Making Sense of Software (1993)

On my way through Alex Stockburger’s dissertation (PDF) I came across a short essay by Ted Friedman called “Making Sense of Software” which he apparently wrote in 1993. In describing SimCity he fields Jameson and Harvey arguing that the game reflects on “the dilemma of making sense of space under late capitalism.” To Harvey’s question as to “how can spatializations [...] represent flux and change?” Friedman argues that video game software can help in “constructing cognitive frameworks.”

He continues by explaining how during game play a person “comes to think of one’s self as an organic extension of the software, and the software as an extension of one’s consciousness.” And makes the connection between “individualism and perspectivism” in the Renaissance. But the real gem in all this is hidden in one of the footnotes:

“…learning how to play computer games is a process of learning a distinct semiotic structure. To some extent, this language, like that of Classical Hollywood narrative, carries over from one text to the next; initiates finish one game and can comfortably start to play on a new one. But in some ways, every new computer game is its own world, a distinct semiotic system, and it is the very process of learning (or conquering) that system which drives interest in the game.

There’s a later version here. (1995)

Discussion (1 comment)
Ted Friedman January 24th, 2007 (5:56 am)

Glad you enjoyed my essay! You might also be interested in my book, Electric Dreams: Computers and American Culture (NYU, 2005), which includes a chapter on SimCity, Civilization, The Sims, and MMORPGs.

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