Computer Gaming and Protocols of Improvisation

Ethnography of Performance

Dwight Conquergood charts out five attitudes, or strategies, for approaching the ethnography of performance, four of which he believes are morally compromised. Carlson nicely summarizes Conquergood's schema:

"The suspect stances were that of the custodian, the enthusiast, the skeptic, and the curator. The custodian collects examples of performance, interested only in acquisition or exploitation. The skeptic, like many traditional ethnographers, stands aloof from and superior to the performance being studied. The enthusiast goes to the opposite extreme, seeking an easy identity in quick generalizations. The curator takes a tourist's stance, seeking exoticism or spectacle. Against all four of these, Conquergood champions the fifth stance, a 'dialogical' performance, which aims to 'bring together different voices, world views, value systems, and beliefs so that they can have a conversation with one another.' The result sought is an open-ended performance, resisting conclusions and seeking to keep interrogation open." (Carlson, Performance, 31)

Any project which proposes to explore intercultural and interdisciplinary correspondences immediately treads on highly-contested ground regarding questions of authority, authenticity, subjectivity, and appropriation. In The Predicament of Culture, James Clifford argues that contemporary societies have become "too systematically interconnected to permit easy isolation of separate or independently functioning systems": everywhere we see individuals and groups who "improvise local performance from (re)collected pasts, drawing on foreign media, symbols and languages" (15). Clifford and others refer to these inter-cultural formations as "creolized" in reference to the heterogenous and layered cultures of, for example, the Caribbean. In Clifford's predicament, there is a complex interplay of value, influence, and adjustment which resists easy reconciliation, and which puts the ethnographer in the position of performing in relation to the performance of the culture under study.

I take it that the same is true of any attempt to theorize computer games.