Reading class.

Check out this engaging quasi-game about the semiotics of class in America. The work is actually an interesing blending of game and blog/wiki. A “chutes and ladders” metaphor about the way that taste, consumption, and values indicate and, in some cases, can determine class membership is joined with a thematically organized blog, in which the artist, self-identified as being of working class origins, writes letters of advice to his younger brother on the nuances of class migration.

The blog cites a number of writers about class in America, including Paul Fussell (whose 1983 classic, Class is a lively, if arch, tour-de-force and neo-con David Brooks, who inadvertantly skewered the very class that Fussell naively described as an “escape” from class, his “X class”, in his book, Bobos in Paradise.

Conspicuous in his absence is Pierre Bourdieu, the most formidible thinker on questions of class, taste, and consumption. This may have something to do withe Reading Class’s focus on the cultural mechanics of class in America, or perhaps he’s more interested in the concrete writing of more recent, accessible writers. The letters to the artist’s younger brother, Cody, resemble in tone and structure C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters,” epistles of avuncular advice from a senior demon to his nephew on the techniques of corruption.

If there is something that doesn’t quite work in this piece, it’s the game-component. It’s a promising idea that could use development: the chutes and ladders metaphor isn’t exploited (choices that would lead to a loss of class standing do not, in fact, change the position of the player – the avatar advances no matter what. The socio-economic consequences of class-position, such as access to resources, marriage and family options, financial considerations, health consequences, access to careers, political sway, etc. are not explored. The artist could deepen the game element of the piece and make its impact much stronger. Incorporating data about the structural implications of the class system and its dependencies could turn this into a very articulate work of game rhetoric. The game mechanics as they are actually implemented are broken; the avatar eventually climbs off the screen, and the interface between the player and the work fizzles out. This should be fixable.

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