Playing Jason Nelson’s games/art creations felt like my brain was being assaulted. It is messy, often incoherent, and destabilizing in many ways. I read that chaos as a way of mimicking both the overwhelming amount of information that is accessible in the age of the internet and the overwhelming amount of “choices” we have as consumers in a capitalist society. Further, the chaos is ultimately meant to critique these elements of society by forcing the reader/player to decipher some sort of meaning from the work. I’ll focus here primarily on “i made this. you play this. we are enemies.” because I think it is the clearest of Nelson’s games. (If it is even possible to use the word clear in relation to Nelson.)
The overtones of consumer culture are evident from the beginning. The opening level — “Monopoland” — is littered with the words “buy,” “sell,” and “soap.” The sound effects include repetitive cash register noises. The video clip shows a street where there are racks of clothing out for sale. “i made this…” doesn’t stop at just the consumption of physical goods however; Nelson goes on to explore the consumption of information and art. To narrow this down to just three of the websites which form the background of each level — there’s Google, for navigating the massive amount of information on the internet; Disney, a mass producer of art; and the RIAA, as the regulator for the consumption of art. None of these go without critique:
We’re presented a vision of “Google culture,” which Nelson seems to suggest is responsible for supplanting a desire to learn things through experience in favor of a “soft ad sleep.” Rather than choosing to go to a new place and learn or explore (as we are urged to do in Nelson’s instructions), his “soft ad sleep” suggests again a life/identity built out of consumption rather than any authentic exploration or decision-making. This lack of autonomy is suggested over and over again. For just one example I’ll point to one moment where the player moves through a portal and the message “now you’re here spoonfed” (or something similar) pops up.
I found the critique of Disney especially interesting. The cartoon characters cause the player to die if they cross paths, casting Disney’s “secretly dull cartoons” as enemies in the game. This idea of “secretly dull cartoons,” coupled with another one of the flashing messages (“You’ve been disney’fied” or something to that effect) points toward Disneyfication of culture — a diluting of ideas/art where everything negative is stripped away or masked; a homogenizing process meant to appeal to the masses, prompt more consumption, and generate more profit.
With his comments on the RIAA, who I take to be the “they” who “sleep on beds filled with the lunch money of 100,00 poor teens” Nelson critiques the consumerist culture born out of capitalism as something which is fueled by a rather inhumane kind of greed.
That Nelson’s scribbles, poetry and animations flash over these websites is important. Not only do they give the player a starting point for interpretation, they also provide the starting text for what becomes a barely legible palimpsest. With each new layer of chaos, Nelson puts us in a space more and more distant from our everyday experiences of these same spaces, challenging us to question what we might otherwise not stop to think about. The aesthetic reminds me of blackout poetry — a process of creation somewhat counterintuitively done via deletion/destruction. It is this rewriting through destruction that challenges us to question these aspects of the world and create our own interpretation from the chaos.