Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Blog Banter: Digital Distribution

This post is my first contribution to the “Blog Banter” initiative! You can find more information about this cool project here.

It’s a little hard to find a specifically classical connection with regard to the question of the pros and cons of digital distribution, but it might be worth mentioning the way that in the early years of written culture, in 5th Century BCE Athens, people seemed to pay a lot of attention to what it meant to write things down. It was in those years that the texts of Homeric epic as we know it probably came together, and it would have been a very new thing to be able to hold a story in your hand in the form of a papyrus roll (what we think of as the book, which is properly called a codex, wasn’t invented until hundreds of years later).

The Athenian historian Thucydides bases a lot of his historiographical philosophy on the idea that he is writing for a reader who has a thing in his hands—a thing that contains the words Thucydides wrote. Above all, Thucydides hopes that the “thingness” of his history will mean that it will be a “possession forever,” a truer and better possession even than the city, Athens, that he loved and of which mourned the decline.

Are our games still possessions if we download them instead of carefully removing them from their boxes and putting them in our consoles or disc-drives? Well, yes—but only to the extent that they were ever possessions in the first place. I think we probably should try to get past the idea of possessing art, and it may be that digital distribution is an even greater help to that than we can see right now.

The act of downloading a game seems to me to make very real the idea that we’re experiencing the same work of art as all our gamer peers who are downloading the same thing. For me, art is always really about the communities it’s made for and that it makes. Maybe it’s just me, but digital distribution seems to me to make the community of gamers a little more real.

Thucydides wrote in a world he thought was continually falling apart, and in which he thought he wouldn’t find many receptive readers, because it must have seemed to him that so few people besides himself understood what had really happened to Athens (indeed, because so few people could even read at the time). He inaugurates writing-as-writing with the idea that community is doomed, as Athens was doomed.

I have a suspicion we can prove him wrong.

Check out the other Blog Banter articles below!

Silvercublogger, Mahogany Finish, Video Game Sandwich, thoughts and rants, weblog.probablynot.com, XboxOZ360, Zath!, Delayed Responsibility, Gamer Unit, Hawty McBloggy