Boundary Spaces: Majestic and the Uncertain Status of Knowledge, Community, and Self in the Digital Age

“Boundary Spaces: Majestic and the Uncertain Status of Knowledge, Community, and Self in a Digital Age” with Beth Kolko, Information, Communication & Society, vol.6, no.4, pp.497-522, 2003.

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Abstract

While shows like The X-Files and 24 have merged conspiracy theories with popular science (fictions), some video games have been pushing the narrative even further. Electronic Art’s Majestic game was released in July 2001 and quickly generated media buzz with its unusual multi-modal gameplay. Mixing phone calls, faxes, instant messaging, real and ‘fake’ websites, and email, the game provides a fascinating case of an attempt at new directions for gaming communities. Through story, mode of playing, and use of technology, Majestic highlights the uncertain status of knowledge, community and self in a digital age; at the same time, it allows examination of alter native ways of understanding games’ role and purpose in the larger culture. Drawing on intricate storylines involving government conspiracies, techno-bio warfare, murder and global terror, players were asked to solve mysteries in the hopes of preventing a devastating future of domination. Because the game drew in both actual and Majestic-owned/-designed websites, it constantly pushed those playing the game right to borders where simulation collides with ‘factuality’. Given the wide variety of ‘legitimate’ conspiracy theory, alien encounters and alternative science web pages, users often could not distinguish when they were leaving the game’s pages and venturing into ‘real’ World Wide Web sites. Its further use of AOL’s instant messenger system, in which gamers spoke not only to bots but to other players, pushed users to evaluate constantly both the status of those they were talking to and the information being provided. Additionally, the game required players to occupy unfamiliar subject positions, ones where agency was attenuated, and which subsequently generated a multi-layered sense of unease among players. This mix of authentic and staged information in conjunction with technologically mediated roles highlights what are often seen as phenomenon endemic to the Inter net itself ; that is, the destabilization of categories of knowing, relating, and being.