Chess, Media, and Art

January 15, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

I was listening to Brian Regan’s comedy bit about chess, and how a checkmate is such an unsatisfying ending compared to other games and sports. This is interesting from the standpoint of the insufficiency of information to account for all of reality. Because chess is a game that is entirely defined by logical rules, the ending is a mathematical certainty, given a certain number of moves. That number of moves depends on the computational resources which can be brought to bear on the game, so that a sufficiently powerful calculator will always beat a human player, since human computation is slower and buggier than semiconductors. The large-but-finite number of moves and games* will be parsed much more rapidly and thoroughly by a computer than a person could.

This deterministic structure is very different (as Brian Regan points out) from something like football, where the satisfaction of game play is derived explicitly from the consummation of the play. It is not enough to be able to claim that statistically an opponent’s win is impossible, because in reality statistics are only theoretical. A game played in reality rather than in theory depends on things like the weather and can require a referee. Computers are great at games which depend only on information, but have no sense of satisfaction in aesthetic realism.

In contrast to mechanical determinism, the appearance of clichés presents a softer kind of determinism. Even though there are countless ways that a fictional story could end, the tropes of storytelling provide a feedback loop between audiences and authors which can be as deterministic -in theory- as the literal determinism of chess. By switching the orientation from digital/binary rules to metaphorical/ideal themes, it is the determinism itself which becomes probabilistic. The penalty of making a movie which deviates too far from the expectations of the audience is that it will not be well received by enough people to make it worth producing. Indeed, most of what is produced in film, TV, and even gaming is little more than a skeleton of clichés dressed up in more clichés.

The pull of the cliché is a kind of moral gravity – a social conditioning in which normative thoughts and feelings are reinforced and rewarded. Art and life do not reflect each other so much as they reflect a common sense of shared reassurance in the face of uncertainty. Fine art plays with breaking boundaries, but playfully – it pretends to confront the status quo, but it does so within a culturally sanctioned space. I think that satire is tolerated in Western-objective society because of its departure from the subjective (“Eastern”) worldview, in which meaning and matter are not clearly divided. Satire is seen as both not as threatening to the material-commercial machine, which does not depend on human sentiments to run, and also the controversy that satire produces can be used to drive consumer demands. Something like The Simpsons can be both a genuinely subversive comedy, as well as a fully merchandized, commercial meme-generating partner of FOX.

What lies between the literally closed world of logical rules and the figuratively open world of surreal ideals is what I would call reality. The games that are played in fact rather than just in theory, which share timeless themes but also embody a specific theme of their own are the true source of physical sustenance. Reality emerges from the center out, and from the peripheries in.

*“A guesstimate is that the maximum logical possible positions are somewhere in the region of +-140,100,033, including trans-positional positions, giving the approximation of 4,670,033 maximum logical possible games”

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