Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Fringe Communities - Part Two: "The Conspiracy Files"

Interested parties can now view "The Conspiracy Files" on BBC iPlayer, a program concerning the small but disturbing amount of people who spend their time speculating that the London 7/7 terrorist bombings were a government conspiracy, that 9/11 was a plot by the Jews, that Zoidberg the Great will return in his intergalactic hamburger to judge the living and the dead. World without end. Amen.

It highlights how impressionable people may use DVDs and the Web to associate freely with other impressionable people and form minor conspiracy circles of credulous devotees. The BBC documentary does not enter into the psychology of conspiracy theories but rather goes through the standard evidence, and points out how the official report shows, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the perpetrators made no attempt to hide their identity whatsoever, and indeed wished to be remembered as martyrs. Then, interviewing each primary conspiracy theorist in turn, the programme notes how each of these people are also prone to believe in many other conspiracy theories ranging from the mildly bizarre to the outright ridiculous.

South Park: Episode 1009 - where Cartman implicates Kyle in the 9/11 attacks

For the most part, these people appear to be harmless sorts, with rather odd pastimes. But, of course, the worrying aspect is that these very same odd characters are also dedicating this time to share their "knowledge" with all who will lend them their ears and eyes. Indeed, I have met many people who profess to all sorts of bizarre conspiracy beliefs and it makes me wonder what is it about such people that differentiates them from regular people, so to speak. Many of these individuals, like some of those interviewed in the program, have received a university education, and surely have been assisted to develop rational arguments during their studies.

While remarking that John Hill, author of "The Ripple Effect", also claimed to be a messianic figure and claimed "that George Lucas wrote Star Wars after being told telepathically what to write, by the very "Force" to which the films refer" (BBC News), may amount to simple ad hominem arguments that lack substance in reasoned debate, there is nevertheless a set of circumstances and psychological makeup that have 'conspired' to make him who he is. Similarly, you and I have undergone particular histories, and have particular biological and psychological structures that make us who we are in this moment.

There are a number of scientific papers in philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science which focus on how belief systems may work in terms of information deficit, deference to third-parties, limited information-seeking skills, and a weak capacity for logical thought. I may return to this topic in a future post, but this is already quite lengthy. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that of a "crippled epistemology", or faulty knowledge evaluation system. What a person may know is very little, and the better part of it, incorrect. Given new information from a conspiracy theorist, there is nothing in this person's existing belief system that contradicts this new information.

Who in their lifetime, and I include childhood, has not entertained notions such as that JFK was assassinated by the CIA, that extra-terrestrials are among us but that it is being kept under wraps, that the moon-landing was faked? If you are among these lucky few, then you will have at your disposal the mechanisms to judge why you previously, I hope, entertained these rather daft notions, much as we might have given credence to fairy tales once upon a time, and many a hidden demon.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Ambience, Immersion

("Stalker" (Сталкер) 1979 - Andrei Tarkovsky)

The game "S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl" itself is unimpressive in terms of plot development, script, and innovation. Its only merit to history is the richness of its atmosphere, which deftly combines the Chernobyl location with the game's artistic inspiration, "Stalker" (1979), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and featuring a screenplay by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky.

The film is achingly beautiful, finding cause for reflection in muddied contaminated waters and decayed long-abandoned artefacts. The three protagonists (Stalker, Writer, and Professor) discuss hope, happiness, and the future of mankind in relation to their histories and emotions. Stalker is wide-eyed, sensitive, and open, in contrast to the studied reflections of the two intellectuals. It is difficult to discern brutal honesty from alienating world vision as these latter two characters muse on the significance of the wish-granting machine. Where Stalker sees hope and happiness, they see self-deception and egoism.

There is little of philosophy in the animated Zone experienced in the gameworld. It is another beast altogether, for in the film there is little concern with survival except in a spiritual sense, whereas in the game all is a tattered world of competing interests and limited resources. Philosophical exchange is traded for economic exchange. There is little of philosophical significance in traditional RPG games, with their various health bars, abilities, and limited carrying capacity. A true philosophical exploration through an interactive world-creation would dispose of interfaces and pistol-spinning and instead focus on imagery and character development. But how to make that into a 'game'?

Indeed, there is little budget for creating multi-million euro interactive installations in a market traditionally dominated by young aggressive males looking to indulge their competitive instincts (me). However, there is the ability to build on the work of such game-makers and transform their products into something else. The modding community has shown repeatedly that this is a viable proposition. The "Priboi Story" is an example of creating a new plot-driven game based on an altered vision. But that is not what I am looking for, as the "Priboi Story" is so close to its source material so as only to contribute to that short temporal phase between official releases from Ukrainian-based GSC Games.

The mod I would like to see happen would bring together a talented group, including a writer and a professor, to draft a vision that combines the ground-breaking realism and beauty of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. gameworld with art installation techniques to create something moving and reminiscent of the film, yet also exploring new ground and contemporary themes of environmental destruction. To date, all such focus has been on the visually impoverished Second Life and never really taking full advantage of bleeding-edge animation. This is where gaming has the potential to truly transcend art.

Monday, 16 February 2009

All Your Data Are Belong To Us

Google, google, google, google.
The backbone of the information age, creator of new forms of living, together with their associated nouns, verbs.

In the beginning
The first comprehensive search engine to rule the market due to its superior searching capacities. It is 1997 and google is showing you an explosive list of links to choose from, blasting into insignificance the ubiquitous purveyors of categories, billboards, and yet more categories.

Yahoo then tries to hit back, reassure their dominance. We are back in the days when to look up archery you went to 'Leisure' -> 'Sport' -> 'Outdoor Games' -> 'Archery' and selected the link of your choice. Categories, categories, and more categories.

Not for google, with its 100 entries listed out in front of you, easily human-readable for that relevant tidbit of information, or what little might be found.

2009 and the Internet is no longer the domain of futurist technologists and campus dwellers. It is now essential to modern living in the way that railways are to transport and the electric engine is or will be to motorisation. Google has risen to lofty heights, respected and revered by many veterans, and is part of a reality that was 'always there' for younger siblings and co-members of the species now coming of age, becoming men and women.
Children upload their doodles to Google servers, adults address their anxieties and curiosities through search engines. Journeys begin on Google, and then expand and proliferate on resources attained, be they intellectual journals or sound engineering fora. Partnerships are built and projects launched.

The billboards of the information highway are primarily printed at Google. Masses and masses of accumulated data with incalculable market value are being rapidly aligned to advertising revenue and expanded services. Information, advertising, information. Toolbars, apps, and more toolbars all conspiring to give you information, advertising, information. Countless product tie-ins provide you with ever more ways to access data, 'search here', 'find on google'.
Firefox launches its title/search bar. You want to look up Wired magazine? 'Wired', then [Enter] (or CTRL + ENTER to add wings).
So many apps, all of them helping you to find data, lots of data. But what if they expire and die? What if my apps become obsolete? Google will update you.

Google Apps
Google Earth 2009. The joy of automatic updates for all of your Google products. Google updates are like MS Windows Updates - a happy convenience of modern living. Always running, searching, in the background. Google connecting you to new data, new updates, new apps, new information-advertising-information.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Fringe Communities

The power of the internet to bring disparate elements together is not to be underestimated. The space for cultural interchange is something incredible, where elements of the most refined and the most simple cultural forms coincide, fuse, and break off into further tangents. Some of which go on to become defined forms in themselves.

Take C64 remixes, for example. A generation grew up on C64s, Amigas, and Atari STs who have never forgotten those intros, cut animation scenes, and high scores pages where, occasionally, the limited 8bit or 16bit music would stand out as being distinctive, impressive, even innovative. This was particularly the case in long-standing products such as the C64, whose music-making abilities were being fully exploited by the time it disappeared to a new breed of fastly reproducing consoles.

Unlike the Playstation 3, which will most likely never be exploited to its full potential, the C64 underwent an evolution that took it from rudimentary games like Frogger to titles that involved entire production teams, such as Last Ninja 3 and Creatures. The difference between early titles from 1983 and those produced just under a decade later is phenomenal, because they were created on the same platform with no great increase in technical specification, rather than being rushed onto recently dispatched consoles, soon to be replaced.

Those of 'you' who like Last Ninja 3: I cannot recommend highly enough some remixes made by Mind.in.a.box musician, Stefan Poiss. Go out there and find it yourself, and then buy a copy if you like it from the on-line distributor of your choice. Mind.in.a.box are a studio band, and you won't be seeing them at a venue near you.

I will leave 'you' with a reminder of just how people on the fringe can get together and create something ......, just something

open the link yourself

Friday, 9 January 2009

Whipped Trees and Bleeding Bees

I was just watching a clip of Johnny Nice Painter from the 1990s BBC comedy success "The Fast Show". It occurred to me that there are strong parallels between his blackly black black soliloquies and the lyrics of one David Tibet.

Here are a few lines from Current 93’s "Black Ships Ate The Sky":

Whilst the dwarves offer big faces
To clipped cracked songs
Dreaming of "Hey-ho, the old grey mare is dead"
She died in the pantry
Whistling for dead Dixie
Black Ships sucked her soul

Now here is Johnny from The Fast Show...

Black like the clouds of death that follow me into the forest of doom
The hand in the wardrobe of darkness
Listen, Listen, Do you hear?
The moon is weeping in his secret room
They tap at my window
With tiny poles

The free associations from the collective mythology of the European artistic imagination represent a certain thematic continuity between David Tibet and Johnny Nice Painter. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, eating worms and spitting knives.

To continue this mini-analysis, let us draw on some documentary evidence. Here is Johnny in the throes of yet another untimely reminder of death, despair, and rotting strawberry pie. Listen to him protest about...

Black, black, in the sky, in the sea
Black, all black, like the procession of night
that leads us into the valley of despair

..., and, now let us direct our minions of swarming liver spoons to David Tibet, live in Moscow.

There is undoubtedly some common ground between these two fine artists, one a painter, the other a musician. Both draw on the same cultural references of the Brothers Grimm, Alice in Wonderland, Noddy (Heil Noddy!), and, well, nursery rhymes. Both slip in and out of childhood imaginings and grownup existential angst, triggered by artistic inspiration and Freudian recollection. They disconnect with reality and are lost to a surreal confusion of accumulated emotion.

Now it occurs to me that what I should be doing is swapping the two sets of lyrics and making a recording myself!

Apple pies and fidgeting indeed
Cough syrup and bile of bloom
Little slithers of willy-nilly will feast on Tommy’s Supper!