Viral Worlds at MIT 6 Media In Transition

The below was accepted for MIT 6: Media in Transition (April 24-26) but it needs work! Apart from the overblown title, I hope I can modulate the “Conventional media historians” line so it reads less like a target and more like a point of it still de rigueur to mention Barthes Baudrillard D& G et al, or will they let me refer back to Spengler who is cerrtainly not text of the month..

Experientially Pollinating Virtuality and the Living Transcripts of Escape Space
Current notions of place, culture, and media, are all open to question. In terms of place: will the virtual supplant the real? Spengler wrote “This machine technics will end with the Faustian civilization and one day will lie in fragments, forgotten — our railways and steamships as dead as the Roman roads and the Chinese wall, our giant cities and skyscrapers in ruins like old Memphis and Babylon.”

Perhaps Spengler was prescient yet not accurately domain-specific. In this carbon-guilty era, game-playing and virtual world inhabitation is fast approaching the numbers and profits of the tourist and moviemaking industries. Architecture schools teach studio design using game engines, gamers play at home rather than in arcades, and you can enjoy the scenery of Capri from the comfort of your desktop. The media history of virtual worlds is diverging due to the cognitively competing demands of reading text or exploring 3D space. Conventional media historians may attempt to reconcile this dilemma with terms like “narrative space”, but unless they themselves design, they are probably unaware of the profound design differences between virtual and real place-making.

How does place-based virtual action affect civilization and culture? Oswald Spengler attempted to carefully distinguish the two terms; civilization comprises the laws that allow people to live close together, in a city, civitas. Culture is what is cultivated or allows one to cultivate a setting, a local domain. Yet with modernization’s separation of people from agricultural production, civilization and culture are increasingly seen as conduct and taste or consumer-specific market. Architectural historians and philosophers aren’t qualified to tackle this writhing new field unless they are also experienced in the areas of interactive entertainment, user experience design, and learning / cognition theory.

Where to next? The ill-fated MIT Media Lab Europe pioneered early research in the area of biofeedback and virtual environments, it would take only a little leap to an era where audience-environment-players past present and future, all share not just data and rendered polygons, but also participate in embodied experience. Imagine biofed virtual worlds where the passive, subconscious and otherwise unpredictable embodied responses of the audience affect both the virtual world, and future players. I suggest the zenith of this development will be when we have genuine living scripts in virtual worlds: where players experience augments the [virtual] world history. So the concept of media transmission and storage changes to media pollination.

I can illustrate this development (Figure 1) with two case studies/projects, but I would like to spend more time asking the audience how we designers should tackle the issue of counterfactual creativity versus the traditional virtual of authenticity and authorial narrativity. And for media academics, are they trained to handle these changes? If there is a change in virtual worlds from the sterile and predestined to intermedial fusion of audience and player, will there be a call for new skills and boundary definitions in media history?
Footnote:  Oswald Spengler, Man and Technics, translated by C. F. Atkinson, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1932, page 96.


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