prosthetic imagination

Rules themselves create fictions by the very fact of complying with their respective rules, is separated from real life where there is no activity that literally corresponds to any of these games [they] are played for realAs if is not necessary (Caillois 1962, 8).

Replace cops and robbers and dolls houses with their digital descendants Grand Theft Auto and The Sims, and the complex circuits between rules, laws and the as-if are unplugged and reconnected. Jo and Alex recently showed me a carnivalesque little mini-game they had devised in a break from the hard work of conducting crime in Grand Theft Auto V. Through game settings or a cheat, they ‘turned down’ the virtual gravity as one might turn down the volume on a television. Rather than trotting through the virtual city as normal, the gangster avatar now leapt ludicrously high above the streets, twisting and writhing, before crashing down and leaping up again. The virtuality of as-if flight (in actual imaginative play) is transducted into the technological virtuality of the game system; the imaginative operation is transformed and split – partly into the playful manipulation of the software (the tweaking of virtual gravity) and partly delegated to the software itself (its mechanic enactment of a flight that is no longer impossible, just not the game world’s default option). A similar logic can be applied to The Sims: the child no longer directly animates the dolls in their as-if liveness, the software does that. A degree of imaginative control is ceded to the prosthetic imagination. Thus the intangibility of children’s imagination is not only laid over inert but compelling material, it is also delegated to machinic analogues. This process by no means replaces human imagination, as the critics of digital play might have it; it extends and augments it – rendering it poorer in some aspects but opening up all sorts of new games and meta-games.

(edited section from Gameworlds: virtual media and children’s everyday play, 126-127)