“Man’s failure is yet more intense in the face of the triumph of ineffable things than in the face of heavy things.” —Roland Barthes, What Is Sport?
The videogamer has always been at once player and spectator, in the action and yet removed from it. Watcher and watched, entertainer and entertainee, warrior and couch potato, the videogamer was fated to become the broadcaster of his own amusements, and that makes Twitch and its success — Amazon is buying the game-streaming juggernaut for a billion dollars — something of an inevitability.
As Roland Barthes long ago noted, modern spectator sports usually involve an object that acts as a mediator of the competition: a puck or a ball of some sort. The mediator is the main focus of the violence, which helps keep the bloodshed within civilization’s tolerances and hence suitable for the metamedium of the screen. The videogame, which has as its very field of play a screen, adds further layers of mediation to the already unreal world of the spectator sport. What exactly are we watching when we watch Twitch? We’re watching a screen through a screen, virtual reality twice removed. It would seem to be media all the way down: sport as pure symbol, or, in Platonic terms, pure shadow.
It’s not blood, said Godard; it’s red.
Image: still from the 1961 film Of Sport & Men.
You’re right; the mediation becomes exponentially more subtle and complex. I guess Magritte’s “Treachery of Images” is in need of an overhaul. Immediately, I imagined a game called “This is not a blood thirsty rampaging psychopath with impeccable fashion sense”, but when you have to call it “This is not an image of a blood thirsty rampaging psychopath…”, it just doesn’t hold up anymore.
It gets even more interesting when I start searching for some dividing line between video games and social media, or many other online activities for that matter.