prehystories of new media - students' research

this blog is the platform for publishing the research conducted by the students of the "Prehystories of New Media" class at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Fall 2008, instructor: Nina Wenhart


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students' blogs


Monday, December 1, 2008

Materializing Digital Phenomenon
Aylor Brown

Abstract: The impulse to declare our existence is our biological imperative, a remnant from a time in our history when proving our worth was a key to survival. In an age of ubiquitous computing this desire can be easily realized, as confirmed by the proliferation of online blogs and personal websites. Unlike the architecture and literature of our ancestors, our declarations are of an intangible medium. By digitally demarcating our lives we create a perfect, stable memory of our physical experiences while in the process generating a complex relationship with the seemingly impermanent nature of digital media and digital experiences.
This essay analyzes projects by computer programmers, academics, and artists that offer insights into this new phenomenon. Of particular interest are projects that physically archive the immaterial, digitally archive the material, and the psychological and personal implications of both. I don't propose solutions but rather raise questions concerning a new type of interpersonal relationship with our computers.

In December 2005, the U.S. government sent a Texas man to federal state prison to serve out a 57-month sentence for child pornography possession. The case was complicated by the fact that the man, Javier Perez, suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder 1. Perez’s compulsive tendencies were marked with an obsessive downloading and hoarding of the Internet. During his trial, Perez told the court he was “trying to make a ‘backup’ of all online content – that is, the manic and absurd ambition to duplicate the entire World Wide Web.”2 Perez programmed his computer to copy all the Internet activity it could locate onto CDRs. He would start his day by loading a CD into his computer and end it by storing that CD in a plastic tub. Three years later Perez had amassed tens of thousands of digital files that he never actually went through.

The Perez case is extreme but it raises several interesting questions, namely, what it is in our nature that causes the desire to make our digital experiences tangible and infinite.

In this essay, I will explore this fascination with digital immortality through analysis of art, science, and theory. The first part compares two of my own projects within the sphere of contemporary art and programming projects that materialize digital information. The second part describes research projects that aim to digitize our physical experiences, specifically Gordon Bells’s MyLifeBits at Microsoft Research. The final part analyzes this new found digital inability to forget by citing academic critiques on the ramifications of an absolute memory.


TextEdit Textiles 3 is a collaborative project by Arend deGruyter Helfer and myself. DeGruyter-Helfer used TextEdit, the default Macintosh text editor, to create digital pattern drawings, some encoded with personal wishes, and I used Photoshop and a computer-assisted Jacquard loom to translate these drawings into cloth. The result is both a physical archive of the intangible and a dialogue between two friends on the materialization of desires. As the project exists as a collection of five screenshots and a five cuts of cloth, (Appendix 1) there is a noticeable tension between the copy and the original. The weavings are a direct rendering of the pattern – the Jacquard loom essentially weaves pixels so weaving a digital-based pattern is straightforward. Despite the directness the weavings lack the magic that occurs when viewing the on-screen pattern.

The Internet Gives the Possibility of Being Alone with Other People 4 is a record of my Internet community activity during a recent summer vacation. (Appendix 2) Screenshots of blog posts, Flickr 5 updates, and Delicious 6 links are arranged in a calendar format and bound with removable butterfly screws. Like TextEdit Textiles, The Internet Gives the Possibility… is a loaded gesture of materializing digital information. A problem arises as the pages are printed on newsprint – an unarchival paper. Essentially the book becomes an attempt to hold on to something you can’t physically hold on to. This gesture is futile and almost pathetic but not singular in the least. Select, Arrange (Appendix 3) is a web application that allows users to collect online content, store it in a database, and export as a printable PDF book project. With concept and design by Swiss designer Phillipe Egger, Select, Arrange is a “two year research about the relation between [ …] media print and the web (digital)” 7 as well as a “tool to enable internauts to print high quality PDF's of their notes, researches, city guides, fanzines, websites or portfolios.” 8 Select, Arrange is an interesting application as it visualizes our online time and has the possibility of completely standardizing the output. A user could divide their online activities – social, research, recreation- and create a book of each one, each with the same layout. Bringing our online activities to life, or out of the computer, validates them as not just wasted time, but a valid social and research tool. This can be likened to preparation for writing a paper – a lot of time is spent in a library reading and taking notes with the end result the essay that can indicate how much or little effort was done.

Two other noteworthy projects are Gelsomina (Appendix 4) and News Knitter (Appendix 5). Gelsomina is a project by Berlin University of the Art’s students Magdalena Kohler and Hanna Weisener. Kohler and Wesiener hacked a knitting machine and using Processing, programmed the machine to knit a pattern based on the modulation of a user’s voice. The modulation, or the strength of the voice, is analyzed in Processing and turned into binary code, the code then translated into a knitting pattern. The knitting machine then knits a sweater, scarf, or vest based on that pattern.

News Knitter is a data visualization project by Mahir M. Yavuz and Ebru Kurback, students at the Kunstuniversität Linz. RSS feeds 9 are used as a basis for a textile design when Yavus and Kurback analyze, filter, and convert the day’s news coverage into a unique visual pattern for a knitted sweater. 10 The collaborators marry the physical and the digital as they apply dynamic data to a medium that is normally fixed.

These projects are all efforts to either translate our digital experiences into physical experiences or to amalgamate the two. In a world increasingly managed by computers, our digital experiences are becoming as concrete as our analog ones. After all, the people on the other side of the screen in our e-mails and message boards are human, not purely 0s and 1s. Our relationships with them can be as long lasting as the relationships we forge in our analog lives, so separating the two realms becomes an outdated reaction to technology. These projects take that stance and offer solutions with the symbiosis of digital and material. The difference between these projects and the following are sentiment- understanding the changes but still wanting to hold on to the material.


For the past nine years a team at Microsoft Research has begun a mission to digitally chronicle every aspect of a person’s life. The project is called MyLifeBits and was launched by Gordon Bell in 2002 with the aim of digitally archiving his interactions with the world. MyLifeBits is separated into two parts – an experiment in lifetime storage and software research. The digital store or “surrogate brain” began with an assistant scanning all of Bell’s documents from his personal life and 47-year history as a computer scientist. After that, he went totally digital – every e-mail he sends, ever web page he views, every word document he opens is digitally stowed away. His conversations are recorded with a recorder he wears at all times and his activities are photographed with the Microsoft Sensecam – a key component of the software aspect of MyLifeBits. Every possible aspect of his life is archived, all automatically with the least amount of effort. Bell says, "It gives you kind of a feeling of cleanliness. I can offload my memory. I feel much freer about remembering something now. I've got this machine, this slave, that does it.” 11

Vannevar Bush first proposed the notion of a machine-extended memory in his 1945 essay “As We May Think.” Bush writes, “Presumably man’s spirit should be elevated if he can better review his shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems. He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his records more fully if he is to push his experiment to its logical conclusion and not merely become bogged down part way there by overtaxing his limited memory.” 12 Bell and the Microsoft team take this idea and bring it to modern society by developing software to make it as effortless as possible for the average person to spend less time trying to remember the small, seemingly insignificant details of the everyday and presumably focus on the bigger picture. The SenseCam was developed to aid in alleviating patients with memory loss (Appendix 6) but has immediate applications in life recording. The SenseCam is a wearable camera that is “designed to take photographs passively, without user intervention, while it is being worn.” 13 It can be programmed to take photographs on a timer or according to the levels of light or audio in a room.

There are similar life-logging projects at both Yale and Sony. Time Machine Computing is a project by Sony’s Jun Rekimoto. Rekimoto’s 1999 project is an intuitive approach to archiving as he sees digital activity as a trail instead of stack of folders. Rekimoto explains with “a user of TimeScape can spatially arrange information on the desktop. Any desktop item can be removed at any time, and the system supports time travel to the past or the future of the desktop. The combination of spatial information arrangement and chronological navigation allows the user to organize and archive electric information without being bothered by document folders or file classification problems.” 14

Lifestreams is a 1994 project at Yale developed by Eric Freeman. A lifestream is a “time-ordered stream of documents that functions as a diary of your electronic life; every document you create and every document other people send you is stored in your lifestream.” 15 Both Lifestreams and Time Machine Computing archive digital experiences in trails that can be played back. They are compelling approaches that see the time we spend on our computers as valuable experiences that should be able to be recalled like a home movie.

Another project dealing with recall is Martine Sym’s Everything I’ve Ever Wanted To Know. 16 Syms alphabetized two years of Google search queries in a drop-down menu on (Appendix 7) The piece is a self-portrait, a narrative, an archive of what she was interested in. Syms thinks of Everything I’ve Ever Wanted to Know as a writing piece and a comment on using the Internet efficiently as a resource instead of limiting it to e-mail and directions. She says, “I'm interested in constraints, and using a specific vernacular, or vocabulary to work through concepts.” 17 Google provides interesting constraints as the most efficient way to find an answer is to pare down your question to a few, significant words. We train ourselves that typing “breaking lease + Chicago” is a direct translation of “Are there laws in Chicago against breaking your lease?”
This concept goes back to Gordon Bell’s MyLifeBits. Bell has this massive amount of information that he goes through when he wants to recall a memory. If he wants to remember an event or e-mail he searches through his database with keywords. He treats his memory as binary – an unerring file of 0s and 1s – instead of pliable, imaginative process. So as the rest of us go through maddeningly elusive process of remembering the type of cake we had at our last
birthday, Gordon Bells goes to his PC and types in “2007 + birthday + cake.” What are the implications of a new perfect memory and what happens to the old way of remembering?


German computer scientist Frank Knack believes that we cheapen our memories when they’re only a click away. He is wary of the MyLifeBits Project as forgetting is “how we make sense of life, how we interpret things and without the difficult act of pulling something from the crannies of the mind, we become like the hapless high-school student who gets 2 million hits for a search on ‘World War II’ and has no way of prioritizing them.” 18 Knack argues that while life-logging projects are interesting because they force us to reflect on what exactly makes us human, they might be setting a standard that will do society more harm, than good. 19

Jorge Luis Borges touches on this point in his 1942 “Funes the Memorius.” “Funes” tells the story of a boy who, after a horse riding accident, loses the ability to forget. He perceives everything in an almost unbearable richness and detail, finding it hard to even sleep as “to sleep is to turn one’s mind from the world; Funes, lying on his back could imagine every crevice and every molding in the sharply defined houses surrounding him.” 20 With “Funes”, Borges explores the need for generalities and abstractions in everyday and scientific thought. We cannot progress academically and scientifically by being bogged down with too much information and trivial details. An infallible memory means we’ve taken away our human imperfections, these imperfections responsible for characteristics like knowledge and wisdom. Viktor Mayer-Shoenberger puts it simply with “it is hard to see how such an unforgetting world could offer us the open society we are used to today.” 21

These two groups of projects, while emotionally different, have the same concern – how do we live progress in a world of ubiquitous computing without losing our human nature. The first group of projects remains sentimental and holds on to the material while the second group abandons all material in favor of a totally digital existence. The answer must lie in the gray area between absolute analog and absolute digital.

1 American Heritage Dictionary – “A psychiatric disorder characterized by the persistent intrusion of repetitive, unwanted thoughts which may be accompanied by compulsive actions, such as hand washing or hoarding.”
2 Smith, Jordan. “Pornbusters!” The Austin Chronicle. 17 August 2007. 7 May 2008.
3 January – May 2008
4 August 2008
5, an online image hosting and online community platform
6, a social book marking website
7 Select, Arrange. 2008. Fageta. 27 November 2008
8 About. 2007. Select, Arrange. 27 November 2008
9 RSS or Rich Site Summary is a format for delivering regularly changing web content
10 News Knitter. 24 September 2008. Ebru Kurbak & Mahir Mustafa Yavuz. 10 November 2008
11 Thompson, Clive. “A Head for Detail.” Fast Company. No. 110 (Nov 2006). 27 November 2008
12 Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic Monthly. 1945 July. 27 November 2008
13 “Introduction to SenseCam.” Microsoft Research. 2007. 27 November 2008
14 Rekimoto, Jun. “TimeScape: A Time Machine for the Desktop Environment.” Time-Machine Computing 1999. 27 November 2008 15Freeman, Eric. “Life streams Project Home Page.” Yale University. 27 November 2008
16 2005 - 2007
17 Syms, Martine. “Gchat interview with Aylor Brown.” 8 October 2008.
18 Thompson, Clive. “A Head for Detail.” Fast Company. No. 110 (Nov 2006). 27 November 2008
19 Nack, Frank. “You Must Remember This.” IEEE Multimedia, 2005, Vol 12, No. 1, pp. 4 - 7.
20 Borges, Jorge Luis. “Funes the Memorius.” Labyrinths. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1964.
21 Mayer-Schoenberger, Viktor. “The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing.” April 2007. 27 November 2008

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Silas Reeves : Game Art

In the past few years there have been commercial Video Games published that are considered exemplary in their graphics and game play. These games are not featured in museums, but are they art? Artists such as Brody Condon, the group JODI, and Mathias Fuchs use Video Games as an artistic medium to generate new forms. Some art critics, namely Tilman Baumgartel, do not consider Game Art to be its own genre of Art for the methods of working by the Artists are too broad to be placed in a single category. I believe that this position does not do justice to the Artists or their artworks and belittles the value of the artwork; placing Game Art works into a bargain bin of Media Art. I will explore the working methods of Game Art practitioners and their works to expose what I see as similar themes and methodologies and examine the term “genre” by looking at different definitions and uses by academia and the game industry.

In an article on the Media Art Net website, art critic and curator Tilman Baumgärtel relates the history of game patching in his article On a Number of Aspects of Artistic Computer Games, starting with Doom and Wolfenstein 3D and early hacks of those games, including Ars Doom ( He states that Ars Doom is the first attempt to use computer games as an artistic medium, but I don’t believe this claim.

He then outlines what he sees as three categories of Game Art: Abstraction, Modification, and Sociological. Abstraction, as defined by him is based on the historical approach to graphical abstraction. Modification is defined as direct artistic intervention into the game code. Artists such as Fur, Cory Archangel, and JODI would fall under this category if I were to follow Baumgartel’s logic of organization. Baumgartel’s category of Sociological games deals with the socio-cultural environment around games and gaming cultures and how they relate to the outside world. Wikipedia defines Sociology as “the scientific study of individual behavior in society”( While most of the works that I encountered in my research were results of scientific efforts, many dealt with the social interaction between individuals in video games and in the real world.
Baumgärtel ends his essay by stating that Game Art is not yet a “genre” of art. Why not? Because the methods used by the artists are too divergent. I feel this claim is wrong. All of the works that he makes mention are connected in some way, whether in their theme or medium to video games and video gaming culture. The works cannot be simply placed under the banner of Media Art or Net Art, even though most are only available for viewing on the Internet.

Using his footnotes and google, I found an exhibition of Game Patch Art from 1999 titled Cracking the Maze: Game Plug-ins and Patches as Hacker Art. The curator was Anne-Marie Schleiner. She would later collaborate with Brody Condon on certain projects. The exhibition’s intent was to “expose game patches created by artists and game patch artifacts created by the original game hackers in an attempt to generate an open discourse on art, games, game hacking, and gaming culture on the internet.”

Some of the pieces were modifications of game code that resulted in abstracting the game’s original aesthetics to the point of confusion. The artist-duo JODI takes the existing game Wolfenstein 3D and deconstructs the game code to alter the way the game’s graphics appear in their patch titled SOD. Instead of displaying the correct textures for the walls, floors, and characters, the textures are flattened, re-patterned and ruptured ( All the colors are turned to black and white. The aesthetic changes create a game that is now unplayable. The game is no longer the three dimensional immersive shooter it once was. The only traces of the violent content that remain for the player to interact with are the sound clips of the gun shooting and the guards yelling.

Others were alterations that undermined traditional representations of females in male-oriented action games. The piece Patching Nude Raider by Robert Nideffer altered the pre-existing patch that made the pixels of the female character Lara Croft flesh-colored making her body look naked by giving Croft male genitals, a mustache, or a black trench coat ( The Lara Croft character avatar is no longer simply a sex object to be manipulated, but an actor in a critique of the portrayal of gender in video gaming, a participant in a gender switch. Schleiner relates that artistically patching a game (making a parasitic patch) is easier than a hardware hack because it doesn’t require knowledge of programming language and contributes to the culture of the re-configuration cultural systems.

After looking at the works in Cracking the Maze, I decided to search for more game patches that modified the game for sociological reasons and not those of abstraction or maybe even games that were original and had an artistic sociological or political intent. I found multiple websites devoted to game art that was more of what Baumgärtel termed as Sociological and political in content. The website hosts many links to a number of projects and articles related to game patches and original games constructed by artists to explore a wide variety of issues. Here I found a link to an article by Anne-Maire Schleiner about a game patch project she collaborated on with the artist Brody Condon titled Velvet Strike. The project’s intention was to inject the “other” into Counter Strike, a shooting game that is basically us (counter-terrorists) versus them (terrorists), by allowing players to spray protest posters and non-violent political calls to action into the game world. The artistic modification of the existing game works as a social commentary and a way to bring real world politics into a digital world.
I found mention of Velvet Strike in Ian Bogost’s book Persuasive Game: The Expressive Power of Video Games. Bogost states that, “While interesting as a “software intervention”, Velvet Strike is more a commentary on videogame genre conventions than a commentary on social conditions. The rich sensory environment of the videogame merely becomes a setting for protests against the fantasy of violence and power”(Bogost 2007, 125).

I think that Bogost is wrong in making this statement. Schleiner herself states in an essay titled Velvet Strike: War Times and Reality Games that games like Counter-Strike, and Kuma War, are continuations of militarism in videogames that began with Space War in 1977 and continue today with the jingoistic America’s Army. According to Schleiner, Counter Strike and games like it (military simulators) are part of a broader condition of the West’s Imperialist mindset post 9/11 (

While violent shooter games existed before the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, never before have they included dangerous racist stereotypes. The game modifications that Schleiner mentions, such as the Osama Bin Laden character that players can shoot at and an Arab store keeper that can also be assaulted, are indicative of the lust for violence that is associated with shooting games and Western Imperialism. The fantasy of violence and power is not just one that afflicts some video gamers; it also affects the certain world leaders, namely current American president, George Bush.

Another game falling in the category of Sociological that I found during my research is Darfur is Dying. This game deals with the political issues surrounding the war-torn country of Darfur in Africa and allows the player of the game to guide a Darfuri child through various levels while avoiding the roving militia. It was created to win a contest sponsored by MTV to create a Video Game that would increase awareness about the conflicts in Darfur in hopes of ending the conflicts. Ian Bosgost explains that the game inverts the traditional hero fantasy of most video games by making the player character a powerless individual in a struggle for survival rather than a powerful actor that faces an equal opponent (Bogost 2007, 96). This type of game not only allows awareness of the problems faced by Darfur to spread but also subverts the normative game structures to create a new form of gaming.

In the course of my research, I encounter many words that I lacked definitions for. There is a lot of discussion around the word genre within the articles I have read.
I found this definition in Studying Videogames by Julian McDougall and Wayne O’Brien, “The classification of any media text into a category or type. Whether this is an industry practice, an audience reaction, or critical/academic practice is a matter of debate”(McDougall and O’Brien 2008, 16). One fault I find with this description is that a video game is not wholly a media text. Video games are multi-media; they incorporate the aspects of different cinema conventions (such as camera angles, zooms, pans, voice-overs, special effects, and stock characters) and elements of theater. They cannot simply be read as one media, but as multi-modal texts and as events that engage and requires the participation of a player or user but not always an audience, similar to Allen Kaprow’s Happenings of the 1960s.

Artist Mathias Fuch in his article on states that most Game Artists work in Hybridization, mixing interactive media with digital gaming and occasionally analog technologies ( Fuch makes three very important claims in his article as well:
1) Artists did not invent computer games.
This is very true. But who did invent computer games? Ivan Sutherland didn’t, but his 1960s invention of Sketchpad helped propel ideas about interactive art into the mainstream (Wolf & Perron 2003, ix). In 1962, a group of students from MIT produced Spacewar!, a space combat simulation game that was played on a PDP-1 computer that was fed by data punched into paper tape. (! These students did not create the game for profit, but mostly for fun. The creation of this game started the era of video gaming.
2) Artists know better than commercial game makers what to do with developments in technology.
In the year 2007, commercial video game makers made over $18.8 billion in sales for games and hardware ( The commercial game developers create a product that is addictive and sold in unlimited editions. There is mostly never any major deviation from the traditional standards of game play in the best selling games because that would decrease profit. Occasionally innovation happens and the games are somewhat successful, but what works best for commercial games are the tired and true formulas. Artists on the other hand, do not have to worry about profiting from their game releases, and generally attempt to create innovative and challenging games. As refinements in game development technology are made available, they will be able to use them for their art practice. Artists like Brody Condon are already doing this. Condon uses existing 3D game engines as raw material to create animated paintings and short looping films (
3) That they know the future of computer games and of interactive media.
I believe that Fuch is right on this point. I found this great section of an article by Anne-Marie Schleiner on the Open website.
“Contrary to what might be supposed, unsanctioned and sanctioned game patching and modification do not conflict with the commercial interests of the game software industry. In effect, game-patching serves as inexpensive Research & Development for new trends in computer gaming that crystallize and evaporate in the accelerated, perpetually mutating laboratory of the Internet. Also, in the near future, the ability to customize game worlds may be one of the strong attractions to playing (and buying) PC games, a competitive advantage over games on closed source (unmodifyable) console platforms like Playstation and X-Box” (”. The network of game modifiers creates a community that is based on the exchange of ideas, software, and games. This network is something that commercial game companies often seek to build for themselves. Game patch makers and artists creating their own games do pose a risk to the profit of some companies but the companies could do well to learn from the methods deployed by the game hackers. Schleiner continues in her article to suggest that if game developers of Role Playing Games allowed their game code to be open and hackable, then game editors could be developed for their games, and the players could interface with the game environment and make changes to the it and the structure of the game, instead of simply playing inside of a pre-existing game( The new interfaces created by the game hackers could then be distributed as open source games or sold for profit by the original development companies.

Fuch mentions that the first exhibition to showcase artistic games was Re: Play in 1998 and Synreal, an exhibition that happened on a public net-base (online) in 1998.
Fuchs makes a distinction between commercial game developers and artists but admits there is a relationship. Many artists cannibalize existing commercial game technology to create their works. These works would fall under Baumgartel’s categorization of Modification.
The artists “/////////fur//// art entertainment interfaces”, creators of the interactive game Painstation are artists working under Baumgartel’s category of Modification, but have also crafted something of a hybrid ( Painstation is based on the existing game PONG but has been built into a 3D structure to allow it to better interface with the players of the game. The intent of the project was to make a more realistic and immersive videogame by allowing the players to feel pain by whipping and burning their hands if they lost a match in the game ( The game requires user interaction to make it work and while it doesn’t require an audience to make a presence felt on the user, the audience helps to make the player feel more competitive and adds excitement to the experience of playing.

Artist Cory Archangel has made many hacked video game works. His piece Super Mario Clouds from 2002 is a good example of an artist taking existing game technology, specifically the game hardware and modifying it to create a new work. In Super Mario Clouds, Archangel deconstructs the game graphics by removing all elements of the game environment but the blue sky and white clouds. He did this by hacking the Nintendo game cartridge. Sticking to the model of a open gaming/ hacker community, Archangel has posted instructions on how he did this on his website, Although Archangel explains that he is not a computer programmer, he works in code because it’s the way the world moves for him, and if he could order a pizza by painting, he would be a painter (
The work created by the hack is no longer a playable game. There is no interaction required by the player. The graphics from the original game were already very abstracted and by removing the rest of the game elements like the Mario character and his opponents, Archangel has pushed the piece to further abstraction. What was once an exciting platform game now functions mostly as a painting that can only be viewed by seeing a screen capture on the Internet, as I have to, or being projected on a wall by a LCD projector in a gallery. Another one of Archangel’s hacked or modified game pieces is I Shot Andy Warhol. Archangel himself admits that the work is a joke and is not to be taken seriously and will admit that most of his work is silly ( However, jokes aside, I feel that the way that Archangel encourages the sharing of information is a positive model of artistic engagement that is very different from most elitist communities.
Brody Condon, an artist I mentioned fairly early in my paper, is another person working with Game Art right now. His 1999 piece Adam Killer was a video of the killing of a digital avatar of his friend Adam that Condon created using a modification of the Half-Life game engine. Condon intended the piece to be a commentary on the Columbine High School Shootings and the amount of digital bloodshed in modern video games. ( Again the work is a non-interactive piece making a social commentary that is based on a pre-existing game engine, so it functions as a hybrid of Modification and Sociological.
Condon is currently working on a series of Live Action Role Playing events that will use his specially designed game rules as sets of ritualized performances. The LARP games will comment on the cultural convergence between gaming culture and mainstream cultures.
While the artists I have researched do share different methods of working, all of them start with the same materials of games or a game engine. The creation of a separate genre for the works that I have described in my paper as Game Art is needed so that the works in question can be properly displayed and archived. The placement of the works into the structure of genre is something that is already practiced by commercial game developers and retailers when they assign their games to the conventional genres of shooter, racing, action, adventure, etc… Even the video pieces by Brody Condon and the Painstation by ///////fur/////// should be placed in the same genre of Game Art because of similar underlying structure of a game engine. I understand that there is a difference because the Painstation is an interactive piece, that it is dimensional, but the space that the player/viewer exists in when they view Adam Killer is also dimensional. The experience of watching Adam Killer is less painful but perhaps no less unnerving than playing Painstation. I believe that it is not pointless to pursue the construction of Game Art as a genre and that the artists working within the area of Game Art create work that shares the same basic structure, that of code and of play and of culture.

Critique of Sources:
I found a lot of articles about my topic, but I had to choose the best ones to use for my paper. Most of them did not take a stance on the same issue that I did for my paper, which was helpful. Tilman Baumgartel’s article was crucial in my ideation for my position in my paper and in my beginning research. I found fault with some of his claims however, as is evident in this paper. In my opinion, Anne-Marie Schleiner’s articles were my best resource and very interesting to read. Reading Ian Bogost’s book Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games gave me a lot of insight into game language and current discussion surrounding gaming culture. The works I researched I could not view in their original form, which was frustrating. Some of the game patches for the Cracking the Maze Exhibit are still online for download but will not work with my version of Mac.

List of Sources:
Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007.

Baumgartel, Tilman. On a Number of Aspects of Artistic Computer Games. Media Art Net
(accessed 11/2/08)

McDougall, Julian Wayne O’Brien. Studying Videogames. Leigthon Buzzard, Auteur Publishing, 2008.

Fuch, Mathias. From An Artist’s Perspective. 2005: (accessed 11/2/08)

Wolf, Mark J. P. Bernard Perron. The Video Game Theory Reader. New York,NY: Routledge, 2003.

Various authors: Spacewar!!
(access dates vary)

The NPD Group. 2007 U.S. Video Game And PC Game Sales Exceed $18.8 Billion Marking Third Consecutive Year Of Record-Breaking Sales (accessed 11/12/08

Schleiner, Ann-Marie. Cracking the Maze: Game Plug-ins and Patches as Hacker Art
(accessed 11/10/08)
Schleiner, Ann-Marie. Parasitic Interventions: Game Patches and Hacker Art
(accessed 11/10/08)
Schleiner, Ann-Marie. Velvet-Strike: War Times and Reality Games
(accessed 11/10/08)

Author Unknown. Brody Condon: The Youth of the Apocalypse (accessed 11/04/08)

Bruneau, John. John Bruneau Interviews Cory Arcangel
(accessed 11/04/08)

Archangel, Cory. Things I made in 2005
(accessed 11/20/08)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

colorless green ideas sleep furiously; a critique of the text-to-form editor

By Wendy Spacek

People say a picture is worth a thousand words. But what about words? What kind of pictures to words create? Language is composed firstly of sound. Phonetic sounds evolve naturally, and written language is constructed as a series of characters to represent those sounds. (2) The combination of these letters form words of different kinds. There are verbs, adjectives, adverbs, nouns, pronouns, and proper nouns. These words have meanings which in turn have varying linguistic theories as to their lexicology and semantics. (2) These sounds, characters, words, and meanings, combine with grammar, syntax, and sequence to form logical sense o a reader. With the addition of punctuation, one can know where pauses, breaks, and inquisitions or exclamations lie. Each attribute contribute to the others and combines to form language. Deeper even then the physical, grammatical, and semantic composition of language, are the stylistic and literary function of language. The rich mathematics of formulated images combined with prosody, poetics, and plot create whole new worlds from text on the page. 

According to “VERBARIUM and LIFE SPACIES: Creating a Visual Language by Transcoding Text into Form on the Internetby Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, their text-to-form editor was inspired by Nome Chomsky’s theory of language that states “human language acquisition is based on a universal grammar that is genetically embedded within the human mind of all normal children, allowing them to learn their native languages naturally and seemingly effortlessly”(1).

Although it may be true that logical grammar is something inherit to humans, lexicology and semantics I would argue are learned, experience-based concepts, based in the emotional, physical, sensational, sensible, or even in a mysterious mystical realm.

For the purpose of this essay I will focus on the piece “Verbarium” which can be found and used on-line at This piece, although operating on a slightly different text-to-form editor system, relies on the theory of Generative Grammar by Nome Chomsky.  According to Wikipedia, “generative grammar refers to a particular approach to the study of syntax … In most approaches to generative grammar, the rules will also predict the morphology of a sentence” (2). Morphology is the study of the internal structure of words, these word units then culminate to the subject matter and lexicology and semantics of written words. Sommerer and Mignonneau posit in their essay that they were inspired by Chomsky’s sentence "colorless green ideas sleep furiously" which according to their essay is “an expression that might not make much logical sense to a more scientifically oriented person, but does have quite a lot of meaning for a more visual or art minded person. Though this sentence, as Chomsky has shown, is grammatically correct, its meaning cannot be grasped through logic alone. When we hear this sentence for the first time we see pictures or forms or shapes appearing in our minds. These forms are vague, yet they are defined to a certain degree and can certainly create visual sensations and emotions” (1).

Although Sommerer and Mignonneau acknowledge the mind-pictures, and vague yet rich images and meaning that language can produce, their text-to-form editor functions alone by linking “the characters and syntax of a text message to specific parameters in the forms’ design” (1). These physical and grammatical attributes of the text are translated through a mathematical system for formulate a visual image. The image is supposed to, I believe, be a representation of the words themselves, and I assume, their meaning. In this aspect I believe the text-to-form editor could be improved. Or should be improved. It does not take into account what I would argue are the most important aspects of language.

Text in itself, the characters or symbols used in language are simply arbitrary compositions that serve only to represent phonetic sounds and commonly accepted meaning for formed words. The words themselves, the letters they use, the sound combinations, do not hold any inherent meaning, but are given meaning through collective agreement of those who use the language. (2)

The “text” being interpreted into “form” in Mignonneau and Sommerer's “text-to-form editor” is a translator of incomplete information. It only focuses on three aspects of text, and only those that are obvious in its physical make-up. The symbols used, the syntax that occurs, and sequencing. It does not take into account the many components and complexity of the written language, which is also inseparable from its phonetic counterparts.

The Text-to-form editor  Completely removes the “reader” of the text. The text-to-form editor as a reader cannot interpret on a human level. It cannot understand natural cognitive language as we do, or as Chomsky, Sommerer, or Mignonneau do. Its mathematical base and simply its inhumanness is what make it so inept to interpretation of the written word.

The following attributes and subtleties of language are not understood or ignored by the text-to-form editor: 

Lexicology, semantics, denotations, connotations, style, form, homonymy, synonymy, antonymy, polysemy, paronyms, hypernymy, hyponymy, meronymy, metonymy, holonymy, literary tone, context, allegory, allusion, dramatic irony, figurative language, situational irony, mood, paradox, point-of-view, setting, plot, metaphor, simile, symbol, phonetics, etc. 

I would challenge Sommerer and Mignonneau to try creating a text-to-form editor that could interpret even half of the aforementioned complexities.


A note on sequence and organization interpritation in the Text-to-form editor:


“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”


When the punctuation is altered (a “sequence” element) the sentence’s meaning, which is altered greatly, translates into an image whose physical property is only changed in shape.

Punctuation: Punctuation marks are symbols that correspond to neither phonemes (sounds) of a language nor to lexemes (words and phrases), but which serve to indicate the structure and organization of writing, as well as intonation and pauses to be observed when reading it aloud. (2)

To a Question. (?)

To an exclamation. (!)

Lets say discursive, didactic, language was inputted into the text-to-form editor. 

When a paragraph of acedimic text on Organic Chemistry describing Bimolecular Nucleophilic Substitution is inputted into the text-to-form editior the result was a simple, monochromatic form:

Paragraph on Bimolecular Nucleophilic Substitution. (3)

Similarly, a paragraph text inputted about the properties of addition yielded a simlar object, varying in form and slightly in color:

Paragraph about The Properties of Addition (4)

I would venture that the reason for this similarity is the nature of the text. Being didactic, it is written in an unadorned way, with simple syntax and logical sequencing. Again this is an example of the text-to-form editors ignorance toward meaning. Elementary addition and Bimolecular Nucleophilic Substitution are widely different concepts on opposite ends of complexity. The text-to-form editor however, shows no discrepancy. 

In contrast, observe the text-to-form editors translation of literary texts of varying complexity:

Children's Nursery Rhyme: Birds of A Feather (5)

Dejection: An Ode by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (6)

"Dejection: An Ode" is certainly more complex than "Bird's of A Feather", both in terms of prosody, word choice, and meaning, yet there forms, although varying greatly in color, have similar shapes. 

Also, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “Dejection; An Ode” is far more complicated, phonetically, grammatically, metrically, and in meaning than Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130”, yet the pictures created by the Text-to-form editior on the Verbarium website were the opposite. 

Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare (7)


In addition, Gerald Manley Hopkins is known for both his complex metrical prosody and his original use of language; including words he made up. (8)

This is an example a text which is grammatically complicated but simple in meaning, the picture created by Verbarium reflects the complicated and wide variation of characters.

Spring and Fall by Gerald Manley Hopkins (9)

It is pretty clear through trial and error inputs of varying literary texts of varying complexity and simplicity, which the text-to-form editor does not operate on complexities of meaning, phonetics, composition, or meter. Meaning being perhaps the most important function and feature of language, in all its vagueness, is in no way addressed by the editor. I believe this is because of the inhumanity of the machine. Its lack of consciousness, empathy, understanding, something…

The text-to-form editor lacks what a good interpreter possesses:

Language is something conveyed on a speaker-to-speaker level. Two humans, phonetically pronouncing words attached to arbitrary symbol, and each interpreting and communicating. Building meaning through context, past conversations, base knowledge. The machine has none of these abilities. It does not understand the words you are typing to it. It does not understand the meaning, only the composition of the arbitrary symbols. In my opinion, the text-to-form editor only translates the most arbitrary aspects of written language.