December 1, 2005

DAC 2005 Session 1

by Nick Montfort · , 6:00 am

I do not promise notes of this extent about every session, particularly since there are no electrical outlets nearby. But here are some notes about the first session.

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Maia Engeli

The Flow of Ideas in Telematic Environments: Play, Portrayal, Poiesis, and Conceptual Design Schemes

Maia considered how concepts and methods from (physical) architecture and design can help to describe, or shape, the flow of ideas in telematic systems – systems in which humans (and sometimes other intelligent agents) and the communications between them constitute the system. Such system are not limited to digital ones. Play, portrayal, poiesis represent different approaches from which the system of the Internet, and its users, can be understood. Maia presented seven examples of design schemes: carpet, in which people con contribute patches or tiles that continue those of others; tunnel, which grows in time or depth, exemplified by Gridcosm; star/tree; circles, of the webring sort; memetic evolution, seen in phase(x); density; and narrative space.

I miss the architectural perspective on new media, and was glad to hear some of it in this talk.If the scholarship I’ve found recently is any guide, I think there has been a dearth of digital media studies work that is informed by architectural approaches – a falling off from the days of Michael Benedikt’s Cyberspace, First Steps.

There’s also an obvious analogy to the collaborative writing games that some of us are sometimes caught engaging in. There’s an idea for the “non-visual interfaces” mentioned as one of the next steps…

Ian Bogost, Ph.D.

The Rhetoric of Exergaming

Part of a book on “procedural rhetoric” – advancing and understanding arguments that are made through the logic of code. How do “exergames” require physical activity as part of their gameplay? DDR and Eye Toy games have made these famous in recent times. But, beyond the physical outcomes, what about the history, rhetoric, and contexts of exergaming? Videogames have not always seemed sedentary – tilt sensors built into pinball, Spank ’em. (And even the original Street Fighter with the strong-man hit-the-pad interface, Ian!) Plus, you had to go to an arcade, maybe on a bicycle. Kudos to Ian for mentioning the Atari 2600 and how its cartridges declared the physical interface that was needed. There was the prototype “Puffer” for an exercise bike, the Joyboard, and early pads.

Ian discussed the rhetoric of running, and Track and Field‘s representation of it – still used in modern games. Then, the rhetoric of agility, and how orthogonal activities are introduced to cause a shift between physical states; sometimes a special interface is used for this. The rhetoric of reflex: Shooting galleries, whack-a-mole, etc. The rhetoric of (personal) training: The system is a feedback device, a remediation of the workout video – or, better, it encourages the player at each step. DDR is a personal trainer, basically: gives you feedback, energy meter gives you motivation.

Oddly, video games are situated in the living room, a space anatagonistic to activity – it is for idleness, with hardwood floors, HDTVs that can only be watched sitting down, coffee tables. Most powerfully, exergames expose how hard it is to be physically active at home.

Hearing John Cayley’s (quite good) question about how deeply this actually relates to code and procedure, I was reminded of the very interesting confluences that DAC fosters. Ian didn’t have a full answer – code is what implements these rhetorics, but the deeper relation will have to be seen in his book.

Andrew Hutchison

The Natural Languages of Immersion

How “natural” are interactive environments, and the “natural language” that appears in it? This is the question Andrew started with. (His question is analogous to questions about language acquisition, but Andrew’s focus is on visual work and immersion in these works.) He related his experience with the famous early VR game Dactyl Nightmare, and how much better it was to engage Char Davies Osmose and Ephemere, even though the gear used was similar. Davies gave an artist’s talk and training seminar, which made a great difference. Also, a connection to scuba diving and breath-based motion. There is no natural language to it – you have to learn the specific way to deal with the specific system. There is no “intuitive physical process.”

Instead we have “usual language” and processes. Immersion in processes occurs by ritual, and some fall away – airlines now allow people to change their own flights, which is bizarre compared to how things used to work. Andrew showed an image documenting Intimate Transactions by Transmute Collective, another bodily piece, which requires you to stand on the “body shelf.”

Andrew finished with a discussion of breaches of internal logic, causes of failures of immersion. Requests for players to use headphones, tune monitor brightness, etc. also are failures to recognize the contexts of computing and account for them. People’s tastes may also be a reason for the failure of immersion. So, immersion is demanded by an experience, not produced by it. What might create a common need for virtual reality? The loss of real bodily immersive reality – e.g., if oil use outstrips production and our ability to fly to conferences anytime we like suddenly goes away…