“Last year, the futurologist Stuart Candy visited the department and showed us a wonderful diagram he used to clarify how we think about futures. Rather than one amorphous space of futureness it was divided into Probable, Preferable, Plausible and Possible futures. One of the most interesting zones was Preferable. Of course the very definition of preferable is problematic — who decides? But, although designers shouldn’t decide for everyone else, we can play a significant role in discovering what is and what isn’t desirable.”
ARGFest 2010 is just around the corner, and I’m lucky enough to attending as a panelist. I’ll be taking part in a discussion with Anne Dennington, Carl DiSalvo, and Sara Thacher titled, “TransGenre: City Gaming & Public Art.” Here’s the description, written by panel organizer Peggy Weil (see schedule here):
ARGs are not only transmedia, they are TransGenre. Games in general, and city games in particular, have “crossed over” from the cult/gamer and commercial/marketing sectors as celebrated innovations in public art. International art festivals from the Venice Biennale to San Jose’s ZeroOne are commissioning game designers to create site-specific artworks transforming the urban landscape into urban gamescape.
While urban game designers are tech-savvy and urban gamers find themselves in virtual and augmented realities – required to take full advantage of mobile/social networks – games as public art have theatrical roots, particularly in street theater, improv, performance art, club culture and literature.
This panel will address the intersection of city gaming as public art identifying both precedents and opportunities for game designers to create work for public spaces. (ARGFest)
…just don’t count on him to open the pod bay doors:
Technically speaking, Watson wasn’t in the room. It was one floor up and consisted of a roomful of servers working at speeds thousands of times faster than most ordinary desktops. Over its three-year life, Watson stored the content of tens of millions of documents, which it now accessed to answer questions about almost anything. (Watson is not connected to the Internet; like all “Jeopardy!” competitors, it knows only what is already in its “brain.”) During the sparring matches, Watson received the questions as electronic texts at the same moment they were made visible to the human players; to answer a question, Watson spoke in a machine-synthesized voice through a small black speaker on the game-show set. When it answered the Burj clue — “What is Dubai?” (“Jeopardy!” answers must be phrased as questions) — it sounded like a perkier cousin of the computer in the movie “WarGames” that nearly destroyed the world by trying to start a nuclear war.
This time, though, the computer was doing the right thing. Watson won $1,000 (in pretend money, anyway), pulled ahead and eventually defeated Gilmartin and Kolani soundly, winning $18,400 to their $12,000 each.
“Watson,” Crain shouted, “is our new champion!”
It was just the beginning. Over the rest of the day, Watson went on a tear, winning four of six games. It displayed remarkable facility with cultural trivia (“This action flick starring Roy Scheider in a high-tech police helicopter was also briefly a TV series” — “What is ‘Blue Thunder’?”), science (“The greyhound originated more than 5,000 years ago in this African country, where it was used to hunt gazelles” — “What is Egypt?”) and sophisticated wordplay (“Classic candy bar that’s a female Supreme Court justice” — “What is Baby Ruth Ginsburg?”). (New York Times)
The Challenger expedition was an ambitious scientific mission that sought to catalogue the geology and biology of the world’s oceans. Among other achievements, the expedition managed to scoop up bizarre life forms from the deepest parts of the ocean, including from a spot now known as the Challenger Deep, some 35,000 feet underwater (the expedition brought along over 250 kilometers of Italian hemp rope for just this purpose).
The scientists working aboard the Challenger produced voluminous reports, replete with beautiful illustrations and meticulous charts. Browsing through these documents powerfully evokes the sense of adventure and discovery that made the late 19th century so cool. High quality scans of the entirety of this stunning archive can be viewed here.
“Assuming that all ARG players have large blocks of time to dedicate to your game is a dangerous assumption that limits your audience to players dedicated to your game to the exclusion of almost everything else. And making that assumption feeds the stereotype that gamers are people with shallow pockets and lots of time on their hands. Based on anecdotal evidence, that is far from the truth. However, if game designers continue to operate on that assumption by creating games that are largely inaccessible without absolute dedication to a single game, it may become an unfortunate reality.”
We will be presenting No File: Brown, an interactive locative experience, at the ELO.AI conference at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island from May 3 to 6, 2010. The project is a collaboration between Kiki Benzon and Jeff Watson, and was built using the Waag Society’s amazing 7scenes technology.
Providence has a fascinating history. The city is in many ways the birthplace of the United States, having originated via a tense union between exiled members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (many of whom were kicked out for agitating for the separation of church and state) and the leadership of the powerful Narragansett Native American tribe. No File: Brown is a fictional narrative that builds on this history by embedding a media archive in physical space. Users can explore this archive via the 7scenes iPhone application as they move through the ELO.AI conference venues and the Brown University campus and environs.
We will be documenting the project online once the exhibition is over. Check back here for updates and links.
Download the postcard: PDF
ARGs, pervasive games, and location-based social games echo and reiterate a range of earlier experiments in ambient and locative art. Graffiti, sticker art, mail art, and other kinds of analog methods for creating distributed narratives paved the way for the kinds of practices that are today exploding in number and purpose thanks to ubiquitous computing and the real-time web. Lettrism and Situationism redefined urban space as a canvas for experimentation, play, and collaborative production. In 1959, Dutch architect and artist Constant Nieuwenhuys wrote “Another City for Another Life,” for the third issue of Internationale Situationniste. This text, which calls for a city “harmonized” by “unforeseen games” that make “inventive use of material conditions,” surely must be one of the founding documents of locative art and pervasive gaming. I include it here in its entirety:
The crisis in urbanism is worsening. The construction of neighborhoods, ancient and modern, is in obvious disagreement with established forms of behavior and even more so with the new forms of life that we are seeking. The result is a dismal and sterile ambiance in our surroundings.
In the older neighborhoods, the streets have degenerated into freeways, leisure activities are commercialized and denatured by tourism. Social relations become impossible there. The newly-constructed neighborhoods have but two motifs, which dominate everything: driving by car and comfort at home. They are the abject expression of bourgeois well-being, and all ludic preoccupations are absent from them.
Faced with the necessity of building whole towns quickly, cemeteries of reinforced concrete — in which great masses of the population are condemned to die of boredom — are being constructed. So what use are the extraordinary technical inventions the world now has at its disposal, if the conditions are lacking to profit from them, if they add nothing to leisure, if imagination is wanting?
We crave adventure. Not finding it on earth, some men have gone to seek it on the moon. We prefer to wager on a change on earth. We propose creating situations, new situations, here. We count on infringing the laws that hinder the development of effective activities in life and in culture. We are at the dawn of a new era and are already attempting to sketch out the image of a happier life, of unitary urbanism (the urbanism intended to bring pleasure).
Our domain, then, is the urban nexus, the natural expression of collective creativity, capable of subsuming the creative energies that are liberated with the decline of the culture based on individualism. We are of the opinion that the traditional arts will not be able to play a role in the creation of the new ambiance in which we want to live.
We are in the process of inventing new techniques; we are examining the possibilities existing cities offer; we are making models and plans for future cities. We are conscious of the need to avail ourselves of all new inventions, and we know that the future constructions we envisage will need to be extremely supple in order to respond to a dynamic conception of life, which means creating our own surroundings in direct relation to incessantly changing ways of behavior.
Our conception of urbanism is therefore social. We are opposed to all the conceptions of a ville verte, a “green town” where well-spaced and isolated skyscrapers must necessarily reduce the direct relations and common action of men. Conurbation is indispensible for the direct relation of surroundings and behavior to be produced. Those who think that the rapidity of our movements and the possibilities of telecommunications are going to erode the shared life of the conurbations are ignorant of the real needs of man. To the idea of the ville verte, which most modern architects have adopted, we oppose the image of the covered town, in which the plan of roads and separate buildings has given way to a continuous spatial construction, disengaged from the ground, and included in which will be groups of dwellings as well as public spaces (permitting changes in use according to the needs of the moment). Since all traffic, in the functional sense of the term, will pass below or on the terraces above, the street is done away with. The large number of different traversable spaces of which the town is composed form a complex and enormous space space [in its place]. Far from a return to nature, to the idea of living in a park as individual aristocrats once did, we see in such immense constructions the possibility of overcoming nature and of submitting the climate, light and sounds in these different spaces to our control.
Do we intend this to be a new functionalism, which will give greater prominence the idealized utilitarian life? It should not be forgotten that, once the functions are established, play will succeed them. For a long time now, architecture has been a playing with space and ambiance. The ville verte lacks ambiances. We, on the contrary, want to make more conscious use of ambiances; and so they correspond to all our needs.
The future cities we envisage will offer an original variety of sensations in this domanin, and unforeseen games will become possible through the inventive use of material conditions, like the conditioning of air, sound and light. Urbanists are already studying the possibility of harmonizing the cacophony that reigns in contemporary cities. It will not take long to encounter there a new domain for creation, just as in many other problems that will present themselves. The space voyages that are being announced could influence this development, since the bases that will be established on other planets will immediately pose the problem of sheltered cities, and will perhaps provide the pattern for our study of a future urbanism.
Above all, however, the reduction in the work necessary for production, through extended automation, will create a need for leisure, a diversity of behavior and a change in the nature of the latter, which will of necessity lead to a new conception of the collective habitat with a maximum of space space, contrary to the conception of a ville verte where social space is reduced to a minimum. The city of the future must be conceived as a continuous construction on pillars, or, rather, as an extended system of different structures from which are suspended premises for housing, amusement, etc., and premises destined for production and distribution, leaving the ground free for the circulation of traffic and for public messages. The use of ultra-light and insulating materials, which are being experimented with today, will permit the construction to be light and its supports well-spaced. In this way, one will be able to create a town on many levels: lower level, ground level, different floors, terraces, of a size that can vary between an actual neighborhood and a metropolis. It should be noted that in such a city the built surface will be 100% of that available and the free surface will be 200% (parterre and terraces), while in traditional towns the figures are some 80% and 20%, respectively; and that in the ville verte this relation can even be reversed [20% and 80%, respectively]. The terraces form an open-air terrain that extends over the whole surface of the city, and which can be sports fields, airplane and helicopter landing-strips, and for the maintenance of vegetation. They will be accessible everywhere by stair and elevator. The different floors will be divided into neighborhing and communicating spaces, artificially conditioned, which will offer the possibility of create an infinite vaiety of ambiances, facilitating the derive of the inhabitants and their frequent chance encounters. The ambiances will be regularly and consciously changed, with the aid of every technical means, by teams of specialized creators who, hence, will be professional situationists.
An in-depth study of the means of creating ambiances, and the latter’s psychological influence, is one of the tasks we are currently undertaking. Studies concerning the technical realization of the load-bearing structures and their aesthetic is the specific task of plastic artists and engineers. The contribution of the latter is an urgent necessity for making progress in the prepatory work we are undertaking.
If the project we have just traced out in bold strokes risks being taken for a fantastic dream, we insist on the fact that it is feasible from the technical point of view and that it is desirable from the human point of view. The increasing dissatisfaction that dominates the whole of humanity will arrive at a point at which we will all be forced to execute projects whose means we possess, and which will contribute to the realization of a richer and more fulfilled life. (notbored.org)
“Regardless of how the digerati feel about Facebook, millions of average people are deeply wedded to the site. They won’t leave because the cost/benefit ratio is still in their favor. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering because of decisions being made about them and for them. What’s at stake now is not whether or not Facebook will become passe, but whether or not Facebook will become evil. I think that we owe it to the users to challenge Facebook to live up to a higher standard, regardless of what we as individuals may gain or lose from their choices.”
“I had been preaching the Unix gospel of small tools, rapid prototyping and evolutionary programming for years. But I also believed there was a certain critical complexity above which a more centralized, a priori approach was required. I believed that the most important software (operating systems and really large tools like the Emacs programming editor) needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time.
Linus Torvalds’s style of development—release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity—came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here—rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, who’d take submissions from anyone) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.”
“Transdisciplinarity and the ability to extract from a range of theoretical and practical sources underlines media archaeology’s nature as a method and discipline of changing academic times, when (again) disciplinary boundaries are shifting and media related topics span much beyond the strict confines of media as a cultural industry. As a traveling, wandering, and hopefully aberrant enterprise, media archaeology could work towards evaluating its own premises of knowledge both in a field of capitalist new media culture and in the discourses of media theory. Taking it in directions that force it to speak more about politics, affects, sensations, materiality, and embodiment, for example through actual art projects that are media archaeological, is one of the ways to proceed, I would say. As a traveling, nomad enterprise, it also has to be an orphaned one…”