Becoming Machinic Virtuosos: Guitar Hero, Rez, and Multitudinous Aesthetics
AbstractMedia scholars Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greg de Peuter view digital play as a complex, conflicted site on the terrain of global capital; although seemingly “one-dimensional” diversions in many instances, video games also constitute a space where the virtual can be actualized and where radical subjectivities can be collaboratively improvised (2005; forthcoming). Drawing from Dyer-Witheford’s and de Peuter’s work, my paper explores a gaming trend that has not yet been critically examined – the incorporation by recent titles of musical performance. The wildly popular Guitar Hero and the lesser known but critically acclaimed Rez serve as examples of digital-musical play; my paper argues that both games offer virtual “lines of flight,” however humble. But in order to critically analyze these ludic-aesthetic works, I first attempt to synthesize and develop what I call “machinic virtuosity.” According to autonomist Marxist theorists Paolo Virno, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the virtuoso (or “immaterial labourer”) is the paradigmatic worker of late capitalism (or “Empire”). As these thinkers argue, the qualitative shift to Empire’s mode of production is the moment when, theoretically, work becomes political. And yet, capital’s axiomatic of exchange remains as a sort of postmodern disciplinarian of virtuosity. A machinic virtuoso, then, to borrow a term from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, might be one that aesthetically subverts or “de-territorializes” Empire’s capture of human creativity. With “machinic virtuosity” in mind I proceed to explicate Guitar Hero and Rez, two video games that explicitly engage with immaterial labour and performance under Empire. Guattari has pondered the possible sources of subversive art in late capitalism: “[Virtual machines] are not easily found at the usual marketplace for subjectivity and maybe even less at that for art; yet they haunt everything concerned with creation, the desire for becoming-other” (Chaosmosis 92). Can Guattari’s “virtual machines” be found at Wal-Mart? As I will show, they can.