Cover Image: The Play Station Dreamworld

The Play Station Dreamworld

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Having enjoyed and gleaned much from Alfie Bown's 'Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism', I was intrigued to dive right into this, his take on Slavoj Žižek's Playstation Dreamworld. Although heavy on academic language, there is much to admire about this study. The fundamental principle analysed here is that like television advertisements, video games influence players whether they are aware of it or not. Through the lens of psychoanalysis, Bown explores the ways in which video games can be perceived and internalised by our subconscious and the implications this may have in terms of our political views.

As with most of Polity's publications, it reads very much like a PhD thesis, but it is well worth your time if you appreciate thought-provoking material. Although from the title you may have assumed this work is primarily addressing those who play such games, these theories actually have ramifications for the whole of humanity. With the upsurge in the use of technology, social media and the internet, it is crucial we all realise that our behaviour is likely being altered by those "pulling the strings". Only through this awareness will we be able to stop this once hidden influence that is blurring the line between fiction and reality so much that in the future the distinction quite possibly could disappear completely.

Many thanks to Polity for an ARC. I was not required to post a review, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Fascinating, but ultimately dense and entrenched in academic language, this is a book for a particular audience.
Was this review helpful?
In his last book The Playstation Dreamworld (Polity, 2017) Alfie Bown is not exclusively addressing video game players, whether full time or simply occasional players, but everyone. He understands that video games can be the perfect tool to comprehend the digital media scenario in which we live. So, in the same way, that American cinema from the 40's, 50's and 60's, left a footprint in several generations' lives regardless of whether one watched the movies or not, influencing their clothes, haircuts, the music that they listened to, and the way they walked or smoked, Bown's idea is that video games might be doing the same with this generation, regardless of whether we play video games or not. The digital revolution has arrived and former cultural backbones such as theatre, novel, radio, cinema, and television have been swept away or assimilated by the internet. Video games, however, which were also born before the Internet, seem to be a mean of expression, cultural asset, leisure activity, or whatever you want to call them, which adapts and morphs with technology. Advances in computers allowed games to evolve and designs to become more real, the possibilities of games multiplied, as well as the available offer. The consoles, before the mobile phones, became small and portable and gave the option to play anywhere. The development and implementation of the internet make it possible to play online with people from all over the world, and virtual reality (VR) systems seem to be the last frontier between fiction and reality. In addition to this, with the shift of generations of players, video games have ceased to be a market for children, teenagers or alternative cultures to occupy an important part of the adult leisure market. 

Video games appear as a step ahead as a cultural touchstone if we compare them with books or movies because they incorporate one of the key factors to understand the present moment: participation. Constant participation is one of the features that best defines the ethos of today's society. Conceivably, in the past, time for leisure or rest was associated with just that, to rest, to forget work either socialising with friends, traveling, going for a movie, watching television or reading a book. But now the pressure is too great and nobody can afford to remain disconnected for a long time and therefore, at the same time we do any of these things we see what is happening on Twitter and Facebook, check our email, post on Instagram, send three text messages, fifty WhatsApp, and so on and so forth. The inability to concentrate has nothing to do with the quality of the books or films we choose, but with ourselves and with our permanent need to always be somewhere else doing something different than what we are actually doing. 

The possibility offered by video games has a double advantage, on one hand it demands a greater degree of concentration since we need not only to look but also to use our hands to play, and at the same time it requires less mental attention than a book or a movie and the games can be split indefinitely, adjusting to our already fractioned schedules. The second advantage is that the fact of being protagonists makes us think that we decide or determine the final result what perfectly matches with our inflated egos and at the same time it guarantees us a greater immersion in the action, say, they are more efficient making us forget the rest of temptations waiting for us.

This differential fact makes the essence of video games different and therefore the analysis that we can make of them must be different as well. During this process of differentiation is when the author found the connection that structures the book video games-dreams-psychoanalysis. It is evident the connection between video games and psychoanalysis, through unsatisfied desires that are time and again fulfilled, and so immediately forgotten and replaced by new desires. Each time, both dissatisfaction and culmination, happening at a higher speed. Games offer also the possibility of being someone else, someone better, or different, than us, someone who succeeds or who is not judged when fails. Through the analytic question, he arrived at the world of dreams and its analysis. Dreams, like games, are experienced actively, and the gamer suffers, thrives, explores, unaware of what is going to happen, within an environment that he does not control. If the involvement in the game is big enough both experiences may be pretty similar, including the return to the real world afterward. The difference is that dreams are exclusively our own while in games we are inhabiting someone else's dream. Walter Benjamin and his ideas of daydreaming while wandering around the city (curiosly under the Paris arcades) are a constant source of inspiration for Bown, since his concept of dreamworld is not limited to the moment of playing but it extends to the whole framework of screens and computers that surround us. This dreamworld has nothing to do with a oneiric fluid-like world, on the contrary, can be deeply ideological and full of political content. Bown's concept of consciousness is closer to Jean-Luc Nancy than to Freud since his consciousness is a consciousness-in-the-world something that exists collectively rather than in a personal or individual Freudian mode.

The contention of the book is that so many hours playing video games or staring at screens are usually 'dismissed as apolitical', as secondary or expendable. Nonetheless, this is a relevant characteristic of modern life and hence to be carefully considered. No human activity is apolitical and video games' political potential is going to be canalised and utilised by someone. In the same way that they can be used as instruments of control and collective stunning, this phenomenon can be reversed and turn this 'dreamworld' into a space for subversion, alien to the control of governments and corporations. Although aware of the control that currently ideological powers exercise over this space, Bown distinguishes some glimmer of hope to turn around the pre-established games' ideology and use them instead as tools for change. For this, it is required swimming against the current, be rebellious, question everything, and develop a critical spirit so gamers are able to play the games no for the purpose with which they were designed but in some sense seeking for a Derridean deconstruction of the original ontology of the game. 

Although the approach is powerful, in my view Bown does not go far enough and does not finish materialising the format of this possible subversion. In my opinion, the subversion offered by video games will be the same as those offered by other means of communication or entertainment. Subversion, controversial positions, and 'left merchandising' have become part of the system governed by corporations and states, it can never be anti-system if it is inside the system itself and it is tolerated by it. Capitalist democracies allow this game of freedoms, even taken to the extreme, knowing, at all times, that consequences are minimal and possibilities of change almost nil. In our hyperconnected society we stay less connected than ever before. Political parties are merely puppets in the hands of large corporations, global banks, and rating agencies. The vagaries of the stock market, banks, the oil industry, real estate, pharmaceuticals or the arms industry are listened obediently by governments, while citizen protests are heard as healthy democratic demonstrations without visible effects.

The author manages to thread in the same strand video games, dreams, Lacanian enjoyment, desire, and capitalism. The analysis of today's society is very enlightening and even for an ignoramus in video games like myself the examples used always reinforce the arguments and give depth and breath  to the work. Perhaps the weakest part is the political connection, although to be fair I must point out that the book is partly speculative about a future in the short or medium term. By exploring the ideas of Slavoj Zizek and Mark Fisher who stated that we must assume that there is no alternative to capitalism and this fact should not make us pessimistic, but on the contrary, we have to grasp that opportunity. This reminds me of some pseudo-gurus that trying to sell Eastern Philosophy as the remedy for everything, use always as an example the word crisis, which in its original Chinese definition, according to them, means both danger and opportunity. For Fisher and Zizek, what is trully dangerous right now, is a blind belief in some kind of utopian alternative, which ends capitalism for good, and that is so far away to be reached that makes any movement ineffective keeping us inactive. The late Mark Fisher used to mention that small ruptures in the system could be the beginning of big cracks on the surface, highlighting the necessity of focusing on modest realistic objectives more than sonorous ideals. Bown comes aboard this group with his theory of video games as a platform susceptible to generate change, to reverse power ideologies, and to find an environment suitable for revolution and that also fits perfectly with the times we live and probably with the future to come. 

Game Over.
Was this review helpful?
Reads like a Private Eye pseuds column gone mad. Quite painful if you try to take it seriously.
Was this review helpful?
After "Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism", Alfie Bown continues to investigate the effects of technology and gaming on our subjectivities through the lens of psychoanalysis. I think psychoanalysis (at least in its most contemporary form whose biggest influence is Zizek alongside lesser known names to the general public) is most intelligible and useful when it helps us to dissect the swift changes in our societies. Bown uses the relatively small volume of the book effectively in delivering his points again and I don't think name-dropping is an issue for this particular book (author does not expect you to have an extensive knowledge of critical theory or Deleuze and Guattari for that matter) although some interest in Lacanian psychoanalysis would be beneficial. I am much more interested in what could be called "game studies" after this book. I think it is a fascinating area of investigation when one considers the popularity of new types of science and technology studies in academia, Elon Musk, VR headsets and  "augmented reality". I am not really a gamer, but I would be really curious what my gamer brother thinks about this book. If only he was slightly interested in psychoanalysis, of course. Gamer or not, if you feel you are interested, I think you should give this book a look.
Was this review helpful?
Perhaps the best book I've read this year and definitely one of the most utile studies on gaming available. Bringing to bear some genuinely useful psychological theory (philosophy) to bear on our understanding of gaming and in a way narrative is fascinating
Was this review helpful?
Why we play video games? Are they more than just a way of distraction? Are we in control of the game, or could the game (and those behind it) be guiding us? Do we remain the same person after our gaming experiences?. If any of those questions pique your interest, you might want to read The PlayStation Dreamworld. 
This book analyzes how political (capitalism) behavior can be reinforced through video games while people remain unaware of such influences. This last point is the reason why the subject is approached through the lense of psychoanalysis. It deepens on the different ways video games are perceived and internalized by the unconscious mind and the potential implications it might have (and already has) on a political level.. 
I wish it would explain or give a small introduction about all the terms and theories of psychoanalysis that are mentioned, as it would appeal more to readers with no prior knowledge in that field. Nevertheless, it references a lot of great sources and serves as a bridge for those who might want to further research the subject. This book should be read by all of us interested about the implications of new technologies in the future of humanity, not as an isolated subject in the realm of science, but as part of our everyday life, permeating all aspects of it, from politics to our most primal desires.
Was this review helpful?
There is a lot to love in the book. I'll definitely recommend it.
Was this review helpful?