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The Video Game Metaphor, Premediation

Premediation is an understandably complicated concept to understand—if, like me, a reader chose to look up the word premediation in a dictionary, they might be startled to find that (at least according to multiple dictionaries and internet search engines) the word does not have an established definition. They might be directed, as I was, to the word premeditation: an act of arranging or plotting in advance. Because premediation and premeditation are an almost indistinguishably similar auditory experience, premediation does carry connotations of premeditation to the reader. With this connection in mind, Grusin takes careful pains to separate the two as he explains his theory of premediation to his readers in Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11.

To truly understand premediation, readers must first gain some foothold of familiarity with remediation, a concept examined in Grusin’s 1999 book (co-written with Jay Bolton), Remediation. Grusin explains the theory of remediation as a phenomena in which “our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally…to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them” (Remediation 5). At its simplest, remediation is the embodiment of the American desire to mediate events as they happen—without revealing the extent to which their experiences are being manipulated.

Premediation, on the other hand, “describes the cultural desire to mediate the future before it happens” (Grusin, “Premediating Obama’s VP”). Instead of focusing on the differences between old media and new, digital forms of media—what media is—premediation examines what media does (Coley 413). In the case of post-9/11 America, Grusin argues that premediation recognizes an infinite number of potential future outcomes for current events, perpetuating a constant, low-level of anxiety that one of those outcomes may culminate in a traumatic event (Premediation 2). In an interview for Brazilian journal MATRIZEs, Grusin sums up the differences between his theories, explaining, “Unlike remediation, which seeks a kind of perceptual or affective immediacy, premediation works to produce an affectivity of anticipation by remediating future events or occurrences which may or may not ever happen” (2-3). By recognizing the possibility for something frightening to occur, Grusin explains, the media prevents any event from taking Americans completely by surprise—thus, managing the public’s fears and eliminating the possibility for a traumatic event to shock the American people by occurring without some kind of warning.

At first, this kind of anticipation (and consequential action) may seem like divining tea leaves in an effort to predict the future and avoid unwanted outcomes. The unavoidable connection between the words premeditation and premediation also leads readers to believe that premediation must somehow involve working toward a specific outcome. Throughout Premediation, Grusin anticipates this potential misunderstanding of his theory by explaining what premediation is not.

For example, to refute concerns that premediation is synonymous with preemption, Grusin utilizes a video game analogy in order to make his theory more accessible to modern readers. In Chapter 2, “Premediation,” Grusin shifts away from his initial description of remediation as groundwork to his new theory and begins to actually discuss possible definitions and manifestations of premediation, writing:

…I do not want to be misunderstood as saying that premediation predetermines the form of the real. Rather, by trying to premediate as many of the possible worlds or possible paths, as the future could be imagined to take, premediation bears some affinities to the logic of designing a video game. More like designing a video game than predicting the future, premediation is not concerned with getting the future right, as much as with trying to map out a multiplicity of possible futures. Premediation would in some way transform the world into a video or computer game, which only prevents certain moves depending on where the player is in the space of the game, how far advanced she is in achieving the goal of the game, or the attributes of her avatar. Although within these premediated moves there are an infinite number of different possibilities available, only some of those possibilities are encouraged by the protocols and reward systems built into the game. (Premediation 46)

The lead-in to this passage is admittedly abrasive. The statement “I do not want to be misunderstood” implies that Grusin has been understood before when trying to explain his theory of premediation. As a result, he makes an effort to place his theory in a context that will make sense to his readers and leave what he hopes will be little room for confusion. Abrasive introduction aside, in this passage, Grusin is clear about two things: premediation does not predetermine real events, and premediation is not concerned with predicting the future correctly.

To make his somewhat complicated theory more accessible to his readers, Grusin likens premediation to “designing a video game”—which would be a helpful analogy, if it weren’t for his verb choice (46). The verb ‘design’ implies a conscious effort on the part of a sentient mind to plan for specific future events. However, Grusin is clear that premediation does not culminate into a known, desirable future but instead imagines “a multiplicity of possible futures” (46). The definition of premediation as “more like designing a video game than predicting a future” is confusing, because (as most 21st century readers are aware) even though a video game does have “a multiplicity of possible futures,” there is one desirable future outcome: for the player to win (46). While a player in the stated metaphorical situation cannot predict whether or not they will reach the outcome of ‘winning,’ it is likely that the player wants to win. In this case, there is an outcome that the player wants to work toward—which makes the metaphor sound dangerously close to preemption instead of premediation.

One possible clarification that might help this metaphor gap would be a different verb. For example, ‘premediation is more like playing a video game than predicting the future.’ By replacing the verb ‘design’ with the verb ‘play,’ Grusin could refine his metaphorical definition to a world in which a video game player mediates possible outcomes of her actions as she plays—a definition which would align itself with the next metaphor Grusin uses to explain premediation in this section:

Premediation is not about getting the future right…Premediation is not like a weather forecast, which aims to predict correctly the weather for tomorrow or the weekend or the week ahead. To premediate the weather would be to try to imagine all of the possible scenarios that might conceivably arise so the weather would never come as a surprise. (Premediation 46)

Again, Grusin explains his theory by telling readers what premediation is not. Now, Grusin has established a reality in which premediation does not determine future events, is not concerned with predicting events correctly, and is not a way to forecast reality. He repeats himself again in the following paragraph, reminding readers that “premediation does not do away with the real” (Premediation 47). For Grusin, premediation is not equated with preemption or prediction—it does not exist with an end-goal a specific event to be achieved or avoided.

Unfortunately, the video-game metaphor once again makes this distinction confusing. The solution of a verb-swap does not fully do away with the knowledge that a video game, in the common sense, does have an end-goal: winning. With this knowledge in mind, a different alteration to the video game metaphor must be made. Instead of just saying premediation is ‘more like playing a video game than predicting the future,’ Grusin could offer specificity by telling readers what kind of video game they are playing. For his definition of premediation to make sense within the offered metaphor, it makes the most sense for the game to be some kind of live, online role-playing game in which players design their own avatar and interact with other players an existing world. This assumption is supported by Grusin’s explanation of the way the player behaves in his imagined video-game world, making “certain moves depending on where the player is in the space of the game, how far advanced she is in achieving the goal of the game, or the attributes of her avatar” (46).

In the final stages of Grusin’s video game metaphor, he links the video game world to his later real-world weather metaphor, reminding readers, “although within these premediated moves there are an infinite number of different possibilities available, only some of those possibilities are encouraged by the protocols and reward systems built into the game” (46). In role-playing games, players do not “win.” The satisfaction comes from the interactions and the play-time itself, rather than an end-goal being achieved. If Grusin amended his metaphor from premediation “is more like designing a video game than predicting the future” to ‘premediation is more like playing an online role-playing game than predicting the future,’ the nuances of premediation as an examination and acknowledgement of an infinite number of possible outcomes would be more clear, and it would be less necessary to spend so much of the chapter telling readers what premediation is not—and the work could move forward into describing what premediation is.


Work Cited

Correa, Elizabeth Saaed. “From remediation to premediation: or how the affective immediacy of late 90’s digital society evolves to an continuous affectivity anticipation of future in the 21th century.” MATRIZEs. 7.2 (2013): 1-12. Web.

Bolter, J D, and Richard A. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999. Print.

Grusin, Richard A. Premediation: In Which I Attempt to Think Through the Concept of Premediation on the Fly. Web. 6 February 2014.

Grusin, Richard A. Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11. England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. ix-xii. Print.