// Issue 16 2010: Counterplay


Issue Edited by Tom Apperley and Michael Dieter

The star player is one who modifies expected mechanisms of channeling field-potential. The star plays against the rules but not by breaking them (Massumi 2002: 77).

Unruly innovation is an intrinsic dimension of gaming. To claim that play is not a passive or neutral activity is hardly a groundbreaking observation. However, we believe that the contingent and transformative dynamics unleashed by games demand careful analysis. The fact that play exists in excess of any rules or parameters inevitably leads to controversies and disputes, along with processes of economic valorisation and the extraction of value beyond the shifting boundaries of a game. All of this requires critical discussion and debate. In this special issue, therefore, we have invited responses to the concept of counterplay. Referring to ludic or playful vitality in its most transformative expressions, counterplay speaks directly to the disruptive creation of the new through the reiterations of gaming.

Greig de Peuter and Nick Dyer-Witheford first introduced the term counterplay in an article published in The Fibreculture Journal, ‘A Playful Multitude?’ (2005). While part of a much larger and recently completed study of digital games (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009), this early piece of research introduced a framework for considering gaming as exemplary of the imperial form of power theorized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2000). They established the relevance of using this approach for considering videogames through a number of important resonances: from the transnational organization of the gaming industry as expressive of ‘immaterial labour’ (Lazzarato 1996) to the themes of World of Warcraft (Blizzard 2004), the Grand Theft Auto series and Full Spectrum Warrior (Pandemic Studios 2004) as modulating the subjectivities congruent with the military, economic and political logic of Empire.

In Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter’s reading, counterplay was informed by the Italian autonomous Marxist premise that labour is always anterior to capital or modes of socio-political discipline and control. Significantly, they redeployed this assertion in terms of playful or ludic action to suggest that technological and capitalistic development in the games industry was primarily driven ‘from below’ by the unanticipated innovations that emerge in gaming cultures. Indeed, the history of digital games would certainly attend to this dynamic, especially considering the role of hobbyists and hackers in the now mythologized origins of games like Spacewar! (Russell et al., 1961), let alone the dynamic, networked and complex relations of incorporation and co-creative labour that define the contemporary architectures of gaming. The most interesting aspect of their model, however, was its reworking of simplistic binaries of resistance and exploitation. As de Peuter and Dyer-Witheford observed, counterplay exists as a potentiality, a preindividual dimension that flows into currents of critical play, tactical media and free and open-source software as readily as intellectual property regimes, governance strategies in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMORPGs) and commercially ‘tethered devices’ (Zittrain 2008).

In this special issue of The Fibreculture Journal, we revisit counterplay by inviting responses to the concept that extend it outside the context of its capture. It is worth tracing some broader links and connections of ‘the counter’ to provide some background to this approach. These contexts move beyond games studies, but also inform how the idea might be understood within the field. We ask: if digital games are consolidated by rules (materially bound by both software and hardware), what disruptive ‘events’ transform the rhythms and patterns of play? How do radical actions emerge that reform the balance of agency in gaming?

Counter-Actualization and Gaming

The notion of ‘the counter’ as a maneuver holds a central place in Deleuzian inspired political thought. In particular, ‘counter-actualization’ was a concept originally conceived by Gilles Deleuze in The Logic of Sense to explore the double-sided problem of structural consistency and contingent variation (1990). This is described through the interrelated dynamics of series and events, referring respectively to the natural patterns that offer a general consistency to life and the resonance of individualized or singular trajectories. While similar concepts would appear throughout his later collaborations with Félix Guattari  – especially in A Thousand Plateaus on the war machine, the apparatus of capture and ritornello (1987: 310-473) – in this text, Deleuze elaborates a unique perspective on the ‘quasi-casual’ relation of events. The issue lies with how problematic structural patterns both persist over time and also retain an openness evidenced by the rise of singular pathways across stratified repetitions.

For Deleuze, events can transform, disrupt or interrupt a series, but only through a specific type of relation that is established by creative doubling. Counter-actualization is, therefore, expressed as a displaced action that allows for transmutations within a pattern of consistency. The creative dimension of an event can only be grasped through a distancing that carries along and perpetuates difference, like an actor or a dancer that performs a novel interpretation of a pre-established role. Identification at a distance can allow a future to be projected from past materials: ‘to the extent that the pure event is each time imprisoned forever in its actualization, counter-actualization liberates it, always for other times’ (1990: 161). In the ontology of Deleuze, there is something game-like in the exploration of these potentials – to counter-actualize involves amplifying a disruptive force across an otherwise reiterative structure ‘to give us the chance to go further than we would have believed possible’ (161).

Referring to this notion of creative doubling, we’re interested in exploring how counter-actualization might be translated into unexpected variations that amend structures of digital game play. Not just the possible configurations of the actions, actors, architecture and objects provided in the game, but also the exploitation of weakness in the games’ artificial intelligence, the cataloging and evaluation of bugs and glitches. One drive is to discover an ur-combination, a configuration, an ‘exploit’ that greatly upsets the balance of the game. This may be as simple as locating an advantage in one particular choice like choosing the Hojo as a starting clan in Shogun: Total War (The Creative Assembly, 2000), or may be as complicated as ‘leeching’ in Ragnarok Online (Gravity Co., 2004).

Counter-actualization, moreover, can highlight the tension between local enactments and the networked elements of digital gameplay. Counterplay, in this sense, leverages the situated by mobilizing hardware, people and the spaces in which play takes place, to produce practices like ‘ghosting’ in Counter-Strike (Valve Software, 2000), or to perform power-ups in Flyff (Aeonsoft, 2005) without having to repeatedly press the same key by jamming the key down with a small five cent coin. Counterplay may also leverage the network itself. In Adrian Mackenzie’s (2002: 166), description of playing Avara (1996, Ambrosia Software) with a friend, he states:

Something struck me as he quickly won a succession of games. He was not only anticipating most of my movements, and my gestures, he was also anticipating and manipulating in certain ways the delays introduced by the network we were playing on.

Lag, created by the uneven speed of data flows across the network, also becomes a site of play. Other forms of lag cheating have been discussed (Consalvo, 2007: 115-116). However, the exploitation that Mackenzie describes does not rely on a built or designed cheat function, but rather on a logistical problem that effects all data transfers based on packet switching from time to time. Significantly, this example demonstrates how unique renditions of everyday informatic systems are generated by the practice of play. Here, digital games become avenues for playing with the human and nonhuman forces that aggregate and are carried through the informational infrastructures of networks.

While counter-actualization appears throughout the work of Deleuze in various expressions, the essay ‘Postscript on Control Societies’ provides an important link in the application of the concept to game studies by considering these digitally-enabled contexts in terms of micropolitics (1992). The piece famously introduces an updated version of Foucault’s reading of disciplinary societies by tracking the rise of a new organisation of the social based on modulating, free-floating and ultra-rapid modes of power. The shift involves moving from isolated institutional locales to the implementation of a highly adaptable ‘mesh’ in the form of socio-technical networks. While this framework is crucial for considering the feedback loops between videogame industries and productive players, the idea of control additionally allows for a consideration of gaming as emblematic of control in an abstract sense: flexible, competitive, accumulative and technical.

Crucially, this emergent regime depends on digital machines: just as discipline used thermodynamic technologies, informational devices and computers are central to the operations of control. While Deleuze (1992: 175) was quick to add that ‘the machines don’t explain anything, you have to analyze the collective arrangements of which the machines are just one component’, this framework has become an important influence on new media studies precisely for supporting an analysis of the agential contributions and entanglements of digital infrastructures with ongoing formations of power. Here, control should be understood as a diagram or a general patterning that appears over and over in different contexts and settings (Deleuze, 1988: 59-77). To put this in Deleuzian terms, the diagram functions as an abstract machine that precedes technical objects by selecting, arranging and organizing them into an assemblage (Bogard 2009). By unpacking this theoretical lineage, like de Peuter and Dyer-Witheford, we’re interested in how digital games are emblematic of informational power, but also how they permit the circulation of unformed potentials from out of these arrangements. In other words, there always exists the potential for counter-information, the capacity to launch eventful individualizations that chart an exterior or outside on the terms of control itself. While there are three sites famously identified in the postscript through which this might take place – viral contamination, noise and piracy – we are interested in how this might occur within spheres of gaming itself (Deleuze, 1992: 175, 180). What can digital games tell us about informational cultures today when we concentrate on their unique qualities and internal mechanisms?

Control societies and counter-actualization, in a significant way, underpin recent influential studies by Alexander Galloway (2004, 2006) on distributed networks and digital games. Both these studies combine Deleuzian insights with the material-technical turn toward software studies in new media research. While software studies is still evolving, this interdisciplinary subfield can be understood as taking programmable media as an object of study, and combining the precepts of computer science with the conceptual dimensions of philosophy, and cultural and social theory (Manovich, 2001; 2008; Fuller, 2008). A strong intervention of Galloway’s work in general emphasizes that software functionality should be framed above all in terms of material agencies, as opposed to readings that stress ephemerality, representation or ‘cyberspace’ (see also Kücklich, 2009). In his analysis of the Internet, focusing on the central role of network protocols like TCP/IP and DNS opens out a series of crucial perspectives on the logic of control as a socio-technical diagram (2004). For instance, these standards regulate information flows, code relations and connect entities; they are ‘etiquette for autonomous agents’ (Galloway, 2004: 242). On the one hand, the argument suggests that the Internet does not work as a chaotic milieu, but as a highly regulated and carefully designed mass media system. From a more abstract perspective, however, the stakes suggest that any representational model of politics is completely inadequate for engagements with control at this scale: the protocological accepts all content equally by striving for the universal incorporation of diversity.

Galloway’s work in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, meanwhile, takes a slightly different tack from a similar premise: digital games are action-based media. As opposed to readings based on the active audience, the analysis is also less concerned with the interpretation of texts than with the gestures of the player and material reconfigurations of the technical system itself – ‘one plays a game. And the software runs. The operator and the machine play the video game together, step by step, move by move’ (2). It is argued that through these dimensions, games offer crucial insights into the functioning of socio-technical power (86). Drawing in part from Fredric Jameson’s film theory in Signatures of the Visible, Galloway advances the argument: ‘video games are allegories for our contemporary life under protocological network of continuous informatic control’ (106). There is no deeper meaning to games in sense of ideology critique, they do not denote any exterior referent, but actually exist as expressions of informatic control itself. In the extreme, McKenzie Wark has even pushed this notion (the ‘allegorithm’) to the centre of critical analysis, arguing that videogames offer tools for thought in tracing the sentiments, subjectivities and political affects that define contemporary worlds: they are control in the purest sense, against which everyday life merely appears as an imperfect and flawed copy (2007).

Despite the drive toward universal acceptance, however, control is not seen as an all-encompassing totality. For Galloway, the pursuit of radical difference is a potential within this regime, but only in terms of channeling the active forces of play. Here, digital games are no longer texts that are re-interpreted by readers, but things that can potentially be re-enacted toward alternate ends. The concept of ‘countergaming’ is, accordingly, introduced by Galloway to examine modifications based on subversive art practices. In the analysis of projects by artists such as Brody Condon, Jodi, Anne-Marie Schleiner, retroYou and Cory Arcangel, countering refers explicitly to avant-gardism. In particular, such works are said to disrupt the formal qualities of games by undercutting physics, interactivity, narrative and representational modeling. Software modifications such as Jodi’s Untitled Game (1996-2001) or Tom Betts QQQ (2002) undo the physics of the game engine by heightening glitches and propagating visual artifacts. These games convey a sense of technical system failure, errors and buggy software, but are also deliberately programmed toward this end: they are modifications that re-direct the gamic experience through extreme self-reflexivity.

While his essay concludes on a critical note, pointing toward how play is consequently effaced from these interventions, counter-actualization is nevertheless used to direct attention to the transformative affects that create structural differences from an existing state of materials. It is here that we want to add a simple corrective – we argue that counter-actualization actually covers a great deal more than Galloway states in his framework. In other words, we believe that artistic modification should be interpreted as just one expression of re-directing codified regimes of play. Interestingly, networked games are not a central concern of Galloway’s formalist study. Neither are the tensions and contradictions between labour and play that drive the global gaming industry, nor the controversies that erupt around networked governance and the problem of cheating. Some precedents exist for this kind of expansive reading of counter-conducts in gaming (Franklin 2009), although we are not concerned with ideas of ‘nonexistence’ or the privileging of technical expertise or knowledge. For our purposes, we simply state that artistic modification should be included alongside many other diverse practices of making things different. Counterplay, therefore, examines and explores the reconfiguration of gaming within already existing, localized, enacted practices of unruly innovation in digital game play.

The Magic Circle, Cheating Controversies and Assemblage Theory

It is clear that counterplay positions play, and digital gameplay in particular, in contact with other objects, people, practices, technologies and things. In this special issue of The Fibreculture Journal, the potential for countering can be read as complicating certain approaches that understand the informational or gamic as a bounded system. For instance, articles by Darshana Jayemanne and Chuk Moran both address a core concern regarding the hermeneutics of digital games that is largely formulated through debates around the importance – or irrelevance – of Johan Huizinga’s (1949/1970) ‘the magic circle’: the notion that play produces a space and time outside of everyday life. Indeed, the various problems associated with strict adherence to the notion of the magic circle have been discussed by recent scholars (see Consalvo 2009, Copier 2009). Vili Lehdonvirta’s (2010) work even goes so far as to suggest that the reliance on the magic circle as a defining concept for game studies object has led to a perpetuation of conceptually dated dichotomies like virtual/real, which have long been revised or rejected in other areas of new media scholarship.

In relation to these debates, Jayemanne’s article ‘The Magic Frame’ identifies two important materialist moments in the development of Huizinga’s theory of play. The first stems from the mass-communications apparatus of time, and the second is dance, in which the freedom of gesture is limited by the materiality of the body. By developing these two moments of counterplay from Homo Ludens to offer a new perspective on contemporary gaming, Jayemanne adds a new perspective on criticism of the magic circle. ‘The Magic Frame’ extends the criticism of the magic circle to discourses of realism in games – that is, the idea that the best of all possible virtual worlds would be as realistic as possible. Jayemanne argues that this assumption cannot account for the success of non-realist games and, accordingly, he returns to the instances of materialist counterplay in Homo Ludens to conceive the apparatus and gesture as frames that produce the spaces of gaming.

In ‘Playing With Game Time: Auto-Saves and Undoing Despite the “Magic Circle”’, Moran offers another strong criticism of the magic circle by looking at the temporal dimension of digital games. Although the particular durations of which the experience of a game is built vary in structure and kind, Moran points to both the fixity of stored data (e.g. saved games) and the complex irregularity of schedules and timings in the everyday to refute the treatment of time in digital games as an autonomous time-apart from everyday life that is experienced as a continuous flow or steady state. Moran draws connections between the game of gaming, everyday life, and the materiality of software through a focused analysis of the significance of the undo command, a command that is more commonly found in work-related software. Undoing, however, is not merely the restoration of a previous state: Moran argues that it constitutes another form of action, as players save and reload, take-back moves, restart missions, and work the system to get the time they need to do what they would like. This is a form of exploitation that generates time while making new demands on the player by animating an iterative form of play. This, Moran argues, is a move from the disciplinary in games where poor performance results in failure, to a form of gaming that materializes modulation and flexible control.

Given these constitutive aspects through which aspects of counterplay are an always-present potential of any game, it is evident that there is more at stake than just unfair behaviour, foul play or cheating. Indeed, in Huizinga’s understanding, ‘the cheat’ is not positioned as a disruption to play, because the cheat is invested in the notion of the game, or at least in the appearance of playing it (1949/1970: 30). Mia Consalvo’s (2007) treatment of cheating, which examines the notion in relation to both in-game social practices and technologically enhanced forms of play, argues convincingly that in digital games what is defined as cheating is situated, determined largely by context and consensus. Accordingly, Huizinga is more concerned with the ‘spoil-sport’, the player who rather than bending or breaking the rules refuses to accept them: ‘by withdrawing from the game, he [the spoil-sport] reveals the relativity and frugality of the play-world’ (1949/1970: 30). Contemporary digital game spoil-sports include in their ranks the real-money-traders and gold farmers of massive multiplayer online games, and artists like Joseph DeLappe, whose project dead-in-iraq (2006) involved him logging into the team-based first-person shooter America’s Army (U.S. Army, 2002) and typing out the names of the (American) war casualties.

When understood as emergent and contingent socio-technical controversies, cheating in videogames requires unique modes of analysis capable of charting distributed agencies between coded objects, hardware affordances, player actions, and other desires, contestations and complaints. In her article for this collection, ‘Rule-Making and Rule-Breaking: Game Development and the Governance of Emergent Behaviour’, Jennifer Whitson examines this nexus from the perspective of how game companies harness the rationalities of play to maintain control of digital play in networked settings. Her approach combines key insights from Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) with Foucault’s influential work on governmentality in order to gauge the flows of agency and immanent management of game worlds. Here, the concept of the ontogenetic network from Bruno Latour (2005) is especially useful for describing the diversity of human (programmers, designers, players and producers) and nonhuman actants (software and hardware technologies) that can be traced as integral elements of gaming. In this arrangement, taking insights from geneaologies of biopolitics, developers take on the role of ‘shepherds’ by guiding agential processes while circumscribing the emergence of dissidence, like the counter-conduct of real world economies. Whitson’s piece effectively demonstrates the utility of these new frameworks for exploring the entangled dynamism that drives evolving formations of digital play.

Taking a similar set of theoretical resources as a starting point, Stefano De Paoli and Aphra Kerr meanwhile offer a detailed consideration of relational ontology as a methodological approach in their piece, ‘The Assemblage of Cheating: How to Study Cheating as Imbroglio in MMORPGs’. Here, in order to follow the shifting and contested boundary of cheating, different elaborations of the concept of assemblage (Deleuze and Guattari 1987; DeLanda 2006; Latour 2004) are used to map competing elements of MMORPGs as ongoing materially expressive formation. This means taking up how game architectures, software code (especially anti-cheating tools), licenses and legal documents, and hetereogeneous play styles converge toward controversial outcomes: the cheating assemblage. Processes of territorialisation and deterritorialisation are central in their approach to tracking both material and expressive conditions of possibility for play, or what is considered to be legal and illegal actions within a game. Illustrated through empirical data from a study of the online world of Tibia (CipSoft 1997), De Paoli and Kerr reveal how assemblage provides a conceptual map of the game as a space of confrontation and power contestations. As an important caveat, they warn against readings of counterplay that presume player resistance and empowerment, advocating instead a tempered conceptual and empirical framework that can illuminate the ongoing struggle for power in control settings.

Interestingly, the idea that digital games are hermeneutic objects produced through the dynamic interplay of a person and a machine is demonstrably critiqued in several ways by all these scholars writing on counterplay for this special issue of The Fibreculture Journal. However, this is not the only critique that counterplay offers. The following section presents articles that develop and nuance de Peuter and Dyer-Witheford’s long term concern with the relations of labour in the production and commodification of digital games (see de Peuter and Dyer-Witheford 2005; Dyer-Witheford 1999; Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009; Kline, Dyer-Witheford, and de Peuter 2003)

Co-Creative Labour and Ludic Exodus

Counterplay can be used to describe innovative forms of digital gameplay that involve the invention and transmission of new rule-sets. James Newman (2008) describes this as ‘superplay’ and includes several forms of player innovation in its rubric: speedruns, sequence-breaking and Machinima. These activities extend the life-cycle of digital games because they allow for – and often demand – replaying of completed games. Thus, superplay is ripe for capture. The capture of superplay, for instance, in contemporary gaming is illustrated by the proliferation of ‘awards’ and ‘trophies’ on seventh generation consoles that require players to complete repetitive and/or obscure tasks.

A number of articles in this special issue of The Fibreculture Journal present singular, but complimentary, understandings of superplay as a form of counterplay: Daniel Ashton and James Newman present an analysis of the disciplinary dimension of counterplay; Daniel Reynold’s article examines the role of the discovery of counterplay moments in the experience of play; while Olli Sotamaa’s work focuses on a case study that problematizes the successful capture of counterplay in the game LittleBigPlanet (Media Molecule, 2008).

In ‘Relations of Control: Walkthroughs and the Structuring of Player Agency’, Ashton and Newman argue that while digital game walkthroughs provide instruction on various elements of gameplay, they also have a disciplinary role that structures gameplay. The article examines the playful, exploratory arena of the use and production of digital game walkthroughs, identifying a number of common practices: the management of player identity, the demonstration of gaming prowess and expertise, and the interrogation of the potentialities of digital games that exist alongside governing and structuring player agency. Ashton and Newman focus on the forms of governance and control that mark these social contexts and player relations in walkthroughs.

Reynolds’ article, ‘Virtual-World Naturalism’ contrasts the exploratory actions of digital game play with the apparent rigidity and seamlessness of their virtual spaces, both in terms of their geographic constraints and the rules that constitute their interactive possibilities. Reynolds  argues that part of play is to test the spatial and behavioral nuances of digital games, in order to uncover the hidden structures that underpin the game “as it was intended to be played”. In a discussion of the ‘Minus World’ in Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985), the Citadel level in Goldeneye 007 (Rareware, 1997), and the ‘hidden interiors’ of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Rockstar North, 2004), ‘Virtual-World Naturalism’ argues that such exploration, as part of a complex dialogue between game players and creators, can be seen as a form of natural history, a systematic search for patterns carried out in pursuit of of the origins of the virtual world.

Sotamaa’s contribution to this journal issue tracks how various player agencies have become incorporated into the PlayStation3 game LittleBigPlanet (Media Molecule, 2008). ‘Play, Create, Share? Console Gaming, Player Production and Gaming’ offers a reading in terms of theories of co-creative labour and Jonathan Zittrain’s (2008) argument on tethered devices, through which Sotamaa illustrates the economic and technical structures of the game. While including this possibility for players to become involved in the development and design of levels, Sotamaa additionally argues that these new options do not automatically make all players active or empowered participants.

In terms of the relation between dissident ludic dynamics and capture, counterplay has some resonance with the research on player-led innovation from the perspective of creative industries. While emerging from a different context, this approach provides a remarkably similar description of the centrality of unruly innovation to the continuing profitability of the digital games industry. Axel Bruns (2008), for example, maps out a number of possible relations between end users and owners of media products, one of which, ‘harnessing the hive’ – which he adapts from J. C. Herz (2005) – focuses on how user-led practices can be effectively reincorporated into existing products. There are numerous cases of the digital games industry ‘harnessing the hive’: the commercial release of Counter-Strike, the foregrounding of the role that the virtual economy would play in Second Life (Linden Labs, 2003), following the ‘discovery’ of virtual economies in other MMORPGs; and the release of The Movies (Lionheart Studios, 2005) in the wake of the widespread recognition of machinima.

Distinguishing between the capture of counterplay and harnessing the hive serves to demonstrate another key feature of counterplay. While the notion of harnessing the hive strongly suggests that the zeitgeist of contemporary digital gaming relies on a synergy between industry and audience, the capture of counterplay underscores how the digital games industry profits from the creativity and innovative practices of players, both by recognizing them as a potential source of profit, and subsequently re-structuring individual games as well as elements of the gaming industry to recuperate creative practices as features, products or services. Counterplay – and its capture – provide an account of play that emphasizes the oscillation between creativity and control in players enactments of digital play. As a concept, it underscores the ambiguous relationship between training and practice found in digital games. Counterplay can, accordingly, trace the stakes for the potential for gaming in both dissident and disciplinary dimensions.

In an analysis of the more radically innovative aspects of digital play cultures, Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter provide the final contribution to this special issue with their article ‘Games of the Multitude’. Here, contemporary gaming formations are charted in terms of their routine capacity to produce trajectories that disturb and exceed their own commodification. On a theoretical level, their contribution takes up the controversial suggestion by Hardt and Negri that the network form or morphology that underpins control societies is led by the potential for labour to become common (2000). While Hardt and Negri maintain that the current forms of biopower are expressive of a new sovereignty that reigns over the global present (Empire), they assert the presence of a counter-tendency for the multitude to construct real alternatives, to invent new democratic forms and a constituent power on imperial terrain itself.

In these terms, de Peuter and Dyer-Witheford explore various politically experimental practices with gaming, including playing against the grain of ideologically-loaded games; instances of dissonant development from a number of mainstream game studios; the production of tactical games by counter-globalization and anti-war activists; the ambivalent social planning potential of ‘serious games’ as polity simulators; experiments at self-organization in online virtual worlds; and the emergence of software commons as a challenge to intellectual property regimes. These expressions of counterplay are posited by Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter as remaking gaming practices in ways that connect to a variety of struggles against imperial biopower. This is seen occurring in a constant ebb and flux of deterritorialization and reterritorialization through which new lines of flight are produced. ‘Games of the Multitude’ offers a challenging contribution to an understanding of counter-actualization as the active trajectories of ludic exodus.

As we have noted throughout this editorial, it’s easy to project celebratory and heroic narratives of resistance through the conceptual lens of counterplay. Moreover, as these contributions to this collection clearly demonstrate, not all acts of counterplay can be meaningfully understood as political interventions or entirely empowering for players. In a reflection on the role of creativity under conditions of control, Deleuze once observed how “counter-information only really becomes effective when it is – and it is by nature – or becomes an act of resistance” (2006: 322). While it is perhaps this dimension that Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter pursue in force, it is nevertheless worth emphasizing how these politically radical dynamics are drawn from a similar starting point. In other words, it is precisely the ambivalence of counterplay that makes it an interesting stance to the complexities of digital and networked games. As we stated in our call for papers, counterplay emerges from the dynamics unleashed between the intertwined qualities of the virtual and the actual, which work to mobilize a series of subjects, objects and things toward a variety of ends. This is a relational and comparative framework that allows for productive readings between topics as diverse as virtual exploration, cheating controversies, co-creative labour, gaming governance, temporality and activist videogames. It is this productive ambiguity of the concept to treat the unexpected entanglements and radical innovations of games cultures that we hope is demonstrated by the contributions to this special issue.


John Banks, Matteo Bittanti, Ian Bogost, Gordon Calleja, Nathan Dutton, Tanner Higgin, Sal Humphreys, Darshana Jayemanne, Jesper Juul, Rachael Kendrick, Kyle Kontour, Julian Kücklich, Markus Montola, Andrew Murphie, Celia Pearce, Martin Pichlmair, Eugenie Shinkle, Laurie N. Taylor, T. L. Taylor, Nathaniel Tkacz, Mat Wall-Smith, and Christopher S. Walsh.

Editors’ Biographies

Thomas ‘Tom’ Apperley is an consultant, ethnographer, and researcher on digital media cultures and technologies. He has previously  written on digital games, mobile technologies, digital literacies and pedagogies, and the digital divide. He has taught at the University of Melbourne, Victoria University, and (currently) the University of New England. He is the co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal, Digital Culture & Education.

Michael Dieter is a researcher on media art and materialist philosophy. His writing concerns critical uses of digital and networked technologies, and covers topics such as locative media, information visualization, gaming and software modification. He is an ongoing contributor to the magazine Neural, an assistant editor for the Institute of Network Cultures and a member of the editorial committee of the Fibreculture Journal. He has taught at University of Melbourne and is currently based at University of Amsterdam.


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