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The Voyeurism of Lakitu: "Let's play-ce's Demon"


The 4th wall in video games became fully realized when Lakitu is the cameraman for Super Mario 64. It's a simple enough concept with the 4th wall always being where the audience is behind viewing the show, the actions, the actors and actresses. However unlike cinema or the stage, the concept of the video game 4th wall is very different. It's the first time in entertainment the 4th wall can be engaged beyond the scope of what the director wants us to see. Instead of a constant fixed perspective, a movable camera means we can direct our own gaze to what we want to see. Yes, in some ways this 4th wall is more constrained because the world has to be designed, created, with it's boundaries being fractionally smaller in comparison to the earth, the limitations only bounded by the hardware and the imagination. However with movies, it's not like we can take the camera away from the director and decide to see the area they chosen for us. For all the limitations the game world might have, every accessible inch is for us to look at our discretion. In some ways the 4th wall ceases to exist because how can a wall exist when the 3 walls can always change? Can it really be a 4th when there is 360 of walls to be had?

In a clever move of both revealing and destroying the 4th wall, the mirror room reminds us that the camera has been Lakitu all along. However if the camera producing the 4th wall caught itself in it's gaze, then does it become part of the world? Being able to produce a 4th wall loses all meaning because now it has become part of the scene, where does it begin? Does or can it even exist in the traditional sense?

In some ways Lakitu doesn't have the traditional role as voyeur. Yes he holds the camera, however he does not have a viewfinder in which to see the contents of the camera. He is a witness to events, but lacks the necessary disassociation with the subject in order to fit that role. He can only imagine what it captures or how the film would appear. The audience in turn takes on the role as the voyeur. In a rare instance we have become both director and audience.

As a passive viewer of cinema and stage, we are stuck with the gaze the director given us. Hopefully showing us the beauty of the screenplay through their and the crew's ability. However the difference being in actively engaging in our entertainment is that we actually have power as the voyeur by directing the camera in a spot to see our actions, satisfying our whims. The artisty of the game is hardly ever in it's cinematic view because no matter how beautiful it looks, the screenplay of the game is determined by our actions and buttons presses. Hence how game enjoyment suffers when they camera system is a problem. If it's not there to capture the actions, the artistry does not exist.

We are telling the story through the joystick. The technique is the screenplay for which the character enacts on screen. Just as the camera is the input for recording the visuals and revealing the essence of the film, the controller records our button presses to revealing the essence of the game. Therein where the power lies.

If we compare Lakitu's role with the player's we are on opposite sides of a similar role:

- Is in the reality of the scene.
- Is only a witness, not a voyeur because he is not displaced by the camera.
- Does not know the content of the camera.

- Not in the reality of the world.
- Knows the contents of the actions and therefore changes the power of the voyeur from anonymous viewer to anonymous controller.
- Is displaced because of the camera and viewing the scene through it.

Traditionally the voyeur takes pleasure in seeing the activity that is occurring but without notice or interference. Part of the enjoyment is seeing an activity playing out just as you would have wanted it, however at the same time not knowing the intent of the subject or it's further actions. Intentions and emotions could only be interpreted by the subject's actions and the viewer's imagination much like the cinema and stage.

With video games it turns this idea around. Suddenly the viewer is in charge of the actions even the emotional intent of the subject. Our inputs are the screenplay of which the character can only interpret what we want them to do within the scope of their abilities; substituting the directors directions with ours. Another aspect of this change is Mario knows that he is being filmed; knows that he is the subject of our gaze. So in what way is the state of voyeurism still applicable if the subject is aware? Because instead of us interpreting what his actions mean; he has to interpret our inputs into the controller, much like how an actor interprets the screenplay and direction. Our enjoyment is now seeing our inputs become the controller of the activity. The abstraction of not knowing the subjects thoughts are now reversed for Mario not knowing anything about our thoughts.

On Sept 30th dinosaurs will fly in a bid to impart the traditional role of voyeurism onto the viewer. How are we to interpret this? What are the button presses in order to perform such a feat? Only our imagination can see this. Even in the demo view of the game, they show us how to perform this feat, wresting control away from us again and making us the passive viewer again. Everything comes full circle and the traditional definition of voyeur returns. Where the passive viewing of cinema and stage can be enjoyed by an audience of many, the actual active engagement of the game can be only enjoyed by few, often singular. However as the gamer plays in the presence of others, they themselves have become the subject of voyeurism of the audience watching them play. You might say, "Hey, the audience is in the same room/reality as the player, much like Lakitu is with Mario. How is this different than just being a witness like Lakitu?"

It's different because like an actor who cannot break their eyeline in order to maintain the continuation scene, the gamer cannot break their eyeline of the screen to maintain the continuation of the game. While the audience may not be looking directly at the gamer, they are still looking at them through a lens. The lens of the television in which the actions are played out just like how they wanted to be for their entertainment, but not fully knowing the emotions or intent of the gamer. The gamer has become the audience, director and subject all at the same time, fulfilling the act of voyeurism by their audience. The 4th wall returns both through the lens of the television and the concentration needed to block out anyone not engaging with the game.

It's funny that creating "Let's Play..." videos sort of undermine this whole process of both the 4th wall and voyeurism. Mostly due to the camera capturing the game doesn't involve a real life camera, but instead the abstract of a recording program; therefore making further dissolution of the 4th wall by try to minimize the role of the camera. The second undermining action is expressing the feelings and intent of the gamer, therefore eliminating any sort of enjoyment through interpretation of the subject's actions. Coupled with the fact that they produced this video knowing full well that people seek it destroys any last bit of voyeurism for the audience.

In a misuse of the pun in my title, it's only speedruns or TAS playthrough's that truly mimic the Laplace Demon concept, knowing where every action and atom's place in the game in order to reveal it's true artistry through gameplay. Perhaps because to return being a voyeur of gaming, you have to fulfill the screenplay so perfectly, the actions are known but the intent and methods not. It's through this often silent run through a game that we take pleasure in seeing the activity without notice or interference that returns us back into the role of voyeur and perhaps by almost tricking Lakitu's ability to keep up with Mario's actions...re-establishing his role with us.
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About DarwinMayflowerone of us since 1:19 AM on 10.31.2008

Stuck between uneducated hardcore gaming nerd and pseudo intellectual, I've found my ego has not be recognized as much as I want (i.e. by everyone). Why not continue my rants in a more specifically highlighted area in which I could get some actual discourse, rather than an ignorance of my rants or creating an atmosphere of intimidation which results in no discussion at all. I love talking about games, I love games. Why not put it to good use?