I had the pleasure of attending the Film-Philosophy 2014 conference in Glasgow this week. A strand running through the conference, typified by the keynote talks of William Brown and Laura U. Marks (to a much lesser degree in the equally brilliant talks by Patricia Pisters and Lúcia Nagib) was that of impending digitally. This was expressed by speakers in a multitude of ways: non-cinema, imaginary cinema, algorithmic cinema, network-cinema. The anxiety between the speakers remained the same however: what do we do now in the face of this new cinema? Many methods were suggested, enough to make me believe the future of film studies will be just as engaging and interesting as that which has come before. However, there seemed to me (perhaps unsurprisingly) to be a ghost at the feast. Many of the theories and philosophical approaches developed across the weekend seemed underwhelming when applied to the cinematic text. This is not because film is not an interactive medium; it’s because it is a limited interactive medium. Film, increasingly, when understood by theory developed in the era of digital media, seems a poor choice for this newer analysis so excited by the possibilities of the digital present.

In particular my feeling was present in the talk by Marks. Her discussion of Mulla Sadra’s imaginary realm – an abstract theological space of the mind which is closer to deistic existence than the standard form of the world – in application to the charming The Lebanese Rocket Society (Hadjithomas and Joreige, 2012) presented a particular frame from which to appreciate a particular culture’s artistic output. In the film’s closing moments the filmmakers switch form from candid camera to animation, imagining a future (or present) for Lebanon that will never be. Sadra’s imaginary realm allows this imagining to take place in a way that links it explicitly back to the people of that continent’s past. There are connections here that run deep, deeper than blood, into the cultural roots of a people, a religion and a social order.

Marks’ appropriation of Eastern esoteric philosophy in application to a medium anachronistic by hundreds of years opens new doors for approaching all media, not just cinema. Cinema, to my eyes, seems to me to only be a mildly satisfactory testing ground for the ‘imaginary realm’. Given the existence of The Cat and The Coup, a game that presents an extreme abstraction of the life of Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, and his subsequent downfall through a CIA- and MI6-engineered coup during the 1950s.

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In Cat and Coup, Iranian history and politics is, fittingly, negotiated through a series of puzzles and hermetic systems that steep a user within an aesthetic of conflict and cultural discourse. Heightening the presence of the imaginal realm as a potential approach to games, the player is asked to traverse the game world using a series of restrictive actions (jumping, moving, falling) and is represented on screen in the figure of a cat. There are realms of disconnection, intra-imaginary realms present in the constant abstraction of action and person from process to action to code to action to process yet again. The game progresses but is never won – a sort of waking dream. Beyond the sit and watch processes of cinema viewership, The Cat and the Coup places player’s in control of the imaginal realm. It pushes against the links of blood and culture and extends a particular social event to include whomsoever wishes to engage with the text. We are all invited to re-imagine historical events from the perspective of a fly, or cat, on the wall.

In all, there seems room to proceed. As time goes on in academia and Computergame-Philosophy continues to tick along rather than grasp and create new and engaging theoretical approaches such as Marks’, game studies may remain that ghost at the feast. I hope, in my time, to see a conference with the same vigorous approach to form and content as this but dedicated to my own medium. Presently, I’m saddened that we are content to haunt rather than possess.

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