On Set Theory and the Bastardization Process

By Alex Kierkegaard / January 24, 2014

Videogame Culture: Volume II

Let's kick off the second circle of videogame culture essays with a bang: with stuff that will blow your fucking mind and with theories which no one else besides a bona fide genius could devise.
   Now, the issue of the connection between art and videogames should already be a dead horse for everyone who's read my Genealogy: videogames are not merely an artform, but the highest artform possible, and therefore also the last — and this can be seen, as I explained in detail in that work, by considering the evolution of art from the perspective of immersion and the technological sophistication of the tools invented and employed throughout the ages in order to increase it. Thus in the Genealogy I approached the issue from the angle of the history of art. There is another angle from which we could approach the same issue, however, and gain a slew of amazing new insights in doing so: the angle of mathematics, and more specifically that of set theory, and in particular the distinction between supersets and subsets.
   What is set theory? Here is its definition:

Set theory is the branch of mathematical logic that studies sets, which are collections of objects.

   And this is the definition of supersets and subsets:

In mathematics, especially in set theory, a set A is a subset of a set B, or equivalently B is a superset of A, if A is "contained" inside B, that is, all elements of A are also elements of B. A and B may coincide. The relationship of one set being a subset of another is called inclusion or sometimes containment.

   According to this definition, then, the various primitive artforms are subsets of videogames, or equivalently videogames are a superset of all the primitive artforms.
   But what exactly does this mean, in everyday language? Brace yourselves, because here comes the mind-blowing part. It means that music, novels, paintings, sculptures, photographs, movies and the like are TYPES OF VIDEOGAMES. The issue therefore is not so much that videogames are art, but that ART IS VIDEOGAMES. Hahahaha. Ebert must be turning furiously in his grave right about now. But, thankfully for us, no amount of turning in a grave can change reality.
   Let's consider some examples to solidify our understanding of what all this means in practice. Take a videogame and strip away all aspects — text, graphics, sound effects, user inputs and force-feedback — except the music. What are you left with? A piece of music, obviously.
   Now take another videogame and strip away the music, the sound effects, the graphics, the user inputs and force-feedback, and in a similar manner you'll be left with plain text. If it's fiction, it's a novel. Similarly, a movie is merely an unbroken cutscene, an illustration is a static screen, and a painting or a sculpture is a three-dimensional object which can be viewed (and even interacted with) from all angles in stereoscopic 3D via a VR headset.
   Moreover, not only are the primitive artforms subsets of videogames, they are in fact proper subsets of them. What is a proper subset?

A proper subset S' of a set S, denoted S' c S, is a subset that is strictly contained in S and so necessarily excludes at least one member of S. The empty set is therefore a proper subset of any nonempty set.

   That is to say that, in the case of novels, for example, all novels ever written, and that will ever be written, are videogames, and it is not possible to find — indeed it is not even possible to imagine — a novel that is not also at the same time a videogame. No technological advance will ever be able to change this. No amazing novelist will ever be born who can surmount this issue. It is simply a mathematical fact that all novels are videogames and that is the end of that.
   And voilà: we've demonstrated that all primitive artworks can be reduced to videogames in which the majority of the means of artistic expression ARE SIMPLY NOT BEING USED. In other words, we have demonstrated that all primitive artforms are ARTISTICALLY INFERIOR ARTFORMS (since they can only allow for a far lower level of artistic expression than that which videogames can).
   Now, there is no way to get around these conclusions. This is mathematics, not journalism or pseudo-academia, in which black can be made to seem white and white black. There is no room for "opinion" here — you either understand what you've just read, or you've failed the class and will not be allowed to graduate until you've taken it again and passed.
   One thing, however, remains to be explained, and this is the question of how on earth it was possible for mankind to become so hopelessly confused on something which, after a genius has explained it, appears to be such a simple matter. As always, it's an issue of semantics. "Mankind" — that is to say homo sapiens — is simply not adequately equipped to handle abstraction and conceptualizing beyond the level of the most basic grunts and groans, and the merest change in terminology will often suffice to send entire millennia of "human beings" into a whirling frenzy of ideological wars and terminal confusion. It is only one in a million who, by a fortuitous turn of fate, is born with a brain capable of thinking beyond mere words (which is to say, with ideas), and this is what the common people call a "genius".
   Take the case of movies, for example, to see how the confusion first begins and, over the course of generations, finally grows to envelop everything and stifle all reasonable discussion and lucid thought. The original movies were black and white with no sound. After sound was added, movies (which were named thus to distinguish them from "stills", i.e. from photographs) were not called movies anymore — they were called "talkies", to distinguish them from the original movies, which were now called "silent films". But after a while ALL new movies produced were talkies, so the "talkies" label was dropped and everyone went back to simply calling the talkies "movies". But something fundamental had changed. The new movies were by no means equivalent to the old, since an ENTIRE NEW DIMENSION OF ARTISTIC EXPRESSION HAD BEEN ADDED: the AURAL dimension: that of sound and music. The scientists and engineers had done their job, by giving the artists a whole new avenue, in addition to the old one, in which to express themselves, and thus the old artform (that of silent films) had been killed, since no self-respecting artist would ever bother with it again. Of course the older artists and critics, who failed to make the transition to the new artform, regarded it with contempt and many of them scribbled long and impassioned essays in defense of their doomed craft; but sooner or later they all dropped dead, and their manuscripts ended up decomposing in the trash along with their authors, which is precisely where they all belonged. Finally, a September 2013 report by the United States Library of Congress announced that a total of 70% of American silent films are now believed to be completely lost, and I for one would be too busy watching and enjoying modern 3D color "talkies" to shed a single tear if I one day learned that every last one of them was forever gone.
   What we have just examined then is how the definition of the term "movie", originally intended to signify an artwork consisting of 24 black and white photographs being projected every second onto a theater screen, was progressively ENLARGED over the years and decades to include first sound, then color, then eventually even stereoscopic 3D and force feedback technologies — and of course ever higher levels of visual and aural fidelity in the form of higher resolution source images and sound. To realize what a gigantic level of confusion this seemingly harmless little semantic mixup has caused, consider that most movies, even today, are referred to as "motion pictures" or even "photoplays" in legal documents. Just watch the end credits of practically any modern film (another obsolete term that refuses to die, since there is no longer any filming involved in modern "films") and wait for that last burst of logos and the legal mumbo jumbo in the very end, and you'll see what I mean. Why is such an obsolete term as "photoplay" still being used in the twenty-first century to describe 48 frame-per-second, 4K 3D digital color films that support D-BOX force-feedback seats and 7.1 Dolby Surround sound? Because average people have a massive incapacity when it comes to abstraction, and all it takes is a slight change of terminology for their tiny little brains to completely lose track of what is happening. If, instead of continually enlarging the definition of the term "movie" WITHOUT REALIZING IT, they had simply adopted a new term for every new invention — e.g. talkies, colories, 3Dies, force-feedbies, et cetera — "videogames", or "games", or "interactivies" or whatever you want to call them would have simply been seen as yet another term in the long sequence of terms that started with "scratchies" (aka cave paintings), and no one would have got their panties all in a bunch over them. But, people being what they are (which is to say, stupid), they didn't, and this is why we are presently in the mess we are in, and why it took nothing less than a genius to come in and clear up the accumulated subhuman confusion of millennia.


Videogame Culture: Volume I


Men of Great Genius

The Stupidest Word in Videogames
Arcade Culture
In the Name of Consistency
Reviewing Ports and Compilations
Sequel: The Videogame
No More "Parodies"
On "Values" for "Monies"
Can Games "be Art?", and other Childish Nonsense
Message my Ass
On Role-playing Games
The RPG Conundrum
The Nuts and Bolts are as Important as the Ones and Zeros
The Videogame News Racket
Does Anyone Hate Anything Anymore?
Non-games are for Non-gamers
Casual Reviews are for Casual Gamers
Mini-games are for Mini-gamers
On Complexity, Depth and Skill
The Second Stupidest Word in Videogames
On New Games Journalism
Leave Ranking to the Experts
Beyond the Videogame News Racket
How Good Exactly is Perfect?
Cocksucking Videogameland
Basic Instincts
On "Emergent" Game Behavior and other Miracles
On Insects and their Laws
The Simulacrum is True
A Gamer's Guide to the Internet: Prologue
Hardware Porn: Prologue
A Brief History of Cutscenes
On Action and Reaction
On "Pluralism"
The Myth of Independence
On Mane Streems and Niches
On Why I Am The Best Videogame Player In The World
On Why Scoring Sucks And Those Who Defend It Are Aspies
On the Relative Irrelevance of "Balance"
Bad Try, So No Cigar
Reviewing Textures
On Narrative Delusions


On the Genealogy of "Art Games": A Polemic


Historia abscondita

First Essay: The Absurd Circularity of the Pseudo-Art Game
Second Essay: The Evolving Artforms and their Parasites
Third Essay: The Message of the Medium


Videogame Culture: Volume II

There Can Be Only One

Following Nietzsche

On Set Theory and the Bastardization Process
Against the "Metagame"
On Meta- and Mini-gaming
R.I.P., Nintendo: An Introduction to the Tree of Gaming
Why Versus Multiplayer Games Are Worse Games Than JRPGs
The Downside to Playing Games with Icy and His Friends
On Why Bigger Has Always Been Better, And Why It Always Will Be
Real Virtuality, or On the Whole Murky Affair of the Emotions
The Motion-Sensing Dead End
What Is Wrong With Sports Games
Aesthetics and Mechanics and the Grand Unified Theory
The Console Wars Are Over
Why Steam Curation Algorithms Are Doomed To Eternal Failure
The Myth of Accessibility
Why Science Fiction Is The Ultimate Videogame Theme
The Myth of Toxicity
Why The Best Games Also Have The Best Graphics
How to Deal with Backlogs
Why I Don't Bother With Card Games
VR Is Stalling For No Reason
On Nerd Psychology and The Ultimate Goal of Videogames
Against Retro
How Art Works
Defining Cutscenes
Designing An MMORPG That Doesn't Suck, or The True Episodic Gaming
The Death of Discussion
How To Not Use Genres Like A Retard
How Devs Like Naughty Dog and Sucker Punch are Holding Gaming to Ransom
Bugs my Ass
Why You Should Play More Games
The Joy of Good Criticism
King of the Nerds
The Complete Package
The Supreme Criterion
How Consoles Went From Awesome To Necessary Evil
Interactivity Isn't Optional
Understanding the Crowdfunding "Revolution"
Ideas vs. Coding
The Inevitable Death and Improbable Resurrection of Variety Games
"Indie" Syndrome is Artistic Down Syndrome
How Hardcore Gamers Can Remain Sane & Healthy
On the Creative Bankruptcy of Goal-less Game Design, or Creativity my Ass
Why Gitting Gud at Videogames is for Losers
Why the Highest Artform Attracts the Lowest Lifeforms

ORDER NOW (Ships Autumn 2020)

Videogame Culture: Volume III

Quantum of Game Design
The Ultimate Singleplayer vs. Multiplayer Essay
On the Worthlessness of Game Academics
The Art of Cover Art, or How To Judge A Game By Its Cover
On Genre and the Tree of Gaming
On Difficulty, Fun, and the Impossibility of Playing to Lose
On Journalism's Irrelevance
On the Worthlessness of Game Academics
On "Indies" and "Dependies", or The "Indie" Game Conundrum
An Insomniac's Guide to Great Games
Dungeon Crawling
Notes on the Arcade Culture
Shooting Love
Defining Cutscenes
To Save, or not to Save, That is the Question
Why Old-timers Hate Handhelds
On Grinding
The Truth About Emulation
On Videogame Forums
A Matter of Tradition
How Hard is your Core? (or, The New Casuals)
The Third Stupidest Word in Videogames
Industry, Shmindustry
On Game Guides
Retrogression & Decadence
The Fourth Stupidest Word in Videogames
The Console and the End of Videogame Hardware
Who Really Killed Adventure Games
Western Videogame Art Design and the Cult of the Grotesque
The Myth of Innovation
Videogames & Simulation
Responsibility my Ass
Medium, Shmedium
Pressing Buttons
The Cinematic Videogame
Acquiring Taste
A History of Violence
The Mise-en-Jeu
The New Games Criticism
Confessions of a Game Reviewer

COMING SOON (Ships Autumn 2020)

See Also

Videogame Art