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Whip-smart media theorist McKenzie Wark is no yippie anarchist (too much Marx, McLuhan, and tenure in him for that), but his provocative new book in progress G4M3R 7H30RY (futureofthebook.org/ gamertheory) does give him at least one thing in common with Abbie Hoffman: Not since Steal This Book has a book’s radical packaging so threatened to upstage its radical content. In Wark’s case, though, the power of the packaging is more than title deep. In collaboration with the Institute for the Future of the Book, Wark is launching G4M3R 7H30RY as a “networked book,” opening it up online for extended comment and conversation before it finally goes to print. This is no Wikipedia—Wark’s text stands inviolate amid the surrounding clatter of discussion—but it has a similarly collaborative flavor and has already attracted a lively community of kibitzers offering everything from nitpicking copyedits to wholesale conceptual critique. In an age of the hyperlink and the blogosphere, there has been some question whether there’s a future of the book at all, but the warm, productive dialogue that’s shaping G4M3R 7H30RY may well be it.
Then again, if G4M3R 7H30RY‘s argument is right, books may well have to cede their role as the preeminent means of understanding culture to another medium altogether: the video game. Wark sets out here on a quest for nothing less than a critical theory of games (the book’s leetspeak title, for those who’ve never laid a finger on an Xbox, translates to “gamer theory”), and the mantric question he carries with him is “Can we explore games as allegories for the world we live in?” Turns out we can, but the complexity of contemporary games is such that no one mind is up to mapping it all, and Wark’s experiment in collaborative revision may be the best way to do the exploring.