Computer Gaming and Protocols of Improvisation


The railway juncture is marked by transience. Its inhabitants are always travelers--a multifarious assembly in transit. The "X" of the crossing roadbeds signals the multi-directionality of the juncture and is simply a single instance in a boundless network.... Polymorphous and multidirectional, scene of arrivals and departures, place betwixt and between (ever entre les deux), the juncture is the way-station of the blues. (Baker 7)

The apparent spontaneity of improvisation is often signified by expressive and playful language--idiom, slang, jargon, the vernacular--all with their subtext of place. In his vernacular theory of the blues, Houston Baker situates the African-American idiomatic music at the railway junction, the place where road crosses tracks. Baker's conceit suggests that the blues musician provides "expressive equivalence for the juncture's ceaseless flux" and thus the blues performer may be considered a "translator" (simultaneously suggesting an affinity with the Greek understanding of the actor as translator). Baker refers to John Felstiner's argument that translation preserves something of value, as in the giving of a gift, by "keeping it in motion" (206). The blues musician, working in the vernacular--of the slave, native or peculiar to a particular country or locality--translates experience at a particular crossroads which is also a node in a network of cultural relations. The crossroads marks both a particular instance of local expression and a point with no fixed address, something of a cultural universal ruled by archetypes and protocols. The work of Henry Jenkins on the space of computing gaming is relevant here.

Analogously, I situate computer gaming at a figurative crossroads ruled by the archetype of the trickster.