Ma: The Structure of Space

In his book ‘Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media’, Noam Elcott describes the history of ‘Artificial Darkness’ at it relates to several novel technologies of the late 19th and early 20th century.  Elcott describes the technology behind the use of dark spaces and voids as an apparatus or dispositif of techniques which changed the way people interacted with Art. Elcott in particular focuses on the idea of Artificial Darkness as a void instead of another version of the color black.  This focus on the ‘Void’ as a technological innovation offers numerous insights into the evolution of photography and cinema as well as theatre, performance and the relationship to the viewer.[1] Thinking of artificial darkness as a void instead of the color black served as a useful perspective in terms of the changing relationships of science, philosophy and art, but it overlooks one apparatus of the dispositif of artificial darkness that is always encompassing the void, it discounts the idea of a frame of space.  There can be no ‘Artificial Darkness’ without some frame around it which separates it from the viewer. Consider the void framing Étienne-Jules Marey’s chronophotography; Wagner’s darkened theater with its missing orchestra still framed by his double proscenium; and Georges Méliès dark art cinema still framed in film and sometimes musical scores. Even Oskar Schlemmer’s cubic abstract stage was framed within the envelope defining its edge. A void, even a framed void is nothingness, except when it is not. My argument and one that others even Schlemmer have grasped is that the frame of the void creates a tension and structure defined by its shape and properties.  In his book ‘Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye’, Rudolf Arnheim wrote, “A visual figure such as a square is empty and not empty at the same time.  Its center is part of a complex hidden structure, which we can explore much as we use iron filings to explore the lines of force in a magnetic field… The picture plus the hidden structure induced by it is more than a lattice of lines.  The percept is really a continuous field of forces… These ridges are the center of attractive and repulsive forces, whose influence extends through their surroundings, inside and outside the boundaries of the figure.”…”’Dead center’ is not dead… it is still but loaded with energy.” [2] This concept of hidden forces and structures strikingly aligns with Schlemmer’s concept of the ‘abstract stage’ ‘Tansermensch‘ (human dancer) and ‘auratic flow’ (Fluidium).

There are other similarities in principle to this concept of ‘invisible structure’, in particular the concept of dynamic symmetry as it was “rediscovered” by Jay Hambidge at the same time the Bauhaus was forming in 1919.  Hambidge published a magazine called “The Diagonal” in which he illustrated examples of a compositional theory based on what he believed was the use rectangular proportions by the Greeks, he believed the use of geometry and proportion could lead to a more dynamic symmetry in art.  He published his theories over several years in ‘The Diagonal’ and later in several books. The general structures of Hambidge’s compositional rules were very similar to the geometry and grid structures of compositions created in De Stijl and the Bauhaus school. Hambidge was a neoclassicist and very conservative in his aesthetics; He was no fan of the avant garde, which makes it unlikely that his theory or its application to Greek art carried much weight with modern artists in Europe either.  The two systems must have evolved from some precursor which split at some point to influence two different artistic ideals, Hambidge’s Greek inspired aesthetic and the abstract forms of the avant garde aesthetic in Europe.

At the time Hambidge formed his theories on dynamic symmetry he was also conducting research on the measurement of the human figure at the Harvard Medical School.  Hambidge wrote in first sentence of the forward for the first issue of ‘The Diagonal’, “The basic principles underlying the greatest art so far produced in the world, may be found in the proportions of the human figure and in the growing plant.” [3]  Schlemmer, like many who worked at Bauhaus, was also interested in human proportions as a basis for his choreography, stage and costume design.  Whatever, the source of similar ideas might be, Hambidge’s two dimensional dynamic symmetry, the geometric framework of Schlemmer’s abstract stage and the bauhaus ideal of ‘Der Mensch’ bare a striking resemblance to one another.

The idea of invisible structure from shape and proportion was not discovered by Hambidge, Schlemmer or any philosopher of the 19th century.  Eastern philosophy has understood the concept since at least the time of Lao Tzu (601 BC). Lao Tzu wrote, “Thirty spokes meet in the hub, but the empty space between them is the essence of the wheel.  Pots are formed from clay, but the empty space within it is the essence of the pot. Walls with windows and doors form the house, but the empty space within it is the essence of the home.” [4] In Japan they call this idea ‘Ma’ which translates to english as “gap”, “space”, “pause” or “the space between two structural parts.” More than just space however ma includes both space and time.  Hambidge and Schlemmer’s theories of space, choreography, geometry and composition can be united under the concept of ma. Referring back to Noam Elcott’s dispositif of artificial darkness it is possible to relate the apparatus of darkness, void, space and composition to ma.  In his essay ‘The skin of culture’, Derrick de Kerckhove describes ma as “the complex network of relationships between people and objects”. [5]  This can be taken further to describe my historical approach.  I’m looking to find the connections, the ma, the hidden spatial aesthetic structure which connects ideas like Hambidge’s dynamic symmetry with Schlemmer’s ‘abstract stage’ and ‘auratic flow’.  It lies somewhere in the way we perceive within a frame and our attention to proportion in composition.

 

References:
[1] ‘Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media’, Noam Elcott (2016), The University of Chicago Press.
[2] ‘Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye’, Rudolf Arnheim (1954). The University of California Press.
[3]’The Diagonal’ volume 1, Jay Hambidge, 1920, Harvard University Press.
[4]’A pot is useful for its emptiness’ ‘Tao Te Ching’, Lao Tzu
[5]”The Skin of Culture,” in “Marshall McLuhan: Theoretical elaboration”, Derrick de Kerckhove , Volume 2, Taylor & Francis 2005. p 157.

 

Examples in VR:  Playing with abstraction of forms in ‘Abstract space’ and ‘2d Composition’

 

Green-Book: “The Afrofuturistic Guide to Future USA”

Historical Methodology: 

When Victor Greene began publishing the Green-Book in 1936 the goal was to provide Black Travelers with resources for local businesses across the United States, and later globally. For many African Americans traveling in Jim Crow south meant experiencing segregation and being fear of personal safety. Victor’s Green- Book offered a list of business that catered toward Blacks during that time. The 21st century has brought to light these questions of safe spaces after recent racial profiling that have led to shootings of unharmed Black individuals (Herron 1). The goal of this project is to create a digital afrofuturistic Green-Book for Black people in the future(50 years from now).

The project will incorporate Afrofuturism a principle that uses the past and present to inform the future for Blacks. By Remediating the Green-Book for the digital era, I hope to bring back these questions of what does it mean for spaces to be safe for Blacks in the future. In this paper, I will focus on a historical survey to revitalize the Greenbook in a digital form. The historical approach will include Afrofuturism, archival, and analysis of primary objects. I also plan to demonstrate preliminary sketches and concepts of the project.

The Afrofuturism approach comes from theorist and writer Kodwo Eshun’s paper “Further Considerations of Afrofuturism” which describes the various influences that artist, writers, musicians have attributed to the field. Eshun states, “Taking its cue from this ‘dual nature’ of the ‘critical and utopian,’ and Afrofuturist art project might work on the exposure and reframing of futurisms that act to forecast and fix African dystopia” (93). The quote notes that two elements are essential in creating art projects that better predict Blacks in the future they include, exposure and reframing. I intend to use the concepts of exposure and reframe as a framework that will extend beyond Eshun’s principles to take into account the cultural significance of the Green-Book and to structure the future society I envision.

The purpose of exposure is to understand the historical benefits that the artifact had on a particular community. It also means to bring to the forefront what this means to the future of Black spaces in the physical and digital realm. During, the exposure process archival work also occurs. In the project, I will be working with the archivist at the Auburn Avenue Research Library (AARL) the primer library in the southeast that offers cultural and historical information on African Americans. AARL has a digital copy of the Green Book with the help of an archivist I will be making a note of the locations, advertisements, places listed in the book, and the form and organization. The goal is that speaking with an archivist will point to the materials and components that made the structure and content of the book useful in offering Blacks with safe spaces. Yoruba Richen has recently released a documentary titled The Green Book: Guide to Freedom that will provide detail on personal accounts of the books. The film and meetings with archivists will be useful in presenting a form of information that will challenge traditional norms and present information in a structure that can better address and tackle the needs of people of color. In using the concept of exposure I also plan to extend it to remember and bring forth personal narratives that discuss its cultural impact to communities.

The second method is reframing, which takes the concept that we have exposed the artifact and now it must be repositioned and placed in an alternate future in a Black lens. Lisa Yaszek’s paper “Race in Science Fiction: The Case of Afrofuturism” explores how Afrofuturism allows Black authors the ability to explore racial issues through a science perspective. Yaszek states, “Afrofuturist artists are interested in recovering lost Black histories and thinking about how those histories inform a whole range of Black cultures today”(2). This statement demonstrates that reframing is a way of reclaiming these artifacts and helps to create a future through a Black lens.

Extending upon the work of Eshun it will consider how Blacks can retell stories that challenge what societal structures have meant. Reframing the Green Book will present a way to understand better how this past artifact can be used to inform future communities. The methodology of exposure and reframe is not only essential in remediating the object, but it also allows for an approach that is rooted in Black narratives.

Preliminary Sketches: 

The preliminary sketches show the interface of an interactive book. The book will be in a digital form inspired by Kindle and other media books. I plan to add a style and interface design that pulls from Afrofuturistic art concepts and is speculative in its approach. I played with various formats of how the book would structure in the future. I based this on my readings from the future of the book website, which includes detail in how people envision books.

Works Cited: 

Eshun, Kodwo. “Further Considerations of Afrofuturism.” CR: The New Centennial Review, vol. 3, no. 2, 2003, pp. 287–302., doi:10.1353/ncr.2003.0021.

Herron, Rachael. “‘I Used to Be a 911 Dispatcher. I Had to Respond to Racist Calls Every Day.”.” Vox.com, Vox Media, 31 Oct. 2018, www.vox.com/first-person/2018/5/30/17406092/racial-profiling-911-bbq-becky-living-while-black-babysitting-while-black.

“Institute for the Future of the Book.” Institute for the Future of the Book, futureofthebook.org/.

Womack, Ytasha. Afrofuturism: The World of Black SCI-FI and Fantasy Culture. Lawrence Hill Books, 2013.

Yaszek,  Lisa. “Afrofuturism, science fiction, and the history of the future.” Socialism and Democracy, vol 20, no.3, 2010, pp 41-60

Yaszek, Lisa. “Race in Science Fiction: The case of Afrofuturism.”  A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction, 2012. 

 

Zoetrope

A Historical Analysis of the zoetrope, an ignored history of the past and the future 

Zhong Hu  

Introduction 

This article examines the historical context of zoetrope through its application in various forms and early media artifacts. This article will focus on how people experience zoetrope and study it as a historical object as the author dives into the examples of early ignored history of zoetrope artifacts, the then developed cylinder zoetrope, and recent practice after 1900 that brought a new perspective. 

In pairing these examples, the author offers a historical survey of zoetrope in chronological order that expresses the notion of media as an archeological subject. The central idea from this article is to explore the old artifacts with a fresh view angle. 

 

Background 

I interpret media as an extension of ourselves to enrich our otherwise limited information bandwidth. Drawing an analogy between the martial arts and the media, both methods accept external tools as an extension to sense the outside environment with belief in enriching human beings current experience. For example, the swords, the sticks, and many more weapons function as an outreach of the arms to probe the opponents. More importantly, while the martial arts only takes physical tools for such expansion, our expertise in media can go beyond with both physical and digital experience combined. Evolving from its physical form, our media devices have this magic power of transcending the form and incorporating much more diverse content. It has been manifested on many media forms such as telegraphs, kinescope, and recently the VR that not only have a physical form one could interact with, they also have a gigantic collection of virtual content. However,  zoetrope predates these latecomers.  For decades, people have tried this through endless effort in which I shall illustrate in the example of Zoetrope. The term, zoetrope, is a relatively new term that was not invented until 19 century when British inventor William Horner needed a name for his device, but the earliest documented zoetrope was found in China. 

Because one of the underlying premises of this article is that zoetrope could not be considered separately from its origin and social background, the section one starts off by exploring some of the expressive arts that precede it briefly before diving into the distinct environment that gave birth to zoetrope in China in the 11 century. It will review traditions of visual storytelling that flourished centuries before the zoetrope appeared. 

The zoetrope stayed mostly unchanged until the 18 century when the shadow play was introduced into European cities such as Paris and London. Section two will illustrate the process of rediscovering zoetrope in the period. The shadow play inspired scientists explored the scientific mechanism of the zoetrope. The modern zoetrope began to develop in London in the mid-nineteenth century. William George Horner, a Cambridge mathematician, rediscovered the importance and gave the name of the zoetrope. 

Section three will shift the focus on the heyday of zoetrope in its cylinder form in the late 19 and the early 20 century. The zoetrope may have been neglected because it was later subsumed into other forms of media while some other distinctive forms retained their identities.   And finally, the late appearance of the zoetrope in recent history was its usage in subway media where the cylinder form has evolved into a linear form. The subway zoetrope’s apparatus, its relationships to the audience, and its role in the public sphere has changed significantly. 

 

Summary

The central question of zoetrope changed with the emergence of technology evolution. 

[lantern -> cylinder zoetrope – > Improved version of zoetrope – > linear ] 

Section 1 

The origin of zoetrope in China and its later development as military communication and civil entrainment devices. The ignored history of the zoetrope. 

Methods

  1. Illustrate the unconnected nature of China and the world before the silk road. 
  2. Describe the scene of 上元节 in the Song Dynasty, the lantern festival happened during the first month of the lunar calendar where zoetrope was the leading character of such a splendid festival. 
  3. Describe the zoetrope itself as a moving movie without sound or closed captions. The movement set itself apart from other still media devices. 
  4. Extend the arguments to discuss its importance through its military and civil application and discuss why it was not recognized by others at that time. 

Main Reference  

[0] Youtube Video 

[1] https://3g.d1xz.net/rili/jieri/art253008.aspx

[2]  Xijing Zaji, 西京杂记

[3]  Qing yi lu, 清异录

Section 2 

The silk road introduced the essence of the zoetrope, the shadow play, to the western world in the late 18 century where early scientists adopted and reformatted the zoetrope by studying its science theory. 

Methods

1. Mathematician Horner discovered 

Main Reference 

[1] William Horner http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Biographies/Horner.html

[2] Enticknap, L.D.G. (2005). Moving Image Technology: From Zoetrope to Digital. Wallflower. 

Section 3

The new zoetrope evolves into a linear form underground that challenges people’s perception in moving images. Avant designers made various of design projects that utilizing the space 

Methods

Main Reference 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKpfnYzsDCU

 

Main Reference 

[1] Enticknap, L.D.G. (2005). Moving Image Technology: From Zoetrope to Digital. Wallflower. 

[2] Erkki Huhtamo.  (2013). illusions in Motion Media Archaeology of the Moving. MIT Press.

 

 

 

 

 

Jamais Vu: A HistorioGraphic Adventure Game

 

There is perhaps no incident of early cinematic apocrypha more well-known than that of the Paris premiere of L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat at the Salon Indien du Grand Café on December 28, 1895. The film, produced and directed by brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, is said to have incited incited panic in its unsuspecting audience, who were convinced that the image of the oncoming train was seconds from running off its tracks and straight into the crowded salon. Maxim Gorky, a Russian journalist who reported on a screening of the same film in Nizhny Novgorod, describes—in language commensurate to the alleged terror—how the arriving train “seems as though it will plunge into the darkness in which you sit, turning you into a ripped sack full of lacerated flesh and splintered bones, and crushing into dust and into broken fragments this hall and this building” (408). It is nearly impossible, today, for a modern audience to watch the film and not consider at once the magical charm of antiquated cinema alongside the quaint image of public alarm in the face what now appears as a totally benign non-event.

Scholars have more or less closed the book on the veracity of this familiar story. Not only is there scant record of such a panic—and what newspaper could resist such a story—but evidence suggests that the film may not have even been part of the program at all on that famous December evening. Nevertheless, the imagined event remains pervasive. “While the fear and panic of the audience facing Lumière’s locomotive is retold in the form of an anecdote,” writes film scholar Martin Loiperdinger, “its status reaches much higher: reiterated over and over again, it figures as the founding myth of the medium, testifying to the power of film over its spectators” (93). My project is an attempt to reenvision this mythic foundation of cinema in a digital environment and to complicate its status through an exploration of anachronistic historical, historiographical, critical, theoretical, and poetic perspectives on spectacle and spectatorship.

The working title of this project is Jamais Vu—French for “never seen.” Psychologically speaking, jamais vu is the inverted counterpart of the more widely recognized déjà vu. It refers to a simultaneous and irreconcilable sense of recognition and unfamiliarity. In one sense, the title is a pun on both the French origins of the incident in question and the common understanding that, even in light of earlier, more primitive examples of projected moving images, few members of the audience at the Grand Café would have ever seen anything quite like the Lumière’s innovative showing. In another sense, Jamais Vu encapsulates the more particular historiographical approach of this project. By anachronistically suffusing a representation of what is, to many, a well-known apocryphal event with carefully selected texts gathered thematically and synchronically from various historical and theoretical writings, I hope to create an experience that is constituted from the very critical discourse with which it implicates itself—a work that negotiates no clear consensus between estrangement and reconciliation.

Generically, Jamais Vu will most likely take the form of a retro-style graphic adventure game. (“HistorioGraphic,” at the very least, affords the opportunity to make another pun.) The environment of the salon at the Grand Café will be represented in two-dimensions, with simple pixel-based art assets. This is intended both as a visual reference to the genre’s forebears (see the classic Lucasarts adventure games, for instance) and also to develop an impressionistic style which leaves room for an emphasis on textual elements. Players will control a protagonist character whose personal history will be predefined by the narrative of the game, but whose responses to other characters may be influenced by player choice. At the moment, the game’s protagonist is an established socialite whose reputation in Paris society has recently been strained on account of the sudden, mysterious death of her shall-we-say distant husband. The establishment of a defined protagonist is important to the historiographic project of Jamais Vu so as to best allow for the anchoring of the more fantastical, experimental elements of the experience to a more down-to-earth, human story—however tongue-in-cheek it may end up being.

 

The player will guide this protagonist through the scene of the salon, interacting with various other characters along the way: a bartender, a wealthy businessman, a few close friends, or an engineer making last-minute adjustments to the cinematograph itself. These conversations will take the general form of a dialogue interspersed with snippets of text taken from the works listed below in the “Works Cited” section. I intend to gather quotations which, when set one against another, give the impression a continuous conversation, despite the temporal, geographic, and disciplinary differences that may otherwise preclude their authors’ conversation—a collage, or rather montage, of theory. One character may implore: “The show’s about to start, let’s head to our seats.” Another may respond: “Being a spectator is not some passive condition that we should transform into activity. It is our normal situation” (Rancière, 17). Then a third may chime in: “Thus the spectacle, though it turns reality on its head, is itself a product of real activity” (Debord, 14). The player would have the opportunity to respond in kind, given a few different choices of possibilities. Of course, all citation would not appear until the completion of the experience, so as to elide as much of a distinction of discourse as possible.

By the end of the experience, the Lumière’s train will indeed have burst through the screen and into the crowd. It is this part, at present, that remains least defined. The game perhaps might shift into a top-down action game, through which the player must navigate their avatar around the path of a ricocheting locomotive in order to knock over the still projecting cinematograph. Or the player may have to conquer some final puzzle which would require certain information or items gathered before the climax in order to save the day. I’m honestly not sure. Nonetheless, at this point, the climax appears somewhat less historiographically charged than what most likely will come before—although this is something, too, that remains up in the air. For the purposes of this prototyping stage, I hope to have a mostly completed version of Part One of the game, with all relevant historiographic dialogue in place and the necessary visuals and sound to accompany it.

 

 

Works Cited

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Zone Books, 1994.

Elcott, Noam M.. Artificial Darkness an Obscure History of Modern Art and Media. University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Elsaesser, Thomas, and Adam. Barker. Early Cinema : Space, Frame, Narrative. BFI Publishing, 1990.

Gorky, Maxim. “The Lumiere Cinematograph.” Nizhegorodski listok, newspaper, 4 July 1896. Translated by Leda Swan. Reproduced in Kino, a History of the Russian and Soviet Film, by Jay Leyda. Macmillan, 1960. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015003853564.

Hansen, Miriam. Babel and Babylon Spectatorship in American Silent Film. Harvard University Press, 1991.

Huhtamo, Erkki. Illusions in Motion Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles. MIT Press, 2013.

Loiperdinger, Martin. “Lumiere’s Arrival of the Train: Cinema’s Founding Myth.” Translated by Bernd Elzer. The Moving Image, vol. 4, no. 1, 2004, pp. 89–118. Crossref, doi:10.1353/mov.2004.0014.

Lumière, Auguste, and Louis Lumière, directors. L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat. Société Lumière, 1895.

Mekas, Jonas. Movie Journal : the Rise of the New American Cinema, 1959-1971. Columbia University Press, 2016.

Rancière, Jacques. The Emancipated Spectator. Translated by Gregory Elliott, Verso, 2009.

Scorsese, Martin, director. Hugo. Paramount Pictures, 2011.

Staiger, Janet. Perverse Spectators: The Practices of Film Reception. New York University Press, 2000.

Strauven, Wanda. The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded. Amsterdam University Press, 2006.

Yong, Ed. “This Speck of DNA Contains a Movie, a Computer Virus, and an Amazon Gift Card.” The Atlantic, 2 March 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/this-speck-of-dna-contains-a-movie-a-computer-virus-and-an-amazon-gift-card/518373/.

Play the game or be played?

This week’s readings nicely surveyed three gendered perspectives on gaming historiography. The journalist, pragmatic and jovial, wanted to serve as media archaeologist for the sexual activities of proto-personal computer hobbyists. The piece served less as a critique of misogyny, but a celebration of the communities of conflict that grew up around the controversies that arose during the games commercial distribution. As a short publishable piece in the Atlantic, it serves its purpose. What was missing was a more significant analysis of the game itself and how it’s masculine tropes might have been replicated in code. The next article, written by a video artist and media historian, shifts the narrative of games to the politics inherent in participation. It suggests that today we are living in a game that we can’t shut off and we today are the real pawns of corporate game masters. While her real-world examples were cogent and provocative, I did not fully understand (or doubt that I get) the repercussions of political solutions and strategies that can be created to intervene in gamification or fight the artistic crapstraction imposed and popularized by market forces. I hope that we may discuss this tomorrow, as my project for this class serves as such an intervention to warfare and historical determinism. The third piece, written by a historian, broadens community participatory historical research and demands that to fully disavowal previous knowledge toward the subject in question will allow a fair representation of the said topic. I do not agree with his totalizing call to come from a place of ignorance to inform the colonization of issues. It seems this pledge of innocence should be reserved to those that come from a white heteronormative background. The best histories are written through collaboration and should include the voice of the subject if it’s not already the agest ethnic-racial sexual orientation perspective of the researcher in question.

Engaging Complexity and Resisting Marginalization

How do we tell histories and how does that telling do justice, or injustice to the subjects of that history? This question is at the core of all three readings this week. Each reading looks at games, particularly telling a history of games, through the lens of the marginalized. Nooney’s “odd” history of Softporn surfaces the debate on “technology, obscenity, and equality in early game and computer culture,” highlighting the ways in which games are “socially embedded, politically fraught, brittle in its appeal to scientific objectivity”.  Steyerl’s questioning of the “correlation game” that artists are constantly forced to play foregrounds the problematic nature of games-turned-algorithms that result in a simplification of actions and how we determine what is fundamentally human. Street’s exploration of historical methodologies that do the subject of queerness and cross-gender digital play justice, focuses on the potentially damaging consequences of traditional approaches to history that tend to further marginalize already marginalized communities. What does it mean when a commercially-distributed pornographic game forces us to negotiate our social values and computation? What power does an artist, or any of us, have when who we are is determined by game-algorithms that are built on assumptions of homophily and an opaque system of participation and calculation? What does is mean when we attempt to force collections of personal experiences into nice, neat “digestible narratives”? Perhaps different methods are warranted if we are to embrace the messiness and complexity, instead of attempting to force it all into organized, discrete neatness.

There is also an important distinction between the way history is activated in the readings. In Nooney’s case, the history of games is told from the fringe. This moves the center to the periphery and demonstrates the ways in which the edge impacts the center and whole. Steverl highlights how past behavior feeds into game-algorithms in a way that is reductive and is accumulated such that we (particularly the creative) are forced to play and bound by its hidden logics. Street, on the other hand, is really questioning the methods by which we construct histories of marginalized communities.

These readers have made me wonder, how to we approach history in a way that doesn’t “flatten” the human experience? doesn’t “privilege some voices over others”? doesn’t abstract or simplify the real in a way that removes the messiness of what it means to be human?

Gaming Crapstraction: Alternative histories and generating new realities.

Three divergent articles on games history add up to three different approaches with similar results.  In each article the author proposes a counter history to the standard narrative or in the case of “Queering Games History” by Zoya Street and alternate approach to describing that history.  All three approaches result in writing new narratives which border on creating reality.

In “Queering Games History” Street, voices some mistrust in the idea of claiming knowledge of someone else’s history as a form of “expertise”.  Street prefers instead to look at oral histories as told by individuals who played games and without asking the specific question studies patterns, such as gender play, which arise in each player’s narrative.  As someone who has some experience with this topic in the form of role playing and character creation in virtual worlds, I appreciate where Street is coming from. In my own experience gender, or species for that matter, as a representation of the player in a game are a dubious metric for history without some narrative by the player to discuss their own “reality”.  In my past experiences, I’ve been a cat, a troll, a woman stuck in limbo, a dead cow skeleton and numerous other genders, species, objects and things all within the context of role playing my “self” to others in a virtual world. None of these characters was intended as some representation of my sexuality, more they were intended as a representation of my “id”, each containing some secret about me which I wanted someone else to discover.  If I were to write a book about my experience or the experience of my friends who each explored their own avatar sense of self, every character’s story might be different, and so, like Street, I am leery of “expertise” when it comes to writing about game history without player’s testimonies as a foundation for exploration. As we’ve seen in other histories like Rankin’s ‘A People’s History of Computing in the United States’, subjectively assuming some connection between one cause and some ‘perceived’ effect without exploring the individual accounts of the people involved is perilous at best and can border on malpractice as perceived by others given some counter narrative.

Cause and effect seems to be the underlying theme of Hito Steyerl’s ‘On Games, or, Can Art Workers Think?”.  Steyerl explores the history of game theory (cause) as it relates to numerous products of game theory in the real world (effect).  Quoting Turing’s ‘Imitation Game”, Steyerl discusses how game theory always relies on some generative fiction with multiple assumptions about the players.  These assumptions when applied in the real world break the model and create some unplanned side effect for players and people on the sidelines as well. For example, assumptions about perfect markets leads to models which don’t correlate with real world human behavior leading to economic collapse in 2008.  According to Steyerl, the old scientific method where models rely on cause and effect has been replaced by a new method where data correlation is all that is needed. You like your friends, many of them like product X so since you like them you must like product X.  Nevermind that you don’t even know what product X is, the model holds “true enough” with enough data and large abstractions can be painted with a very broad brush, sure the details blur away into crapstraction, but everybody likes it.  Look at all those thumbs up. I found myself decidedly convinced by Steyerl’s arguments and methods, particularly the discussion on CAPTCHA and its evolution to the “Check the box to confirm you are not a robot” model, which uses a model of your online behavior measured against its model of human behavior. This “Game” has real world implications in that we lose the choice or representation by our own narrative (Street’s Queering Histories) and are replaced by a representation of us as a ‘model’ human.  Once we are replaced by model ‘gamed’ behavior, our real world becomes altered to expect that behavior and we must conform to the model. Historical cause and effect becomes correlation and consent, what could possibly go wrong? Steyerl does offer some hope for redemption coming from the world of art. Steyerl believes that we can put the games into ‘museums’ where we can admire their ‘beauty’ but walk away from it as we leave the ‘sandbox’ of art. The idea has merit, I found myself wondering how this might happen in the real world.  These models were originally created to be lab representations for simulations, but eventually they jumped across the firewall to become the package that wraps each user with its own inputs and outputs. I wonder if it’s even possible to put the ‘art’ back in the ‘museum’.

Finally, Laine Nooney’s oddball of eroticism, “The Odd History of the First Erotic Computer Game”.  As someone flipping through computer catalogs and playing on the systems Nooney discusses in her article I found myself wondering about the adjective ‘Odd’.  Nooney’s history does not read as out of the ordinary as it relates the history of Softporn the first erotic computer game.  I worked with and know many programmers who created their own games and applications in the 1980’s as well as starting their own business, and Nooney’s history reads, based on my experience, as anything but odd or out of the ordinary.  It does deviate from the general white male genius narrative typical of most histories of the time, and it seems to shed light on some interesting tracks for alternate histories in its discussion of user comments on the use of erotic ads in ‘Softalk’.  Nooney weaves a narrative of subjectivity, with her reference to the environment in which Softporn was marketed and received by ‘typical’ computer users of the time.  The software in question could have been replaced by a Spanish language learning software with little to no editing and Nooney’s description would be similar.  True, the ads for Softporn and other erotic games were more risque than typical software ads but compared to movie posters or J.C.Penny catalogs they seem relatively normal and tame, if not lame.  Nooney argues that Softporn represents a focal point to discern where possible histories might have evolved differently.  In this I agree, but her argument stands on the assumption that things evolved one way or the other for a reason that relates to computing as a space for communication.  That it was a space where people argued feminist ideals with little or no fear of repercussion while now they are violently attacked for discussing inequity or presumed non-native.  The problem with this history is there is no cause of effect underlying Nooney’s argument. What she says is true in the sense that it relates to the state of computer games as a space.  If the space was different in the 80s then how did we get here? If Softporn and other erotic computer games are not “the distillation of computing’s misogynist kernel” then what do they represent?  Pointing to a difference in one small part of a larger space does not equate to an alternate history of the entire space.

I’d like to see more discussion on the idea of putting ‘Game Theory’ into a museum and how that might play out.  It strikes me as similar to trying to put the genie back into the bottle. Playing with the notion that we exist in a ‘Possible Reality’ that exists because of the the way things ‘played out’ in some simulation of history.  How do we extract game theory from our reality and place it back in the museum (Steyerl’s argument)? How do we change the ‘Mysogenist Kernal’ reality and alter it to be more inclusive of the ‘Real’ history of computing (Nooney’s argument) ? How do we conduct a history of games or any other history in a way that includes the narrative and voices of the people who’s history we are trying to record?  How do we describe history from our perspective without ‘whitewashing’, ‘gender neutralizing’, ‘stereotyping’ or otherwise subjectifying the topic to the point of exclusion?

Video Games and Community

The gaming articles this week present different methodologies that look at marginalized communities, erotic computer games, to even the nature of creatives thinking in the gaming process. Nooney’s article focuses on the text-based game Softporn the first commercially released pornographic game in America(2). The historical approach begins with considering the impact of the game on American culture from how much it gained in sells to who was playing Softporn. What was most impactful from the analysis was the detail on the analysis game interface, from the picture provided to the description provided by Nooney, show how the information conveyed through the text-based interface presented a game form that wanted feedback from players. What the creation of Softporn illustrated was misogynistic ideology and demonstrated the need for more women in the computation to have the ability to join these conversations. Zoya Street’s paper pushes this concept of the gaming community and queer voices. Street provides a detailed analysis of gender play in games by implemented by an ethnographic and qualitative approach. They state, “Historical knowledge has its performativity, and maybe it’s possible to play with that creatively, to embrace the fluidity of our role in its constant social construction” (41). The statement shows that historical narratives with queer identities are an essential part of understanding how individuals perform in the gaming community.
In contrast, Hito Steyerl work focuses on the question “can creatives think?” The paper is interested in if gamers are in a sense performing free labor for companies and stifling their creativity through this action. Steyerl uses the concept of imitation games created by Alan Turing as a method of understanding the logic and formation of games. Steyerl presents several case studies that consider how technology differentiates the human from being a robot and how that relates to creativity among the medium. Each of these approaches on the concept of gaming has led me to consider the broader questions on the role of inclusivity and diversity among the field of computing, but what does it mean to perform as a robot. From reading these essays, reminded me of the game studies research done by Professor Kishonna Gray. Gray’s work looks at gaming platforms like Twitch to consider how Black gamers perform in that space and how many have to face constant questioning of their skills due to race. The research has led to a larger question on has platforms like Twitch allowed more marginalized voices to be heard or are perspectives still missing?