The Electronic Arts NCAA Football (1998 – 2012) videogame series immerses players in the world of college football. The gameplay mechanics and play-calling strategies are similar to other contemporary football simulations, especially the NFL name-brand franchise Madden Football, also by Electronic Arts. The specific lure of NCAA Football, then, is the pinpoint accuracy by which it renders each college’s football program. Every possible detail—uniform colors, stadium layout, fight song, mascot, even marching band formations—provides gamers with the feel of the game-day traditions for their preferred college football team.
Despite the videogame’s emphasis on verisimilitude, NCAA regulations prevent the inclusion of actual player names; consequently, the athlete’s avatars are constituted primarily by their abstracted attributes. For instance, Justin Blackmon, the star wide-receiver for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, appears in the game only by strong numerical and statistical suggestions: the virtual player who occupies his position bears the same uniform number (#81), body type, and skill set recognizable as belonging to the real Blackmon. Game players may then choose the time consuming task of manually entering each player’s name. Thus, instead of a proper name that identifies a unique individual around which a series of attributes, accomplishments, and personal style become associated, a name, here, serves as a retroactive confirmation of an identity already established by number.
For McKenzie Wark, videogames provide theoretical insight into “gamespace,” Wark’s term for reality after the proliferation of digital technology. In the growing consonance between the virtual and the actual, between videogames and “game of life,” signs no longer point to other signs but instead “point to numbers, the numbers to algorithms, and algorithms to allegorithms of everyday life in gamespace, where signs likewise are devalued, arbitrary, but can still stand as allegories of the one thing that still makes sense, for the logic of the digital” (41).
What is NCAA Football if not an allegorithm of a broader digital gamespace in which we are all increasingly reconstituted as digitally numerable subjects? And not just as individuals turned into statistics, but where our activities, translated into algorithms, allow corporations access into our most personal activities (see, “How Target figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did”).
It seems to me that you, or
It seems to me that you, or perhaps better to say--Electronic Arts--has inverted the logic of the empty signifier, as Laclau conceived of it, insofar as the name is no longer a willed instance of catachresis, but is instead something that merely completes what has been formed before and around the name to come. The number, if I understand you correctly, is something contingent, to be sure, but has taken on the form of a totality, or an essence (hard to decide, sometimes, which comes first), such that the name is almost now beside the point. I can see this, and it's worrying for exactly the reasons that you state. But I'm wondering about 2 things. First, I'm intrigued by Wark's use of "allegory" in the passage you cite--wondering in particular how that might leave open a sense of irony or contingency that makes tracking less certain. Second, couldn't we also say that the name--Blackmon in this instance--goes without saying because we already know it that well, and that code has in fact been determined by it and precisely as instance of the empty signifier that has gone, quite literally, empty? The absence of the name, which keeps on appearing, is a reminder of contingency that nevertheless feels pretty permanent. For instance, consider baseball teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees, whose uniforms never include names. Now, if you're uninitiated--the kind of fan that would never get geeked out on NCAA Football videogames (I'm not pointing any fingers)--it would be very difficult to know who's who. And if you are initiated, even the #42 is redundant, knowing as you do all to well, that it's Mariano Rivera. If anything, you might have a look at the #42 in this particular uniform one more time (and I recommend doing so THIS year), because once Rivera retires, the number is sure to follow. Maybe another way of asking this question is: what happens when Blackmon starts playing for the Bills? Maybe that's just wishful thinking.
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