2nd Person Shooter by Julian Oliver (2005)


What is it about second person perspective that is, to quote a blogged comment regarding Julian Oliver’s Second Person Shooter, ‘creepy’? First and third person seem comfortable positionings; we are born locked into a familiarity with our own view point, and the third person omniscient provides a reassuring visibility of the very human desire for Godlike power. Second person perspective on the other hand provides the ’creepy’ view of ourselves as others see us. In gaming this usually translates to the point of view of our enemy. The view of the hunter seeking to exploit our vulnerabilities. A view that exposes the harsh truth (or lack thereof) of our representation in reality; the paranoiacs obsession; the disjunction between how we are perceived by others and how we perceive ourselves. Our experience of reality oscillates precariously between the two perceptions. Which, one wonders, is the truth?

Where previous games have manipulated the technique of second person perspective to enhance moments of game play, for example a battle in Metal Gear Solid lands you in your antagonist’s point of view watching your own avatar, no prior game or game sketch, as is the format of Second Person Shooter, has solely explored the existential crisis implicit in this dislocation. This crisis results from a rupture in the grammatical framework of thematic roles – the basic lexical semantic representation upon which the logic of experience is defined. In game play this logic translates fluidly to the knowledge that I am the agent of my own experience, the Proto-Agent of my own experience and you, as my game play opponent, are the recipient or Proto-Patient of my attack. Through the game’s mediated characteristic of extended embodiment, this basic natural premise can be broken. In Second Person Shooter Game law overrides Natural law as our primary sensory input, vision, is dislocated external to self in the avatar of Proto-Patient. Our playable knowledge of the game’s laws, founded in the premise that we want our Proto-Agent avatar to win, here fight with the corporeal experience of Proto-Agency embodied in the re-assigned role of Proto-Patient. The challenge therefore in Second Person Shooter is less to kill your opponent than it is to intellectually override your history of biological cognition. Which rules do you play by, those of the mind or the body? Which agent will your ego partner with when You as you biologically perceive yourself to be, are no longer the priority of agency? The game in this sense becomes a difficult task of negotiating the strength of ones intelligence against the formidable power of ingrained biologism.

The simplicity of this demo’s graphic style at first appears to assist one’s interpretation of its special laws. Large block letters replace an avatar’s head with the word ‘ME’ announcing the elementary condition that Proto-Agency is external to firstperson perception. Similarly the word ‘YOU’ is strategically positioned in the bottom left hand corner of the screen to provide a constant reminder of the embodied Proto-Patient’s otherness. Game play commentary such as ‘Saw myself attack’ and ‘Shot by me’ further reinforce these difficult game laws. However these textual elements when encountered during game play confound, rather than assist one’s ability to perceive agency. They enunciate the inherent fallacy of first person virtual embodiment by dually reminding us that first person experience of virtual embodiment is already a second person perspective. In Second Person Shooter the label ‘YOU’ not only suggests the second person perspective in the game, ‘YOU’ also designates second person perspective to the game, as you sit at your computer, outside the screen.

Second Person Shooter takes the simple format of a game sketch to exercise the experiential potential of the computer game format, in particular to highlight its privileged position as a dense media of virtual embodiment to corporeally illustrate complex logical arguments. Public discussions resulting from this demo have also contributed to a formal articulation of computer games’ structural perspectives.

By Rebecca Cannon