Friday, February 25, 2011

Virtual reality needs real writers

So why do so few writers from other mediums take on gaming? And why is most of the writing in computer games – as even the ardent gameheads in the Game Theory Online film say openly – so bad? Part of the problem is clearly to do with priorities. As the game writer and former critic Rhianna Pratchett says in the film: "Story is often the last thing thought about and the first thing pulled apart." So much effort goes into making spectacular worlds, tackling the technical logistics and ensuring the playing experience is enjoyable that decent plot and dialogue fall by the wayside. - Virtual reality needs real writers, The Guardian

Thesis Extract. Layering

Layering in Design
Layering emerges from the procedural processes in the digital texts, which emphasize navigation as part of reading. The combination of audio, moving and still images, linked sections, architectural components, (walls, buildings, rooms etc), objects and characters make up the layers of the works. Layering in reading, Katherine Hayles explains, includes “the practices of concealing and revealing [that] offer fertile ground for aesthetic and artistic exploration,” which in reading “reveal themselves according to time sequences, cursor movements, and other criteria” (Mother 54). The criteria I have located in the works of this study that are part of layering include spatial relations and haptic properties. Being able to grasp objects in the works (e.g. Façade and Dreamaphage) and move around designed spaces brings the layering in the works to the fore. Layering as a spatial and temporal organization of the narrative restricts reading and outcomes. Layering includes the elements in the texts, such as the architecture created by the system of links, which develop into the possible combinations of narrative. Furthermore, layering restricts readings by configuring relations within the text, based on the elements that combine in the order of events and navigation in the texts. I discuss layering as it applies to the images moving over written text, accompanied by sound in Last Meal Requested, and the sequencing of elements based on keywords in Façade. In Dreamaphage layering is made up of the combinations of audio and visual files, written text, images and audio sources. While Façade features layering that relies on the use of language to connect the objects, the designed space and the characters, and includes the reader in each possible arrangement of criteria.

Depth is an intrinsic part of the representation of space in design, particularly because of how it directs movement in the navigation of the works. Layering results in a sense of depth in reading, whereby order is imposed on single or combinations of narrative events and actions in set sequences. The result is a defined reader perspective in relation to the near and far, future, present and past as part of narrative. Depth is composed of a system of representative elements that makes “the near and far possible as distinguishable but inseparable parameters; it is also what serves to connect them as aspects of the same field” (Casey 66). By making one element appear closer than another, in time and space, an impression of depth is established in narrative. By portraying what is near and far from a particular point within its design structures, through visual and temporal means, a sense of movement can be achieved in navigating the digital work. The movement through the narrative that results from the depiction of depth in the works can be movement in time or space or a combination of both.

Layering plays a significant role in narrative. The examples of layering discussed in this chapter are part of the emergence of the spatial dimensions in the narratives of the texts. In my analysis, chains of associations between the physical attributes of the texts as part of design, and the associated meanings in narrative are established. The meanings drawn from these attributes and the implications they have for reading are highlighted. By critiquing design in relation to layering and the resulting depth, it shows that the works are relatively stable, although complex entities, and are therefore readable with clear indicators of how narratives are realized in each. Layering is used to combine and codify the deign elements and as a result they illustrate the restrictions that are imposed upon reading. The primary narrative areas restricted by layering are connected to the representation of space and time. The temporal is restricted to a particular order of events and actions through the arrangement of layers in design. The representation of historical time can also be manipulated through layering, with distant events made more proximal in space though the overlaying of more recent events as I describe below in Last Meal Requested. As key events are triggered via the navigation of the reader a specific narrative chronology is developed. The layering of the texts coordinates the events that compose these narrative chronologies. The spaces that make up narrative are layered in design according to how they can be arranged and navigated in reading. These layers both guide and restrict the possible ways the texts can be responded to.

Layering and Reading
The layering of elements in the design restricts readings of the works. These restrictions center on the representation of perspective in the work. Layering arranges the narrative events and actions in the sense of one relating to another in reading. In the relating of one event or action layering builds upon the procedural order of the work, whereby if it not simply the order of events or actions which the design of the work controls, but the possibilities for relating these events and actions to each other according to the mechanics of reading. This function operates in a similar way in each of the digital works discussed in this study. The second function of layering in is that it creates a sense of perspective for the reader. Perspective in Last Meal Requested is built upon the first person recounting in audio and visual media of the three themes of the work: state violence, racial violence and violence against women. Five layers of audio can be played while still images move over the written portions of the work (See Figure 3 below). As I explain below, the layering that results from this arrangement sets up variations of an asynchronized, multimedia, first person perspective for the reader in real time.

Reading Time in Last Meal Requested
In reading Last Meal Requested the temporal is established through a system of layering that relates anachronistic elements to each other, creating a perspective of a permanent present. The design of Last Meal Requested features images of historical figures and events from the distant past (from 1906-1919) that move over written descriptions of more recent figures and events (from 1989). The visual images block out the written descriptions of the more recent events and emphasize the images of the distant past. This layering between the images and written text creates an inverted time frame in Last Meal Requested. The material configuration of Last Meal Requested becomes the dominant temporal context for its reading. This inversion of the temporal is realized spatially in the design of the work, and sets up associations according to the breaks and contrasts between the visual and written. The reader of Last Meal Requested is propelled into becoming a witness to the themes centered on violence in various forms towards racial, ethnic and sexual minorities.

Figure 3: Last Meal Requested layering between an image obscuring writing.

The temporal distance between the layers of Last Meal Requested are reconciled in reading through the material attributes of the work. There are a number of material similarities between the video of the beating of Rodney King and the lynching photos, which make this reconciliation possible. The King video is a looped video film made by an eyewitness of the beating of King by LAPD officers. In perspective and time the King video originates at the site of the event it depicts and places the viewer in a relationship with that event. The lynching images are taken from postcard photos taken at the scene of each lynching, that were reproduced in large numbers and sold as souvenirs or mementoes of the event (See Als and Allen 14). Like the surveillance camera of today, both the King video and the lynching post cards provide evidence of an event in the form of a visual artifact in an iconic sense. The time and site of the event are linked to the viewer as a testimonial of truth via the composition of the visual artifact. The composition of the lynching post cards is always centered on a point in relation to the hanging corpse. In the five lynching images of Last Meal Requested, the line of sight originates in the crowd below the hanged body of the victim. The video of the King beating positions the viewer on the roadside opposite and slightly raised from where the victim lies. The ten second loop from the King video provides a fixed recurring moment taken from the original nine minutes of footage shot in 1989. In the lynching images and the King video the visual conditions of the eye witness are recreated for the reader of Last Meal Requested. In this way the temporal differences between the images, audio and writing de-emphasize the representative elements of the work, and instead the material configuration takes over as organizing the time of the narrative.

The disruption of the written word by the animated image suggests a focus on the spatial and visual attributes rather than interpretive structures suggested by the written word in Last Meal Requested. The images of violence that move over the written descriptions of the assault on Rodney King by LAPD, the execution of a woman by the Afghani Taliban and the gassing of the Kurdish residents of Halabjah render them difficult to read. The written accounts are obscured by the visual images of the event. Passages such as “Unaware that the incident had been videotaped the police officers filed inaccurate reports, not mentioning the fact that Rodney King was left with any head wounds” (Last Meal Requested) are made distant by the layering of images of lynch mobs. By obscuring the written portions of the text, a sense of depth is implied through the distance it achieves. The reader becomes a witness to the (recorded) events in terms of perspective of time and space. A hierarchy is established through the depiction of depth, with the written accounts as the most fragmented, obscured and distant, but also the most historically recent. The layering of the text makes the near past become distant and brings the distant past near. The procession of time is inverted by the layering of Last Meal Requested. As narrative events the images occur in the dynamic time of the animation, as opposed to the recounted time of the written retelling.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Postdoctoral Position in the Humanities, Culture and the Digital (Digital Humanities)

Location: HUMlab, SE-901 87, Umeå, Västerbotten 90187, Sweden

Situated at Umeå University in the north east of Sweden, HUMlab explores the intersection between the humanities, culture and the digital. We are now extending our core research group through another planned postdoctoral position in the digital humanities. The work in HUMlab is canalized through a strong studio space and associated digital environments. The lab encourages and supports multiple modes of engagement between the digital and the humanities: tool, object of inquiry, expressive medium and exploratory laboratory.

See here for the HUMlab movie trailer.

Humanities and cultural studies, their objects of study and practices are profoundly affected by information technology and the digital. Examples of possible areas for postdoctoral projects include (but are not restricted to): Computer games studies, visualization of humanities materials, Fan Fiction, online practices, digital humanities as a research area, embodiment and the digital, gender and information technology, digital art, digitally mediated language and communication, academic activism, humanities infrastuctures, interactive architecture, aesthetic theory, digital creative industries and new digital means of publication for thehumanities.

Applicant’s research background may be in a humanities subject or from another relevant area.

For further information about the digital humanities position, please contact Patrik Svensson,

Visit the website (Swedish language):

Official announcement (in Swedish) is available here.
Reference number 315-127-11.


Applications shall include:

* A complete curriculum vitae (CV)
* A list of publications
* A research plan of 5-8 pages

Applicants must have obtained their doctorate within the last three years and not held a postdoctoral position before.

Documents sent electronically should be in MS Word or PDF format. Your complete
application, marked with the reference number should be sent to (state the reference number as subject) or to the Registrar, Umeå University, SE-901 87 Umeå, Sweden to arrive March 21, 2011 at the latest.

Union information is available from SACO, +46-(0)90-786 53 65, SEKO, +46-(0)90-786 52 96 and ST, +46-(0)90-786 54 31.

We look forward to receiving your application!

Morning View from Kitchen Window

Good morning!

Monday, February 14, 2011


A dozen stories from a transcontinental shamanic crew. Some of these tunes were recorded specially for this compilation, some were taken from dusty shelves folders, some are spreading mellow folk mood, some are droning out psych vibes, but all are captured with one big hug of love to the contemporary experimental scene which is much wider and interesting than it could ever be imagined. Don't think "underground" — think "space is the place".

I (Nada Baba) have a track on a collection of sounds from the global inner space agency. Set you headphones on, turn out the lights and listen to this one.

The whole story can be found here along with more fine sounds.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yoshikaze Up-in-the-Air Residency Exhibition in HUMlab

This is a short video of myself presenting artist Garrett Lynch's work from a two month Yoshikaze residency on the HUMlab Second Life Island last Wednesday. Garrett made a performance that was mix of video streaming, coded prims and sound in Second Life, and that is what you can see on the big screen. The smaller screens show various video installation pieces Garrett made during the residency.

Thanks to Garrett, Sachiko Hayashi, Calle, Johan, Toby, Stephanie (who made the video), Jon, Emma and the whole HUMlab crew.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Revolution will be Perspectival

I like many people outside the continental USA (where cable companies refuse to carry it) have been watching the live transmission of Al Jazzera covering the uprising in Egypt. It has been an amazing few weeks in this most strategic and pivotal of Arab lands. What I have found interesting, following from the online coverage of the uprisings in Tunisia, Iran last summer, and the Israeli invasion of Gaza over New Year 2008-2009, is that the coverage of the Egyptian uprising has reached another level, literally. The viewers of Al Jazeera witness the demonstrations in central Cairo from above, in an omniscient God-view. Cameras positioned about the city lift the view above the mass scenes and provide an almost diagrammatical image of the city and what is happening in it. The scene takes on the perspective of a map, with live actors inhabiting it in real time.

Scenes taken from different locations are aligned in time and space in a single full screen image

The view can see both sides of the sitation as it stands on the ground, the military and the 'protesters' (actually a number of groups, from socialists to religious)

Commentators are also in the sky, looking down on the mass with us and providing explanations of events and a guide to the topography of what we are all looking at.

Scenes are broken down into their components, with camera moving from ground level to the frame of buildings. In these two images the commentator talks us through first the identity of the building we are looking at, the State Television Building;

And then, as the camera gaze corresponds with his words, we are shown groups of people gathered in front of the building. These groups had apparently been preventing people from entering or leaving the building.

In this sequence of images an interconnected series of perspectives that can be navigated are presented to the viewer with text superimposed on them to explain either what one is seeing or their contexts. The perspective is removed from the events and gives a long enough time and space frame for multiples to be combined. We are watching now a live world of interactions as the drama of surveillance. The news swallows the city of Cairo, its people and the time they exist in, re-presenting them in a series of fields of action that change only according to the view of the cameras. It reminds me of the third-person, so-called god-view of The Sims City.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Garrett Lynch in HUMlab

Yoshikaze "Up-In-The-Air" Second Life Residency Presents


8-14 February, 2011
at HUMlab, Umeå University, Sweden

Opening Hours : 8am-4pm (Weekdays)

Opening : 8 February Between 2pm-4pm

Mixed Reality Performance by the Artist at the Opening at 3pm (CET)
Open to SL Audience at 6am (SLT)
Live Streaming of the Performance:

Yoshikaze Second Life Location:

"Identity is the basis of my practice in Second Life, a practice which forms a part of my larger networked practice that deals with networks as a site and context for artistic initiation, creation and discourse. …Online worlds such as Second Life however move identity beyond the codified online usernames or static visual iconography that we have until now employed." (Garrett Lynch)

Centered around his avatar as the sole subject of his ongoing research into virtual identity, Garrett Lynch represents a new generation of Second Life artists for whom the shift in focus from novelty in the virtual to a deepened sense of the virtual has come to emerge as a natural progression. By incorporating Google Earth, Max/Msp and CamTwist into Second Life art practice, Lynch's work establishes a unique path which inquires into our confounding cognitive process of differentiating the real from the virtual. Beneath his tech savviness that expands Second Life's boundary into several external devices lies the core of his exploration into the nature of representation in the era of virtuality, the unknown territory of multiple realities which even encompasses several layers of virtualities.

During December 2010 and January 2011 Garrett Lynch has produced a number of remarkable works at the Humlab island in Second Life as the resident Yoshikaze's "Up-In-The-Air" artist. Yoshikaze is proud to present these works in an exhibition at HUMlab, Umeå University, between 8-14 February 2011. In conjunction with the HUMlab exhibition, the Yoshikaze studio in Second Life will be open to the public.

Sachiko Hayashi: Yoshikaze Curator
James Barrett: SL HUMlab Sim Manager

Yoshikaze "Up-in-the-Air" Residency ( is a Second Life residency programme run by Sachiko Hayashi with James Barrett from HUMlab, Umeå University, Sweden. As part of HUMlab (, Yoshikaze supports SL artists in their pursuit of virtual art practices and researches.