Memetic Simulation no. 2, memetic shoot ’em up

Joseph Hocking

Shoot ’em up (or shmup for short) is a computer and video game genre where the player usually controls a vehicle or character and fights large numbers of enemies with shooting attacks, typically of a highly stylized nature. In Japan, where the genre is still a lively one, they are simply known as “shooting games” and they are focused on avatar actions using some weapons. But what could happen when the weapons are instead “memes”? The game might become a memetic simulation as in Joseph Hocking’s memetic simulation no. 2.. Memetics is a neo-Darwinian approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer based on the concept of the “meme”. Started from a metaphor used in Richard Dawkins popular writings, it has later turned into an approach in the study of self-replicating units of culture. In The Selfish Gene (1976) Dawkins used the term “meme” to describe a unit of human cultural transmission analogous to the gene, arguing that replication also happens in culture. It is a pattern that can influence its surroundings – it has causal agency – and can propagate. Based on this concept Hocking developed a game prototype where the characters “shout” at each other “expelling” words as if they were fire breathing. This work uses interactive 3D graphics and a recombinant narrative system, with touch-screen interaction. When a character is hit by a words’ stream, he incorporates those words in his database of ideas. So characters will start to say similar things, and they’ll evolve till the entire community will end up saying the same things. “When the simulation detects that this endpoint has been reached, the screen fades to black and everything starts over from a random distribution of ideas, repeating the process of the society’s homogenization” Hoking says. What’s missing here is the definition of memes as variance. Indeed memes are information copied with variation and selection. Because only some of the variants survive, memes (and so human cultures) evolve. Memes are copied by mimicry, and they compete for space in our memory and for the vital chance to be copied again. Since the process of social learning is different for each person, the mimicry process can’t be an accurate reproduction. The same idea may be expressed with different memes supporting it. So the mutation rate in memetic evolution is extremely high, and mutations are even possible within each and every interaction of the imitation process. This is why Memetic Silmulation no. 2 is more likely a metaphor for mass communication aggressive behaviors then a metaphor of the society’s coalescence. More properly it’s a “shout them up” game.

Valentina Culatti