In Defense of Code’s Binary Nature

Edmond Chang criticized code for its binary nature, likening it to the gender binary. I would respond that while code is built on a series of ones and zeros, it still has a great deal more potential than many give it credit for. Even within an eight-bit architecture, a single byte of a data (which we have hundreds of millions of within our modern computers), could contain any one of 256 variations. Taking that into the modern realm, where machines are based on a 64-bit architecture, a single byte of data has 2^64 different variations (18,446,744,070,000,000,000 to be precise). This level of computing power is hardly limiting compared to the societal constructs that gaming still struggles with, the gender binary being an excellent example of this.

As a computer science concentrator, and hopefully future game developer, I do not believe that the limitations of video games lie in the code itself. There are admittedly those imposed by hardware, but even they are not so limited as Chang asserts. The true barriers are entire societal. The barriers of targeted marketing, social constructs, and development cycles are what truly hampers games, not the code they’re built with. Code may be binary at its core, but its potential it still virtually limitless as far as our current goals are concerned.

It can be too easy to blame the tools instead of the ones wielding them. Code always runs as it was written (with the caveat of hardware limitations), therefore it is always the writer that should be held responsible for the result.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Code’s Binary Nature

  1. I agree with you completely. I think Chang’s idea resulted from a bias that comes with traditional training in the study of literature. In literature, we’re taught to examine how the form of the text connects with and shapes and informs the content of the text to help create meaning. I believe Chang misunderstood the connection between the content and the form of the code, that he failed to understand the difference between traditional literary text and software, leading him to mistakenly attribute too much power to the code itself as a determinant of meaning.

    1. I quite like your interpretation. I never would have thought of taking a literary approach to code, but now that you mention it, it sounds like an accurate interpretation of Chang’s analysis. I would be very interested to see what one could intuit: having a proper mastery of both fields of thought.

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