One of my guilty pleasures is playing pinball during work breaks. The game I played most often was Short Circuit Pinball. I write “was” rather than “is” because a glitch in the game has fired up a string of reflections leading to my resignation from the game. The glitch is a decisive one: the “SAVE BALL” functionality is continuously on. This means I cannot lose the ball. The game thus theoretically is endless, and functions with or without me. Therefore, the “I” who cannot lose the ball is no longer an “I” but is an “it”. I have effectively been replaced by the game itself.
The feeling of not being essential to a mechanical game is sobering. The play does very well without me. The score result currently stands at 43 million – a result that is a bit better than my highest ever score. Although it took the game much longer to reach this score by itself, I feel no satisfaction that I was quicker in reaching a similar score. The game will go on to break record after record, forever, to reach heights that I could have only dreamt of.
Naturally, I could decide to end the game here and now and hope the glitch will not return. I could just restart the game to disrupt its record-breaking performance but this somehow would feel as spite. I would look like a sore loser, at least in my own eyes. And the game would not feel the same again to me after a restart because I now know that I am in essence not essential. The way I cope with this situation is that the game score as such has become trivial to me. And with that, a major drive to play the game is lost.
The glitch has made me realize that the most important task of the human player – not to lose the ball to keep the game going – can be done perfectly by the game itself, by means of a glitch. The human player is no more than an imperfect glitch.
While watching the game play by itself, it is easy to deduct to which extent a player like me could add to the mechanical capabilities of the game itself. Although the game performs well when it comes to achieving a high score, it cannot by itself use all game functionalities to their full potential. The game for instance is incapable of shooting the ball in certain gates, thereby losing important options to receive extra balls. It is capable of taking advantage of only one option to receive an extra ball. With the glitch active, the option of receiving an extra ball is irrelevant though, since the first ball will never be lost.
Understanding what the game cannot do defines the potential additional value of the human player to the mechanics of the game. The player is able to shoot the ball in gates that the game itself cannot reach. The game can take care of the rest. In this way a functional, potentially symbiotic, division of tasks could be created between the game and the human player.
The slow pace in which the game itself realizes its tasks when compared to the human player will add additional stress though to the human player. The player is to keep the ball longer in play to achieve the same results when playing together with the game. This is bound to highlight the imperfect nature of the human fulfilling the task of the glitch even more. The potential symbiosis will thus demonstrate the player’s imperfection more sharply.
I will not play the game again, mainly because my sense of agency has been derided. I, who thought that he is essential to all elements of the game, have found out that I am essential only to a few functionalities that are nonessential in themselves while comparing badly to a mechanical glitch.
Before the glitch my brain predicted the outcomes of my actions in the game. It then took in the actual observed outcomes of my actions. Because the two sets were extremely similar my brain then concluded that it was I who caused the outcomes – and by this my brain affirmed my sense of agency in the game (see Ananthaswamy, 2015).
Because of the glitch I now know that even though the actual, observed outcomes of my actions within the game will still be extremely similar to the predicted outcomes of my actions, the relevance of my actions is very limited. I am still capable of experiencing a sense of agency but I can no longer take pride in my sense of agency. The add-ons that I as a human can provide to the game are in essence only feeble compensations for my imperfect capabilities to keep the ball in the game. These add-ons only have relevance when a ball is lost – which is the outcome of my imperfect capabilities to keep the ball in the game. As a result, I will experience that the game only allows me to feel useful within its mechanical universe by permitting me to compensate for my inadequacy while in reality using me only to start it and to continue it.
The glitch has revealed by place in it all. Before I was blinded by the importance of the task of not losing the ball. As keeper of the ball, I was tricked into thinking that I was the almighty ruler of the game and that I decided about its course. Now I know I only serve the game as an unworthy replacement for the glitch.