Wednesday, April 11, 2007

existential computer graphics

Wow. Hard to believe I haven't posted a single entry since Valentines Day. My apologies; the time has just seemed to blend together, one day into the next. To quote a favorite film of mine:

"Speed is like a dozen transatlantic flights without ever getting off the plane. Time change. You lose, you gain. Makes no difference so long as you keep taking the pills. But sooner or later you've got to get out because it's crashing, and then all at once the frozen hours melt out through the nervous system and seep out the pores.... Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day"

Granted, I do not take speed like the character Peter Marwood alleges. I guess replace "speed" with "these past two months", and "pills" with "coffee and antibiotics". Yikes.

On to "Countergaming"... I unfortunately missed class on Monday, so I hope my opinions on this text will not be outdated or off the mark. As you guys know, I'm closer to Peter's age than most of your'n. Talking with you guys definitely feels like talking with the future. The generation gap isn't huge, but it's there. Slightly. For instance, when I spent a week at a "cutting edge" computer camp, java hadn't been released (I only learned Tru Basic which seems utterly pointless now). I still have floppy disks with some of my really really old writing on it and these disks are actually floppy. So yeah, I feel like I was born earlier enough to witness the birth of the digital age with a critical eye.

I've been aware of countergamin since since Wolfenstein and Duke Nukem. Some of my friends were members of a cadre of nerdlings, and I stood on the periphery and watched these dudes create these insane game mods. They tried to teach me, but I was too stupid or impatient. Most of their efforts could be classified under "screwing around with visuals"; it was DOOM 2 on acid and you couldn't even kill anything most of the time. It looked incredibly tedious. Moreover, I thought it was pointless. I can't speak to the first accusation, but it proved to be a worthwhile endeavor, especially much later when I first played Counter Strike.

I had forgotten that CS was created by hacker fans. That was the first part of the reading that seemed relevant to me. The introduction felt like a waking tour of Sesame Street, or reading the manual for Mario 3. Retro. I realize though that this is more than just "Nude Raider". There is a whole community of artists out there dedicated to the deconstruction of video games. It seems an interesting area of study out of context. Games as art... interactive pieces that allow the user to interface with the mechanics of gameplay.

On second thought, no. Galloway himself ends up dismissing this medium. It doesn't really signal a shift toward modernism in gaming because the avant mods generally lack game play. They function to illustrate how games are played more than they actually subvert and redefine playing. The descriptions of these avant mods reminded me what it looked like to crash DOOM while running the god code.

Also, I think Galloway is a bit optimistic in his belief that actual countergaming will occur. As abstractions, these mods have merit. But he calls for new modes of game play. I don't think he is referring to the Wii controller either. He wants new algorithms, new in-game physics. But if you erase the formal strategies of the game, does it still count as a game? Video games seem to me to have evolved from board games, at least in terms of application/use, but I don't think that Monopoly for Super NES was a modernist or avant version of the original. Films are purely spectacle. You can change the formal strategies but you can't change the consumption process.

Games are defined instead by interactivity. But there are already many different interfaces, side scrollers or first person shooters for example. The identity of any game, its purpose and meaning and function, are all linked seemingly inextricably to its presentation and control interface. Changing any aspect of either of these really only creates version 2, like a sequel to a movie.

I mean, we play games for fun. Is there really a way to alter the experience of playing an already existing game for hyperpolitical purposes? If so, will these games be played by anyone? Doesn't Galloway's analysis call more for advancements in technology rather than algorithmic revisions? Games are supposed to be entertaining, sometimes cathartic, which I would say is the entire reason they are referred to as games. They are all just interactive fantasies. Cinema has subversive or counter qualities because it is rooted in the real. Actors are real people; we see ourselves in them. Thus, the way we are shown these actors can affect the way we see ourselves. Galloway points out that games are really only advanced animations. Even with swanky new HD graphics, games lack ties to reality, and therein ties to our hearts and minds. They are little more than sensory experiences, make-believe without any grounding in reality, utterly lacking in consequence.

For example: You may get startled playing Half-Life 2. You may even be sad for Cloud when Aeris dies in Final Fantasy 7. But if you watch the film "I Stand Alone" you will be affected permanently (and maybe nauseous and furious temporarily).

Second Life almost seems like countergaming. You can play, but there is no fundamental goal. Still, I find it lacking. I am controlling something that isn't me and can never be me. In films, we are not in control. We give our will to the eye of the camera. Since we are instructed by something external to ourselves, there exists the ability for it to change us. But veer too far into the abstract and you get "Baraka" and "Koyaanisqatsi", two films jam-packed with meaning but in many ways nebulous and indecipherable. Back to games: You control something. There are no consequences. Metal Gear Solid manages to affect players only because of the relentless cinematics. How else are we to identify with a blip on a screen that we can only associate with impersonally and via a substantial medium? The only real negative part to gaming is that the fun stops when the character dies. Or maybe that you get fat sitting there trying to get perfect stats in a Final Fantasy game.

I believe I'm going in circles at this point. Hmmm, can I muster up some kind of summary that really ties this all together? Artist mods are cool and all, but for countergaming to carry any socio-political importance via the gameplay requires real life consequences. It requires entirely new physical relations to gameplay, such that the player does not have to mediate control externally. This to me seems more like a job for science than for programmer-artists. Maybe if the game self destructed after you died for the first time...

Course, my entire rant could stem from the fact that I don't feel symbiotic with my technology. Could be my cultural background, but it could be that generation gap, since I just can't seem to integrate

Monday, February 5, 2007

them internets... part II

Before I forget: YT wears dentata. There are no children in "Snow Crash".

Anyways, back to the topics at hand, which were supposed to have been psychic fetishization and the ultra-ADHD that practical omniscience might bring.

What I was trying to get at, was the ability of "THEY" to sell your own identity back to you. If we move towards a future like any of those we have read about, the notion of constructing an identity will be at once absurd and potentially life-saving. Absurd because pretending to be an individual in something which is very clearly a society-organism such as a Metaverse is like being a skin cell in denial (at best you're a freckle or a mole, and still part of "skin"). The only things that make these "other realms" possible are connections, ie a multitude of users/avatars/what-have-yous acting in conjunction to uphold the facade of another plane of existence.

You're part of a host. And pretending to be an individual with real world cybernetic modifications to your body, or via your expression/rendering/projection on the net, seems a little batty. However, the net brings a potential omniscience, and individual distinctions might be all that keep users from schizophrenia or sensory overload (as in a stroke). Mr. Slippery is able to extend his consciousness out to envelope nearly the whole world, vast networks giving him an almost tactile sense of how many jets are backed up on the runway at LaGuardia. This is what reminded me of hammerhead sharks. They have a seventh sense, beyond simply being able to pick up on electric currents projected by schools of fish like most other sharks. Hammerheads can detect a charge as small as a half a billionth of a volt, which means that something like a single impulse jumping a synaptic gap (3/100 of a volt) will set off their radar many times over. So, from miles away, a comatose brain might seem like fireworks. And they are just as aware of every little bit of their surroundings for hundreds of miles (potentially) as they are of themselves.

So, if we jack our brains into computers, will our sense of space shrink or expand? Will we be conscious of ones and zeros? If our scope of vision carries a kinesthetic component, would this necessitate a kind of neo-post-individualism? How does one experience proximity in a non-dimensional realm, and likewise time given the ever-increasing speed of data (or is it data transfer...)? I mean, practically speaking, giving cyberspace a 3-D visual interface or format akin to that of the real world might solve some of these problems. But at the same time, wouldn't that be cheating ourselves? A virtual world with millions of users is just meta-real estate. The pessimist in me fears that if people give a sense of scale, or any kind of dimensional parameters, to the internet, that there will be those who quibble and fight over space. Some are already calling it a series of tubes. So, if your access is controlled, then your presence has a dollar amount attached. The more money you bleed, the better you would be able to project yourself, or whatever version of yourself, you want.

It's like the varying degrees of quality among the different brands of Clint & Brandy avatars. At this point, you are living Marx's worst nightmare. Your indentity, your ability to be an individual, is predetermined by your capital. You are only as distinct as you are rich. I mean, there is some ridiculously slippery logic here, and a lot of hyperbolic generalizations, but at least in the real world there is an inarguable, uniform amount reality/humanity in each person. A cool cell-phone and an expensive hair cut may make you more attractive, but no thousand dollar logo is going to make anyone more real. There may be degrees of finesse in hacking, finer subtleties that otherwise deserve mention, but as far as basic identity construction goes: all these stories show a future where your ability to be true to your own thoughts and freely express them, not just to be what you want but to be yourself, have an absolute financial minimum.

Alright, so I clearly enjoy a good rant, and I'm not exactly playing my cards very close. Also, I've barely scratched the surface; there are issues regarding identity that I'd like to discuss later, such as the growing tendency to view culture as code. Grant Morrison kinda talks about this in the video I posted, you know, proto-language as magic. But enough for now.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

them internets is too big for one man to handle

The internet is undoubtedly the greatest tool the world has yet seen in terms of communicative potential and networking and whatnot. Results are near instantaneous, and connectivity is near mandatory for civilized/industrialized societies. However, the internet might also pose the greatest threat to efficiency that modern man has faced. How many webcomics out there focus on people that practically live on the internet, slackers who do nothing but web-surf and consume mass quantities of coffee in order to facilitate this hobby.

The work in this class is slow going (for me at least) since so much of it requires internet activity. Without a wireless laptop, I'm bound to my desktop at my apartment and the labs on/off campus just to do this work. And at home in particular, I have to be ever vigilant to stay on blogger or and not shift my perspective over to the sites I frequent otherwise. The internet is procrastinations best friend.

I mention this because "The Veldt", "True Names", "Burning Chrome", and "NYC 2123" all focus on similar issues, some more indirectly than others (I'm looking at you "The Veldt"). The idea is that we are all moving towards a future where technology is even more ubiquitous than it is now. Today, it is literally impossible to be conscious in Los Angeles for more than 10 seconds without mentally consuming an advertisement. If not on billboards or tv or the radio, then in print and on the net, and even on the logos people brandish unconsciously. Most of my possessions have words printed on them somewhere, and nearly all of these words function to remind me of a brand or trend or lifestyle. So, unless you go out into the woods and wear animal skins, you have to deal with a constant assault of ads and information. But we all know this.

The stories we are reading are taking this idea further. Currently, everything is external to ourselves. "The Veldt" warns of the potential dangers in surrendering to technological ease. But I think we all know how dangerous synchronization with technology can be; some people's lives turn off nightly so that they can sit and watch their favorite programming blocks on tv, but this phenomenon is 30 years old at least. The more interesting problems come from the newer pieces.

What happens when synchronization, that being living on a technologically pre-determined schedule or routine, is not only obsolete but passe? Well, that's the situation we face today, though our assigned readings present it as science fiction. The net is just there; it's waiting for you. Though it may update with newer information, it's not going to just leave you behind. It's rather atemporal, and that's the problem. As a species, we are now symbiotic, no longer independent unto ourselves (lets just pretend that third world countries and the like would function as we do in America should they be suddenly catapulted to some sort of comparable-standing). Without a cell phone one becomes socially crippled, practically a pariah since people don't want to deal with someone if he/she can't be reached on a whim.

Ok, back to the readings. The only thing that keeps these pieces in the sci-fi and cyberpunk sections at the bookstore is that we can't quite interface with technology to the degree they describe. Though stem-cell research and nano-technology might circumvent a practical need for cybernetic implants/parts, the consumer market potential of "designer body mods" almost assures their creation down the line. At any rate, be it through a kind of headset in "True Names" or straight up implants in "NYC 2123", these people are experiencing the net in 3-D, a digital world for transcendental exploration. The net is no longer separate from the self. Avatars and the like take on insane significance since they are all that stand between you and identity rape.

I guess that's what all this reading might be getting at, a future where your IP is your psyche. A war between humans and machines, as in "Battlestar Galactica" or "The Terminator" or "The Matrix", seems increasingly ludicrous. More than likely, humans will become technologically enhanced across the board. Rather than a warehouse worker driving a forklift, a worker will more likely control the forklift with his thoughts or simply have detachable fork-lift arms that he puts on while working (or whatever bio-mehcanical integration seems more likely to you). Lets not kid ourselves in thinking that technology doesn't already play into our identities. A Ferrari says a lot about its driver. A Mac user is understood to be very different from a PC user. A blackberry carries a different image from a "chocolate" cell phone. Soon, the way you interface with the net will say a lot about who you are.

And that's the thing. How many of us can handle that? It seems crazy to my mind, the thought that I might have an infinite perspective on the net. The horizon is as far as the eye can see, but how far can your mind perceive on an infinite sea of information?

Christ, this is taking forever. More on this later...

Grant Morrison @ Disinformation Con

this is from 1999, i believe. the con was in NYC.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Holograms are pointless in Cyberspace

"Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny", or something like that. I prefer "ontogeny recapitulates culture." I'm not even entirely sure what that means, but Grant Morrison said it while drunk, so I'm sure it's pretty deep.

Wertheim ends her chapter questioning where personal space ends. The net may be intangible, but regardless it is vast and infinite. It's essentially an alternate universe, or maybe reality, which is made real via our access to it and our ability to manipulate it. Some people practically live there. Cyberspace as a reality is a whole new means of existence, though Wertheim notes regularly that such metaphysical dualism dates back to the ancients. She also talks a bit about MPD, multiple personality disorder, but more on that later. Think of it this way: cyberspace already has laws. Be it DRM or a user agreement for an online community, these rules can affect your ability to experience the inter-web and even your "real" life.

The Bradbury short takes this all to a new level. What happens when we inevitably co-exist with the virtual? Technology does seem to want to advance to a point where cyberspace can be experienced as physical space. HDTV is great, but will our eyes be able to distinguish next generation televisions from reality? What if there were a 1,000,000 point Dolby surround system? Bradbury dreams up a future where we can manifest cyberspace. The only thing limiting cyberspace is the imagination, I suppose. In The Veldt, people can telepathically control a hologram room. Whatever they think, or want to think/see, is presented. Of course, once it is made physical, it becomes inescapable. One day, if things continue the way they seem to be, virtual lions may really eat you.

Instead, I'd like to see a greater effort of inserting our minds into the virtual, more like The Matrix or Ghost in the Shell. Thought controlled cyberspace is way less problematic than a similarly controlled (holographic) virtual reality. So long as you firewall your brain, nothing is going to physically kill you. Maybe we are moving as a society toward a place where the physical and the virtual realms are equally tangible, and maybe one day they'll fuse. Still, it's impractical to want to manifest imagination, since it seems it'll either make everyone schizophrenic or dead.

Grant Morrison thinks that people with MPD are from the future. More accurately, they are what humanity will evolve into. He sees cultures as organisms, that mankind grows together as a species. As we grow, we evolve more and more to interact with one another. The greater our ability to communicate/interact/co-exist, the less we will consider ourselves individuals. MPD is an instance of someone existing in the present day reality who contains a potentially infinite number of personalities in one physical body. Hmmmm, I was about to write a bunch of crazy stuff about time and 4th dimensional trancendance, but I think I'll hold off until we read The Invisibles and it has some kind of context. Otherwise it just sounds completely insane. Morrison is whackjob, after all.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007