Marathon is a new computer game that runs on the Mac; it is a lot like the game Doom. There is a cursory narrative structure that has to do with aliens, a spaceship... you've seen it all before. You go in, and take on Ripley's role as the lead bug killer. Of course, without Sigourney Weaver's panache, at least at first.
Why am I talking about Marathon in this essay? Several reasons. It is a close to real time, texture mapped and shadowed environment; one can move through it with a full 6 degrees of freedom; bump into walls, flips switches; and there are others in the space. Two kinds of others: aliens, many types, which are pure constructs; and human standins. In the network game, one actually sees an avatar of one's partners in the melee; there is no facial detail, but, if you want you can talk over the computer's microphone, you can watch your partner napalm alien bugs, you can run past each other and bump into each other.
If that isn't enough, you can even jack into their sensorium; you can experience space through their eyes.This is an interesting destruction of the shot /return shot formula, , and a powerfully dialogic detournement of that filmic move, in the way that a player can literally place themselves in the 'other' body of another player in marathon, thus seeing through the eyes of their partner/opponent. A VIRTUALLY DISPLACED GAZE. This becoming other however goes much beyond the return shot, as it puts one in the avatar of another, as a 'rider' (to use Gibson's term) experiencing their retinal world, helplessly. This trades the territory of command of one's own motions through a space, for the territory of co-presence (or surveillance, as in many cases in the game it may be used as a hostile tactic). Interestingly they can at the same time, if they so wish, ride you...
And then, there is the hack of Marathon. Michael Hanson wrote some code that allows you to hack any parameter of the Game. The hack is downloadable freeware off the Internet. You can become invincible (which is rather boring...) or, more interestingly, you may specify behavior patterns for the aliens. Not just what guns they carry, but what flocking behaviors they adopt, how likely they are to attack, how likely to tenaciously pursue; how 'intelligent' they are; and who they consider friend or foe. It is interesting to make them all enemies of each other- lob a grenade into their midst and watch the shooting start. Let me show you a few recordings of the game.
To just make my point here. I had retinal afterimages for days after I first played it- and I did play alot. It's a good game. Bcause it involves one in the traversal of space. In real time.
Who designed the spaceship? Better question: who will design the next set of spaceships, and set carefullly tweaked aliens free in them to study circulation patterns; and then the possibility of deploying information- did I mention that one can periodically jack in and read 'messages' from the ship's computer? What if that computer were someone else? And this runs on a mac IIci? Why aren't architects working with these people? Check out the hack. And others that already allow one to create spaces.
The dialogic is irrupting in a spectrum of 'media' fostered environs, all virtual.... I refer of course to the WWW and games like Marathon. This becomes a realm for the development of a truly dialogic virtuality which we should not ignore, even if at first glance Marathon seems to be a video game.
5.1 The World Wide Web (The Dialogic and The Virtual)
The key instrumentality of the WWW is found in its integration of a dialogic condition, which we can find defined by Bahktin and Enzensberger-- in relation to it's own use of speed. Enzensberger articulates the elements of a truly communicative media: Decentralized program, each receiver a potential transmitter, mobilization of the masses, interaction of those involved, feedback, a political learning process, collective production, social control by self organization.
Speed as we have noted is a gateway under certain conditions to duration, and in this case a radically communicative realization of the virtual. I follow Don Langham in his outline of the progressive developments of media:
the advent of speech, allowed communication at a speed approximating that of human thought. Writing... is slower than speech, but is powerful nonetheless for its ability to make speech dependent upon the speaker or the memory of the hearers ...the widespread use of moveable type...brought about a revolution not in the way people communicate, but rather in the way they conceive the world. Now, at the end of the millennium, we have what Harnad calls "electronic skywriting"--the "fourth cognitive revolution". In this revolution, writing will allow us to communicate with speeds approaching that of speech, which is much closer to the speed of thought than other communication media.
from The Common Place MOO: Orality and Literacy in Virtual Reality
by Don Langham (email@example.com)
On the WWW text is only one part of a wide bandwidth communicative environment that embraces images, sounds, and the moving image as well. This brings back the question, following Bernard. Steigler's work, whether the deployment cybernetically of our memories is a vitiation of ourselves. To adequately address this problem we must also consider his thesis that we have never been deployed across any plane except one outside of ourselves...
The lineage of technologies moving from speech (or perhaps with architecture as an inchoate form), to writing, then printing, the telegraph, the telephone, radio, film, and the television develops a set of behavior patterns in relationship to pouvoir, (in contrast to puissance, which is a liberating, doubly affirmative sovereignty) and insists upon a transmitter receiver model in its most proliferated form, the book/ radio/television/film. The 'narrative' sequences thus structured, which reflect the intentions of pouvoir in various forms, have little to do with communicative media as defined by Enzensberger.
5.2 (Dialogic fields or revolution.....)
The Internet's origins were military in nature, thus invoking a particular kind of pouvoir. But note also that packet transmissions, designed to reach their destination and reassemble themselves, regardless of the path to their destination- bring to mind a different notion of the war machine: 'This analysis of the two assemblages and their coefficients demonstrates that the war machine does not in itself have war for its object, but necessarily adopts it as it object when it allows itself to be appropriated by the state apparatus.' p513, 1000 Plateaus, Deleuze & Guattari
5.3 In conclusion I will return to Foucault's three great variables of modern space -speed territory communication. Each of these variables is retheorized within the descriptions of the virtual that we have outlined above. A radical cynic like Baudrillard might consider much of the liberating potential I have described in the Internet to be temporary, as multinationals are currently taking great interest in the Net as a market. Marathon might escape him entirely- purely a meaningless pastime within a spectacular culture. I disagree. They are analagous to urban void spaces- A place for heterarchical program to boil forth- savage high plains.
In fact, the world wide web is much more savage than Marathon, though Marathon might seem more explicitly violent. There are similarities between a diagrammatic understanding of the web- nodes with great empty space between- and the urban void- explicit reified program surrounding an indeterminate zone. As well, there is a blending in the multiprogrammatic- be it in terms of architecture, subjectivity, or the Net- which sees play merging with work.
Turner identifies a condition in social transitions- rituals- which is important to note here. He describes a socially reintegrative path of ritual transformation as a liminal path- and calls it ergic ludic, as it reinserts the subject into a social order. However, the path termed the anergic ludic is a game playing path that does NOT reintegrate, that does not work, per se, but plays, and that sees the general condition of society as a problem, not as a datum. In the current form of the Net each individual can establish themselves as intellectual, artistic and economic entities- with a sovereignty that will radically alter the reach of the individual and change the way that the industrial revolution imparted a set of demands on the laborer.
The virtual is the site where puissance and pouvoir ripple through each other. Our subjectivities develop themselves through the intersection of the virtual (memory) and the 'real' (matter). It is important to understand, foster, and develop the current dialogic condition of cyberspace, as in its model we may find perhaps the greatest opportunity for humanity to step into a radical ethics, politics, and morality.
all CGI imaging by Ed Keller/Straylight Imaging and Design except 'whether conditions project,' by Sean Daly/Ed Keller.
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