/readings and to use bits as fodder for later exploration as I decide what it is that I’m trying to say to begin with.


I. Pants: Mobility and Obscurity

II. Seeing like a StarCraft Player (Or, Macromanagement): On reading other player’s intentions and managing resources

III. Human Override (Micromanagement): Turning off default autonomous behaviors, and occasionally destroying meaning, to game the system. (More StarCraft).

IV. The Elder Game: Growing meta-games and adding meaning to the system.

V. More on Anti-System Parties: Fascism, Spengler, and the Archdruid (again). I need to relax on the Archdruid sharing.

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Mulling: The “Sheeple” Problem

(Relax, I’m not using that word seriously.)

I have a tendency to wax on a bit, especially when idea is still new and exciting to me- writing helps me crystallize things and turn them around in my hand.

I wanted to be clear about a few positions before I start picking up another line of thought- I have two more notes on Bogosts’ Unit Operations to put together, and I have a couple of unbaked notes I wanted to play with. Then, somewhere soon, I’ll probably start talking about games and design.

Below, I wanted to re-articulate a few tangential points I’ve referenced recently.


Political arrangements are often different from policy preferences. I have some policy preferences. I think that policy matters. In the past (ex. at bottom of this post) I’ve mentioned political preferences of mine that are not popular. When I wrote about political landscapes [here, (IV)] I was arguing about different procedural/legal considerations, how governments choose to organize. Living under one blend of democratic republic with so-and-so properties is not inherently better than some other blend of parliamentary democracy or even something a little more taboo. Only actualized, existing political structures, effecting (yes this is a correct use of effect) particular policies can be judged, and we judge them by their effectiveness in preserving and promoting human well-being (or whatever other value you’d like). I meant to also suggest that environments matter, and that situations that make some arrangements untenable can also change. I also meant to demonstrate that getting to your preferred political arrangement should be part of your cost/benefit calculation. In early 20th century history and fiction, it seems that some utopians did factor the cost of political change into their equation, but if Utopia has incalculably great benefit, then these idealists were willing to suffer nearly-incalculable loss to achieve it. The peaks are farther than they think, or maybe not as high, the gorges are almost never shallower than you predict, and in the end it’s easy to roll downhill into an unsavory place. I’m very fond of the landscape metaphor, I wish I could figure out what questions I’d really want to ask about it, and play with it some more.

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Learning from Fictions

I wanted to make some broad strokes to tie together some previous posts before I move on from this thread of thought.

Below, two tangentially-related ideas.



“What is true is to be believed; what is fictional is to be imagined.”

-Kendall Walton

I have long talked about ‘apologetic‘ as an operation for cohering tribes. I also recently argued that it is plausible that factional politics (ii) may be the driver of any particular collection of values/narratives, which are then tied together via apologetic and made to seem coherent post hoc. I do not think that tribes or people have to be truly coherent, or particularly well-grounded, in order to accomplish whatever it is that they intend to accomplish- they just have to seem coherent. Ideologies evolve like anything else, as an assemblage of interacting ideas in a dynamic environment, (at the scale of the individual and the tribe).

Humans are analogical thinkers [Surfaces and Essences], pattern-seekers [eg. my last post] , and storytellers, and these three tendencies are tightly interlinked.

Fiction, like play, is a grounded in make-believe. I’m inclined to see the behavior as adaptive.

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Law of Unrecognized Novelty

I. “Nothing new under the sun.”

I think that any sufficiently new idea will be confused for a repudiated old one.

Nuance regularly dies in-transit from speaker to listener, due to lack of a shared episteme (and the social pressure to properly understand in the first place may not be there either).

An idea cannot be so freakishly new  that nothing can describe it. Probably, the new idea is shaped something like an existing idea, although maybe from a different discipline or with a discovered caveat. Often, the new idea is drawing from just one serendipitous connection between two established ideas. X is like some previously-distinct Y, with some new implication.

New ideas are also implied repudiations of an established idea, one that is either incomplete or incorrect in some way. If the correction is subtle enough, the new idea will merge into the old one, which will correct itself accordingly (the “incomplete” scenario). If the correction is not subtle, the challenging new idea will have to be identified. It will generally be compared to whatever other idea share’s its rough shape closely enough. Naturally, since the comparison-maker isn’t likely to subscribe to the belief the new idea is being compared to, she will likely already have stock arguments against the new idea.

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Unknown Knowns

Note: I thought that “Totalizing Views” was a perfectly cromulent and useful phrase when I first noticed it, when it was announced as the theme for Keith Adams’ upcoming blogging residency at Ribbonfarm. Since then, the Baader-Meinhof effect has been in full swing. I’ve certainly seen it from the anti-essentialist crowd, including in Unit Operations. I have myself used the phrase quite a bit recently, to describe how certain systems of thought can be used as lenses to describe the entire world, such as Haidt’s Political values and Lakoff’s language power to describe politics, or signaling theory in describing any social interaction. Hopefully I’ve been clear about what I mean about totalizing- I don’t take it as a value judgment so much as a description.



“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

– Donald Rumsfeld’s instant classic quote

There is a dark quadrant that went unmentioned: the Unknown Knowns.

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Unit Operations II

Notes from around the neighborhood:

Jordan Peacock recently wroteon the idea of the episteme and a “miscommunication-reduction strategy”.

Also, Adam Gurri recently wrote an excellent piece in response to the neoreaction that articulates a view of institutions that I particularly appreciate. (There’s also an annual roundup post by him on his personal site that I intend to dig into).

In this excerption packet, I follow the second quarter of Unit Operations, in which we start looking at videogames with the Unit Ops frame, with implications for software and traditional media as well.

Part III will mark my return to The Simulation Gap, this time from the Unit Operations frame (my previous source of this concept was Bogosts’ Persuasive Games)

Finally Part IV is where we get into a second impression of Deleuze (and Guattari, who seems to get shorter shrift), from Bogosts’ POV.

I. Comparative studies (and Bricolage)

Bricouler: A word for a Macguyver (or, in some circles, maybe a hacker– but hell if I’m going to be swinging that word around). The bricouler creates structures out of events, ad hoc. They cook with whatever’s around. The engineer/scientist, by contrast, is typically a totalizer: they invent events by way of structures. They bring their own cookbooks and spices.

“Together, comparative criticism and videogame software development entail the bricoleur, the deft handyman who assembles units of preexisting meaning to form new structures of meaning. An intersection of these two domains- a comparative videogame criticism- suggests a more intimate interrelation of two spaces of bricolage, that of criticism and that of production.”

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Unit Operations I

I first really engaged with Bogosts’ work in college, a few years ago, as I dug into Games Studies seriously for the first time. I’ve expressed slivers of his work before- one of my earliest posts was a rather dry excerption of a college essay of mine, on the Simulation Gap, Procedural Rhetoric, and Sim City. I didn’t have to deeply engage in his ontology before, though.

Below, excerpts of Ian Bogosts’ Unit Operations. I mostly skip his tying up with older philosophers (Heidigger, Badiou), because mostly he is drawing a different history for assemblage theory than we’ve already explored through DeLanda.


I. Unit Operations, First Pass

“To unpack the relationships between criticism and computation, I will rely on the notion of unit operations. Unit operations are modes of meaning-making that privilege discrete, disconnected actions over deterministic, progressive systems. […] I contend that unit operations represent a shift away from system operations, although neither strategy is permanently detached from the other.”

Literary theory: Unit Operations interpret networks of discrete readings; system operations interpret singular literary authorirty.

Software technology: object technology (OT) exploits unit operations; structured programming exhibits system operations.

Biology: DNA nucleotide bonding displays unit operations; the “Darwinian idea of acquired characteristics illustrates system operations.”


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