Countergaming … What?

If we can reduce the definition of a countergame as merely defying expectation, what is ultimately the point of it? Similar to something like a “YouTube Poop,” where a user splices various segments of a television show or movie, often with other shows/movies, and molding them into something else entirely, countergaming sounds like nothing but an exercise of contradiction camouflaged with a “Dude … So meta!” self-reflexive existence.

That sounds harsh, though I don’t mean to be (entirely).

Aesthetically, Galloway’s framing of the countergame is digestible.  Commercial gaming often seeks to sell a believable experience. Often named “AAA” titles, they work best on high-end computers and console platforms, and are often lauded for their closeness to realism. In a way, commercial gaming is all about creating that sense of “transparency” – a suspension of disbelief modeled closely to reality that it then masks the scaffolding layers of code. You do not feel like you’re playing a “game” as explosions sound off and you struggle to the next objective. That is, until your character clips through a gap between the sandy beach textures and a large rock you were trying to hide behind – where your character falls infinitely into white, grey, or black space until you return to the previous checkpoint.

It is this unmasking of code—foregrounding—and the celebration of such glitches—visual artifacts—that frames the existence of a countergame. In a regular, commercially-produced title, things are supposed to move as we expect them to. When I pull left on the stick, my character should look or strafe left. Both the control scheme and the physics of a game should feel “natural,” even if not modeled by reality.

To the countergame, attention to realism is not the goal. Unlike commercial games, where narrative and form are interlocked in a working manner, a countergame has no interest in cohesion. Similar to the YouTube Poop, aesthetic becomes central. Game physics are invented and molded to the artist’s desire,  and interactivity is all but entirely eliminated.

But if interactivity, if the very elements of a “game” are removed from the countergame, how exactly is it still a “game?”  Galloway unfortunately doesn’t answer this, and leaves the door open to interpretation.  I think he’s on the right track by dropping machinima (like the very web-famous Red Versus Blue) and other methods of intersecting gaming as some type of mixed-media pursuit, but perhaps the problem is that countergaming-while-gaming just is not possible.