Theorist Games

Foucault action figureby Christy Dena and Jeremy Douglass

This is not a post about “serious games”, “edutainment” or “conceptual art”, it is post for the child in all theorists - or perhaps the theorist in all children.

David Gauntlett has created theorist action figures for Anthony Giddens and Michel Foucault:

Keenly aware of the fluidity of social identities, this 6.5″ Michel Foucault waves his baton in poststructuralist style at all challenges. Shrouded in a special removeable French cloak and with a built-in thoughtful head movement, this superb action figure is essential for both professional philosophers and junior postmodernists.

The figures aren’t actually available for sale - nor other theoretical toys also promoted on, such as the Lego Theory Sets or Lego Theorists. However you can purchase a print run of the Theory Trading Cards, which, like its insubstantial cousins, features Foucault.

A popular choice for these playful excursions, Foucault is also featured in Trigger Happy, by Thomson & Craighead (1998):

A playable on-line re-creation of the ATARI classic, ‘Space Invaders’ where instead of fending off pixelly alien invaders, you must defend yourself against paragraphs of philosophical text taken from Michel Foucault’s essay, ‘What is an Author?’

Being attacked by marching paragraphs is somewhat reminiscent of the recent WRT discussion of words as antagonists. Trigger Happy uses a classic arcade style for text interaction that is particularly reminiscent of Natalie Bookchin’s Intruder, which uses classic arcade techniques to stage the onslaught of a story.

In Jesper Juul’s “game about theorising about computer games”, Game Liberation (2002), on the other hand, one faces a different onslaught:

You are a games theorist. Your object is to defend games (and yourself) from the imperialism of a thousand theories. Navigate the four levels of narratology, psychology, film theory, and pathology.

In game liberation, theoretical imperialism is represented by the words “theoretical imperialism,” which fly onscreen firing bombs.

Are there any other theorist games that people know?

5 Responses to “Theorist Games”

  1. 1 Dr. Rich Wallace

    Christy, your post brought to mind the relationship between bot content creation and gaming that I have written about elsewhere, where we review conversation logs to search for linguistic “targets”.

    Specifically, systems such as Pandorabots have the ability to look through log files automatically, to find places where the bot gave a default reply. That is, the input matched some pattern containing a wildcard. This is easiest to explain with an example:

    Client: What is WRT?
    Bot: I have no idea what that it is. I can ask someone about it.

    The input matched an AIML pattern WHAT IS *, and the bot gave a default response related to all “what is” type questions. Later, when running the targeting algorithm, the botmaster sees the input


    as a hyperlink, and by one click goes directly to the Training interface to enter an appropriate new response.

    There are a multitude of audio-visual ways to display linguistic targets. On, you can find some experiments we did mapping the ALICE brain as a “Territory of Language”. I don’t think the perfect targeting interface has yet been developed, but it will probably eventually involve something like the Superbot and a game-style look and feel.

  2. 2 Christy Dena

    I should add the rules to the card game too:

    How to play the Trading Card Game
    1. Divide cards between players.

    2. Decide who will go first.

    3. The player whose turn it is, studies the card on top of their pile and selects either ‘Strengths’, ‘Weaknesses / Risks’ or ‘Special Skills’.

    4. All players then look at their own top card, and discuss who has got the best characteristic in this category.

    For example:

    — The Giddens risk, “Misguided postmodernists may attack”, is preferable to the Butler weakness, “Increasingly impenetrable writing style”. (It doesn’t matter if some postmodernists misunderstand your argument and slag you off. But if no-one can understand your argument in the first place, that’s bad). So here, when comparing ‘Weaknesses / Risks’ , the player with the Giddens card wins (unless someone else’s card beats theirs).

    — The Foucault strength, “Model of power innovative and realistic” is better than the Psychologists strength, “Resistance to postmodern self-doubt”. (Self-belief isn’t much of a contribution to the world, but good ideas are). So here, when comparing ‘Strengths’ , the player with the Foucault card wins (unless someone else’s card beats theirs).

    5. The winning player takes one card — the card which just lost that battle — from each other player.

    6. If several players are involved, the discussions about who has the superior characteristic on their card will inevitably be more complex. In case of dispute, a majority vote decides the outcome. If this still does not decide it, then for God’s sake, go and watch TV instead or something.

    7. The player with all (or most) of the cards at the end, wins.

    The theory spirit goes all the way to the gameplay — just what is the strength and weakness of a theory and who/what beats who/what??

  3. 3 Christy Dena

    Oh great! What is the article you wrote about gaming and bot creation? I’ve looked at your Ruminations on the Territory of Language before and find it fascinating. In fact, I’m using this as a jump-point for a post that will come out in a couple of days…

  4. 4 Dr. Rich Wallace

    I haven’t written any article about these ideas, just posted a couple of comments here:
    and here:

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