[-empyre-] scalable relations-- how doesthismatter?(orde-materialize?)

Christiane_Paul at whitney.org Christiane_Paul at whitney.org
Thu Feb 12 11:12:27 EST 2009

Hi Christina,
thanks! Too many important points to discuss, I'll just pick up on just few of the threads...

Christina wrote:
"At the moment my small but merry band of undergrad students (film and/ or game majors) are making flash and html based games exploring narrativity ... the other day this process led to an intense discussion on how kids born in the nineties don't have an experience of the old story based , high content  video games (like Broderbund's Gabriel Knight, Lara Croft, etc) .. where the CGI was relatively primitive and the writing had to be really, really strong -- as they said the content was the best part of it-- and this was immersive for them .. all born in the late eighties, now around 20/21 years old.
The old story based games are dead.
They reported that they feel a disconnect with current games despite intense verisimilitude (at least on the level of 3 d rendering)-- because the personal adventure isn't playing out on such a minimal topologic space which unfolds mainly as story line (take this talisman, open door, ask question, etc etc)."

I agree that narrativity plays an important role when it comes to the "disconnect" from "rich singular experiences," and the lack of situatedness and embodiment that people struggle with in new media environments. Again, I think large-scale online worlds and large-scale data processing are very different but your gaming example brings up some crucial questions for overcoming the "disconnect." In general, narrative seems to be more important than verisimilitude of visuals, and immersion is dependent on both immersing the mind in a story and creating mediated embodiment through avatars etc. There are games that combine sophisticated visuals with sophisticated story lines -- I wonder if certain 'player types' perceive these as too complex compared to the (highly effective) minimal topology and story line of a MUD game such as Zork Zero. As has been observed with regard to arcade games, the qualities of speed and flow also play a major role in getting people absorbed in a game and overrule crude graphics.

I would argue that many of the pieces in the Scalable Relations exhibition also incorporate a layer of narrativity but it is more of a meta-narrative; e.g., Warren Sack's Conversation Map tells a story about the qualities of the conversation; Greg Niemeyer's CO2 Playground (http://www.blackcloud.org/ | http://www.blackcloud.org/co2playground/) tells stories about the air / living qualities of our environment. CO2 Playground can at times feel like a detective story that compels you to fill in the gaps - why did the readings go down at a certain hour? Because the crew stopped painting the galleries.

Christina wrote:
"Another quite interesting view of mutual subjectivity and social dynamic in new media design comes from Josh McVeigh-Schulz. Josh is in the MFA program here at UC Santa Cruz and works with Warren Sack and Sharon Daniel, two of the artists featured in Christiane's exhibition, as Christiane notes extensively in her most recent posts.
Josh has been developing a project called "Synaptic Crowd."  I really like how Josh is troubled by this very problem of subjectivity and propelled by it to look for 'synaptic ' principles in his design research."

Josh writes:
"My research seeks to understand how performers' impression management strategies adapt to the contextual uncertainty of distributed audiences. I address this question by designing interactive systems that mediate distributed audiences in novel ways. For my MFA thesis in UC Santa Cruz's Digital Arts and New Media program, I am working with Warren Sack and Sharon Daniel to build a mobile interface which crowd-sources the traditional vox pop ("on the street") video interview. 
I'm interested in thinking about how distributed audiences could participate in interview encounters beyond simple question formation and voting. For example, how might a distributed audience convey aggregated non-verbal emotional cues? Experimenting with various data visualization models (either through visual or audio modalities) might enable distributed audiences to have a more visceral engagement with remote interview subjects. Examples of this kind of augmentation might include various means of representing nonverbal communication (laughter, attention, eye-lines, distraction, etc.) as abstracted visual or audio signals."

Christina wrote:
"Something here about how communication moves from an 'abstraction' of 'signal' to 'embodiment' and back again seems to be a core clue in the mystery of how contemporary art in general, including new media, provokes and includes even as it is a constantly moving target."

I very much agree. This obviously is yet another form of engagement (compared to the online game worlds and virtual large-scale data processing) in that physically distributed 'bodies' work together or 'socially network' through mobile communication devices (combining visual and audio capabilities). Some of the same qualities get people hooked to their mobile phones / iphones / Blackberries.

Christina wrote:
"Maybe these communicative moves are scalable only through augmented visuality, as Josh suggests here... ?  or is the medium of q and a, distributed call and response, in itself scalable even without visuals?"

I would suggest that both the visual level and the "textual" call / response are scalable but you are dealing with qualitatively different "communicative moves" (as you call them). In this context it is interesting to compare Conversation Map (which analyzes textual communication and its social and semantic dynamics) and George Legrady's Cell Tango (http://www.mat.ucsb.edu/~g.legrady/glWeb/Projects/ctango/cell.html | http://www.flickr.com/photos/celltango/), which scales / analyzes images taken by mobile phone through tags etc.

More soon,

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