Amoeblog

A Few More Thoughts on Technology and Realism: Pac-Man and Surrogates Trailer

Posted by Charles Reece, August 9, 2009 10:16pm | Post a Comment
pac-man game  pac-man skeleton death

I gave up playing video games when I encountered the second button. I was alright with jumping, but combination moves and shit like that tended to take me out of the formal (as in Platonic) perfection of a Pac-Man or Space Invaders. If I want gritty (as in non-Platonic) realism, I'll read Bukowski, or watch a Cassavetes film. I've since played a few of these realistic "moving" games where one drives through a simulated real city, running into other cars or over innocent bystanders (other variations of this game type have the player as a superhero, vigilante, soldier, or cute creature on some ostensible quest -- e.g., killing zombies -- but they're more about just moving through a virtual environment). The only thing they add to the endless struggle (at least, ideally) of a little round guy eating dots is more detail -- the ontology remains unchanged. Pac Man already had the truth of its and the player's existence written into its elegant design. That is, it said everything that needed to be said: keep playing, desire can now be quantified by the score; the goal never changes, nor will you ever get closer to it, no matter how fast things start moving.

Speaking of existence being reduced to the score, the reknowned junkie William S. Burroughs once narrated a video game based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe called The Dark Eye. Looks interesting, although I hear it bombed:


But back to the yellow fellow: Speed, color scheme and fruit are pretty much the only differences in its levels. The game's "progression" is a matter of pseudoindividuation: slight variation to keep the player committed to/distracted from/entertained by the standardization. The techno-realism of a Grand Theft Auto only adds more complex layers of novelty to Pac-Man, bogging the player down with data (more places to visit, more visual detail, more complex controls), keeping him or her lost in the details. If Pac Man was sortcronenberg existenz poster of an existential map, the purpose of which was to lead us temporarily away from life's troubles, the more realistic derivations seem to be moving us in the direction of cyberpunk dystopias, where the map (virtual reality) is just as convoluted as the mapped (old-fashioned reality), eventually rendering any distinction seemingly useless, like in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. Most games now have to supply the player with a map, so can the possibility of getting lost "in there" be that far off? And isn't that the fantasy behind realism, to get lost within the simulated reality, to not be able to distinguish the depiction from the depicted? If reality can't be controlled, substitute its image, which (supposedly) can, or, to appropriate Theodor Adorno once again:

Reality becomes its own ideology through the spell cast by its faithful duplication. -- "The Schema of Mass Culture"

I remember a bunch of criticism directed towards the blandness of Cronenberg's design for the gaming environment in his film, that it looked too plain. However, I took his point to be Adorno's: that no matter how much a game (or movie, or any other art) allows us to fantasize about being in control over our surroundings, someone else is doing the programming that sets the rules. The technologically enhanced realism furthers the fantasy, while ultimately decreasing our (the players') control on reality. The endgame of this fantasy -- where reality itself becomes its own simulation for our avatars to play in -- is the conceit of the new Bruce Willis vehicle, Surrogates (adaped from a comic book):


An intriguing idea, even if the execution looks like standard Hollywood sci-fi cheese. I guess what I've been angling for is this: If one of our primary fantasies is being in control, then it would seem that its logical, utlimate, fantastic realm would not look like some weird alien world, or an abstract dimension of colors and shapes (such as Pac-Man or TRON), but exactly like the one we know, only without any of the risks and vicissitudes of the real deal. That's why with all the technological innovations in film production, with a near boundless samuel r delanypotential to create increasingly bizarre (ir)realities, the fantasy genre (in which I'd put science fiction, cartoons and whatever else I've been talking about lately) has been getting more realistic. Barring the occasional fetishist, I suspect most people would have sex with a simulated human on Star Trek's holodeck, not some sentient squid creature. Rather than expanding, or questioning, the predisposed ideas wrapped up in our common conception of reality as a good fantastic yarn can do (e.g., pick one of Samuel R. Delany's books), the realistic capabilities of technology are limiting the possibilities of imagination, of counterfactual situations, to think outside the box, when it makes the fantasy look like reality.

Technophilia, The Trailer Hitch of Realism: Previewing Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Despicable Me, and Alice in Wonderland

Posted by Charles Reece, July 26, 2009 09:43am | Post a Comment
One thought that never crosses my mind when watching a classic Bugs cartoon is how it could be  improved with a richer palette of colors, more shading for 3-dimensional effect and a better use casperof perspective -- you know, so it would appear as if this anatomically incorrect bunny might actually exist in our world. Call me crotchety, but I don't like aesthetics being reduced to technology. Just because the average Macbook now has millions of colors at its disposal, this shouldn't matter a whit to a modern audience watching an old Chuck Jones cartoon. But it does, if the average CGI-toon that dominates production is any indication.

When Casper the Friendly Ghost received the CGI treatment, he became a true monstrosity, a virtually embodied horror, the mishapen spectral remant of a literalized infanticide. Yet, it was in a movie aimed at kids and no one seemed to mind. If he'd been covered in blood, I suspect it would've been a different story. In The Philosophy of Horror, Noël Carroll suggests two major defining features of the monster proper: that (1) the creature be threatening and (2) it be impure. Now, it's probably not much of an overgeneralization to suggest few feel threatened by Casper, not even by his 3D deformity. But he's clearly impure in two ways: First, obviously, he's undead, kind of like a zombie, but one who's rational and apparently takes showers. That is, he violates the cognitive categories we have for what living and dead bodies are supposed to behave like -- mixes the contents. Second, and perhaps less obviously, in the 3D version, he is a violation of the formal abstraction that was part of his 2D cartoon body. This formal impurity wouldn't have existed had the animators decided to go with a realistic form for their adaptation, something like the ghosts in Peter Jackson's The Frighteners.

Continue reading...

THE ORIGINAL RECORDED SONG, NEW CASSETTE TECHNIQUES

Posted by Billyjam, March 27, 2008 07:44am | Post a Comment

There is a really interesting article in the Arts section of this morning's (Thursday, March 27) New York Times about newly uncovered research that challenges the belief that Thomas Edison was the father of recorded sound. This new research claims that even before Edison had recorded his first sounds a French man named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville recorded a ten second sound bite of a female vocalist singing a French folk song (Au Clair de la Lune) back in 1860. However, it was not recorded onto a record but rather on a "phonautograph" or "phonautogram" (as seen in photo left) which was in turn recently made playable - by converting the written images on the paper into sound - by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Library.  If you click on the NYTimes story, not only can you read about this amazing discovery in detail, but they also have an MP3 sound file of this historic 10-second 1860 recording.
                                                                                                                                                                                                 
When you stop and think about it, it is truly amazing how far we have come in the advancement of music recording and playback in the short time span (relatively in the history of mankind) since Thomas Edison (pictured right) first invented the phonograph in 1877 and unveiled it a year later to an amazed public.

Continue reading...

LAPTOP ORCHESTRAS PUSHING THE DIGITAL MUSIC ENVELOPE

Posted by Billyjam, February 4, 2008 09:12am | Post a Comment

Ever since laptops became ubiquitous on the club & concert scene as a live music source for artists, especially DJs, in recent years the question continually arises: are they actually creating live music up there on stage or merely checking their e-mails as a pre-programmed music mix plays?

In some cases the "artist" may be just checking his/her emails or updating their Facebook account, but most real artists are utilizing their laptops' numerous programs in creative musical ways.

And in increasingly common cases there are multiple laptop musicians in action at the same time. The Bay Area quartet Cat Five (featured on Independent Sounds: Amoeba Music Compilation Vol III), formed by Balanceman and Darkat almost a decade ago, is an example of a laptop group. With their preference being Apple computers, all four construct freeform live compositions.

And taking it to the next level is the Worldscape Laptop Orchestra (pictured left) -- a fifty person laptop musician collective who put on an orchestrated, fully rehearsed all laptop  performance a couple of months ago at Britain's University of York, led by composer Dr Ambrose Field who acted as the performance's conductor (just like in a traditional full orchestra). The group's goal, he said, is to help pave the way in music for "larger all-digital ensembles."

The Worldscape Laptop Orchestra's 50 performers each worked exclusively with Apple laptops (their sponsor) as their instrument with custom software that was produced to enable wireless communication with each computer sharing audio and control data. The full range of software functionality used in the performance included video detection where hand movements of performers were decoded by the MacBooks.

Continue reading...

The Growing Global Problem of E-Waste

Posted by Billyjam, January 30, 2008 09:00am | Post a Comment

If you are like most people, odds are that your old cell phone or old phones are sitting gathering dust in a drawer or box at your home. 

Maybe you believe that you might actually use that outdated but technically still-functional old Nokia one day again. Or maybe you never got around to transferring all the old phone numbers. Or perhaps it holds a certain sentimental value and you just can't seem to part with it.

Almost statistically as likely are the odds that you also still have an old PC or laptop sitting around the house (or garage or storage unit) as well, even though you won't be using that anymore either.  Add up all of these obsolete electronic components in every household and you have a lot of future e-waste -- something that is already a serious problem with chronic potential on global scale.

Old unused cell phones, obsolete computers, cameras, old TVs, and various other assorted outdated or busted electronic units and parts are all part of the mounting global e-waste problem since they eventually will be dumped. And e-waste, like global warming, is a very serious pending problem for the earth and its inhabitants.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that there are approximately 500 million obsolete computers with millions and millions of unwanted cell phones being retired annually. Even by 2005 the United States Geological Survey estimated that there were already half a billion old unused phones in the US. In total the USA owns approximately 3 billion electronic products with approximately 2.2 billion tons becoming e-waste annually. And most of this e-waste gets shipped to poorer countries like China, India, and Nigeria.

The problem with e-waste such as old electronics like computers and cell phones is that they are highly toxic -- made out of metals and plastics and other non-biodegradable components that are complex and hence expensive to separate. Old computers are loaded with hazardous chemicals. Mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, cobalt, zinc, chromium are among some of the toxic materials found in your average PC. And when they are dumped improperly (which is usually the case), these chemicals seep into the environment or are dumped into rivers, or more immediately poison the poor workers in third world countries who, to eek out a measly living, are contaminated by the toxins and lack of protection in their working conditions.
 
So what do we do? How and where do we get rid of our e-waste? For starters, environmentalists suggest, try not to keep buying new electronic items when you really don't need them. And then when you are finished with them, dispose of them immediately and correctly. 

Continue reading...
<<  1  2  >>  NEXT