Being Meat: Review of Tom Tyler’s Game: Animals, Video Games, and Humanity
Game: Animals, Video Games, and Humanity. Tom Tyler. University of Minnesota Press, May 2022.
To talk about Tom Tyler’s Game: Animals, Video Games, and Humanity, we need to talk about meat. Indeed, if Tyler’s final chapter is to be taken at its word, meat is the point of the whole book—or rather, the point is to persuade readers to give up their taste for meat. Ranging in topic from classics to apologetics to nutrition, this chapter does not so much present an argument to tie together the disparate essays comprising the book, but rather, in an all-too-clever twist, characterizes the whole collection as a “Trojan Horse” for a “vegan sensibility.” This move does a disservice to Tyler’s project, undercutting what I found to be a brisk, insightful, and accessible study of the myriad relationships between animals and games.
Tyler is a lecturer in digital culture at the University of Leeds, with research focused on cultural studies, animal studies, and game studies. Game collects a number of previously published essays (including the final essay, “Trojan Horses”), as well as a few new ones ranging across these interests. It is an eclectic sampling, which Tyler himself notes in the first chapter of the book:
The incitements to think differently about animals and video games arrive, in these essays, from many, varied sources: from children’s TV shows and Old English etymologies, to be sure, but also from encyclopedias, classical mythology and medieval fables, literary fiction and film, regional newspapers, memoirs, poetry, Edwardian comedy and Shakespearean tragedy, contemporary art, musical nomenclature, theological tracts, ethology, entomology, ichthyology, primatology, ecological and environmental studies, hunting and fishing manuals, sitcoms and the works of philosophy, and, in one instance, the collected letters of the 4th Earl of Chesterfield.
It is this variety of references that makes Game a valuable contribution to the field of game studies, and though I quibble with Tyler’s argumentative framing in his conclusion, I nevertheless find myself enticed and enlightened by what he has to say.
In Chapter One, Tyler locates his interest in games by way of etymology, tracing the history of three distinct senses of the word: game as amusement, game as hunted animals, and game as attitude. In Chapters Two and Four, Tyler articulates a theory of existence that challenges the logic that reduces the “concrete individual” to a “mere instance of the type,” to a shadow of the Platonic idea. His is an enumerative method whereby one “attempt[s] to isolate and differentiate one individual after another… from a series of their kind.” It is this method that allows him, in Chapters Six, Eight, and Nine, to elaborate an ethical position that we might describe as being meat. Drawing on philosopher Val Plumwood’s “prey perspective,” Tyler proceeds to challenge the use of animals as “ciphers” or “absent referents” to absolve human beings of their predacious desires, instead contending for the “unique existence and experiences” that all meat-being entails. Drawing on philosopher Gilles Deleuze and his analysis of the paintings of Francis Bacon, Tyler argues that, in the “vitality” that meat signifies in both games and life—sustenance, restorative, enhancement, and resource—there is at once a “deep identity” or “zone of indiscernibility” that is revealed. There is a common “indistinction” between consuming and consumed bodies, both of which are shown to be “profoundly vulnerable” and not so easily held separate from each other.
Chapters Three, Five, and Seven play with animal sensation, diminutive terms for animals, and fishing, respectively, and Chapter Ten is a loosely-related essay on consumption and the meaning of bullshit. Chapter Eleven considers questions of misanthropy and pathology, priming readers for an extended discussion of normality in Chapter Twelve, “Difficulties.” Though I find much in the preceding chapters to be of value, this chapter is perhaps the best single essay in the book, one that intersects with quite a lot of other contemporary work in game studies, and which would be a useful excerpt to read for students and designers of games alike. Tyler’s “Difficulties” can be read productively alongside Chapter Five, “Difficulty,” of Patrick Jagoda’s Experimental Games (2020, reviewed for ARB here), the entirety of Amanda Phillips’ Gamer Trouble (2020, reviewed for the No Escape book club in five parts, starting here), and Meghna Jayanth’s “White Protagonism and Imperial Pleasures in Game Design” (2021). Tyler’s addition to this ongoing analysis and critique of the “normate” player allows us to welcome the “other-than-human” to the table, further expanding “the modes and means of play” available to us. Here, Tyler once again returns to the singular and concrete, arguing that “we must move in our thinking from a hollow Everyplayer to the particular gamers, in all their varied specificity, who willfully subject themselves to the difficulties of playing a game.” Particular, specific, willful—this is the meaty subjectivity we can take from Tyler’s study.
It is for this reason that I find myself frustrated with Tyler’s treatment of his own book as a “Trojan Horse,” a mere apologetic. This is not to say that the “vegan sensibility” for which Tyler advocates is wrong. As the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health reported in 2019, a global transition to diets that are healthy for individuals, communities, and the world will require “significant dietary shifts” toward those “rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods,” and specifically a reduction “by more than 50%” of “foods such as red meat and sugar.” The Commission argues that a “radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed,” regardless of one’s position on the ethics of meat-eating in and of itself. In a time of climate collapse, our relationships with animals are not subsidiary to the problem but central to it, and should be seen as a necessary inclusion in all conversations about planetary survival and restoration. Perhaps it is just a difference in style, but for my part, I wish that Tyler had come out and made such an argument plainly, rather than reduce the range of compelling ideas and positions in his book to a homogeneous oneness.
Indeed, though uneven, the ambulatory and ruminative quality of Game is, in the end, its strength. Game is a procedural exploration of what it means to be a body, what it means to be meat, in all the willful singularity that such a being necessitates. Much more than an apologetic for veganism (though it certainly might be convincing to this end for some), Tyler’s Game is a thoughtful reflection on what it means to be human in a hypermediated world on the verge of breakdown, with an eye toward a more ethical multispecies future to come.
Eric Stein (he/him) is a game development instructor at Trinity Western University. His research bridges literature and gaming, applying phenomenological, hermeneutic, and deconstructive methods to the interpretation of interactive texts. He is also a practicing game designer, primarily working in the independent tabletop roleplaying space. His design work implements philosophical, political, and theological concepts in gamic form, bringing together theory and play for social, story-driven tabletop role-playing experiences. He tweets at @steinea.
This review was commissioned from an emailed pitch from ARB’s monthly calls for review. The author and editors were acquainted through previous ARB work. It was edited by Misha Grifka Wander and copyedited by Alex Skopic. ARB arranged a review copy from the publisher.