DIOGENEAN CYNICISM IN AN AGE OF VIDEOLUDIC INNOCENCE

HORSE SENSE

an annotation on KENTUCKY ROUTE ZERO, ACT I

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When in 1975 the programmer William Crowther began transposing to digits the maze of twisty little passages that is the landmark Mammoth Cave complex underneath Kentucky, he may have unwillingly engendered the very first specimen of interactive, wholly textual fiction in which the portrayal of a real experience, as acquired from his subjective point of view, blends seamlessly with elements of literary fantasy. Part of the rightful merit belonging to this early page of the electronic entertainment record is derived from the circumstances inherent to the outset of his legendary Colossal Cave Adventure: a voluntary, part-time endeavor where various aspects of his life converged, from his keen interest in activities as dissimilar as speleology and tabletop games, to motives of a personal and emotional order.

Not unlike other forerunning treasures pertaining to digital prehistory, his seven-hundred odd lines of FORTRAN code would have likely been lost into the ether were it not for their rediscovery soon after and their subsequent improvement. The following year, Dan Woods, startled upon the accidental finding of the program stored in a Stanford University computer, would be responsible for compiling the enhanced edition which is still played and esteemed today for its visionary layout. The conclusion of this ensuing cooperation stands to this date as the unyielding pillar of adventure videogames as well as a seminal contribution to the blooming field of IF.

Decades after the PDP-10 and the ARPANET were deemed obsolescent, the practices of interplay altered drastically as an ever expanding industrial establishment was constructed above the early foundations cast by such guileless men – and, lest we forget, women - who sought only to hone the potential of mere workstations long before the arrival of personal computers. In less than frequent cases, it must be noted, the current creative impetus remains analogous to that which drove these unsullied architects to devise the first known pieces of digital entertainment and interactive narratives, aided by their coarse technological ally; however, the methods and ambitions cultivated ever since grew misaligned with these noble and unpretentious origins. Consumers, by and large, were sidetracked inchmeal from the substance which could bestow value to their playtime with the stimulus of quality. Fiction became adventure; became visual and aural; became a formulaic parody of its former glories. Stagnated in its revivalist gear and held captive by its hallmark quirks and irksome atavisms, the genre is largely confined to upgraded simulacra of the climaxes from a now distant golden age.

Evidencing the vital contrast between such dominating retro trends lacking in authenticity and a full-fledged work of original fiction rooted in historic references, Kentucky Route Zero had the unique distinction of being exemplary even before the project reached its completion. Whether or not they could make sense of what they saw, sheer intuition persuaded many to turn their attention to its tantalizing debut footage whilst recognizing, undividedly, that a giant was looming on the horizon. If this close collaboration between Jake Elliot and Tamas Kemenczy has inhabited more than a single corpus, and it has certainly presented itself in at least two different countenances, its expressive essence proved sufficiently cohesive to withstand the sweeping changes underwent throughout the creative process. And while ACT I is solely the introductory segment of a senecan quintefoil, it already encompasses ample import to be saluted for its reverent consummation of computer games as a laudable storytelling medium – one of vast, latent wherewithal.

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MISE EN ABYME

a cultural assessment of Tale of Tales’ BIENTÔT L’ÉTÉ

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Baudrillard portended that the age of cybernetic hyperrealism was at once inescapable and inescapably bound to an erosive process of self-exhaustion. If the simulated is, commonsensically, a more or less persuasive corollary of the real, the artificial is therefore under the commitment of replicating that which is initially authentic. There exists, then, a logical threshold of possibilities in any given form of mimesis, unvaryingly restricted to the computerization of subjects or objects that statutorily precede it. To the French theorist, constructs of a ubiquitous digital reality, as those incessantly envisioned in the vatic narratives of scientific fiction, cannot exceed the consequence of mere replications programmed to duplicate entities or ideas severed from their chronological habitat, in addition to their veritable emotional or intellectual cogency; they consist only of forceful hallucinations, destitute of an identity, significance or any foreseeable prospect, since all historic referentials are consumed and dissolved when recreated. The real is then impeded to produce itself anew, although its operative ersatz – seductive mirrored image - equally contributes to the eradication of that condition inherent to humankind: an unknown point of origin, a volatile longevity and the certitude of death.

The theme of Human finitude is singularly portrayed in the very first screen of Bientôt l’été, a perpetual sequence of linear motion across the greater void and its lifeless celestial bodies. Two, male and female, waft amidst the nothingness, disengaged from sidereal time, bereft of a self – vessels, as idle as the space they inhabit, silently awaiting remote embodiment. Guarded from one another in the deserted hollowness of their existence, which they experience solely in a dormant state, their awakening is simultaneously their entrancement in a simulation deriving from memories and feelings of previous, truer forms of being.

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NON SEQUITUR

— The heritage of Surrealism & Lowbrow in video games —

written in March 2009


I. FOREWORD

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The aftermath of World War I was characterized by an unparalleled affluence of stylistic currents whose virtues inspired original tendencies in art, philosophy and academia. This reciprocal communion between separate areas of knowledge culminated in a critical and not so distant segment of history during which anarchic mentalities, capable of the most eccentric and incendiary outbursts, exalted a distinctive conception of social practices. Surrealism, in the quality of a cultural reform, stemmed from an isolated cell of preeminent members belonging to another Post-World War ensemble, the Dada, fundamentally demarcated by its anti-academic and politically-abhorrent stance. Once the movement was disbanded, a few from among the most distinguished Dadaists suggested an innovative approach to writing, formidable enough to instigate an altogether new cause in the year 1924, its onset signaled by the circulation of the first Surrealist Manifesto.

In the wake of two decades of ideological debates and numerous publications which formed a body of literature strictly based on automatic writing techniques – no doubt empowered by the latest advancements in the disciplines of cognitive science –, this formerly organized anti-establishment offense was dissolved; its scattered founders converging around a pledge of untried opportunities to be found in exile, a little further to the west. Notwithstanding, a style of executing art did endure, in itself a fertile ground for an atypical embodiment of Reason and Thought that would find continuance in the works of those who devised and embarked upon the surrealist revolution, together with the many factions who avidly assimilated this methodological dissonance in subsequent years as the basis of their individual utterance. Surrealism evolved into a school broadly definable by the absence of censorship in the flow of assessments and creativity. Today, the persisting image correlated to its name is first and foremost one of synthesized impossibilities, of uncanny dreamscapes – an imagery embraced during the ascension of Metaphysic Painting, albeit derivative of a Symbolist conviction – and aberrant juxtapositions of unchained elements, not unlike those immortalized by the work of Dali, Ernst, Tanguy or Magritte.

In effect, the disbanding of the pioneering group certainly did not implicate the terminus of the surrealist momentum. By the end of the 1970’s, an uncompromising cluster of leftfield creatives from across the United States of America engendered an alternative branch, resting on analogous precepts, consisting of a mass-appeal surrealist hybrid which is admittedly visual, urban, hurriedly flourishing in voguish formats such as comic strips, punk music and, adequately, the emerging digital arts. This selection of surrogate and vanguardist means of communication as an agency with which to explore novel breeds of artistic statements is at very root of Lowbrow, a designation resulting from the forced opposition to Highbrow, in other words the intellectual superiority as promoted by the traditional and consecrated cultural elite.

Planned as a recurrent feature, the purpose of Non Sequitur will be to heighten a number of digital specimens whose attributes may hopefully demonstrate how these enlightened insurgences have also permeated the creative space of other, more recent forms of expression, namely video games, a medium which in its unremitting quest for an identity has been exercising a sizable influence in pop culture since the late 1970s. If the concept of ludus lays claim to a substantial intimacy in relation to Surrealism, then it is also true that digital games have equally established their design and mechanics on selected enunciations of this early twentieth century school, not to mention the palpable aesthetical references it once emanated with admirable vigor. To a series of artists and theorists who have envisioned the dramatic changes leading to Surrealism as the evasion from the tyranny of convention or, more expansively, the invariables to which corporeal beings are bound, the field of videogames proposes a tempting deviation towards the circumvention of objectivity.

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Embodiment

PixelJunk 4am and the legacy of the Gutai Group

When the abilities of the individual were united with the chosen material in the melting-pot of psychic automatism, we were overwhelmed by the shape of space still unknown to us, never before seen or experienced. Automatism naturally made the image which did not occur to us. Instead of relying on our own image, we have struggled to find an original method of creating that space. - Jiro Yoshihara, in The Gutai Manifesto (1956)

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The Forbidden Fruit

a brief interpretative study of Plastic’s DATURA


Evading the severe commercial determinism that has shaped the games industry for the better part its existence, the demoscene collective, another offspring of the digital age, has thrived during the last three decades despite being firmly rooted on purely non-commercial principles. Assuming the unorthodox identity of a technologic subculture with patent artistic concerns, its singular real-time audiovisual abstractions have supplied the leitmotif for numerous video game productions - some of which highly reputed on account of their purported originality and aesthetic grandeur. In recent years, an ever-expanding group of reformists has sought to reconcile the foundations of game design with the creative liberty that is unique to the computer arts milieu. One notable example of this struggle can be found in the seminal Real-time Art Manifesto, penned by Harvey & Samyn in 2006: two outsiders whose original works and theory advocate the liberation of interactivity from the confines of the game establishment.

Founded and based in Poland, Plastic stands out as one among an elite of demogroups whose scrupulous contributions to the advancement of computer graphic technologies still beg for greater recognition. Their first PlayStation 3 project Linger in Shadows, released shortly before Farbrausch’s .detuned, was received with scant enthusiasm within a game community whose luminaries did little more than to praise its visual splendor. To those working in the same field, however, it was deemed a triumph not only on account of its elegant interactive attributes, yet also for the overall brilliance which merited the sponsorship from a major international enterprise. This liaison between the team led by Michal Staniszewski, as was revealed of late, included another venture under the suggestive title Datura: comparatively more audacious an undertaking, part of its technological challenges were outsourced to able hands. Because the demoscene’s widely adopted method is customarily based on passive technologic sophistication, the understanding of this meaningful departure and its repercussions - in the quality of a fully interactive hybrid - entails a more tactful approach.

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IDEAS OF ORDER

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POSTPLAY is a project founded on the fundamental principle that a video game is only as relevant as the contemplations or debates it provokes may be equally worthy of note; that the most significant games are, by definition, those which are capable of stimulating an edifying discussion and different degrees of contemplation. This, however, does not insinuate that a widely discussed title is, by definition, pertinent; quite the contrary, for this same criterion presupposes that the character and corollary of the dialogue it incites provide an authentic intimation of its veritable merit.

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