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Reading Notes_delayed from October 27th

Part 2 of Manovich’s Software Takes Command reading notes, with part one hashing out the categories of cultural software.

Lev Manovich divides his book into three parts: 1)Inventing media software,” 2) “Hybridization and evolution,” and 3) “Software in action.”

Because my New Text Report will be centered on Manovich’s text, I am going to focus primarily on the “Inventing media software” section since that will not feature as much in my report. So let’s start with what Manovich sees as the “secret history of software” and look briefly at the major movers-and-shakers of the software/hardware world:

Creator of the Universal Turing Machine, Image hosted on the blog for the UK-based 27 Stars.

Creator of the Universal Turing Machine, Image hosted on the blog for the UK-based 27 Stars.

Though Manovich does not spend a lot of time discussing Alan Turing and the Universal Turing Machine, he does make it clear that Turing is one of the key foundational people who made today’s computers and World Wide Web possible. Manovich states that Turing’s work “theoretically defined a computer as a machine that can simulate a very large class of other machines, and it is this simulation ability that is largely responsible for the proliferation of computers in modern society” (Kindle Locations 1286-1288). To supplement Manovich’s scattered comments about Turing, I turned to other sources: 27Stars’ blog entry on Turing, biographical website on Turing by Andrew Hodges, and the BBC section on the mathematicianOne article I found absolutely fascinating on the UK’s Daily Mail website is the work still being done with the film about Turing, “Imitation Game,” by academics.

**Side note: He was definitely not the most humanely treated man on the planet, as he was subjected to chemical castration for being a gay man and has only recently received posthumous pardon from the Queen of England.

Manovich also highlights over the work of Douglas Engelbart and Ted Nelson, who were integral to hyperlinking that we use all the time (I know I do!).

Douglas Engelbart_creator of the mouse and all around computer-New-Media badass. Image hosted on the site Telepresence Options.

Douglas Engelbart_creator of the mouse and all around computer-New-Media badass. Image hosted on the site Telepresence Options.

Ted Nelson_hyperlink pioneer. Image hosted on ComputerHistory.org.

Ted Nelson_hyperlink pioneer. Image hosted on ComputerHistory.org.

These two men are probably the coolest computer techies I have read about in Manovich’s text as they helped shape the kind of culture we have on the interwebs. While Engelbart is famous for inventing the computer mouse along with Bill English, he is also known for his team’s development of “the ability for multiple users to collaborate on the same document” (Kindle Locations 1309-1310). The collaborative nature of the second development is something we use heavily in the New Media course as we work together on Google Docs (along with other software available through the Google Drive) and sites like Wikipedia (and the horde of smaller wikis that are cropping up, like this one on New Media). Manovich also explores Ted Nelson’s (paralleled with Engelbart’s) designing of a way to link documents together in what is now known as hyperlinking, though Manovich points out that the hyperlinks we use today are just one of the options Nelson pointed out in his theoretical works.

Despite Turing, Engelbart, and Nelson being super stars in the computer world, Manovich spends much of his time centered on Alan Kay and his “universal media machine” (with the name being a play off of the Univeral Turing Machine): “Kay wanted to turn computers into a ‘personal dynamic media’ which could be used for learning, discovery, and artistic creation. His group achieved this by systematically simulating most existing media within a computer while simultaneously adding many new properties to these media” (Kindle Locations 1196-1198). In essence, Kay and his Learning Research Group at Xerox Parc set about to simulate existing media (such as print, film, and sound) within a single machine (rather than watching a movie on your TV, using a typewriter, or turning on a radio, and so on) while also adding new dimensions of what could be done with each of these mediums, for “while visually, computational media may closely mimic other media, these media now function inf different ways” (Kindle Locations 1206-1207). But what does this mean? How can existing media now have different functions than before they were accessible on a computer?

Alan Kay, one of the masterminds who worked towards creating what Manovich terms “personal dynamic media” (Kindle Location 1202). Image hosted on Cyborg Anthropology.

Alan Kay, one of the masterminds who worked towards creating what Manovich terms “personal dynamic media”
(Kindle Location 1202). Image hosted on Cyborg Anthropology.

Let’s work through an example Manovich brings up: word processor. Because my computer is such a prevalent part of my life and my work (especially as a grad student), I take using Microsoft Word for granted. The software will never do ALL of the things I want it to, but it functions and I know how to use most of its features. So why is a word processor on a computer something to take notice of? Well, think about your relationship with your writing when you write with a pen/pencil and paper compared to when you compose on a computer screen. Both have limitations and affordances that the other may share, but not always. Personally, writing by hand is my preference because I can move the papers every which way I want without being constrained by screen size and I have as many pages as I want scattered about me without needing one to overlap another. On the other side, though, composing on a computer allows me to copy and paste without extra effort on my part (clicking a few buttons vs. rewriting entire sections). And then there comes issues with distribution. Yes, I could physically hand over a copy of my handwritten work to a professor or colleague or whoever else would see my work, but a computer that has access to the interwebs allows me to email work, upload documents to learning sites, share work through this blog, and so on instantaneously (in most cases, though not always). Composing on the computer also feels less permanent in the way that pushing delete a few times will erase what I had previously written without leaving a visible mark (we’ll leave that thought here because that would be one hell of a rabbit hole to fall through), but there is also a deeper sense of permanency because what going into the interwebs and now the Cloud is archived so long as there is an archive.

Whew, that was quite a tangent, and that was only looking at a few aspects of word processing software that many of us use but don’t always take the time to thoroughly consider. And this is exactly Manovich’s point in this first section of the book. Much of our Web culture is founded on software that is invisible to us so long as it is functioning. Once something breaks down–such as a site not working, a blog entry not saving, a browser freezing up, a digital game glitching — we start to take notice of the software running our work, hobbies, shopping experiences, and information gathering.

Collaborative writing is another space where the developments in this “secret history of software” makes looking at the current Web’s affordances interesting. Manovich talks about collaborative writing/editing spaces on the Web (spaces that include pictures, video, sound files, and text), which have altered approaches to information: “By harvesting the small amounts of labor and expertise contributed by a large number of volunteers , social software projects— most famously, Wikipedia— created vast and dynamically updatable pools of knowledge which would be impossible to create in traditional ways . (In a less visible way, every time we do a search on the Web and then click on some of the results, we also contribute to a knowledge-set used by everybody else. In deciding in which sequence to present the results of a particular search, Google’s algorithms take into account which among the results of previous searches for the same words people found most useful)” (Kindle Locations 1317-1321). These sites (or search engines) are not static texts waiting for the next edition. They are constantly being updated, reviewed, changed, expanded, and deleted as people access them as readers, writers, and editors. And anyone who has access to the Interwebs can potentially access these sites and become writers/editors (though there are practices in place where the sites’ moderators attempt to review information for accuracy). We are consumers and producers in the information age.

Here’s a terrible example of collaboration, but an example nonetheless. Do love watching Stephen Colbert, though, that crazy man.

Is the Web a truly democratic space? Yes and no. Manovich states that, “at least in Kay’s and Nelson’s vision, the task of defining new information structures and media manipulation techniques— and, in fact, new media as a whole —was given to the user, rather than being the sole province of the designers. This decision had far-reaching consequences for shaping contemporary culture. Once computers and programming were democratized enough, many creative people started to focus on creating these new structures and techniques rather than using the existing ones to make ‘content'” (Kindle Locations 1484-1488). There may have been some democratization of computers and programming, but there are still obstacles to learning the binary code underlying software: financial ability to purchase the hardware, time to learn to code, access to any external resources (guide books, forums, wikis), mental capability/interest, and (at times) familial/societal/cultural expectations on whether such a thing is a worthy pursuit (or waste of time). There is a definite learning curve in regards to attempts with programming. If you are like me, all of the zeroes and ones make my brain swirly and I scurry back to the comfort of letters.

An attempt at democratizing computers. Image hosted on Amazon.

An attempt at democratizing computers. Image hosted on Amazon.

Citation

Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Shipping the Arrow and His IT Lady Love


Until the End of the Illusion, We Will Baudrillard Forward_Reading Notes October 6th

Okay, so this is part two from last week’s reading notes on Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. This time, though, much of these notes will be focused on Baudrillard’s The Illusion of the End (such an uplifting title, no?), with the hopes that I will have enough time (and attention span) to return to talking about Simulacra and Simulation. Both of these texts are going to be part of my bigger Canonical Text Presentation, which is due next week (crap, that due date is coming up far too quickly).

Nothing starts a post off better than Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn. Image hosted on Deviant Art.

Nothing starts a post off better than Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn. Image hosted on Deviant Art.

Whew, Baudrillard isn’t the most accessible scholar (though he doesn’t quite rank with Foucault on whose work can be the most difficult to muddle through), but I definitely chuckled (probably shouldn’t have) through this book. The moment where I had to put the book down and just laugh for a few minutes was when I first started reading the section “The ascent of the vacuum towards the periphery” where Baudrillard introduces a group who had called themselves the “Stealth Agency,” which he said “could equally well be called: ANATHEMATIC ILLIMITED/TRANSFATAL EXPRESS/VIRAL INCORPORATED/INTERNATIONAL EPIDEMICS (14). I know the group was probably very serious about their work in which they “gather[ed] news of unreal events in order to disinform the public of them” while the group “remained…unreal” (14), but I couldn’t stop humming Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” (Hell yeah, James Bond!)

Must as well have a visual. Image hosted on the website Gaming-Asylum.

Must as well have a visual. Image hosted on the website Gaming-Asylum.

Okay, straight face and back to being a serious scholar. As I was settling into reading his first section (chapter?) titled “Pataphysics of the year 2000,” I was a little taken aback by just how affected Baudrillard’s work seems to be in regards to people’s reactions (and potentially his own) to the Y2K terror that internationally swept through countries dependent on computers and the Internet. There were moments in the text where I had to stop and think about the culture in which Baudrillard was writing about the year 2000: “All thoughts are going underground in cautious anticipation of the year 2000. They can already scent the terror of the year 2000. They are instinctively adopting the solution of those cryogenized individuals plunged into liquid nitrogen until the means can be found to enable them to survive” (9). Looking back from 2014 to 1999, it seems a little strange to think about what would have been so terrifying (I was eleven at the time, so I wasn’t aware of a whole lot beyond childhood worries). Were we really so sure that our world would be torn asunder because our computer programmers might not have taken into consideration that we would be using their software after 1999? (It is in this moment that I think of the 1995 film Strange Days and the 2014 film A Walk Among the Tombstones as one film anticipates the mania and one film looks back with a semi-sober eye).

A little Y2K mania, anyone? Image hosted on Time Magazine's website.

A little Y2K mania, anyone? Image hosted on Time Magazine’s website.

Having the capability of looking back retrospectively on the Y2K mania displayed above, I can see where Baudrillard is coming from when he hashes out his three hypotheses concerning the end of history. Yes, take a moment (I need to) and digest the idea that Baudrillard is telling us there is no more history. Okay, moment is up. Let’s rock our way through this.

First up, a definition of the word patapysics, which is defined as “the science of imaginary solutions and the laws governing exceptions” (Hugill). Now we see that the title for Baudrillard’s first section deals with the imaginary solutions for the year 2000, which would explain the three hypotheses that he offers. So what are our three options?

  • “one might suppose that the acceleration of modernity, of technology, events and media, of all exchanges– economic, political and sexual — has propelled us to ‘escape velocity,’ with the result that we have flown free of the referential sphere of the real and of history,” with history seen as “the kind of crystallization or significant crystallization of events” and reality as “the kind of coherent unfolding of causes and effects” (1). To flesh this out, Baudrillard draws on more physics concepts: “through the impulse for total dissemination and circulation, every event is granted its own liberation; every fact becomes atomic, nuclear, and pursues its trajectory into the void” with it having “to be fragmented like a particle” (2).
  • This hypothesis deals with a slowing down, rather than reaching an escape velocity, as it has to do with “the slowing down of history when it rubs up against the astral body of the ‘silent majorities’. Our societies are dominated by this mass process, not just in the demographic and sociological sense, but in the sense of a ‘critical mass’, of passing beyond a point of no-return” (3). — Absorption is a key mental image here, as “Events follow one upon another, cancelling each other out in a state of indifference” (3)
  • Baudrillard approaches the third hypothesis with an analogy about music and our cultural obsession with “high fidelity” to the point where the music is no longer music (think auto-tune, as it leaves the singer’s voice perfectly flawless, though no one’s voice has such a quality). For history, “by dint of the sophistication of events and information, history ceases to exist as such. Immediate high-powered broadcasting, special effects, secondary effects, fading and that famous feedback effect which is produced in acoustics by a source and a receiver being too close together and in history by an event and its dissemination being too close together and thus interfering disastrously — a short-circuit between cause and effect like that between the object and the experimenting subject in microphysics” (6).
So Baudrillard and Nietzsche walk into a bar, and Kahn is their brain child. Image hosted on Tumblr.

So Baudrillard and Nietzsche walk into a bar, and Kahn is their resulting brain child. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Each of these three hypotheses (from what I could pull out of the mire, anyway) makes sense in terms of our current culture and international relationships. I would be curious to see what Baudrillard would have to say if he had come into contact with the changes that Cloud computing is offering to us in terms of archiving. Anyways, onwards through the escape velocity needed to pass from the real and history, the vanishing point of history within absorption and indifference, and the high fidelity/idealization of history. It took me quite a while to break down and process what Baudrillard was saying about history. As someone who loves to read books, watch documentaries, and listen to lectures on historical events, I struggled to understand how history could have ended, vanished beyond the horizon point. What was this man talking about?

And then I started to think through his example with CNN (in the “Immortality” section) and how “History in real time is CNN, instant news, which is the exact opposite of history” (90). I remember not too long ago watching the constant newsfeed surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The broadcasters droned on and on for days (weeks?) about this flight being lost and searchers continuing to scour the ocean to find out what had happened. They were presenting the news as history in the making, creating this “historical moment” in the real time that Baudrillard was talking about, rather than looking back at the disappearance retrospectively. As Baudrillard declares, “nothing takes place in real time. Not even history” (90). To think of this another way to help me out, I think about how World War I is presented versus the Vietnam War. In the midst of World War I, the “bigger picture” of the war was not readily available. The soldiers, the politicians, and the civilians did not know they were in what would become known as a world war, and even the reasons for the war emerged after the war had ended. No one was sitting in the middle of a battlefield thinking, Ooooh, so this is what global conflict is like. They were going through the motions of what they had considered a traditional war (men fighting and dying with honor) until they came face-to-face with how advancements in weapons technology would require a rethinking of tactics. How the  Vietnam War was presented was very different as it was the first televised war. Here, people back home could see the harrowing situations soldiers on both sides were facing, as well as those civilians who were caught in the crossfires. When talking about the Vietnam War, my mom (who was a little girl at the time while my grandfather was in the military and overseas) said that being able to see what was going on during the war from the family’s living room was like watching history in the making. While something is happening, though, is not history so much as it is being. History (for me, anyway) is what is created when we look back and see a pattern of events emerge from the actions we have taken (individually as well as collectively).

One of the most fascinating points that Baudrillard makes within his third hypothesis about the vanishing point of history was how we are always looking to an end point of history, which is tied to his idea that “history itself has always, deep down, been an immsense simulation model. Not in the sense that it could be said only to have existed in the narrative made of it or the interpretation given to it, but with regard to the time in which it unfolds — that linear time which is at once the time of an ending and of the unlimited suspending of the end” (7). The questions that Baudrillard follows up with in regards to the end point we are obsessed with as a society were thought-provoking: “Where does this suspense come from? Where do we get the idea that what must be accomplished (Last Judgement, salvation or catastrophe) must come at the end of time and match up with some incalculable appointed term or other?” (7) and “The same denial is found in apparently opposite behavior [from immediate enjoyment of the event]– recording, filing and memorizing everything of our own past and the past of all cultures. Its this not a symptom of a collective presentiment of the end, a sign that events and the living time of history have had their day and that we have to arm ourselves with the whole battery of artificial memory, all the signs of the past, to face up to the absence of a future and the glacial times which await us?” (9).

No matter how many times I read this section, I always return to our current societal fascination with zombies and post-apocalyptic survival. Even though zombie apocalypse stories (books/comics/movies/podcasts) are centered on the survivors (for the most part, since we do have narratives from the undead side, nodding to the film Warm Bodies), we see the zombie invasion/infestation as the end of human civilization, the end of our history. Survivors are shown to turn towards anarchic and nomadic living, cannibalism, might-makes-right, the-strong-survive, which appears brutal (and yet enthralling) to those of us who are living on this side of the end. Why would history and civilization end if there would be people who still remember what those two were to our society? Why must there be only one way to thrive? Is life after a zombie apocalypse what Baudrillard would consider existence after the end point of history? When looking at the place for zombie narratives in our culture, it seems as if we are projecting the Y2K fears that Baudrillard had been commenting on into a new (yet not new) form, but this is something we have been doing for centuries. Humans are drawn in and repulsed by something that will put an end to us all (angry gods from the pantheon, alien invasions, giant asteroid hitting the Earth, global contagions, or nuclear fallout). It’s a little weird to think about, but, then again, I do love my science-fiction films.

Side note before I end since I have the need to turn everything towards video games: While I was reading, one of the things that really caught my attention was a moment in Baudrillard’s section “Maleficent Ecology” in which he discusses how we as humans are turning ourselves into waste-products along with the entire planet: “What is worst is not that we are submerged by the waste-products of industrial and urban concentration, but that we ourselves are transformed into residues. Nature– the natural world –is becoming residual, insignificant, an encumbrance, and we do not know how to dispose of it. By producing highly centralized structures, highly developed urban, industrial and technical systems, by remorselessly condensing down programmes, functions and models, we are transforming all the rest into waste, residues, useless relics. By putting the higher functions into orbit, we are transforming the planet itself into a waste-product, a marginal territory, a peripheral space” (78). This is not a new idea, but Baudrillard’s comments reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite childhood video games, Final Fantasy VII, in which the planet and all life on that planet were threatened because of humankind’s desire for more and more energy. The clip below is from a scene in which a scientist/professor explains how life on the planet is part of an intricately connected lifestream and the man-made energy was disrupting that lifestream to a critical level. While the developers at Square-Enix tend to pack the games in the Final Fantasy series with messages that show the consequences of war, promote strong bonds (especially between different groups of people/races/species), and encourage going against the norm to save others, one of their main messages is to preserve a balance between nature and human activities (destructive tendencies?). In Final Fantasy VII, the main characters come to the realization (like Baudrillard) that the planet is being turned into a waste-product in order for humans to advance their civilizations.

All right, readers (imagined or otherwise), so ends my reading notes for this week. Next week: Canonical Text Project! (*hear the sounds of a slow brain meltdown*).

Only nearing the halfway point of the semester. So much left to do. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Only nearing the halfway point of the semester. So much left to do. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Citations

Baudrillard, Jean. The Illusion of the End. Trans. Chris Turner. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994. Print.

Hugill, Andrew. “Pataphysics: A Useless Guide.” The MIT Press Online. MIT, 2014. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.

Illusion On, Reader

Update on two peers’ posts.

The first person whose post I commented on was Sarah Carter on the second half of Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs and Women. Her break down of the text was very straightforward, but I am curious as to the broader implications of the concepts, especially in terms of Sarah’s own research interests and her interests in horror films. How can the lens of the post modern human and bio politics change our perspectives regarding characters in horror films? This question led me to wonder how this lens would also affect video game scholarship? Most games reinforce stereotypes of gender while also pushing against such boundaries (strong female heroes who eventually succumb and must be rescued by the male protagonists), but then there are exceptions are video games like the Mass Effect trilogy that subvert the gender norms they are attempting to reinforce. Haraway’s concepts are very promising and are something I may look into with future research.

The second person who post I commented on


It’s a Little Simulacra, A Little Simulation, and All Baudrillard_Reading Notes for September 29th

Oh Baudrillard, Sweet Nihilist Baudrillard

Desert of the Real

Welcome to “The desert of the real itself” (1). Image hosted on the website English Scholar.

Ah, week 6 reading notes, how is it already this far into the semester? So these reading notes are going to be a little different in the sense that each of my classmates and I are doing different texts that will lead up to our Canonical Text Presentations. I am in charge of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation and The Illusion of the Endbut for this particular post, I am going to be dealing with Simulacra and Simulation. Where is our leading man?

Jean Baudrillard looking particularly ready to share with us all he knows. Image hosted on Student Pulse: The International Student Journal.

Jean Baudrillard looking particularly ready to share with us all he knows. Image hosted on Student Pulse: The International Student Journal.

What do you think of when you see the word simulation? For me, I always return to virtual reality and the promise that lies at the heart of advancements in video games. But, simulation is more than what designers can create with software and hardware; it is something that individual people can do, or people can do collectively. Ah, that was vague, but it helps me get closer to how I am trying to define simulation, and, in turn, simulacra. So let us back up a moment and see how Baudrillard distinguishes between the infinitives “to dissimulate” and “to simulate“:

“To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has” (3)

Dissimulate reminds me of Sakura early in the anime Naruto as she would repress emotions, which were then revealed only to the viewers through the appearance of an inner Sakura.

Dissimulation reminds me of Sakura early in the anime Naruto as she would repress emotions that were then revealed only to the viewers through the appearance of an inner Sakura. Image hosted on Photobucket.

“To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn’t have” (3)

King of Simulation. Image hosted on the blog Casa de Queenie.

King of Simulation. Image hosted on the blog Casa de Queenie.

Dissimulation is not the only concept that simulation is contrasted with, as Baudrillard also sets up the difference between simulation and representation:Representation stems from the principle of the equivalence of the sign and of the real (even if this equivalence is utopian, it is a fundamental axiom). Simulation, on the other hand, stems from the utopia of the principle of equivalence, from the radical negation  of the sign as value, from the sign as the reversion and death sentence of every reference. Whereas the representation attempts to absorb simulation by interpreting it as a false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation itself as a simulacrum (6).

Before we go any further, let us stop and define the word simulacrum. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), simulacrum is “A material image, made as a representation of some deity, person, or thing.” We see these all the time in our society and in societies that have long since past, even though we may not notice. Okay, now forward, comrades, to more definitions before we start to hash out this fun book.

To develop the conversation about representation versus simulation further, Baudrillard lists the “successive phases of the image” (the example he develops is that of religion and simulacrum of the divinity) (6):

-“it is the reflection of a profound reality” –> “good appearance — representation is of the sacramental order”

-“it masks and denatures a profound reality” –> “evil appearance –it is of the order of maleficence”

-“it masks the absence of a profound reality” –> “plays at being an appearance — it is of the order of sorcery”

-“it has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum” –> “it is no longer of the order of appearances, but of simulation” (6)

 In his section on “Simulacra and Science Fiction,” Baudrillard extends this further by discussing “three orders of simulacra“:

-“simulacra that are natural, naturalist, founded on the image, on imitation and counterfeit, that are harmonious, optimistic, and that aim for the restitution or the ideal institution of nature made in God’s image” – “imaginary of the utopia

-“simulacra that are productive, productivist, founded on energy, force, its materialization by the machine and in the whole system of production — a Promethean aim of a continuous globalization and expansion, of an indefinite liberation of energy (desire belongs to the utopias related to this order of simulacra);” – “science fiction”

-“simulacra of simulation, founded on information, the model, the cybernetic game — total operationality, hyperreality, aim of total control” (121)

Before we go any further, we need one more definition before we start to sort this all out: hyperreality, which is “exaggerated in comparison to reality” (Oxford Dictionaries).

Image hosted on Buzzfeed article.

Image hosted on a Buzzfeed article.

But, what does any of this mean? 

If you feel a little steam coming out of your ears, rest assured that you are not alone. While I love his ideas and find them to be absolutely fascinating in terms of video games, he makes me feel a little cross-eyed. However, if you are familiar with Disneyland or Disney World (a theme park that Baudrillard himself talks about in this book), then you have already come into contact with the concepts seen above.

Hyperreality, thy name is Magic Kingdom. Image hosted on the website Goista.

Hyperreality, thy name is Magic Kingdom. Image hosted on the website Goista.

When examining Disneyland, he sees the theme park as a “simulation of the third order” – “simulacra of simulation, founded on information, the model, the cybernetic game — total operationality, hyperreality, aim of total control” (12; 121). Just think about Disneyland and Disney World for a moment. It is not just a theme park where people can visit, nor it is just a animation studio that produces entertaining films. Disney is a brand, and Disneyland becomes a space in which visitors can come and be immersed in a park that is and is not founded on the real society from which they believe they are stepping away. It is exalted as a place where dreams can come true, but it is also a place where real money is spent (a lot of it, usually). Consumerism, you have found your place in the midst of fantasy. Baudrillard goes on to explain how Disneyland, in light of an ideological analysis, is a “digest of the American way of life, panegyric of American values, idealized transposition of a contradictory reality. Certainly. But this masks something else and this ‘ideological’ blanket functions as a cover for a simulation of the third order: Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the ‘real’ country, all of ‘real’ America that is Disneyland” (12). For Baudrillard, Disneyland is presented as a fantasy in order to make the rest of society seem real.

Now pause. Let that sink in. If you’re like me, it’s okay to take a moment away from this screen to process the implications of that statement.

Okay, are we back? Moving deeper into that thought!

For Baudrillard, the idea that society is real is false and that “It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology) but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus saving the reality principle. The imaginary of Disneyland is neither true nor false, it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate the fiction of the real in the opposite camp” (12-13). He goes on to explain that it is Los Angeles, by having amusement parks like Disneyland within its boundaries, that is a “city of incredible proportions but without space, without dimension” (13). Disneyland, by having boundaries (it is clear where the amusement park physically ends), can (in a very strange way) fill in the gaps that remain in the “real” city of Los Angeles. It is more real than what should be considered real, even though we are aware that everything within that city is not real. It is a performance in which we all engage, willingly so whatever the reason.

This argument about there being no real reminds me of Plato and his idea about copies of things. For a very basic rundown (it’s been more than a few years since I last had to deal directly with his work), Plato believed that the items around us, the items we build, such as a chair, are merely copies of the ideal. Let’s just roll with the chair example since that is the one I was taught. The chair I am sitting on is, according to Plato, a copy of a chair that is ideal but also unobtainable. I will never sit in that special, ideal chair. If I were to draw a chair (at least once that was recognizable as a chair), then my drawing would be a copy of a copy of that ideal chair. I don’t know where Plato or Baudrillard got their ideas that there is no real (I am deeply grounded in the practical, so theoretical works make my brain rather twisty). For me, if I can touch and sit on a chair, then it’s real to me; not just a copy that was delivered from the Twilight Zone. In much the same way, thinking that Los Angeles is not real is also harder to grasp, so I think of it in two ways. Yes, there is the real, physical space of a city called Los Angeles. If I ever travel there, I would be able to walk along its streets, shop in its stores, greet its inhabitants, and visit the hyperreality of Disneyland. However, I can also see where Baudrillard is coming from. The concept of Los Angeles is less concrete, less real. As a city that has sprawled out and consumed neighboring spaces, Los Angeles is a behemoth of a metropolitan area, and not all of it can be considered Los Angeles. Society is run on a set of ideas that are not truths; they are social and cultural beliefs that we have collectively agreed on and continue to keep in existence by voluntarily agreeing on them.

Ah, but I digress. For anyone who is reading this post, I will be expanding upon my notes for this book in another entry (one that will also deal with The Illusion of the End) in order to explore how the ideas expressed by Baudrillard fit into New Media and the digital era. My goal is to start fleshing (always makes me think of zombies) out how video games can be understood within the concepts of simulation and simulacra (not if video games can be understood with these two lovely concepts, but how they can be understood).

To help give me a concrete vision of how simulacra and simulation are used and played upon today, I turned to YouTube.

And, for your viewing pleasure, I give you a taste of Baudrillard in his own right.

Whew, we made it to the end. Do we care what the neighbors think as my pups and I blast “Defying Gravity” to end this blog entry?

It's the little things in life we need to celebrate. Like making it to the end of another set of reading notes. Image hosted on the blog Heroine of Time.

It’s the little things in life we need to celebrate. Like making it to the end of another set of reading notes. Image hosted on the blog Heroine of Time.

Ah yes, feel the bliss of having seen this image. Image hosted on Harry Potter Buzzfeed article.

Ah yes, feel the bliss of having seen this image. Image hosted on Harry Potter Buzzfeed article.

Citations

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2006. Print.

Time to Defy Gravity 

Update:

For this week, I commented on Ramona’s post as she was discussing Tornatzky and Klein’s concept of Innovation, and  Bolter and Grusin’s  Immediacy, Hypermedia, and Remediation. Ramona’s notes were very clear in presenting how each concept was defined by the respective author(s) and then using images and popular culture references to give a fuller understanding of the concept. The concepts of immediacy, hypermedia, and remediation are very useful in video game studies, as they are the goals and processes through which video games work. Ramona’s post made me think about how each of these terms works (and sometimes fails) in the video games I play and study. One interesting thing is how video games work towards immediacy as they want their players to be immersed in the worlds they are providing, dropping into lush environments, being surrounded by gripping music, and having a character to follow around in the gamespace. However, because there is a barrier between the gamer and the gamespace (computer screen, television screen, or gaming device screen), the games fail in having complete immediacy. Then enters hypermediation as video games integrate text in the forms of dialogue (captions at the bottom) and written narration (not every game draws on this, but many do). The use of written narration was very popular before video games could integrate voice actors into their games, with some of my favorites (Final Fantasy 8) drawing upon such tactics in their opening scenes. Remediation also makes an appearance as video games, especially role playing games, using cinematics for opening and closing scenes but also for moments known as CGI (clips in-game where control is taken away from the gamer, placing them in the role of viewer for a short time) to help progress the story. Video games do resemble animated movies, but the bulk of the experience is in playing them; however, with CGI moments, video games take on characteristics of movies, attempting to absorb that medium as part of the experience.

While reading Ramona’s notes, I thought a lot about the game, especially the opening, of Final Fantasy 8.

Next, I read Cynthia‘s post on McLuhan’s The Media is the Massage and her notes on Tornatzky and Klein’s Innovation. Cynthia’s notes on the concept of innovation were really interesting because she tied them to apps that people use all the time on their cell phones; she even linked out to a TED Talk on NPR that discusses how free apps are not quite as free as they are believed to be or advertised. I thought this was a nice way to present the material because it provided a foundation and context through which her readers could connect the concept to their own lives and technology uses. The main part of Cynthia’s post, though, was concerning her Canonical text, which was the McLuhan piece. I liked that she linked out to essays that embodied some of McLuhan’s points (shall we say, fears?) regarding advancements in technologies and their cultural and societal impacts, which also gave her readers context and a way to apply McLuhan’s discourse to their own lives. The context she provides was especially helpful since I am getting a sense of McLuhan’s work through her post alone (unless I get off my lazy scholarly butt and order the book to read…over winter break?) and would not have full access to his ideas and how they would apply beyond his work.


Just Roll with the New Media Concepts_Reading Notes for September 8th

All right, round two with New Media: The Key Concepts!

Image hosted on Giphy.

Image hosted on Giphy.

As a refresher, the book takes six concepts as key components to studying New Media and its threads:

-Network

-Information

-Interface

-Archive

-Interactivity

-Simulation

The chapter on Network was very familiar to me as I had taken a course in the spring that focused on different aspects and theoretical frameworks that revolved around networks (ecological, neural, computer, social, etc). Networks are essential to New Media as computers become ever more integrated into both our working and daily lives. The connections between computers and other such devices, interfaces establishing links between users and users as well as users and information, change not just our means of communication but also how we view our society and one another. One way I visualize this is when I think about people and their relationships with their cell phones. Staying in touch with other people is a big aspect of our current culture, but we use our phones for more than just that. We capture moments (sometimes staged, other times spontaneously) in time through selfies, videos, and pictures, but we also share those moments through social media, emails, text messages, personal websites, blogs, YouTube, and so on. We become creators of content as well as consumers, extending ourselves through the networks.

So many connected. Image hosted on Technoexpress.com.

Sherry Turkle, take it away!

Interactivity interlinks with the networking web of computers, users, and data. According to Gane and Beer, “[Interactivity] is often invoked as a benchmark for differentiating ‘new’ digital media from ‘older’ analogue forms, and for this reason it is not unusual to find new media referred to as interactive media. But herein lies a problem: in spite of the almost ubiquitous presence of this concept in commentaries on new media it is not always clear what makes media interactive or what is meant exactly by the term interactivity” (87). To counter claims that the term “interactivity” has lost some of its power in describing New Media since it has been overused, the authors pull together commentary from various scholars like Lev Manovich and Stephen Graham, “who together give an idea of what the term interactivity might mean in different disciplinary settings, and how it might be put to work as a concept” so long as “it is deployed with precision” (87).  The definition that caught my attention was by Tanjev Schultz: “New media interactivity is, for a start, instantaneous, and tends to work in ‘real-time’. It also, in theory, offers the promise of being more democratic: ‘the formal characteristics of fully interactive communication usually imply more equality of the participants and a greater symmetry of communicative power than one-way communication’” (qtd. in Gane and Beer 95). I found this intriguing because it reminds me of the work being done in my own classes. As my program is a hybrid of on-campus and distance students, collaboration in digital spaces is key. This idea of working in “real-time” (which reminds me of Final Fantasy) makes me think of working as a group in Google docs and seeing everyone moving through the space and entering in their input in view of everyone and at the same time.

As someone who is trouncing into Video Game Studies though the lens of English Studies and wishes to someday work in the industry, interactivity is a very relevant term. Yes, video games are interactive in the sense that players can pick up a controller or put their hands on a keyboard and play within a virtual environment that responds to them in some way, with the experience varying depending on the intuitiveness of the software. But advances in the game engines and the evolution of how developers design game experiences is stepping up that sense of interactivity, often through dialogue wheels that are a more sophisticated form of dialogue trees.

RPGs comparison. Image hosted on a Giant Bomb forum.

RPGs comparison. Image hosted on a Giant Bomb forum.

However, video games are not just about interacting with the software. Networking plays a huge role in video games like massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) like World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls, and Guild Wars as well as games played on consoles (Playstation and XBox) like Call of Duty and Borderlands. Here, players from around the world come together, exploring virtual environments, battling and raiding in groups, and sharing in-game expertise between players of varying skill levels. The game space is just as social as it is competitive, building relationships among players through interfaces rather than face-to-face interactions. The hardware and software, though, are not just tools, but participants in the network of gaming experience, nodding to Latour and his Actor Network Theory. I will not go further into that train of thought as I already have longer, more elaborate posts devoted to this topic. On a final note, while reading this book, I found it particularly useful for my ventures into Video Game Studies because video games encompass all of these concepts, working to enhance each aspect so as to be more attractive to players.

Link doing it right. Image hosted on Giphy.

Link doing it right. Image hosted on Giphy.

Citation

Gane, Nicholas and David Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2008. Kindle.

Dancing through the Reading