Ambivalenz: A Different Hero for Video Games


 What is a Nomad Soul?

One who wants Out---out of all the Levels (and Borders) as they have been programmed? (Or if Out is impossible, then the ability to keep moving....)

One who works in the spaces between Levels, the subtexts in Texts

Who knows other meanings for terms like Artifact, Puzzle, Trick, Code, and Power Up---but those who tell don't know and those who really know won't tell

Who is male or female or something past that
Who is not one race, not one sexuality
Costume: may very greatly, but shoulder pads are recommended---nomading is always rough

Or---perhaps a Nomad Soul is that rare agent-hero in the System who openly refuses orders.

Transcription of the dialogue below: "TO SERVE. TO OBEY. TO NULLIFY. THAT IS YOUR JOB, AGENT." "Not this time. I refuse." "YOUR SUPERIORS HAVE BEEN INFORMED." The agent, Alouette, is seen flying away to other adventures in the picture's middle, vanishing in the distance even as the voice-overs try to contain her.



A cartoon like this one raises questions that video games rarely do. Like: is rebelling against and questioning the System merely the first stage in being co-opted? The sign of being talented and smart enough to be chosen as the means through which the System will perpetuate itself? This makes rebellion a good deal more complicated and less romantic. Witness:

["I began to ask why...."]

Questioning violence does not stop the cycle of violence, here symbolized by The Skull. Questioning is merely part of how the cycle repeats itself---how the next generation is chosen. After "questioning" comes: "I had to believe in what we were doing again." WHY she "had to" come to believe this is never asked. The Skull is inherited by a new generation and ambivalence is put aside. New leather SS suits are made to order.

What is the valence of ambivalence?
Valere (Latin) = strong; ambi = both. "Ambivalence" the word and concept was coined by Freud (!!!)---how many of us had any idea that it was such a recent word, such a 20th-century word. Ambivalenz in German, and an immediate equivalent was found in English.

"Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia."

---Donna Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s," in Coming to Terms: Feminism, Theory, Politics, Ed. Elizabeth Weed (New York: Routledge, 1989), p. 204. See also Abdul R. JanMohamed, "Worldliness Without-World, Homelessness-as-Home: Toward a Definition of the Specular Border Intellectual," in Edward Said: A Critical Reader, Ed. Michael Sprinker (London and Boston: Blackwell, 1992), pp. 96-120.

Primo Levi, in The Drowned and the Saved, speaks of the "gray zone": the contaminating conditions under which victims are tempted into becoming accomplices in the atrocities committed against them. In the concentration camps, the SS created a hierarchy of violence that delegated to selected prisoners, known as Kapos, arbitrary and often homicidal power over other prisoners. Given such power, it was hard for prisoners not to succumb to the Nazis' dreams of who they were and how they would act.

Then there's the position of those who benefit from violence done in their name. They look the other way. Is this ambivalence, or its opposite? Turning the other way is a "gray zone" too.

Put a white Disney cartoon glove on one hand; put a Gamer black glove on the other.

Run a finger or two over the edge of our 20th-century fantasy worlds, from cartoons to video games. Then run these same gloves over the edges of 20th-century history.

Look at your gloved fingers. They will be smutched gray, tipped in Primo Levi's gray zone.


"I still don't know where all this will play out," said a senior official,

speaking on condition of anonymity. This is known as speaking in "background."

"That's all, folks!" ---Porky Pig, speaking on behalf of Warner Bros.

[Premillennial Tension : 1999]