Platonic Dadaism - A Games manifesto
A downloadable project
“Sit down. I promised you the great secret and I will not disappoint you. Is this the end of our adventure? Nothing has an end. We came in search of the secret of immortality. To be like gods. And here we are… mortals. More human than ever. If we have not obtained immortality, at least we have obtained reality. We began in a fairytale and we came to life! But is this life reality? No. It is a film. Zoom back camera. [camera zooms back, revealing the scene to be the set of a film] We are images, dreams, photographs. We must not stay here! Prisoners! We shall break the illusion. This is Maya. Goodbye to the Holy Mountain. Real life awaits us.”
-Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Holy Mountain (1973)
All art is lies in pursuit of the truth. Ceci n’est pas une pipe. What we create is not reality but a crude facsimile. A level in a first-person shooter isn’t an actual world but a series of boxes floating in a featureless void. An NPC isn’t a representation of a real person but a simplistic, imperfect automaton behaving according to fixed rules. Verisimilitude is a lie.
And that’s OK! Games shouldn’t attempt to be “realistic”. In attempting to represent reality games get further away from representing the truth. The greater meanings are lost in an appeal to graphics and worldbuilding. We are missing the forest for the trees.
Plato believed that all things had an ideal Form that was the truest expression of their reality. These Forms could not exist in reality; attempting to physically create them would be folly. If these truths can only exist within the mind the best we can hope for is to create imperfect tools that allow us to see these truths.
The Dadaist art movement originated in reaction to the first world war and is characterized by a rejection of traditional forms and aesthetics in favour of nonsense and abstraction. Some observers perceived this to indicate a rejection of meaning; that Dadaist art was meant to be meaningless. I reject this interpretation. Dadaism wasn’t about the rejection of meaning but was a casting off of restrictive traditional forms in order to discover truth. By not adhering to tradition, Dadaists gained the freedom to pursue truth in avenues that their peers would never have thought possible.
Art, and games by extension, should be about the pursuit of truth. By making games adhere to reality and tradition we limit our ability to do this. So don’t! Smash the world’s shell! Make games that are broken! Let players run through walls and fall off the edge of the level. Let players access yr code; see the guts that run the machine. Virtual worlds are fake; to pretend otherwise is to lie to the player. There are no bugs, only features. If you strip away all convention about what games should be, you may come closer to finding the truth that we all seek.
P.S. This is the entire manifesto. The downloadable version does not contain any additional content.