Walter Benjamin // Games and the Aura
|February 17, 2011||Posted by Cayden under I Wrote This|
The next segment in my series of posts of notes from my lecture on The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction considers where we might locate the aura in video games. This is much more fragmented, but after further conversations with Liz, I’m starting to flesh this out. I took out a chunk where I discuss the console, “hard-core gamers,” and the commodity fetish. I think, for my purposes now, that’s a topic for another post.
Benjamin makes much of this concept that the work of art has what he calls an “aura,” that is, the artwork’s autonomy from that outside the realm of art, and its sense of being authentic. Through mechanical reproduction, he argues that the aura is banished from the artwork, which at once serves to make critics argue that mechanical reproduction strips art of its “artiness” and also brings the work closer to the mass.
I believe that, in this, Benjamin is spot-on. His perception that the aura has been replaced by the commodity fetishization with which we approach film celebrities is neither misguided nor understated. One of the unique quirks of this new shift in production into the digital is that reproduction has become easy to the point of being a feature of the artwork. The aura has been obliterated so completely from the artwork that authenticity is not even a question here. Or is it?
There are so many people obsessed with the idea of a “realistic” representation of the world in video games. Gamers are constantly geeked about the latest in graphics processing, how great the particle effects in such-and-such a game are, how textured and beautiful the lighting. What is realism in a video game if there is no aura?
Of course, we might locate the aura with the experience of playing, which might be contrasted to spectating. The video game spectator, while perhaps appreciative of the gameplay that is being witnessed, nevertheless has a very different, and perhaps “less genuine” experience of the game than the player does. This is an idea that’s worth exploring, because perhaps the aura has returned in terms of an authenticity of experience that is offered to the player, but denied the spectator.
This might also be extended to arguments and attitudes concerning serious or “hard-core” gamers versus casual gamers. Casual gaming is not participating in the same game culture: perhaps the aura in video games relates to the nature of the game played.
However, this second possible definition ignores the fact that the aura is part and parcel to a work’s autonomy, and defining the “authentic” game through game culture is instantly negating the game’s autonomy as a work of art. I’m not sure where these arguments lead, but they might be fruitful at some point down the line.