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Monthly Archives: February 2015

DIRECTIVE: TAKE A DEEP BREATH. FOLLOW EVERY DIRECTIVE AND READ EVERY WORD YOU WILL SEE. CLICK THIS SENTENCE AND CONSUME. 

The Stanley Parable is a mind-bendingly layered and complex satirical commentary on video game tropes which itself takes the form of a game and absolutely changed my life.

The mechanics are simple. You simply explore the space in which you find yourself. There are no objectives, no quests, no achievements, and the only progress it is possible to make is progress through physical space; thus it completely warps and blurs the distinction between what Hertz calls “exploration and narrative action” beyond all form or recognition. There is a plot, dictated by a narrator who is obsessed with your story as the main character. He guides your movement, and yet you are forced to make choices as to where to go and what to do at every turn. You are challenged to defy him in order to explore the multiple endgames besides the one you are led to. And you do. Because you are human. Which means you are curious and your thirst to know all that could have happened is unquenchable.

As what Hertz calls “exploration and narrative action” intertwined to become completely inseparable, what shocked me was not that the game related to my own life. What shocked me was that my own life was profoundly unsettlingly like the game. The number of choices I make every day based on intuition or instinct alone is staggering; and yet I find myself approaching them strangely like a computer, by projecting the possible implications forward (shrinking timespace) and meticulously calculating the best course of action.

To me, this is the only rational approach to Dr. Chun’s question about how the quantitative processes a computer is restricted to can produce such a vivid, navigable space. I think the answer lies not in how we are changing computers, but how computers are changing us. Our society is becoming “one which is based on continuous calculation at each and every point along each and every line of movement,” but in which this calculation is fundamentally indistinguishable from the abstract, qualitative forms it gives rise to. This is the essence of Thrift’s concept of ‘qualculation’: a world in which new qualities are being constructed, which are based on assumptions about how time-space can turn up which would have been impossible before, spaces which are naturalistic in the sense that they are probably best represented as fluid forces which have no beginning or end and which are generating new cultural conventions, techniques, forms, genres, concepts, even…senses.”

In response to “aloneness,” I believe that––from what I can tell––this course so far has demonstrated that digital media is moving towards deeper and deeper realism, which could ultimately manifest in a matrix-like world in which simulated reality becomes impossible to distinguish from ‘true’ reality.

I think that the way in which the idea of being ‘alone’ has changed, as you mention in your post, is the first sign of this.  Our social media profiles and electronics that we use to communicate through them have become extensions of ourselves; video-conferencing apps such as FaceTime cut through endless space to create a realistic feeling of intimacy.  McQuire’s idea of a virtual connection is one that people feel both in public and private.  And so long as people are content with feeling digital stimulation in favor of looking up from their phones, it isn’t going to change any time soon.  As this becomes the new normal, I believe that concerns about a physical divide between people will begin to wane, as we come to understand that digital media has progressed in such a way as to blur lines between what counts as ‘real’ (I.E. Physical), and what does not.

The same goes for virtual and real space.  Manovich talks primarily about actual, simulated depictions of space, but consider the internet itself as a form of space that can be navigated in seemingly infinite directions.  At what point do we come to acknowledge the fact that we exist in virtual reality just as much as we exist in the physical world?

Antichamber (2013) is a independently developed first-person computer game focused, in large part, on the concept of navigable space as it can only be accessed through a computer.  Antichamber is a puzzle game set in non-Euclidean space.  You – the silent first-person protagonist – are set in a laboratory or maze, navigating through passageways that change as you access them.  For example, you may climb a flight of stairs to end up at the same place you started, or else take four 90-degree turns on a flat level and end up two stories above where you began.  It creates a physically impossible space that is entirely natural within the world of the game, and challenges the player to navigate through that space.

It also challenges the distinction between haptic and optic interface in a very interesting way.  Some objects are affected literally only through vision – paths open and close as you look towards them or away.  In one puzzle, you are stuck in a room, the floor of which collapses out from under you if and only if you look directly downward at it.  Antichamber’s navigable spaces follow their own curious laws, which often make internal, consistent sense, but are ‘wonderfully creepy’ in their divergence from the modes of navigation enforced in real life.

Ok, so I’m going to go off topic a little bit to talk about a dress (it will all relate back to the reading, I promise). So, since I procrastinated a little on this assignment, I’m writing this post midst this whole “What color is this dress?” controversy which in the span of a couple of hours, has taken over the internet and various media outlets.  Even CNN is taking a break from covering more important worldwide issues to pitch in on this pressing matter. On a personal note, I saw the dress as blue and black, while my roommate was convinced I was color blind because, to her, the dress was white and gold. The dress’ significance goes beyond its color. Aside from the fact that this dress is a mind blowing revelation of how people perceive color (at least for non psychologists/neuroscientists), this incident highlights the collapsing of space and the emergence of the media landscape that this week’s reading focuses on.

To me, this week’s readings provided us with the language to describe our inexplicable dependence on technology and the internet. We don’t really question its place in our lives: “its there because it is there” (Thrift 584). We are living in a world parallel to the 19th century Parisian world McQuire describes, “living among strangers who remain strangers.” The introduction of various media platforms, screens, and devices has led to an individualization of what was once public space. We are increasingly more connected with the rest of the world, yet more and more isolated. Spacial lines are being blurred, especially now as we are seeing a reversal of the “media event” McQuire describes, as portable devices are allowing us to return to the public sphere while still keeping us isolated.

Here’s where the dress fits in. McQuire quotes Richard Sennett’s “rationale for modern urban life” which holds that, “[the collisions or jolts experience is subjected to] are necessary to a human being to give him that sense of tentativeness about his own beliefs which every civilized person must have.” The dress incident displays the “gathering of strangers” that Sennett defines as crucial to human experience. In a matter of hours, our views about how we perceived color were challenged by some random stranger’s photo of her dress. Theories surfaced trying to explain the discrepancies in what people were seeing. We all turned to the internet to find answers to the many questions we had. It’s the beauty of “the world of paratexts” that Thrift describes, the “mundanity of this second nature,” “exist[ing] outside the realm of meanings.” “Much of the background of life is ‘second nature,’ the artificial equivalent of breathing.” And everything else, the work that goes into the upkeep of this culture, the loss of community, fades into the background.

Space is not something I think about on a regular basis but the readings and lecture this past week have led me to think extensively about space and its functions in modern times. Before Manovich began to compare space I had already drawn ties between the uses of space in the computer world to the uses of space in modern art. I am currently taking a modern art history class and the issue of space has been brought up several times. This combination has made me realize how important this issue of space has been throughout the last decades and how it continues to stir debate. The most fascinating aspect of the question of space for me has been how our conception of modern space has altered the “real world.” It seems to me that the space we are discussing has taken away from the “real world” by creating new virtual spaces that although can be seen as extending the “real world” actually take us away from this “real world.” In order words, we are now more likely to be experiencing virtual spaces through our computers, phones, etc. I wonder if human kind will ever get to the point where they only inhabit virtual spaces.

If the perception of navigating through virtual space is convincing enough, can it be as important as navigation through ephemeral space? Going through Myst, I (as I tend to feel in general when on the sheep shaver), generally disoriented. Myst teleports you through space based on the action of clicks. Each click takes you several frames to the next perceived location. Each click ends with a need to readjust and reaffirm my current position. The Myst creators offer visual hints in each new frame that suggest motion, but the teleportation of frame to frame still feels disorienting. In a way, each click feels like a new world with relative notions between each click. The convincingness of a space seems to correlate to how convinced I can be to the act of motion.
Manovich cites several instances of vision paired with technologies to convince navigable space. Legible City is an excellent example of this. Motion of a stationary bicycle paired with the illusion of motion creates a truly navigable space. If navigable space is a product of action, as Manovich suggests, then the bicycle is the vehicle of action. Waliczky’s Forest also suggests this notion of motion. The viewer is attached to a machine that moves in action. Shaw’s EVE and Place:A user’s manual are other prime examples but in a different way. These force the users commitment to be convinced by the illusion of motion. A simulator is based on the projection of one person with a helmet, the other viewer’s must follow the motion of the one helmet in order to be convinced.

By first examining navigation through space as a game/narrative mechanic, I think it is fairly easy to see why this idea of movement through space has come to be considered its own form of medium; a kind of new media phenomenon.

Whenever I play a video game, I always want to make absolutely sure that I’ve seen everything, touched everything, picked everything up (that I can) before I move on to a new area, and the same was true for when I played Myst.  I instinctively sought to find every clickable thing on my screen; nothing could be left undiscovered.  We have an intrinsic human desire to explore new spaces.  Therefore, simply by creating a new world and placing an individual within it, somewhat of a “game mechanic” intuitively manifests itself.  That being said when developing this type of spatial media, the challenge may not lie within spurring explorative tendencies in the subject, but rather in sustaining those tendencies over time.  For some, after 10 minutes of wandering around the opening world of Myst, frustration and confusion began to set in (perhaps even boredom).  There is only so much that can be done by moving through an entirely fixed amount of space, in which only very specific actions are allowed within the rules of the game.  The goal, then, of the designer is to inject a clever mechanic into the space in order to supplant our own natural desire to “move,” thereby refueling the subject after their natural lull in curiosity and pushing the narrative forward.

This innate desire to explore new space makes navigation of space a no brainer in terms of new media forms.  Space as the “final frontier;” well, why not virtual space?

Having limited exposure and experience with video games, I was surprised to find Myst extremely immersive and enjoyable. Once I was past the initial disorientation that the landscape and the lack of instruction poses to someone new to the world of adventure games, I experienced an investment in the game that was reminiscent of reading and watching escapist, adventure fantasies as a child.

I am fascinated by the narratological possibilities Myst represents, and the ways in which it conflates movement with plot, and narrative with description. Cinema, by virtue of its visuality, already collapses description into narrative. If the transition from literature to cinema can be seen as a shift from “telling” to “showing, not telling”, the transition to navigable spaces can be seen as the shift to “doing, not showing”. In terms of the agency of the “subject”, games like Myst are an interesting variation of the writerly text: the player literally writes the narrative via their bodily movement in the given space.

It is interesting, then, to think of a theory of the subject of a navigable space. The theory of the cinematic spectator is closed linked to the technologies of the creation of film (camera angles, framing) and technologies of viewing (e.g., watching through a “window” in a darkened theater) . How might a theory of subjectivity be formulated for a navigable spaces, where one is plugged in, disembodied, largely solitary and an agent of narrative?

I’m intrigued by the idea of drones not being used for warfare, but used to investigate spaces. What would it be like that instead of having to fly miles and miles to see a friend across the country, you just link to a drone, which can give you the experience of being with your friend, seeing what they are seeing.

How could a drone change the public space? How could drones add to the calculative background? Drones make space more virtual, more open ended.