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In Session: Virtuality as Potentiality in Early Modern East Asia
1: Immersion without Mimesis: Games as Virtual Experience in Jin Ping Mei
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Princeton University, United States
From the viewpoint of producing virtual worlds, games represent a curious contradiction. Though they fully immerse the player in a world of make-believe, games do not necessarily depend on mimesis to do so. No player of chess would mistake a horse on the board for an actual horse, but this absence of verisimilitude does not diminish the magical attraction of the game. For as long as the struggle between black and white lasts, the sixty-four squares on the board represent the only real world and the player is caught inside the pleasurable illusion of the game. In this paper, I will employ the curious contradiction found at the heart of games—immersion without mimesis—to shed new light on the way late-Ming Chinese vernacular literature produces imaginary worlds. In particular, I will focus on an erotic novel whose lifelike descriptions of domestic life have often associated it with an early modern form of vernacular realism, Jin Ping Mei. Focusing on the almost encyclopedic enumeration of games in the text—go, dominoes, kickball, and pitch-pot, to name but a few—and by reading these games in the broader context of late-Ming game manuals, strategy guides, and rulebooks, I will show how games not only represent miniature worlds within the fictional world of the novel, but how the logic of these virtual worlds can be used to question some of the terms associated with the mesmerizing qualities often associated with this text, most notably mimesis, verisimilitude, and realism.