Pokémon Go Encounters

I had the sudden idea last night to experiment with getting two of my classes in a unit I teach on media cultures and technological transformations to play Pokémon Go with me for the rest of the term. It is not a formal task but a voluntary one. I told them I’m curious to explore together the purpose of the exercise. I have not given them any set rules but simply invited them to join me in playing the experiment.

Pokémon wasn’t part of my childhood. My students would be more intimately in touch with it than I am. So my students could possibly have some lessons to teach me. I don’t know. I’d like to find out.

One of my students didn’t articulate it exactly in these words but I think she was trying to say that she had a chance encounter with a Pokémon training stranger and they shared a moment of camaraderie. I love that the chance encounters between bodies—which are less inter-action and more intra-action—are screenfacetouchskin, spacetimemattering.

I’m trying to think these through an ethics of response-ability to imagine the possibilities for a contemplative media studies, an idea inspired by Kevin Healey whom I had the good karma to meet in person for the first time at the EGOS2016 Conference.

The excerpt below from Emily Beausoleil’s “Embodying an Ethics of Response-ability”:

Self-in-Formation: Who am I Becoming?

Encountering difference as difference demands that rather than ‘tolerate’ difference or engage it solely within our own terms of reference, we continually risk ourselves—our picture of the world and our attachments therein—that we strive to perceive the limits of the ‘picture [that holds] us captive’ (Wittgenstein 1958, p.115), in order to meaningfully encounter difference in ways that do not simply fold it into the same. Thus we are continually creating and recreating the ground upon which we meet in the midst of difference.

To practice responsibility as responsiveness, then, we must attend not only to the entirety of the field within and beyond our given position, nor only to the multiplicity within it, but to the temporal and processual nature of the self-who-encounters. In place of a stable self who walks away from the encounter unmoved, a dispositional ethics entails attention to the changing conditions of the self-in-formation, enabling the terms with which one perceives, evaluates and responds to others to remain open to contestation and reworking. To acknowledge the relational and situated nature of identity and politics is to embrace an agonistic conception of the self, for any moment of ‘landing’ (Arakawa & Gins 2002)—whether affiliation, coalition or community—is the product of work and struggle, and remains open to reworking as the terms with which we interpret salience, legitimacy and significance change in response to such processes (Laclau & Mouffe 1985; Young 2000; Scott 2000).

This means a dispositional ethics also entails attention to the changing conditions of receptivity and responsiveness, for what is required to stand to hear another is ever affected by what has already emerged and our responses therein. There is sensitivity, here, to the temporal limits of purview, to the validity of moments of closure, to the changing demands for proximity or distance, to the spatio-temporal dimensions of safety, risk, curiosity, and trust. The process, and the processual self within it, matters, and one must be open to adapting in light of the variable capacity to remain open or require retreat. Moreover, it entails attention to the duration involved for gestation and percolation, for the softening of reactivity and reworking of habitual routes of thought and action. Overall, the practice of attention to the temporal dimensions of subjectivity acknowledges the inescapable fact that developing the dispositions of receptivity and responsiveness takes time and extensive practice. Embodied learning tends to more profound impacts on thought and behaviour, but it also takes time to integrate such learning. Perhaps this lies behind James Tully’s skepticism of academic contexts as sites of deep listening and, by extension, a dispositional ethics: to move beyond the shallow understanding of (re)cognition to an embodiment of prehension requires perseverance and effort in a lifelong process.

And so the question here is thus: Who am I becoming? For whether our views are transformed or confirmed in the course of the encounter, we do not escape unchanged; to open oneself to the possibility of being otherwise is to enlarge one’s position even if we choose to remain in place. This question invites reflexivity regarding the changing conditions of claim- and place-making, tempering anxieties that such questioning of one’s ground often provokes. Even as we risk ourselves, we remain, though the terms of that self may change; we continue to form, ever indebted and in response to every encounter to which we open ourselves.

The questions offered here draw one’s attention to three aspects of a response to social difference according to a dispositional ethics: responsiveness to the full field, multiplicity, and temporality of identity and encounter. These three arenas of attention foreground, as traditional focus on generalisable principles cannot, that difference is always in excess of both prevailing and personal epistemological terms, and the situatedness, relationality and dynamism of one’s own position in light of such difference. These aspects of encounter are not only occluded in traditional ethical models, but are vital to the capacity to do the very thing demanded of us—to learn to discern what is currently beyond our grasp, to encounter difference in its own terms. These questions work to soften the hard edges of clear boundaries, fixed codes, and stable subjectivities traditionally presumed and defended. Moreover, in reworking such terms they potentially mitigate those very defences that prevent the very ethics they seek to enact: they remind us that in the absence of the bounded self, one is not dissolved but integral to context; that in the absence of cohesive identity one is not effaced but multiplied with greater possibilities for thought and action; that in the absence of the stable self one persists, indebted to and resilient in response to what is encountered. A dispositional approach to ethics thus not only opens us to possibilities for response foreclosed by pre-given codes and at once demanded but absent in critical theory, but the means with which to address some of the anxieties that lie at the heart of unethical responses to social difference.

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