Videogame and the tectonic.

“The tectonic is both the expression of the monumental reminders of the distant past, some, in the case of the cathedrals for example, still surrounded by the ancient rites of a hierarchical and dogmatic formal system, and at the the same time, challenge to individual creation on the threshold of the new reality to come (the cathedrals yet to be built).” (Zeidler. 2010 ).

If Bataille’s terms in Documents were Formless, Architecture, The Human Body, Animal and Low then, for comparison, the terms his collaborating editor Carl Einstein preferred were:

 Connor Joyce, from ‘A Play of Concepts’ Chapter 3 of Carl Einstein in Documents and his collaboration with Georges Bataille., p.45.

In an analysis titled Play of Concepts, Connor Joyce compares the differences he finds in Bataille and Einstein’s critical theories during their collaboration in Documents. Where Bataille was concerned with the irrational Einstein was concerned with productive revolt. (Zeidler. 2010). Or more specifically metamorphic revolt. It was in metamorphosis where Einstein found the tectonic. ‘Einstein sees the tectonic as capturing … multiple levels of reality in one formal expression’. (Quigley. 2007). Einstein illuminated the tectonic through his critical descriptions of Cubism. For Einstein Cubism represented the layering of gestalt images. Images that, although in stasis, were ultimately ungrounded, had no foundation. Later, during Documents Einstein critiqued the work of Masson and Klee, which allowed him to develop the tectonic. Masson and Klee’s work were diagrams of something ‘truly metamorphotic’ (Zeidler. 2010), where the image passes from nothing to something then to nothing again, where the viewer is passive, becomes active through recognition and then passive once more. This process of metamorphosis Einstein called hallucinatory. This, believes Joyce, is the dialectic of Einstein, the binary opposition of the tectonic (the convergent) and the hallucinatory (the divergent). The tectonic seized the slippage, it is the ‘arrestment of flux’. (Zeidler. 2010), and the hallucinatory metamorphosis created fluidity. Reality, the real, is in the tension the duality creates. ‘Diagramming the metamorphosis of form on canvas, an affective artist enacts the metamorphosis of human subjectivity within the real’. (Zeidler. 2010).

The real was not a present human consciousness or experience. Rather, for Einstein, realities were within the mechanisms of interaction. Interaction between the viewer and an image was a reality, interaction between individuals became another reality, and so on. ‘The real in Einstein is the very alternation between realities and counter-realities’. (Zeidler. 2010). James Paul Gee writes similarly, “As people are simultaneously members of multiple lifeworlds, so their identities have multiple layers that are in complex relation to each other. No person is a member of a singular community. Rather, they are members of multiple and overlapping communities.” (Gee. 2007. 71). Therefore could the multiple overlapping identities and interactions aligned with temporal grided images provided by videogame be tectonic?

The terms of Einstein’s dialectic (Joyce. 2003) could be employed to analyse the space of videogame within the conceptual capacity of the tectonic if used as the parameters of a semiotic square:

A diagram composed to illustrate possible terms of videogame in the expanded field via the tectonic. Alice Nant (2020).

The expanded terms might be composed thus:

A diagram composed to illustrate possible terms of videogame in the expanded field. Alice Nant (2020).

Or in a Klein bottle the diagram expands to include:

A diagram composed to illustrate the mechanisms of playing a videogame. Alice Nant (2020).

By using a structuralist Kraussian analysis to negotiate the concepts and navigate the terms, there is certainly a suggestion that videogame may be tectonic. An example of a tectonic videogame is Hyper Light Drifter. It is a multiplatform two dimensional role play game. Aesthetically and through the gameplay, the design references 8 and 16 bit games from the early 1990’s. Movement is constructed using up, down, left and right commands, such that to move away, further into the games environment the command is up, to return, to move back out of the game the command is down. Progression through the game relies on moving through framed spaces with the illusion of height and depth. The ground shifts, shudders and falls away during movement through the spaces. The environment is statically fluid, stable but ever changing. The spaces are filled with beautiful coloured forms and figures, but also charged with horror and nightmare. The game is without written or verbal instruction, and the objective of each part of the game is discovered through patterns and symbols.

Heart Machine. 2016. ‘Hyper Light Drifter’. Digital download.  Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS. Heart Machine, California, USA. Source:
Heart Machine. (2016). ‘Hyper Light Drifter’. Digital download.  Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS. Heart Machine, California, USA. Source:

If videogame is tectonic, then the space it offers is what Einstein called ‘the real’. Hyper Light Drifter demonstrates many of the elements of the tectonic, and the mechanism of playing the game can be explained using the Klein bottle experiment in Figure 15. This passage from Zeidler reflects the experience of the videogame. “On the one hand, the real is liberatory. It ensures that something like history is possible at all. It enables us to transgress the given and produce new realities … On the other hand, the real enables the transgression of our realities by others in turn. Our freedom and our mortality, the very possibility of new worlds as well as their radical impermanence, go together.” (Zeidler. 2010).

Another example of videogame that equally illuminate a tectonic analysis are Superbrothers Sword and Sorcery. Also a role play adventure game which uses similar mechanics moving through framed spaces and landscapes, although the territory does not shift in the way experienced in Hyper Light Drifter. The landscapes are differently transformative with yawning faces in rocks and crumbling ruins of previous civilization.

Capybara Games. (2011). ‘Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP’. Digital download. Android, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Steam. Capybara Games Ontario, Canada.  Sources: 

Carl Einstein understood ‘the real as a nonhuman structure of the human interaction with one another and with their world history’. (Zeidler. 2010). Einstein’s context was early twentieth century painting. Videogame, a ‘new’ medium, can equally be described as a nonhuman grid and a language structure within which to experience human interactive realities.

In Summary.

“The narrative and formal cannon [of the tectonic] transmits not only past subjective experience and affection but also the dynamics and power to govern contemporary reality”. (Quigley. 2007).

In this paper the tectonic is understood as an experience that enables a structured visual language to exist and be understood in the same moment as an engagement in subjective flux. The mechanics involved in the tectonic resonate deeply with the mechanics of videogame. This study has also presented evidence that there is potential in videogame to be a space for the purposes of art and illustration.

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