Plato’s new console
Even as Plato condemns the cave-culture game, he expects the philosophical reader to understand that they (Plato and the reader together) are at that moment engaged in a culture-game of their own—the game called Republic. In this post we’ll come to recognize that Republic features a next-gen graphics-engine and truly emergent gameplay that provides an unparalleled philosophical thrill-ride.
Republic is a game that, like 2K’s Bioshock, brings the player face to face with his or her own cultural constitution through gameplay. The most obvious example of Republic doing that—perhaps the most obvious example of any Platonic game (that is, dialogue) doing it—comes in the return of the ascended man to the cave. In fact, the philosopher’s return demonstrates just how thoroughgoing Republic’s attempt to make the reader see him or herself as a prisoner of game culture is.
Am I saying that Plato is the antidote to gamification? Yes, for in the light of the philosopher’s return, the figure of that doomed dissident, the figure of Socrates himself, pushes his arguments both forwards and backwards through the entirety of Plato’s majestic ten-book edifice, turning the whole thing into the new console’s killer app: a game called Republic on a console called “dialogue.”
Republic begins, after all, with Socrates telling his unknown interlocutors (that is, the interlocutors of the dialogue itself—the unnamed characters to whom Socrates is narrating the story of the cool conversation he had with Plato’s brothers et al. at the house of Cephalus: that is, us, the players of the Republic game) that it all started when he went to the feast of Bendis, a new cult where there was going to be a thrilling new ritual: a night-time torch race on horseback—such diverting games as, Plato expects the reader to realize, go to make up the cave-culture game.
Republic ends at last with the massive, enigmatic myth of Er, in which none other than problem epic hero Odysseus is shown gaming the system of reincarnation, and we are expected to learn from his example to game the system of myth and mimesis. People usually don’t read the myth of Er. If you want an idea of how different Plato is from what you thought, go read it—it’s at the end of Republic 10. I’ll wait.
Republic is one big mimesis: one big game. How do we deal with that?
If we decide not to do what most platonic scholarship through the course of history has done—if we refuse simply to ignore the clues that tell us we’re supposed to understand that Republic and all Plato’s dialogues are in fact themselves mimesis–that is, in our way of thinking, games; if we actually take the clues that say “dialogue is a game” seriously, we could still say something reassuring to the philosophers.
We could say that what Plato in fact is trying to tell us with those clues is something different; we could say that he’s actually saying “this is no game”–that his dialogues may look like mimesis, but really aren’t mimesis. We would lose a great deal of the irony that makes Plato wonderful instead of mind-numbing, but we would gain a philosopher who makes the kind of sense we tend to like in a guy upon whom our livelihoods depend.
We would also, however, be ignoring an absolutely crucial piece of evidence.
Next time: the smoking gun of Platonic mimesis.