Monday, November 23, 2009

An Introduction to Digital Literature


What is Digital Literature?

The term refers to works with important literary aspects that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer. Within the broad category of digital literature are several forms and threads of practice, some of which are:

  • Hypertext fiction and poetry, on and off the Web
  • Kinetic poetry presented in Flash and using other platforms
  • Computer art installations which ask viewers to read them or otherwise have literary aspects
  • Conversational characters, also known as chatterbots
  • Interactive fiction
  • Novels that take the form of emails, SMS messages, or blogs
  • Poems and stories that are generated by computers, either interactively or based on parameters given at the beginning
  • Collaborative writing projects that allow readers to contribute to the text of a work
  • Literary performances online that develop new ways of writing

The ELO showcase, to which new works are continually added, provides a few outstanding examples of what they term electronic literature. I believe the proximity of the digital in electronic literature warrants the use of both terms. According to the Wikipedia electronic literature is a literary genre consisting of works of literature that originate within digital environments.

To begin with, it is necessary to define what we mean by ‘digital literature’. We can distinguish at least three quite different meanings for this expression:
1. Digital Publishing. This perspective focuses on the production and marketing of literature and books, with the aid of digital technology. It includes such phenomena as eBooks, Print On Demand, AudioBooks as MP3 files etc. Content-wise it is a question of literature in a traditional sense.
2. Scholarly literary hypertext editions for educational and research purposes. This category includes hypertextually annotated literary works, as well as multimedia implementations of classics. Mainly, because of rights issues, these are older works, free of royalties.
3. Writing for Digital Media. Digital texts are always programmed text, on one level they are computer code. This opens up a limitless field of literary play and experimentation, as texts can be programmed to behave in a more or less dynamic way. We call this perspective cybertextuality and the works cybertexts, following Espen Aarseth (1997). Cybertextuality is an umbrella term for different types of digital texts, such as hypertexts, kinetic texts, generated texts, texts employing agent technologies etc.
All three categories are important for literary studies, and they also bear implications for literary pedagogy.
Raine Koskimaa, Teaching Digital Literature: Code and Culture

Medieval Help Desk
The Scriptorium was in turmoil. Brother Paul, the precentor in charge, had detected a murmur from the back row and, furious that the rule of silence was being compromised, strode down the aisle just in time to see Brother Jacob tuck something under his robe. When he demanded to see it, Brother Jacob shamefacedly produced a codex, but not one that the antiquarii of this monastery had copied — or of any monastery, for this Psalter was printed. Shocked as much by the sight of the mechanical type as Brother Jacob's transgression, Brother Paul so far forgot himself that he too broke the silence, thundering that if books could be produced by fast, cheap and mechanical means, their value as precious artifacts would be compromised. Moreover, if any Thomas, Richard or Harold could find his way into print, would not writing itself be compromised and become commonplace scribbling? And how would the spread of cheap printed materials affect the culture of the Word, bringing scribbling into every hut and hovel whose occupants had hitherto relied on priests to interpret writing for them? The questions hung in the air; none dared imagine what answers the passing of time would bring.

Electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast "digital born," a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer. The Electronic Literature Organization, whose mission is to "promote the writing, publishing, and reading of literature in electronic media," convened a committee headed by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, himself a creator and critic of electronic literature, to come up with a definition appropriate to this new field. The committee's choice was framed to include both work performed in digital media and work created on a computer but published in print (as, for example, was Brian Kim Stefans's computer-generated poem "Stops and Rebels"). The committee's formulation: "work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer."
Hayles, N. Katherine, ”Electronic Literature: What is it?”

Navigation is not just how readers move through electronic literature but how they read digital works. When and how the reader inputs a command, whether it is a mouse-click or a typewritten word, this action affects the work’s performance and the reader’s engagement with it. In other words, navigation enables the digital work’s performance and its signification. To understand how navigation is signification in electronic literature, let’s examine a few modes of navigating electronic literature and the their distinct effects on the reading practices and signification processes they produce.
Pressman, Jessica. ”Navigating Electronic Literature."

Konkret poesi
At the intersection between games, puzzles, poetry and prose is concrete poetry:
Concrete poetry, pattern poetry or shape poetry is poetry in which the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of the poem, such as meaning of words, rhythm, rhyme and so on. It is sometimes referred to as visual poetry; a term that has evolved to have distinct meaning of its own, because the words themselves form a picture. This can be called imagery because you use your senses to figure out what the words mean. Concrete poetry has a long history. Poems that Go is an online periodical that publishes kinetic digital concrete poetry.

Worth Considering in the Reading of Digital Literature
A defining characteristic of digital literary works is how space is utilized within them to aid in the conveyance of meaning. I believe space is the raw material of design and within its frame it is the grounding of the places that feature in the work. Space is used in a number of ways in works of digital literature;
* As a means to convey rhythm and a sense of timing,
* To regulate and direct the choices that can be made in navigating to the work,
* To create pauses and gaps in the work for reader reflection
* To arrange the features of the work in the sense of design, including the creation or representation of place,

Reading Paths
The reading paths of a digital literary work can take various forms, the tree and the labyrinth are the most common.

The ways the sections or segments of a digital literary work combine can be thought of in terms of layering in order to understand how they function within the structures of narrative media. Layering is present in the combinations of audio, image and text when moving through a three dimensional space that tells a story.

Dreamaphage by Jason Nelson (2004) shows how layering in a work of digital literature is used to organize the reading experience. Order is established in space by the layering of the components.

The feedback system of a digital literary work is important for how the story can be realized. How information is entered into the digital work of literature and what results it returns drives much of the narrative structure of the work. Katherine Hayles has written:

"Complex feedback loops connect humans and machines, old technologies and new, language and code, analog processes and digital fragmentations. Although these feedback lops evolve over time and thus have a historical trajectory that arcs from one point to another, it is important not to make the mistake of privileging any one point as the primary locus of attention, which can easily result in flattening complex interactions back into linear casual chains." My Mother Was a Computer

When we read digital literature it is not only words we read. The images, spaces, sounds and representations of media (radio, film, newspapers, TV, architectures) in a digital work are interepreted and responded to by us. How fast each of these systems returns a result to us establishes much of how the digital work is read. The speed of the publishing system, the resolution of images, the size of audio files in a work provide a unifying thread in the work that does not privilege one site in the system. Rather how the speed of the work directs reading ties the diverse media forms together.

Sources for Digital Literature
Jim's Archive
A growing collection of online works

An "interactive one-act drama" that is installed on each of the computers in HUMlab. Please experiment with it.

A complex work that involves seven visual spaces with three links in each. Telling a story of migration and self identity.

A dystopian narrative about a plague and those who are infected and those who are left behind.

Last Meal Requested
An artistic recounting of the cruelty of people and the struggles of minorities and the disempowered. By Japanese/Swedish artist Sachiko Hayashi

Fast City
A multimedia representation of Singapore in poetic form. By Don Bosco. You need to download and install it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Research, HUMlab and the Community of Scholars

HUMlab in Second Life

I began working in HUMlab, a digital humanities lab and studio at Umeå University, in the Spring of 2003 as a third term English Literature student. I immediately knew it was different. What struck me about 'the lab'included:

* Learning across the spectrum
Digital tools provide entry points to a variety of learning situations. My first project in HUMlab was the Virtual Weddings Project. Since then I have been involved in projects with other virtual worlds (Adobe Atmosphere, Second Life), mobile blogging (working with informatics scholars), digital literature research work (my thesis area in Language Studies), seminar and workshop presentations (art and technology, programming, narrative studies), teaching at undergrad course level (museum studies, culture studies), course planning (Media and Culture), web design and authoring (I am blogging on several sites), design and conference planning.

* Media as Frame
Digital media can be used to frame research across subjects. In my own area two examples are The William Blake Archive and The Virtual Macbeth project. The Blake Archive is an example of what could be termed tool-based humanities computing. Virtual Macbeth is an example of more process and critically-based digital literary studies. Each exhibits potentials to increase the dimensions of scholarship in English Literature, without discarding that which has been achieved in the past centuries. Other examples of digital media setting new frames in research, but from the activities in HUMlab, includes:

- The Creative
The creative energy in HUMlab is apparent. I have been involved in art, music, performance, and poetry since working in the lab. More 'pure research' use of creative digital applications include in Mapping and Visualization and Archeology with the Environmental Archeology Laboratory (use of GIS technology has broad implications and applications). Many examples can be called upon from what has been achieved in HUMlab over the past decade. Visualization ranges from 2 and 3 dimensional media applications as well as text, graphic, and dynamic animations.

- The social:
As an approach to research the social is present in HUMlab from retro computer game to online communities. Domestic violence to the use of YouTube in youth cultures. Language studies are of course present in social media. A recently defended thesis that was based in HUMlab, Making Sense Digitally: Conversational Coherence in Online and Mixed-Mode Contexts, can be included. As well as the social in the research, one is rarely along in working in HUMlab. There is a constant focus on networks and team work in the lab. Projects are launched in fika chats, through coincidental meetings and from seminar encounters.

- The Relevant
Working in HUMlab has for me brought a stong degree of cutting edge relevance to my work. I am trained in generic skills that can be used across academic callings. I have learned programming, composition, planning, and much more. A particular interest of mine is copyright and Intellectual Property
(IP), which has never been a hotter topic than it is now. While we have had not had a single large project on copyright and IP in HUMlab, it is a constant element in the working of the lab. One example of this is a blog post by American scholar and HUMlab friend Bryan Alexander.

- Collaboration
Access to international researchers, artists and figures in the field is a central element in HUMLab. Visits and often extended stays in the lab have included such figures as Howard Rheingold, Katherine Hayles, Henry Jenkins, Charles Ess, Bruce Damer, Ana Váldes, Tallan Memmott, Ian Bogost and many more. Over one hundred seminars from guests teachers, researchers and artists are available online on the HUMlab wesbite as streamed video. As a doctoral student I have worked in teams that included techniicans and other researchers, artists and undergrad students.

A Slightly out'of-date presentation of the history and ideas behind the name HUMlab

Monday, October 26, 2009

Virtual Worlds and Information Architecture

The Second House of Sweden: a virtual embassy for Sweden in Second Life and an excellent example of information architecture in a 3D virtual world.

The juncture of information architecture and virtual worlds creates a unification of the concepts that brings together the structural conditions of a 3D virtual space and the design of it in terms of information. Every built environment has values assigned to it in the process of its construction. These values can be interpretive or they can be instructional, in terms of having to perform closely according to specific instructions. Interpretive environments are more open ended, where multiple paths can be taken through the information system that has been assigned to the build environment. We can equate an interpretive information environment with the virtual world as a field for experiences. The virtual world as a tool expands the concept of reality. Instructional environments emphasis the simulative potentials of the virtual world where situations and relationships from the social and physical worlds are translated into the dimensions of the virtual. Realism remains a constant in both the instructional and the interpretive.

"In ancient Peru, Incan messengers used to travel across the Andes carrying a bundle of woven thread known as a Quipu, or "talking strings." When the messenger arrived at his destination, he would deliver his news while reeling off knots in the string like a rosary. For the Incas, a people with no written language, the Quipu served as their core information technology. It was a communications medium, a counting tool, even a method for recording laws. A skilled Quipucamayu ("keeper of the Quipus") could use the device to tell complex stories by weaving the colored threads together. Each thread represented a different facet of the narrative: a black string marked the passage of time, while other colored strings symbolized different characters or themes in a story: rulers, neighboring tribes, gods. By juxtaposing the multicolored strings of the story along the black-stringed axis of time, the Quipucamayu could "write" almost any kind of tale. Despite a total lack of writing as we would understand it, the Incas managed to keep track of enormous stores of information by manipulating these symbolic objects." (Alex Wright)

Information architecture (IA) is the art of expressing a model or concept of information used in activities that require explicit details of complex systems. Among these activities are library systems, Content Management Systems, web development, user interactions, database development, programming, technical writing, enterprise architecture, and critical system software design. Information architecture has somewhat different meanings in these different branches of IS or IT architecture. Most definitions have common qualities: a structural design of shared environments, methods of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, and online communities, and ways of bringing the principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.

Historically the term "information architect" is attributed to Richard Saul Wurman. Wurman sees architecture as "used in the words architect of foreign policy. I mean architect as in the creating of systemic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work--the thoughtful making of either artifact, or idea, or policy that informs because it is clear."
Information architecture offers a versatile and inclusive concept for working with different project in the contexts of virtual worlds. Multimedia, synchronized and unsynchronized communication, built environments, and collaborative authorship are some examples of actions that suit the frame of information architecture.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spatial Form, Virtual Worlds and Architecture

"Space...exists in a social sense only for activity - for (and by virtue of) walking...or traveling." Henri Lefebvre

"Designing buildings in a virtual world brings up some interesting philosophical issues that he and other virtual architects like to debate. There are those who argue, for example, that architectural students should only be able to design buildings that could actually be built in the real world and others who say that there's nothing wrong with taking advantage of the special features of this virtual world." Learning Architecture in Virtual Worlds

Virtual worlds are three dimensional, persistent, shared (social), distributed virtual environments run on computers that are often interactive in the sense that users can build objects and artifacts in them. They often feature multimedia, places, urban and rural simulations, all of which can be shared with others. Many online virtual worlds also have complex and growing in-world economies.

Use of virtual worlds in regards to architecture can be broken into two broad categories. The first is as simulative environments. Using what are called physics engines:

A physics engine is a computer program that simulates physics models, using variables such as mass, velocity, friction, and wind resistance. It can simulate and predict effects under different conditions that would approximate what happens in real life or in a fantasy world. Its main uses are in scientific simulation and in video games.

The properties of physical, (natural or built) environments can be simulated in virtual three dimensional space. This is extremely useful for a wide range of applications. Architecture can use virtual worlds with good physics engines (not all have them) to test and speculate about possible models.

"The concept was to test the Second Life platform to see how far it could be pushed in terms of supporting an architecture project on this scale," explains Lottie WeAreHere, staffer for a London creative digital agency which shares her surname.

Bartlett house - Second Life Architecture The Bartlett House. Virtual world architecture built to real world specification.

Can be found in Second Life at

All Rights Reserved We Are Here Ltd.
Commissioned Architect: Scope Cleaver

"It was made using an in-depth brief and scope for what the build should contain, and took approximately two months to build out," she continues. "What [did] we learn? HUGE amounts. Mainly around specification to final delivery, just how far the tools in SL could be flexed (this was before the days of sculpties) and that the platform was viable for our commercial company."

The second application for virtual world environments when it comes to architecture is as objects of research. The world I have had the most experience with recently is Linden Labs' Second Life. What attracts my attention about Second Life is the attempted sense of realism that is most often present in the installations and spaces of the program. While some of the graphic applications in Second Life are not the best, it is a very popular platform at the moment (this will change in the future). In Second Life there are thousands of architectural constructions that are free to study, critique and adapt from. Here are some images:

Anshe Chung is one of the most famous builders in SL

While this is just a very brief introduction to the possibilities of virtual worlds in the context of architecture, I hope it has awoken some interest in the topic. I would like to share a few other pieces that have potential to be useful in investigating architecture, space and virtual worlds.

Sirikata Teaser from Sirikata on Vimeo.

Sirikata is an BSD licensed open source platform for games and virtual worlds. We aim to provide a set of libraries and protocols which can be used to deploy a virtual world, as well as fully featured sample implementations of services for hosting and deploying these worlds.

The Virtual Forbidden City
IBM and the Palace Museum Beijing have opened one of the five most important palaces in the world…to you. The Virtual Forbidden City: Beyond Space and Time, a first-of-a-kind fully immersive, three-dimensional virtual world re-creates a visceral sense of space and time—as it was centuries ago during the Ming and Qing dynasties—for almost anyone with access to the Internet. Simply visit, download a client and go….

There is so much more.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Language as Architecture: Guiding Responses in the Reading of Digital Literature

Why is it different for specifically titled 'interactive' digital media when it comes to stories?

The concept of interaction, when presented in relation to language, seems to be a truism.

How is language made part of multimedial digital works, particularly of imaginative fiction?

A digital TEXT is a web of relations with meanings encoded in its structures; as address, design, and laws of use.

Do I read when navigating a digital text to create experiences of cultural and narrative value?

Things I Do
1. Thesis
Language as Architecture: Guiding Responses in the Reading of Digital Literature. Due - April 2010.

2. Virtual Worlds
Teaching tools. Sites of cultures and narratives. As mediums for symbolic exchange.

3. Art as Research
Making things to understand what they can mean - critically.

NOTE: The interaction networks of proteins in the database were generated through the use of Ingenuity Pathways Analysis, a web-delivered application that enables discovery, visualization, and exploration of biological interaction networks. Detailed information about this analysis software can be found at

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Virtual Worlds, Culture and Technology

Virtual Lindellhallen, HUMlab Island, Second Life.

What are Virtual Worlds?
The concept of virtual worlds has been used in narrative fiction for a long time. Elements of virtual worlds have existed for a long time in literature, theater, performance arts, story telling, interactive cinema, architecture and town planning. For a more developed history of virtual worlds see an earlier blog post. In the contexts we are discussing today virtual worlds are online three (sometimes two) dimensional shared presistent spaces. A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment intended for its users to inhabit and interact via avatars. These avatars are usually depicted as textual, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional graphical representations, although other forms are possible (auditory and touch sensations for example). Some, but not all, virtual worlds allow for multiple users. Virtual online worlds go by a number of names:

Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs)
Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (commonly abbreviated MMORPG) is a genre of computer role-playing games in which a very large number of players interact with one another within a virtual game world.
Although modern MMORPGs sometimes differ dramatically from their antecedents, many of them share some basic characteristics. These include several common themes: some form of progression, social interaction within the game, in-game culture, system architecture, and character customization. Characters can often be customized quite extensively, both in the technical and visual aspects, with new choices often added over time by the developers. Many games also offer some form of modding in order to allow for even greater flexibility of choice.
Character abilities are often very specific due to this. Depending on the particular game, the specialties might be as basic as simply having a greater affinity in one statistic, gaining certain bonuses of in-game resources related in-game race, job, etc. MMOG or simply MMO are variations on the MMORPG theme.

Memorial Gathering in WW2 Online

Multi User Virtual Environment (MUVE)
MUVE (plural MUVEs) refers to online, multi-user virtual environments, sometimes called virtual worlds. While this term has been used previously to refer to a generational change in MUDs, MOOs, and MMORPGs, it is most widely used to describe MMOGs that are not necessarily game-specific. The term was first used in Chip Morningstar's 1990 paper The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat. A number of the most popular and well-known MUVEs are:

Croquet Project
Neverwinter Nights
Project Wonderland
Second Life

Modern MUVEs have 3D isometric/third-person graphics, are accessed over the Internet, allow for some dozens of simultaneous users to interact, and represent a persistent virtual world.

A crowd in Second Life

The avatar is the central point for life in a virtual world. An avatar (अवतार, from the Sanskrit word for "descent") is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego, whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, a two-dimensional icon (picture) used on Internet forums and other communities, or a text construct found on early systems such as MUDs. It is an “object” representing the embodiment of the user. The term "avatar" can also refer to the personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user.
The research on avatars across academic and industry settings is broad and extensive.

People and Their Avatars, from the book, Alter Ego: Avatars and their Creators by Robbie Cooper.

For the purposes of cultural study and analysis what is perhaps most interesting about virtual worlds is that they are social. Millions of people meet in online virtual worlds and share ideas, virtual objects, art, secrets, passions, work and languages. How these people meet and communicate is a fascinating area of knowledge. Questions that are relevant here include, What does it mean to 'meet' someone in a virtual world?, How does a person represent or construct a self in a virtual world?, How can terms such as author, player, user, reader, identity, viewer, narrative, participant, sender and receiver can be used in relation to virtual worlds?

Culture and Virtual Worlds
Wherever there is social activity there is most likely to be cultures. Virtual worlds are useful when it comes to cultural studies and criticism for a number of reasons. While we must always be aware that we are dealing with highly mediated spaces (that are in themselves cultural artifacts) in engaging with virtual worlds, they are at the same time sites of highly complex human interactions, with all its accompanying strategies of representations, depictions, simulations, communications and architectures. An example of this is the BBC documentary:

Watch Wonderland: Virtual Adultery and Cyberspace Love

Carolyn is a 37 year-old mother of four in the midst of a passionate affair that is tearing her family apart. She's spending up to 18 hours a day with her lover, and her husband is in despair. But the extraordinary thing about this affair is that Carolyn's lover is a man she has never met. Because he's not a human being. This is a film about those who've become so disillusioned with their real life that they've sidelined it in favor of a virtual life. It's about people who've cheated on their life partners and risked losing everything, for the promise of a life that's so far only been experienced in the pixels of a computer screen and the dream world of their own fantasies. Deals with adult themes.

The reality of virtual worlds is apparent in the Wonderland documentary. People's lives are changed and challenged by what occurs through the mediation of Second Life. In a similar way, culture is enacted and produced through the use of virtual worlds´.

As a research object Virtual Worlds can be approached from many different angles. As games, as social fields of experience and representation, as New Media artifacts, as interactive design tools. The list is potentially very very long. Here are some recent research ventures into the world of Virtual Worlds:

Beware, Your Imagination Leaves Traces by Bruno Latour
Imagination no longer comes as cheaply as it did in the past. The slightest move in the virtual landscape has to be paid for in lines of code. If you want your avatar to wear a new golden helmet or jump in the air, gangs of underpaid software engineers somewhere in Bangalore have to get out of bed to work on your demands. The fancies of our brains have shifted so little from the real to the virtual that tens of thousands of children in China are earning a living by causing avatars to graduate to higher levels in various digital games before reselling them for a good prize to boys in America who like to play those games but have not the time nor patience to earn enough “points” for their aliases. When Segolène Royal, the French presidential candidate, bought a piece of real estate on Second Life to start a campaign headquarters there she paid for it in hard cash.

We'll all be citizens of virtual worlds By Victor Keegan (The Guardian)
Most people still look askance if you admit to using virtual worlds where you move around with an avatar or 3D version of yourself. It recalls the technophobic reactions in the early days of the Internet. But attitudes may now change for two reasons. First, children are piling into their own virtual worlds, so their parents can get a glimpse of what it is all about. And second, a huger user base is being created, one that is accustomed to virtual worlds and is ready to trade up to more sophisticated ones as they grow older.

Gender Swapping and Socializing in Cyberspace: An Exploratory Study
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are one of the most interesting innovations in the area of online computer gaming. Given the relative lack of research in the area, the main aims of the study were to examine (a) the impact of online gaming (e.g., typical playing behavior) in the lives of online gamers, (b) the effect of online socializing in the lives of gamers, and (c) why people engage in gender swapping. A self-selecting sample of 119 online gamers ranging from 18 to 69 years of age (M = 28.5 years) completed a questionnaire. The results showed that just over one in five gamers (21%) said they preferred socializing online to offline. Significantly more male gamers than female gamers said that they found it easier to converse online than offline. It was also found that 57% of gamers had engaged in gender swapping, and it is suggested that the online female persona has a number of positive social attributes in a male-oriented environment.

Avatars and the Invisible Omniscience: The panoptical model within virtual worlds.

This Exegesis and accompanying artworks are the culmination of research conducted into the existence of surveillance in virtual worlds. A panoptical model has been used as a probe, and its premise tested through extension into these communal spaces. Issues such as data security, personal and corporate privacy have been investigated, as has the use of art as a propositional mode.
In producing this Exegesis, I have drawn on existing and new theoretical arguments and observations that have aided the development of research outcomes. These include a discussion of action research as a methodology and questionnaire outcomes designed to assist in understanding player perceptions and concerns.
A series of artworks was completed as part of the research to assist in understanding the nature of virtual surveillance. They have been used as a method to provoke and examine outcomes, and as an experiential interface for viewers of the research. The artworks investigate a series of surveillance perspectives including parental gaze, machine surveillance and self-surveillance.

Sex Lies and Reality (Myths and Truths of Virtual Worlds)
The way the article(s) talk about the issue, the difference is not really on the virtual world itself, but how the mainstream perceives the virtual world. Maria João Lima, writing for the online Portuguese magazine “Meios & Publicidade“, expands on this point: the media is still attached to fabricated myths and stereotypes that label and tag virtual worlds as the place where freaks and borderlines spend their time because they’ve got no other thing to do. This image is still very strong and sells newspapers. However, media agencies are here to help brands and their corporations to sell their own services and goods, and they have to follow their customers — and these are communicating inside virtual worlds. It’s time to dispel the myths, look at what really happens in virtual worlds, and exploit this medium for better communication with the customers.

Meeting in the Ether
Virtual worlds, shared graphical spaces on the Internet, are an exciting new medium of human presence for the 21st Century. This article explores the origins, evolution and future of the virtual world medium from their humble beginnings in multi-player games to their use in education, business, science and engineering. Our focus will be on the development of social virtual worlds including environments such as Habitat, Active Worlds and Second Life.

Evaluating Cultural Learning in Virtual Environments. PhD thesis, University of Melbourne by Eric Champion

30 Days in ActiveWorlds – Community,Design and Terrorism in a Virtual World. Chapter 8 in the Social Life of Avatars.
The idea behind ‘30 Days in ActiveWorlds’ was to fully document the development of a virtual environment from beginning to end, as a plot of virgin virtual land which, it was hoped, would develop into a community and a fully-fledged new virtual world. The aim was not to create a dialog of life in the virtual environment, such as the well-documented “My Tiny Life” by Julian Dibbell [1] or “The Cybergypsies” by Indra Sinha [2], yet the events that unfolded over the 30 Day period led to just such a documentation, and with it my conclusions about not only community and design in a virtual environment, but also views on the increasingly blurred boundaries between what is real and what is virtual.

My Virtual Life
A journey into a place in cyberspace where thousands of people have imaginary lives. Some even make a good living. Big advertisers are taking notice

The key to studying virtual worlds, like computer games, is participation. You have to be in it to understand it. So my final bit of advice it that if you are interested in studying virtual worlds more, join one. Make an avatar, look around, meet others, create a project. Good luck. It is a wonderful metaverse out there.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Digital Literature, Bakhtin and the Dialogic Principle

From Dim O'Gauble

What is Digital Literature?
The term refers to simulative and representational works with important literary aspects that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer. Within the broad category of digital literature are several forms and threads of practice, some of which are:

•Hypertext fiction and poetry, on and off the Web
•Kinetic poetry presented in Flash and using other platforms
•Computer art installations which ask viewers to read them or otherwise have literary aspects
•Conversational characters, also known as chatterbots
•Interactive fiction
•Novels that take the form of emails, SMS messages, or blogs
•Poems and stories that are generated by computers, either interactively or based on parameters given at the beginning
•Collaborative writing projects that allow readers to contribute to the text of a work
•Literary performances online that develop new ways of writing
(Adapted from the Electronic Literature Organization)

Henry Jenkins, Game Design as Narrative Architecture
Jenkins' essay outlines a way of thinking about computer games, as digital communicative artifacts, some of which embody stories or narratives.
Central to Jenkins ideas about computer games and narrative are:

1. Spatiality
“Before we can talk about game narratives, then, we need to talk about game spaces. Across a series of essays, I have made the case that game consoles should be regarded as machines for generating compelling spaces, that their virtual playspaces have helped to compensate for the declining place of the traditional backyard in contemporary boy culture, and that the core narratives behind many games center around the struggle to explore, map, and master contested spaces.” (Jenkins 4)

2. Environmental Story Telling
“Environmental storytelling creates the preconditions for an immersive narrative experience in at least one of four ways: spatial stories can evoke pre-existing narrative associations; they can provide a staging ground where narrative events are enacted; they may embed narrative information within their mise-en-scene; or they provide resources for emergent narratives.” (Jenkins 5-6)

3. Enacting Stories
“Spatial stories are held together by broadly defined goals and conflicts and pushed forward by the character's movement across the map. Their resolution often hinges on the player's reaching their final destination, though, as Mary Fuller notes, not all travel narratives end successfully or resolve the narrative enigmas which set them into motion. Once again, we are back to principles of "environmental storytelling." The organization of the plot becomes a matter of designing the geography of imaginary worlds, so that obstacles thwart and affordances facilitate the protagonist's forward movement towards resolution. Over the past several decades, game designers have become more and more adept at setting and varying the rhythm of game play through features of the game space.” (Jenkins 7)

4, Embedded Narratives
“According to this model, narrative comprehension is an active process by which viewers assemble and make hypothesis about likely narrative developments on the basis of information drawn from textual cues and clues. As they move through the film, spectators test and reformulate their mental maps of the narrative action and the story space. In games, players are forced to act upon those mental maps, to literally test them against the game world itself. If you are wrong about whether the bad guys lurk behind the next door, you will find out soon enough - perhaps by being blown away and having to start the game over.” (Jenkins 9)

5. Emergent Narratives
"The characters [of The Sims] have a will of their own, not always submitting easily to the player's control, as when a depressed protagonist refuses to seek employment, preferring to spend hour upon hour soaking in their bath or moping on the front porch. Characters are given desires, urges, and needs, which can come into conflict with each other, and thus produce dramatically compelling encounters. Characters respond emotionally to events in their environment, as when characters mourn the loss of a loved one. Our choices have consequences, as when we spend all of our money and have nothing left to buy them food. The gibberish language and flashing symbols allow us to map our own meanings onto the conversations, yet the tone of voice and body language can powerfully express specific emotional states, which encourage us to understand those interactions within familiar plot situations." (Jenkins 12)

Jenkins in Narrative Architecture provides a basic structure for thinking about digital media in terms of texts; as systems of meanings that can be located in cultures. Once a work of digital media is classified as a text then it can be analyzed in a literary sense. My own approach to digital texts is concerned with reading. How are they read? Perhaps some words of writing for the screen will give us some hints on how screen based texts can be read:

"Writing for the screen according to Dreaming Methods has little to do with writing in the traditional sense. In the digital world, text does not have to stand still, can be superimposed against colourful backgrounds, animations and imagery with no print design restrictions or costs, and it can also change and mutate depending on a user/reader’s interactions. It is as if the physical entity that is text itself has changed from static to liquid, has learnt to move around and react in response to other media – and is thus able to form new narratives-in-motion which require different methods of both writing and reading" (Undreamt Fiction, 5).

The concept of "new narratives-in-motion" makes it difficult to use many established literary methods of critique to analyze these texts. The 'emergent narrative' which Jenkins describes, that "Our choices have consequences" when we respond to the text, means that these texts are different within a range of possibilities each time they are responded to. As Undreamt Fiction describes, digital texts are often "purposely open-ended, ambiguous, short, fragmentary – and are often additionally considered to be a powerful visual element: blurred, obscured, transient, animated, mouse-responsive" (5). Reading such a text is as much a matter of navigation as it is of interpretation. Undreamt Fiction describes the way in which the author, Andy Campbell, creates digital works of fiction. The description of how the materials of the text (images, links, coded spaces) are combined with the written material is an interesting insight into some of the differences between writing for the screen and the page (or the stage):

"The writing is produced largely during the actual design and scripting process. Prose is keyed directly into ActionScript arrays or variable strings (the works rarely use technologies such as XML and are often hard-coded rather than done in any modular way**) and are often literally “attached” to visual “objects” lying around on the Flash “stage”. The writing can go through several drafts until it feels to fully work with the other media it is interacting or existing with; on occasion it is removed from the Flash environment altogether and copied into Word or Notepad for scrutiny on its own terms" (8).

It because of the 'fluid' nature of digital texts that I find the writings of Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) useful in trying to understand how digital texts can be understood as rich cultural media.

Who was M.M. Bakhtin?

Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin was born in Orel, south of Moscow, in 1895 and grew up in Vilnius and Odessa. He studied classics and philology at St. Petersburg (later Petrograd) University, then moved to the country, first to Nevel and then to Vitebsk, in the wake of the revolutions of 1917. During the 1930’s and early 1940’s, he completed some of his most important studies of the novel, including "Discourse in the Novel," "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel," and "Epic and Novel." He also completed his major work on Rabelais, submitted as his doctoral dissertation to the Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow in 1941 (he was later awarded the lower degree of Candidate). A successful teacher in Saransk during the 1950’s, Bakhtin was discovered in the early 1960’s by a group of Moscow graduate students who had read his Dostoevsky book. He wrote notes titled "Toward a Reworking of the Dostoevsky Book" in 1961; published a second edition of the book, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, in 1963; published the Rabelais book, Rabelais and his World, in 1965; and published a collection of his most important essays on the novel, The Dialogic Imagination, in the year of his death, 1975. During the last twenty-five years of his life, he also wrote several essays later published under the title Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. His work spread throughout the West in the 1980’s and is the subject of vigorous debate and reassessment in Russia in the mid 1990’s (Emerson, First Hundred Years).

Bakhtin can be described as a philosopher, cultural and literary critic and theorist. In his large body of work, much of which has not been translated into English, Bakhtin provides several theoretical devices that can be used to critically analyze cultural and symbolic systems (including texts). Chronotope, Carnivalization, Heteroglossia, Polyphonic, Monologic, and Dialogism are all terms which Bakhtin develops, in a sense as analytical tools. The last of these, dialogism is what we will be discussing today, particularly in relation to a work of digital literature.

"Dialogic relationships are a much broader phenomenon than mere rejoinders in a dialogue laid out compositionally in the text; they are an almost universal phenomenon, permeating all human speech and all relationships and manifestations of human life - in general, everything that has meaning and significance." Bakhtin, Problems with Dostoevsky's Poetics 40.
Dialogism is a concept that Bakhtin returned to again and again in his writings over a forty year period of time. Bakhtin applied three broad sets of meaning to the term dialogism (Morson and Emerson 130). The first is "as a global concept, as a view of truth and the world" (130-131). In this first sense dialogism is a philosophical concept. It is not concerned with dia-logue, two entities in exchange with one another. Dialogism is, in the philosophical sense, the unfinalized becoming that is the condition of all reality. In Bakhtin's words,

"To be means to be for another, and through the other for oneself. A person has no sovereign internal territory, his wholly and always on the boundary; looking inside himself, he looks into the eyes of another or with the eyes of another" (Towards a Reworking of the Dostoevsky Book 287)

The second sense of dialogism found in the work of Bakhtin is the classifying of particular characteristics as dialogic in works of representation as opposed to the monologic. What is dialogic compared to the monologic may perhaps become clearer when we consider the third sense of dialogism developed by Bakhtin.

We are most concerned with the third sense of dialogism, because it is useful in analyzing literary texts. Dialogism in this sense is the contexts of language and how meaning is created not by words or even sentences, but by use. Dialogism is based on the fact that nothing can be understood without making reference to something else. Bakhtin argues that the basic unit of meaning in language is the utterance, any self-contained expression, this could be from a grunt to a multi-volume work of fiction. Even what is an utterance is determined by the contexts of its authorship (and we are all authors according to Bakhtin). The dialogic relations that define the meaning of an utterance spread out from the point in space and time where the utterance meets its addressee. This point of reception is dialogic in the sense that social values change and texts are read differently depending on what values are assigned to them at the time.

Bakhtin's dialogism should not be thought of as relativism, the idea that dependency determines truth. Rather dialogism is an extension of logics and dialectics, whereby binary relations are argued to be simplified accounts of how cultural systems work. Bakhtin in his own readings of texts (particularly by Dostoevsky) came to firm conclusions regarding the meaning/s of a text and how they should be interpreted. Dialogism offers a "broadening and deepening of the language horizon" (Morson and Emerson 315) and what I see as a democratization of expression. In dialogism authorship continues on into interpretation, and there is no final word on any text that is still a part of culture.

In a visual and spatial sense I think of dialogism as a web, or if you will a matrix, where all recognizable features of reality (which Bakhtin argued was based on language) are interconnected. It is a matter of following one series of relations far enough until you come to another point of intersections. However, when dealing with literary texts, as we are, it is only the representative systems of the text which provide the extent of the dialogic matrix. How text represent meaning is through systems of dialogic relationships that can be recognized in the texts.

In contrast to the dialogic Bakhtin proposes the monologic. Since no utterance is truly monologic (language can only function in relation to all previous utterances), it should perhaps be said that utterances can only attempt to isolate and freeze representation. These unanswerable or silencing utterances, often where an 'absolute truth' is presented, are within monologic discourse. Bakhtin said that if an utterance does not give rise to a further utterance then it is of a monologic character. Another example of monologic discourse is what Bakhtin terms 'theorism', where the live-event use of language in context is removed from it and it takes on isolated sign-like qualities. Bakhtin is critical of linguistic approaches to language , where samples are taken from language and rules are applied to them.

I would now like to explore dialogism further by providing a rough dialogic reading of Dim O'Gauble by Andy Campbell that I hope we can discuss further in the seminar.

A Descriptive Reading of Dim O'Gauble (2007)

Dim O'Gauble by Andy Campbell embodies the five principles of narrative architecture outlined by Henry Jenkins in Game Design as Narrative Architecture. Dim O'Gauble relies on spatiality for the narrative to move through time. The reader navigates the text in a rectangular pattern with four links to images related to the elements of the story. The story is created through the efforts of the reader to"assemble and make hypothesis about likely narrative developments on the basis of information drawn from textual cues and clues" (Jenkins) as embedded narratives. Although a simple example it is necessary for a degree of enactment in realizing the goal of Dim O'Gauble, the reader must learn and follow the rules of the text in order to successfully complete the navigation and simultaneous narrative. The fifth of Jenkins' attributes of narrative architecture, 'emergent narrative' is not strongly represented in Dim O'Gauble. While it could be possible to develop further narrative scenarios from the text from recoding or using ti as the raw material for another work, the deign of the text as it is only allows for a limited number of programed outcomes.

The text Dim O'Gauble (henceforth DO) is first introduced from the Dreaming Methods website (where is it is stored) as
"A boy experiences frightening visions which he shares only with his grandmother. Dim O'Gauble is based on a series of the author's childhood drawings and presents the user/reader with a complex mass of entangled colours and shapes. Navigation however is straightforward - simply click on the arrows in the background to progress to the next "scene" of the story, and click on the yellow-tinted words for animated cut-sequences that reveal additional narrative fragments" (Introduction).
In stating that the "navigation is straightforward", it can be understood that navigation, or manipulation of perspective in the text, is limited to a particular number of possibilities. These possibilities are based on the nine yellow arrows in the text. Clicking on the arrows directs the reader around the represented space of the text. Each of the arrows is accompanied by a verse , three of which have hyperlinked words in them. Some small degree of panning and zoom can be achieved with mouse movements in DO. These mouse movement emphasize a degree of depth to the images and provide a focus on the childlike but intricate sketches that form the background to much of the text. The sketches are what frames the fragmentary (patchwork) narrative of DO, these are what the narrator produced as a child.

DO is a website on the World Wide Web (WWW) which is coded using Adobe Flash. When it is first opened a square image opens in the middle of the screen framed by black. Through the use of silhouette branches placed in the image over the background a weak three dimensional effect is created. The image opens with a animated written text which reads: "So_______here it is. A patchwork of the whole meaningless thing. The sprawling backbone of everything She didn't understand" (DO). A number of dialogic relations have already been established in the first few seconds of encountering the DO text.

The two characters of the narrative have already been introduced, the narrator of the majority of the story, Dim and 'She', presumably his grandmother. Dim's mother is referred to in the text,but only in the third person and is not a represented as an active voice. The Flash materials of the text define a number of possible ways in which the text can be responded to. Flash is not generally considered an 'open' code system. Rather, Flash is about surfaces, the visual effects and linkages appear in reading without any indication of the processes going on behind the surface. As well it is not possible to easily break into the code of the text. In this sense, response is controlled from the perspectives of the authored text. A very limited number of choices can be made in reading DO.

When the initial image opens so does the music, a long ongoing loop of vaguely eastern sounding music (Indian tabla with its suggestions of distant places, an exotified dimension to the text) with drone wind-like sounds. No matter which arrow one clicks on it always follows the starting order. The first written text that is read in DO is;
"So don't go to bed, stay up sketching
why would i blame you for doing the things
that i did when this happened to me?"

The first 'verse' of this digital poem is not spoken by the child, Dim, of the story. But rather someone who has already had "this happen to me". With only the 'sprawling backbone' quote going before this one in the programmed order of the text, it seems that it is an older person speaking. Perhaps the 'she' already mentioned. It seems Dim's grandmother is the speaker and she has experienced a similar situation (not sleeping and sketching).

The quote "Throw off your rucksack and trainers" refers to the end of school and the freedom all children remember when released from the classroom. The last two words of the tine are linked with roll-over text "19th August". The 19th of August is the first day of the school term following the summer holidays. Opening the length presents a new image:

Clicking on the image just takes you back to the "rucksack and trainers" link. In the image are two animated written texts. The view from a the school field and a distant blaze that is 'oblivious' to everyone, except obviously the narrator. The loneliness of the narrator in the restrictive school environment is conveyed by the image. The faceless (invisible) figure in the school grounds is the only one who knows that there is fire (danger, excitement, change) on the horizon (the future).

Words are animated in DO, such as in the passage:

My mother used to call them my

The last word/s of the sentence alternate with a few seconds between each in the order represented in this quote. The word 'mullocks' is taken from Chaucer (All this mullok [was] in a sieve ythrowe.) written in the late 14th Century. The written parts of DO are composed in plain spoken English, something that is according to the tradition, non-literary. Chaucer was the first author to compose in vernacular English. The use of a reference to Chaucer is an example of what Jenkins describes as "spatial stories can evoke pre-existing narrative associations; they can provide a staging ground where narrative events are enacted." A dialogic bridge is suggested in the use of the word 'Mullocks' in DO, going back six centuries to one of the earliest innovators of English Literature. The use of vernacular spoken English in DO, creates the atmosphere of the childhood home of the narrator. All is written in past tense and third person, the reminiscences of the narrator to a time (and place) that is no longer present.

From "Crumpled maps and memories" (DO), 'memories' is linked and opens to the image of a boy from behind at the entrance to a tunnel:

In the tunnel is a moving green light and darkness. The underground of the tunnel and the under-conscious nature of memories (the linked word) is a metaphoric connection between the image and the link. The written text which appears in the tunnel image recounts the fear of the tunnel, "you would clop through, on horseback you said, terrified" (DO). A journey back though memory is often both a painful and pleasant exercise. The fears of childhood are never totally abandoned, but remain in such mental images as the tunnel and the dare.

From the quote;
Made sense - the bricks you said.
Tattooed as if knowing. Carrying weight.
'The bricks' is linked to an image with a '2nd October' roll-over. The dates correspond to the progression of the text, moving through the first term following the summer school holidays in the United Kingdom (19th August to the 10th October). From the 'bricks' link an image of the now familiar boy and a school:

The red brick school house is contrasted to the "cold walls" of the dark tunnel. Both structures contain something; the controlling environment of the school and the subterranean world of memories. In each of the tunnel and school images the boy faces the structures alone. The relationship between the boy and what he is viewing is not one dominated by fear. There is a determination in the posture and perspective of the boy. At the same time, it is not a comfortable relationship.

Each of the windows opening from the main window of DO provides contexts for the written verse and even the sketches which frame the narrative. School plays a n important role in the emotional life of the main character. But is somehow seems that these seemingly external references (school, tunnel, the burning building etc.) are fragments and are not part of the main frame; the sketches.

Towards the end of the series of verses the third last one states:
Think of it as a kind of stitching they said
And think yourself lucky/unlucky
final word lucky alternates every few seconds with its binary opposite, unlucky. Here the possibilities offered by digital media are used to present a dual account of what it is to possess the 'not-sleeping-sketching-see-things' state that the boy seems to carry. In dialogic terms both are parts of a larger structure and are not mutually exclusive. One is dependent upon the other.
Stitching is linked with a 14th November (in the second term of school) roll-over to an image:

The bricks of a suburban home frame what could be a bedroom window, perhaps the bedroom where the sketching is done. The window is filled with large butterflies and a silhouette has taken the place of the boy in the other images. The two quotes in the window refer to the future, when "all this will be gone" (DO). Once again a mood of nostalgia is infused throughout the multimedia sequence.

The final link in the series of verses is "I had promised to come with you." The final four words are hyperlinked to a short video of a tunnel. A roll-over text appears with the length "10th December". Clicking the link the music stops and a sound collage of backmasked audio and the tuning of a radio. The tunnel is the 'ending' of DO. In the tunnel written passages fade out not giving little time to read them. According to the author:
"In “Dim O’Gauble”, the final sequence, walking down an industrial tunnel as both characters in the story attempt to communicate with each other, includes vaguely readable text which slowly gains focus as the end of the tunnel is reached." (Undreamt Fiction)
The text Dim O'Gauble is about memories, how spaces and places are so often the sites of memory. The theme of memory gives rise to the image of the failure of communication and how understanding often emerges 'after the event', when a stronger sense of (dialogic) context is available. The community around Dim, which he seems to feel outside of, is what is resisted in the late night sketching, where he feels he has found something special of his own (the remembered butterflies through the bedroom window). Going back over the events later in life an understanding can be reached. The understanding is achieved once one has been back through the terrifying tunnels of memory.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Digital History

This video presents views of the 2.0 version of the Rome Reborn city model, showing the ancient city at the height of its civic development, in 320 AD. Hand-modeled landmarks are put in the context of over 7,000 procedurally modeled apartment buildings, which were generated using the City Engine software by Procedural, Inc. The images were rendered out using Mental Images' Reality Server. Video copyright 2008 The Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia. Model Copyright 2008 The Regents of the University of California.

The study and research of history is one area where digital tools and media have been incorporated and developed on a large scale. In HUMlab we were recently visited by Dr. Paul Arthur who presented the seminar, Writing History with New Media:

Digital history is a rapidly growing field that spans disciplines and can take many forms. New modes of publication, new methods for doing research, and new channels of communication are making historical research richer, more relevant and more widely accessible. Many applications of computer based research and publication are natural extensions of the established techniques for researching and writing history. Others are consciously experimental. Although computer technology started to revolutionise the discipline of history more than three decades ago, genres and formats for recording and presenting history using digital media are not well established. Are the new technologies fundamentally changing how we interpret the past? If so, in what ways?

A video stream of Paul's presentation is online here. The main form of digital history that is developed in HUMlab is from the perspectives of visualisation of information and the use of digital tools to teach and record history. The recording of historical information or research findings usually involves working with databases. In HUMlab we have worked on a large database project for the European Union, the Qviz (Query and context based visualization of time-spatial cultural dynamics) Project:

QVIZ is a project started in order to bring users a single entry point to the archives of Europe. A common starting point that allows browsing of the archival resources through time and space using a dynamic map or contextual categories. The map interface locates the resources without the need of knowledge concerning the language that the resource keeps or which institution that holds the records. In addition to this, QVIZ also provides an environment for collaborative knowledge building with social bookmarking for interested users.

While not strictly historical, the connections and potentials in regards to the study of history are quite clear in regards to Qviz. The use of databases is common in historical studies today. Often these databases are not digitized and part of the job of the historian is to render them so, either for the purposes of presentations or to collate information.

Another exciting relation we have had in HUMlab in regards to history is working with museum studies and the presentation of installations and displays in virtual and mixed reality environments. The recent Museum Studies B students project in Second Life is an example of the potentials for virtual worlds and the historical (as the above Rome Reborn video is as well):

Images from Musuem Studies in Second Life Project 2008

Another approach to digital history can be seen in the seminar Cyberspace som kulturlaboratorium och historia (Cyberspace as Culture Labratory and History). The preservation, recording and analysis of what is produced in 'cyberspace' is of historical value and should be considered in the study of history. The WayBackMachine is one example of how the history of the digital is being preserved and it offers us an archive and a tool for further work.

Browse through 85 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago. To start surfing the Wayback, type in the web address of a site or page where you would like to start, and press enter. Then select from the archived dates available. The resulting pages point to other archived pages at as close a date as possible. Keyword searching is not currently supported.

A history of the web is one way of looking at the internet from a historical perspective. Research into how digital cultural heritage is preserved and researched is an area in need of development. As well it is a medium where history is represented in many different way.

The Time Commanders

Time Commanders is a series of programmes made by Lion TV for BBC Two that ran for two seasons from 2003 to 2005. The programmes, originally hosted by Eddie Mair and more recently by Richard Hammond, features an edited version of the game engine behind the real-time strategy game Rome: Total War to recreate famous battles of the ancient world. The battles are replayed by 4-player teams from diverse backgrounds. The teams are unfamiliar with computer games, to make sure their gaming skills do not influence their success. After a brief introduction of the battle, including an overview of military units, terrain and available forces, the players have to develop a strategy and then deploy their forces. Two of the players are selected as generals, who will direct the battle and have access to a strategic map. The other two players are designated lieutenants in the first series, and captains in the second. The units are indirectly controlled by the lieutenants, who issue commands to program assistants, who in turn use the game interface to control the units. Troop deployment and battle follows, although in the second series, there is a small skirmish conducted as a separate event, to acquaint the players with the game mechanics and their units. In the second series the team also get strategic pauses where they can refine their strategies.

Digital History Hacks: Methodology for the Infinite Archive
This blog ran from 2005-2008 but it remains a great resource for digital historians. The blog was kept by William J. Turkel.

In HUMlab we have the capacity to support ideas and projects that can be related to any of the areas touched on in this short presentation. If you are interested in following up any of the things mentioned please speak to me. As well if you are interested in working in HUMlab you can register for an account on out website. HUMlab is open 24 hours a day seven days a week and offers students and staff at Umeå University a world class environment for research and teaching in the digital humanities.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Philisophy and the Digital

Philosopher Jean Baudrillard thinking and talking about the violence of the image, the violence to the image, aggression, oppression, transgression, regression, effects and causes of violence, violence of the virtual, 3d, virtual reality, transparency, psychological and imaginary.

Philosophy and technology, in particularity digital technology is a active and expanding area in HUMlab. In 2007 Peter Asaro was a post doctoral fellow in HUMlab working on the project 'Social & ethical dimensions of autonomous technologies'. A video of a seminar on robot ethics by Peter can be seen on the HUMlab website.

Other areas of philosophy and technology that are possible to work with in HUMlab are those related to virtual worlds.

A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment intended for its users to inhabit and interact via avatars. These avatars are usually depicted as textual, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional graphical representations, although other forms are possible[1] (auditory[2] and touch sensations for example). Some, but not all, virtual worlds allow for multiple users.
The computer accesses a computer-simulated world and presents perceptual stimuli to the user, who in turn can manipulate elements of the modeled world and thus experiences telepresence to a certain degree. Such modeled worlds may appear similar to the real world or instead depict fantasy worlds. The model world may simulate rules based on the real world or some hybrid fantasy world. Example rules are gravity, topography, locomotion, real-time actions, and communication. Communication between users has ranged from text, graphical icons, visual gesture, sound, and rarely, forms using touch, voice command, and balance senses.
Massively multiplayer online games commonly depict a world very similar to the real world, with real world rules and real-time actions, and communication. Communication is usually textual, with real-time voice communication using VOIP also possible.
Virtual worlds are not limited to games but, depending on the degree of immediacy presented, can encompass computer conferencing and text based chatrooms. Sometimes, emoticons or 'smilies' are available, to show feeling or facial expression. Emoticons often have a keyboard shortcut.

We have done work mainly with the virtual worlds of Second Life, Active Worlds, DigitalSpace Traveler and Adobe Atmosphere.

AVATARA is not a cartoon. It's a documentary about an Internet subculture who spend their lives immersed in an online 3-D voice-chat program called "Digitalspace Traveler." Through a series of 14 interviews, we uncover the history, art, identities, struggles and emotions of this unique internet community who, since as far back as 1996 have mostly devoted their lives to this software

In virtual worlds questions about presence and identity can be considered.

"Presence is a theoretical concept describing the effect that people experience when they interact with a computer-mediated or computer-generated environment (Sheridan, 1994). Lombard and Ditton (1997) described presence as “an illusion that a mediated experience is not mediated” (Abstract). They explained that the conceptualization of presence borrows from multiple fields including communication, computer science, psychology, science, engineering, philosophy, and the arts. And a variety of computer applications and Web-based entertainment depend on the phenomenon to give people the sense of, as Sheridan called it, 'being there' (p. 1)."
Identity is an umbrella term used throughout the social sciences to describe an individual's comprehension of him or herself as a discrete, separate entity. This term, though generic, can be further specified by the disciplines of psychology and sociology, including the two forms of social psychology.

The focus for much interaction in virtual worlds is the avatar:

An avatar is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego, whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, a two-dimensional icon (picture) used on Internet forums and other communities, or a text construct found on early systems such as MUDs. It is an “object” representing the embodiment of the user. The term "avatar" can also refer to the personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user.

Many serious users of virtual worlds identify very strongly with their avatar, viewing it as an extension of themselves, or even a replacement. The work of Mark Stephen Meadows (who has also given a seminar in HUMLab) looks at the artistic and social implications of virtual worlds, and particularly avatars.

A particularly interesting area of technology and philosophy is the work of Rosi Braidotti:

Braidotti’s publications have consistently been placed in continental philosophy, at the intersection with social and political theory, cultural politics, gender, feminist theory and ethnicity studies. The core of her interdisciplinary work consists of four interconnected monographs on the constitution of contemporary subjectivity, with special emphasis on the concept of difference within the history of European philosophy and political theory. Braidotti’s philosophical project investigates how to think difference positively, which means moving beyond the dialectics that both opposes it and thus links it by negation to the notion of sameness. This is evidenced in the philosophical agenda set in her first book Patterns of Dissonance: An Essay on Women in Contemporary French Philosophy, 1991, which gets developed further in the trilogy that follows. In the next book, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, 1994, the question is formulated in more concrete terms: can gender, ethnic, cultural or European differences be understood outside the straightjacket of hierarchy and binary opposition? Thus the following volume, Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming, 2002, analyses not only gender differences, but also more categorical binary distinctions between self and other, European and foreign, human and non-human (animal/ environmental/ technological others). The conclusion is that a systematic ambivalence structures contemporary cultural representations of the globalised, technologically mediated, ethnically mixed, gender-aware world we now inhabit. The question consequently arises of what it takes to produce adequate cultural and political representations of a fast-changing world and move closer to Spinozist notions of adequate understanding. The ethical dimension of Braidotti’s work on difference comes to the fore in the last volume of the trilogy, Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics, 2006. Here she surveys the different ethical approaches that can be produced by taking difference and diversity as the main point of reference and conclude that there is much to be gained by suspending belief that political participation, moral empathy and social cohesion can only be produced on the basis of the notion of recognition of sameness. Braidotti makes a case for an alternative view on subjectivity, ethics and emancipation pitches diversity against the postmodernist risk of cultural relativism, but stands also against the tenets of liberal individualism. Throughout her work, Braidotti asserts and demonstrates the importance of combining theoretical concerns with a serious commitment to producing socially and politically relevant scholarship that contributes to making a difference in the world. Braidotti's output also included several edited volumes. Her work has been translated in a total of 19 languages and all the main books in at least three languages other than English. (Wikipedia)

Another area related to digital technology and philosophy is ethics. Peter Asaro has written extensively on ethics and robotics. Charles Ess is a major figure in the arena of digital media and ethics. Ess has just published a book on the subject:

This is the first textbook on the central ethical issues of digital media, ranging from computers and the Internet to mobile phones. It is also the first book of its kind to consider these issues from a global perspective, introducing ethical theories from multiple cultures. It further utilizes examples from around the world, such as the publication of “the Mohammed Cartoons”; diverse understandings of what “privacy” means in Facebook or MySpace; why pirating CDs and DVDs may be justified in developing countries; and culturally-variable perspectives on sexuality and what counts as “pornography.” Readers and students thus acquire a global perspective on the central ethical issues of digital media, including privacy, copyright, pornography and violence, and the ethics of cross-cultural communication online.

Digital Media Ethics (2009) is designed for use across disciplines – media and communication studies, computer science and informatics, as well as philosophy. It is up-to-date, accessible and student- and classroom-friendly: each topic and theory is interwoven throughout the volume with detailed sets of questions that foster careful reflection, writing, and discussion into these issues and their possible resolutions. Each chapter further includes additional resources and suggestions for further research and writing.

Digital technology and philosophy is an exciting area for study. the few examples I have given here is just the tip of the iceberg.
If you are interested in following up any of the things mentioned in this short presentation please speak to me. As well if you are interested in working in HUMlab you can register for an account on out website. HUMlab is open 24 hours a day seven days a week and offers students and staff at Umeå University a world class environment for research and teaching in the digital humanities.