PROCEDURAL DEHUMANISATION

Procedural generation, of the sort which automatically creates videogame levels using an algorithm, is not to me an exciting new technology. I understand independent game-makers use it to cheaply build products (I refuse to call a game created by this method anything other than a product) that might compete, size-wise, with published and larger-budgeted works. But I think they’re accelerating their own destruction: if independent game-makers insist on procedural generation, they’re only perpetuating the taste for “content” and anonymity that makes their jobs impossible in the first place. I enjoy independent games when they feel purposeful and of a distinctive, human voice. If they start chasing raw scale, and production via an oblique, impersonal system – i.e a computer algorithm – I may as well just buy mainstream stuff, because it’s better made and is at least, weirdly, more honest about its sterility.

How facile must your appreciation of art and people be that you think their work can be recreated by a fucking computer? Critics worry that the violence in games makes them cynical and damaging. But to essentially state that imagination and creation can be – or should be – done by machines and not people is immeasurably more brutal. I can’t help wondering what has happened, to the makers of products like Strafe and No Man’s Sky, to make them doubt themselves and the human voice, so much. It must have been tragic. That might sound patronising. But it’s nothing compared to the implication that we – people who love and lose and suffer – should feel entertained by the creations of some emotionless equation.

Games already have a problem with humans. They already feature only digital, animated facsimiles of people. They don’t need to feel any more like they’re being methodically produced by a computer, that literally doesn’t care about anybody or anything – the novel-printing Versificator, from 1984, is a nightmarish idea precisely for the same reasons as procedural generation. I think it’s for people who like technology more than art. I think it belongs to an anachronistic appreciation for games, that extends largely to frame rates and processor power and draw distance. I think it’s inhuman.

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One thought on “PROCEDURAL DEHUMANISATION

  1. I think people are more comfortable receiving their media (ideas) from god-like figures. A procedural-algorithm fills this role quite efficiently. Sure it’s cowardly. But maybe it’s right to be afraid of humans.

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