Game

Will Aitken

In Laurel Woodcock’s video installation game, a young woman plays a game.

What kind of game?

Dunno.

Camera’s so close can’t see. Just facial expressions as the game consumes her. Or she’s exasperated by it, shut out by its random intricacies. Or off in that trance you go into when the game fills time that your obsessions and anxieties would ordinarily occupy.

But look.

Behind you on the wall: a set of headphones. The old-fashioned kind, with kinky flex and black pleather padding.

Go ahead. Put them on. Now you can hear the game the young woman plays:

clop-clop plonk … plonk plonk
… clop-clop-clop
Tic … tic-tic plonk clop-clop.

Sound tells a lot. There is a wooden board and a plastic counter. There is a plastic board and a small compact ball made of ivory. Or mahogany. The young woman drops the ball or plastic counter and has to pick up what–stix? Dominoes? Mah Jong tiles?

King’s rook?

Sometimes the sounds are rhythmic, like tapdancing. Or rain on the roof. Other times sporatic, halting. We wait for the other shoe to clop.

The board is lavishly patterned, scrawled with glyphs, embossed with Masonic icons, flourished with gilt tracery. Or maybe just a simple grid with signposts at intervals: “do not pass go” you believe in free will because you must” “the butler did it in the pantry with miss langtry and a plumber’s snake.”

In absence of other information, make things up. The flashy minimalism of game pressgangs us into fleshing out the game. In our minds we assemble its implements, its strategies and rules, Pitfalls and rewards.

Stare at the young woman’s face long enough and you will understand her soul as a projection of your own.

She is intrepid yet easily discouraged. She can’t go on, she goes on. When she misses a beat, a rueful smile. Bored and tired she looks to the right of the camera, imploring the director to let her pause the game. Her fingers tire from throwing the ball, dropping the marker. Her back aches from bending over the board. Tension has gathered in her neck from the stress of playing well while obeying all the rules.

But she is no quitter. Self-deprecatory, yes, uncertain too, but never ironic. She is very game about the game. She will go on in the hope of improving her game. She own’t be defeated by its aleatory allure. Nor demoralised by its closed-system perfection or her own emotional flaws, her psychological and genetic inheritance. Even if it beats her down again and again, she will keep rising to the challenge, for winners never quit and quitters never…

Besides she’s looped. Can’t quit. The game goes on forever. Hangs her out to dry again and again.

But notice the dew of sweat on her temples, the engorged lower lip. The game is so satisfying, like an unreliable lover whose call we await as we pass the time by playing the game. If I play one round flawlessly, the phone will ring. If I grab three counters in the right order, blue-green-pink, the phone will ring.

game puts us at a loss. No matter how long we watch we haven’t got a clue.

And yet how pleasurable to be a this loss, a place we don’t often visit. At least not willingly. Games let us come here and poke around, get comfortable with the ways of loss, the way we lose.

Constant practice is what it takes.

Lose something every day, the poet said. Which poet?

Dunno.

She played the game so well she’s finally lost.