July 23, 2003

Irony and situatedness

by Nick Montfort · , 1:21 pm

In some ways I hesitate to discuss Hipster Bingo, even in its exciting randomized form, because it is only superficially computer-based and is a pseudo-game. People don’t really play it – I don’t think. It’s more like some sort of gristly, low-quality blog fodder rather than being an interesting work of art or literature or gaming. But it’s a somewhat interesting mockery of a game, nonetheless, and it’s going to give me an excuse to briefly go off (in different directions) about irony and the use of computers in social situations.

But first, let me invite responses from anyone who has actually played (rather than just ironically admired) this “game.” Please, if you’ve printed out a bingo card for use, or sat wirelessly in Verb or Alt (or your local equivalent) covering your laptop’s monitor with “Stickies” notes as you spot those people who seem to have stepped out of Vice magazine, let me know about it. How was Hipster Bingo’s gameplay? I want to read the review.

The problem with irony – at least irony of this sort, which is perhaps better described as sarcasm, for those of us who remember the definition of irony given in Reality Bites – is that it is a severely limited mode for critical discourse, only slightly more interesting that sticking out your tongue. Hipster Bingo seems like some not-very-nuanced remnant of the amusing but often aimless attitude that lingered like an addiction until the last days of Suck, but when you get right down to it, it’s more like something that was pilloried back in 1996 on that site. This should serve to remind us all that however limiting irony is, it’s better than pure stupidity. (After all, Suck did largely outlive the Web startup targets it lampooned, carrying on for a while like cockroaches after a nuclear war.) And this is the part where I should write something about parody and pastiche, but, whatever.

Anyway, it’s not the irony that I actually like about Hipster Bingo. Rather, it’s the suggestion – even if it is just a suggestion – that our computers can work as part of our in-person social environment in novel ways. Mapquest explains one way, rather banal by now, that the computer can be helpfully aware of our environment. Oddly, I’ve found that computer hardware (Oo! Nice little notebook computer you have there!) seems to have been more socially engaging, if only as a conversation piece, than any Web site or software has been. There are mobile phones that are beginning to take on interesting new roles (as some of you would surely SMS to tell me, if you could) and certain PDA-based location-aware projects out there (yARR!) but I wonder about whether there has been much done in terms of actual Web games made for wireless social play on notebook computers. As Hipster Bingo demonstrates, such games don’t even have to be multi-player in order to involve others who are there around us in “non-simulated reality.” Perhaps the niche is too narrow, or perhaps I just haven’t found where these sorts of games (or artworks, or literary works) are online. I guess I’ll start looking for them instead of watching out for hipsters.