Big Reality

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Eddo Stern, Creative Anachronism, 2004

“From Nethack to play-by-post forums on the WWW,” an Ars Technica blogger wrote in 2009, “the first thing that computer geeks do upon inventing a new medium is play Dungeons and Dragons with it.” With this half-joking riposte to conventional wisdom that new communications media are appropriated first by pornographers, the blogger introduced a roundup of instructions for adding dice rollers to Google Wave to make it a platform for turn-based role-playing games. Of course, links between computing and RPGs predate networked technology. Some of the earliest computer games were made by programmers who played D&D; and saw the connection between dice and digits. Another parallel might be drawn between the do-it-yourself culture around computing in the 1970s and the amateur storytelling demanded by RPGs. Even while computer use leaves less to the imagination today than it did thirty-five years ago, it still shares more characteristics with RPGs than older forms of entertainment do. The creator(s) of a novel, movie, or drama have combined details into a whole by the time it reaches an audience; those media come with spatial and temporal guidelines for consumption. But just as network connections are constant and pervasive, RPGs are open-ended, played with regularity and long-term commitment. Gaming (like, say, tweeting) doesn’t have the same distance between medium and audience as reading or film-going – there is a constant awareness of the self’s participation in a bigger system, and a feeling of contribution to it. RPGs, like internet use, move at the speed of life.

I think this affinity is what has prompted many artists to include allusions to RPGs in their works. Whether they adapt the forking structures or the surface details of fantasy and science fiction, whether those references are direct or oblique, references to the culture around RPGs can be shorthand for reality’s mediation by immaterial systems. Some examples: Brody Condon’s remakes of medieval paintings with game graphics, Eddo Stern’s animation of a gaming-forum flame war, Deb Sokolow’s choose-your-own-adventure drawings, the arcane protests of the Center for Tactical Magic, Sterling Crispin’s scrying devices, and the occult forms behind altar .gifs on dump.fm. These artists a have relationship to fantasy that’s distinctly different from ones who make monster portraits and fantastic battle scenes – a genre that’s also become more visible in contemporary art the last few years. (That trend, I’d say, comes because popular and critical approval for Peter Saul and Tim Burton has emboldened a younger generation of “outsider artists” who grew up with RPGs.) Indie fantasy art, like the illustrations in novels and gaming manuals, that inspire it, is about virtuosic draftsmanship and imagination. It showcases fine renderings of dragon scales and weaponry. The examples I listed above have rough edges where processes of imagination and play visibly collide with other frames of reference. Often, they achieve this by bringing technology to the foreground.

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Hot Throttle (2011) - Mark Johns (Doomlaser) and Jonathan Soderstrom (Cactus)

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[PLAY]

Hot Throttle is a new game on Adult Swim from indie game designers Mark Johns (Doomlaser) and Jonathan Soderstrom (Cactus) which features scantily clad men racing around, throwing knives and pretending to be cars.

Note: We mentioned some of Adult Swim's other games by Mark Essen here on the blog a few weeks ago.

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BNPJ.exe (2011) - Jon Rafman and Tabor Robak

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A virtual environment, with multiple levels, produced for Philadelphia's Extra Extra Gallery.

Tip: Also see Tabor Robak's Mansion, another virtual environment created by the artist.

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Darkgame (2008-Ongoing) - Eddo Stern

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Currently in the prototype stage, Darkgame is a sensory deprivation computer game. The user wears custom made head gear, which triggers sensations. For more information about the project as it progresses, check the site.


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Originally via CreativeApplications.Net

iRiS (Immediate Remote Interaction System)

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By combining a recently developed mobile software application with the multimedia facade of the ARS Electronica building we intend to lower participation barriers for end users when interacting with such facades. We developed two prototypes: in the first application, users can paint interactively on the building using touch input on the mobile device. In a second application, users are able to solve a jigsaw puzzle displayed on the facade. iRiS (Immediate Remote Interaction System) is a joint research project from the University of Saarbrücken, Germany and University of Munich, Germany.


-- FROM THE PROJECT SITE


Originally via Mediaarchitecture

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Voice Operated: On VOICE: Vocal Aesthetics in Digital Arts and Media

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VOICE: Vocal Aesthetics in Digital Arts and Media, a new anthology edited by Norie Neumark, Ross Gibson and Theo Van Leeuwen from MIT Press, takes stock of the voice’s various transformations in the arts in the wake of the technological innovations of the digital age, and the ways in which artists anticipated these changes. One might expect musings on Barthes, man vs. machine, hauntology, linguistics or body politics, and those are all here; but there is also a refreshing and suitably wide-ranging cross-section of pop cultural examples and namechecks (Wolfman Jack, Portishead, Winnie the Pooh, BioShock, Meshuggah). Beyond its interdisciplinary parameters, the more theory-oriented papers are counterbalanced by an experimental essay (Theresa M. Senft’s “Four Rooms”, which juxtaposes phone sex, cancer care tapes, a voice recognition program, and Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room”), a poem (Mark Amerika’s “Professor VJ’s Big Blog Mashup”), and a meditation (Michael Taussig’s “Humming”). The multiplicity of forms and inclusion of writerly as well as scholarly voices create an appropriately reflexive resonance.

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From the Archives

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Video of "Spacewar"

Ready or not, computers are coming to the people.

That's good news, maybe the best since psychedelics. It's way off the track of the "Computers - Threat or menace? school of liberal criticism but surprisingly in line with the romantic fantasies of the forefathers of the science such as Norbert Wiener, Warren McCulloch, J.C.R. Licklider, John von Neumann and Vannevar Bush.

The trend owes its health to an odd array of influences: The youthful fervor and firm dis-Establishmentarianism of the freaks who design computer science; an astonishingly enlightened research program from the very top of the Defense Department; an unexpected market-Banking movement by the manufacturers of small calculating machines, and an irrepressible midnight phenomenon known as Spacewar.

Reliably, at any nighttime moment (i.e. non-business hours) in North America hundreds of computer technicians are effectively out of their bodies, locked in life-or-Death space combat computer-projected onto cathode ray tube display screens, for hours at a time, ruining their eyes, numbing their fingers in frenzied mashing of control buttons, joyously slaying their friend and wasting their employers' valuable computer time. Something basic is going on.

Rudimentary Spacewar consists of two humans, two sets of control buttons or joysticks, one TV-like display and one computer. Two spaceships are displayed in motion on the screen, controllable for thrust, yaw, pitch and the firing of torpedoes. Whenever a spaceship and torpedo meet, they disappear in an attractive explosion. That's the original version invented in 1962 at MIT by Steve Russell. (More on him in a moment.)

October, 1972, 8 PM, at Stanford's Artificial Intelligence (AI) Laboratory, moonlit and remote in the foothills above Palo Alto, California. Two dozen of us are jammed in a semi-dark console room just off the main hall containing AI's PDP-10 ...

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The Sky Is Falling (A Day in the Life...) (2010) - Michael Demers

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Captured PlayStation3 video from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, edited to reflect the seamless passing of game time and “real” time. One minute of “real” time equals approximately 30 minutes of game time. The resulting 48 minute video records the passing of one game day.

References to playable characters, AI characters, and accompanying sound effects have been edited from the video in an effort to focus on the notion of a virtual space with the possibility of non-virtual habitation, defined in part by the passing of game time during the observers "real" time. The health meter, magic meter, stamina meter, weapon and magic selections and the game compass have been unedited as a digital referent in the hyperreal environment of the game engine.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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A Slow Year (2010) - Ian Bogost

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A Slow Year is a collection of four games, one for each season, about the experience of observing things. These games are neither action nor strategy: each of them requires a different kind of sedate observation and methodical input.

The game attempts to embrace maximum expressive constraint and representational condensation. I want to call them game poems. The set comprises a little collection, a kind of videogame chapbook.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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All Over the Map: Conflux 2010

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The 7th edition of the annual New York psychogeographic festival Conflux kicks off on Friday and will run through the weekend. This year's program is eclectic, expansive and diverse - ranging from cinema accessible by scanning dispersed qcode stickers on web-enabled camera phones (Barcode Cinema by Kristin Lucas and Lee Montgomery) to a panel on public space art and Foursquare with Foursquare Founder Dennis Crowley to a bike ride exploring the geology of Manhattan to hidden transducer speakers throughout the East Village. If you want to explore how artists and technologists are currently integrating public space into their work, look no further than Conflux. See the full schedule here.

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