Visualizations are created to make data more legible. They are intended to give us a neutral portrait, so to speak, of how collections of data relate to each other. In so doing, they make information accessible to us that would otherwise be obscured by its scale in a manner that is easily comprehended. Data is presented to us exactly for what it is so that it may foster the communication of information through the recognition of connections or relationships. This method of attempting to show data in an unadulterated, albeit creative way sees data more as its subject matter than its raw material. As laudable as this effort is, data as representation does not have to be the only way visualization is approached. Nor should a traditional visualization ever necessarily be perceived as the full picture. It should always be understood that there is an elusive, human, element, whether knowledge or otherwise, embedded in what is being communicated.
For artists such as Nathalie Miebach and Stefanie Posavec, the notion of visualization becomes more broadly defined and expressive. Both women spoke at this year’s Eyeo Festival and during their talks expounded upon and expanded the definition of data visualization proper. Firstly, for each the ability to work with their hands or to be able to tactilely interact with something visualized was very important.
For Miebach the inability to touch a visualization or to fully explore it with the contours of her hand made it difficult to truly comprehend. Posavec acknowledged there were different emotions associated with hand-making something and making something with a machine. While it might seem odd to focus on the hands when talking about visualizations it is important to understand the approach to it as modeling an object or design out of a raw material rather than to merely attempt to show it. The hand or body as a human experience that is something that can be lost in the flatness of a digital image, interactive or otherwise.
Take Miebach’s sculptures for example. She uses as her subject matter weather data from various environments and histories. She then either translates it into music or into colorfully elaborate weaved sculptures. For the sculptor cum visualist there is a subjective appeal to how she generates her creations. Whereas typical visualizations are “’didactic” in how they present data she calls her sculptures ”poetic”. She takes joy in the ability to walk around and explore the sculptures rather than sacrifice that dimensionality to the computer screen. For her it’s as important to foster an experience with the data as it is to discover new connections. Instead, in the same way folk stories preserve history, she creates narratives that contain traces of information. During her talk at Eyeo she asked whether fact and fiction could coexist and whether information becomes fictional by blending them together. The expression data in service of telling story becomes tantamount to their presentation. Like an abstract painting that does not come right out and say what its about but instead provides parameters for interpretation, her sculptures turn information into a panoply of meaning.
By that same token, Stefanie Posavec takes a similar, yet opposite approach. She uses fiction to generate data instead of the other way around. Using novels such as Kerouac’s On the Road she employs what she calls “data illustration” to trace patterns in the writing. By personally exploring the texts, she ‘visualizes’ styles and themes that reveal themselves to her within the immanent space of the book. The content of the book intermingles with her own personal traversal of the text to generate a new way of generating meaning from the ‘data’ that is already there. A new way of reading then begets a series of colorful illustrations that document her experience.
At Eyeo she characterized data as a lens for which to see a subject from an entirely new angle. The angle becomes primary over the data as a tool to see or as she calls it, a “souvenir of human engagement.” Posavec is then able to navigate a text, such as The Origin of Species, using data to discover design solutions, as she says, where informational insights aren’t the main purpose of the visualization. Taking the edits and updates between different editions of Darwin’s famous text she generates imagery that is aesthetically related to the subject matter in the form of botanically and organically inspired abstract images.
In both cases, data is not the primary focus of what is being visualized but springboard into something not as scientifically well-wrought but on the contrary is much more human and intangible. They are about not just seeing in a new way, but also creating new objects out of what already exists perhaps in contrast to the character of the so-called New Aesthetic. They are not satisfied with simply foisting a singular means of seeing the world upon us but offering something more shifting and elusive. They are bodily insofar that Miebach’s sculptures can be touched and walked around and Posavec’s designs are generated out of the physical effort of drawing them out over time. We don’t just look and see an image but something that we cannot immediately appertain and qualify. For both artists there is a kind of meaning the data can generate but that isn’t necessarily in the data itself. Data visualization is already in some cases an abstract enterprise in how the data is presented. However, in the same way that representational art sought to imitate the appearance of something that exists in real life, so too do representational visualizations. A standard visualization practice typically involves taking a large amount of data that is incomprehensible to an individual on a macro level and presenting it in such away that it is both visually appealing and legible. Often the former effort is an extension of the latter wherein an appeal to aesthetic sensibilities generates an interest in the data that is being showcased. In other cases it is a matter of finding the visual design that most clearly presents the data. In contrast, the data expressionism of Miebach and Posavec doesn’t attempt to neutrally visualize the data they are using. And whereas data representations refer to themselves insofar that they are visualizing their own raw material as subject matter, data expressionism uses data more as a starting point to suggest something that is indefinable and ambiguous, yet still truthful.
Representationalist visualization is all about pattern recognition and stopping at those patterns as enough to generate understanding. However, there will always be a danger that those patterns subsume what they are intended to represent on a superficial or limited level. Miebach and Posavec remind us that as important as data is for certain ends we cannot forget what could potentially exist beyond the mere image in the form of human experience.
- Tele-Present Water [MaxMSP, Arduino] Created by David Bowen, Tele-Present Water installation draws information from the intensity and movement of the water in a remote location. Wave data is collected in real-time from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data buoy station 46075 Shumagin Islands Alaska. The wave intensity and frequency is scaled and transferred to the mechanical grid structure resulting in a simulation of the physical effects caused by the movement of water from this distant location. The installation uses MAX/MSP to drive an Arduino mega running servo firmata. It uses 11 x 24volt dc motors with drivers for the movement. In May this year Tele-Present Water received one of three ex aequo awards in Alternative Now: The 14th Media Art Biennale WRO 2011, Wroclaw, Poland. //thanks for the tip Joost 11 x 24volt dc motors Photo by Alicja Kołodziejczyk - source Photo by Ewa Wójtowicz […]
- ‘Point Cloud’ – Arduino structure by James Leng breathes weather data Created by James Leng, Point Cloud is an attempt to re-imagine our daily interaction with weather data. Even with the modern scientific and technological developments related to weather and when we can deploy sophisticated monitoring devices to document and observe weather, our analysis and understanding of meteorology is still largely approximate. Weather continues to surprise us and elude our best attempts to predict, control, and harness the various elements. Point Cloud builds on this premise, exploring new ways to interpret and understand weather data. Weather has always had a unique place in our lives, because it has a multiplicity that encompasses both the concrete and the indeterminate. It is the intangible context within which we build our lives and our cities, but it is also the physical element against which we create protective shelter. Most of the time it is an invisible network that we can see but are not aware of; yet it can manifest in a spectacle or disaster, come forward and activate our senses, make us forget our rationality in delight or fear. Point Cloud is a sculptural form defined by a thin wire mesh, driven asynchronously by 8 individual servos controlled via Arduino. As whiteness of the hanging structure begins to disappear into the background, the viewer is treated to a constantly morphing swarm of black points dancing through midair. In the current prototype, the speed, smoothness, and direction of rotation are modulated to interpret a live feed of weather data. Instead of displaying static values of temperature, humidity, or precipitation, Point Cloud performs the data, dynamically shifting between stability and turbulence, expansion and contraction. flickr […]
- Eyeo 2012 – Afterthoughts and asides Eyeo, eyeo, eyeo – well, where to begin? At the best of times providing an overarching review of a festival is an exercise in exclusion and cobbling together a vague impression of the second edition of Eyeo is no exception. In fact, one could say that Eyeo is pretty much a conference organized around the idea that creative technologists are willing to travel all the way to Minnesota in order to be a room away from great artist talks and public conversations. An attendee simply has to surrender him/herself to the horrible burden of choice and constantly pick between presentations that are outright unmissable or simply very promising – it was a tough week let me tell you! I don't feel particularly compelled to provide an outright 'review' of the festival beyond saying "you should really go next year", but I thought it would be interesting to share (and expand on) some of the notes I made over the course of the week. • Paola Antonelli's talk was a super-savvy introduction to the proceedings. Not only because it was freewheeling and gregarious, but due to some of the underlying provocations she made. Antonelli 'zoomed out' from the specificity of the last several years and looked to the radical 70s for inspiration. Although it might be old hat for the architecture/urbanist set, it was great to see the work of Italian upstarts Superstudio serving as discussion fodder for a room full of interaction designers and creative coders. As was the case with Natalie Jeremijenko's presentation last year, the polemic urging the audience to think big and tackle complex issues was deeply appreciated. • The Ignite talks that chased Antonelli were great! Go watch Jen Lowe, Rachel Binx, Sha Hwang and Molly Steenson's speed presentations right now. • One of the fun undercurrents this year was accessibility. Self-described "hardware girl in a software crowd" Ayah Bdeir presented littleBits, an opensource library of snappable, magnetic modules perfect for teaching electronic fundamentals. Bdeir described her project as riffing on the logic of object-oriented programming to yield "interaction-oriented hardware" and the interoperability of littleBits resonated nicely with Golan Levin's presentation of his multi-brand toy construction system hack/augmentation The Free Universal Construction Kit from the night before. • Another prominent theme: ruminations on the extents of practice and the nature of performance. Kyle McDonald deadpanned that his largest ongoing performance project was email and while this was intended as a joke it underscored the degree to which participation in communities, knowledge and resource sharing (e.g. GitHub) is a key element of contemporary practice. Golan Levin dispelled the mythology of the TED talk and drew attention to the fact that the TED talks that end up online are hyper-edited to the point where "ums" and "maybes"are removed yielding seemingly seamless final cuts. Is the streamlined 17 minute talk a vital part of contemporary artist/designer 'brand management'? Undoubtedly. • Andrew Bell (the lead architect of Cinder) gave a thoroughly witty presentation on "how to be a creative coder and not have to underwrite it with something else" that deftly schematized the digital agency marketplace and how creative technologists can be 'free agents', invent their own jobs and still make rent each month. Keep an eye out for his slide deck as the last chunk of it has some pretty vital survival tips for those looking to swim with the sharks. • While I mentioned Antonelli's talk was an incendiary introduction, Kevin Slavin and Marius Watz's presentations could be read as the 'boots on the ground' bookends to the proceedings. Slavin opened with a sprawling consideration of "that fucking bastard that we've called luck" that parsed the history of gaming, the market and the social history of various cultures of control. Watz dedicated a good portion of his talk to outlining the parameters by which he—and the audience—might evaluate algorithmically generated work, in an attempt to cultivate a more constructive culture of self-critique within the (at times prone to back-patting) software art community. Both of these presentations moved well beyond the territory of standard artist talks and the payout was rich. • Regarding the previous point: Eyeo is where veteran speakers roll out and test their A game material. I would need more than two hands to count the number of speakers I saw revising, reworking and rethinking their talks and slide decks, right up until the very last minute in response to how previous sessions had unfolded. Chalk it up to a combination of nerves and a brain trust audience that 'gets it', there were a lot of fabulously earnest, ambitious and innovative presentations at Eyeo 2012. So there you have it, 5% of my notes on the 45% of the presentations that I attended (and I didn't even mention several of my favourite talks). The most succinct encapsulation of the event that I saw was tweeted by the aforementioned Sha Hwang, where he described it as a "high resolution, real time flocking simulation of artists, designers, coders, makers." I'm not going to argue with that characterization as the resolution certainly was high, I'll just point out that the key to navigating within a flock requires a delicate blend of alignment, cohesion and maintaining a bit of breathing room between you and your nearest neighbours – Eyeo delivered inspiration and provocation on all of these fronts. Eyeo Festival | Eyeo Vimeo Channel Photos: Chloe […]
- Daytum [iPhone, WebApp] Created by Nicholas Feltron and Ryan Case, Daytum for iPhone is complementary application for Daytum web app to track your daily activities. iPhone app allows you to add, edit and view entries to help collect and communicate the most important stats in your world. Daytum was originally conceived by Ryan Case and Nicholas Felton as an elegant and intuitive tool for counting and communicating personal statistics, inspired by Nicholas Felton's "Annual Reports" which he has been making since 2005. The iPhone app adopts the beautiful and familiar cyan and grey palette offering all the features you'd expect for inputting and tracking data on the go. Within the app, the entries page features an entry field and a list of recent entries. Tapping an item name or entry amount will link to their detail views. By swiping across an entry, you can quickly choose to re-add that item and amount at the current time, or choose to edit or delete the entry. The main item and category views are scrollable lists. Tap the button at the top of the page to add a new item or category. Click on an item or category to visit its detailed view, or swipe to quickly reveal edit and delete options. Not only can you add data quickly but also the app allows you to visualise the same data in beautiful graphs. Selecting an item or category from the list view loads the graph view. Dragging the handles below the graph allows for the default 2 week range to be adjusted. Drag over the graph to see the entry total for a specific day. In addition there is favourites view, a place to keep frequently referenced graphs. Save an item or category here by pressing the star icon on a graph. When it's blue, the graph has been saved to your favourites. As it can be expected, Nicholas and Ryan have done a wonderful job with the app. Although utilising in a lot of instances standard UIKit elements, there are tweeks and quirky elements that give the app unique feel. Some may miss the minimal feel of the web app, myself included, but the iPhone app seem to make the best of the two worlds. UI is light, fast and functional. Tracking your data requires discipline and persistence. My only concern with tools such as this has always been that they required 100% commitment which Nicholas is known for (see video below). I would love to see features added to the web app which allows you to pull activities from other sources such as RSS or Flickr, something that Momento does. The actual how this data can be filtered may be related to keywords or hashtags but never the less it would be great way to collect, analyse and reflect upon your activities. For the time being, Daytum relies much on your persistance to be able to reach a point and enought data is collected. With the knowledge that API is on it's way we can rest assured that most of the things I just mentioned are on the way. iPhone app is just the first step in that direction, using oAuth and undocumented and currently private API. To summarise, Daytum is a fantastic way to collect and track important stats. iPhone app is a wonderfully made and designed iPhone app to complement Daytum service. Considering it's free, including the web service which is also free, limited to 1000 entries giving you enough reason to try it. Should you feel this is something you'd like to continue using, a tiny fee of $4 a month should be no deterrent whatsoever. Platform: iPhone Version: 1.0 Cost: Free Developer: Daytum See also your.flowingdata […]
- “Exhausting Gameplay” by Douglas Edric Stanley / Theory, Games A significant percentage of video games employ in one way or another the figure of death. The thanatological sub-species of video game representations are practically endless: dismemberment, infection, untreatable wounds, explosion, etc. Players can be eaten, crushed, sliced, diced, quartered, electrocuted, impaled, and so on. Many of these representations are more or less approximate: in Doom, for example, a player’s state of “health” is represented by an abstract percentage value where players do not die of any specific organ failure, but instead from some sort of provoked exhaustion. In role playing games, players kill their opponents in a similar manner, i.e. by reducing this all-encompassing numerical value of their enemies to zero. In other games, players simply keel over, or disappear in a puff of smoke when touched, as in Pacman. In Super Mario Bros. players can just run out of time. Death in gaming is more a question of symbol than of substance. While we are still in the realm of simulation, the simulation is so figurative as pull us into an wholly other realm of representation. In his 1972 article on transcendence, gaming and “computer bums”, Stewart Brand used the term “symbolic” to describe the flickering figurations of death slowly taking over university computer science research consoles: “Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums“. //// The need for death in gaming is multifaceted. The cynical argument, largely based on the arcade experience, might describe death in gaming as an economical equation: in order to make more money, games needed to provoke death as quickly as possible in order to get to the next “insert coin”. But death in gaming has been with us practically since the beginning, or at least since 1962′s Space War, long before the video game arcade phenomenon became an economic reality. A less cynical, more narratological reading of eschatology and gaming might look at death as a question of motivation: by introducing death into the game, a certain internal dynamic is created, which in turn heightens the gameplay and structures the temporal form of the game itself. Given that the player will eventually die (from inaction, from inattention, from error, etc), the goal of the game becomes that of survival. The “game over” screen provides some sort of closure to the game and proposes — albeit post facto — a redefinition of the initiating act of the game: “I want to play” has now been translated within the gameworld into “I want to live”. //// A third approach would be to look at the material substrate of gaming itself: video games are played on machines and machines, eventually, break down. To quote Felix Guattari: “Machines are instilled with a desire for abolition. The emergence of the machine is accompanied by failures, catastrophes, and death which haunts it. La machine est travaillé par un désir d’abolition. Son émergence est doublée par la panne, la catastrophe, la mort qui la menace.” Chaosmose, Éditions Galilée, 1992, p.58. From this perspective, we could see the figure of death in gaming as an extension of this fatal impulse of the machine. The figure of death would be an attempt at sublimating the machine’s death drive into a poetic form — a form upon which a game world might be built. //// *Spoiler alert: you probably shouldn’t read any further if you haven’t played the games “Passage” (Free/Cheap, Mac/PC/Linux/iOS) or “Journey” (~15€, PS3). Especially Journey. Read at your own risk. While many video games represent death within their gameworld, or use death as a mechanism for the gameplay, there are three games in particular that employ death as the central raison d’être of the game: Jason Rohrer’s 2007 conceptual/indie gem “Passage“ Tale of Tales 2008 art-game meditation “The Graveyard“ That Game Company‘s latest (and greatest) creation “Journey” (2012). Long story short, all three of these games represent a character advancing towards his or her death. In Passage, a young man in a highly pixellated two-dimensional gameworld begins at the left side of an open maze and advances towards old age and death on the right side of the maze. During his passage from left to right the spritely blond-haired man evolves into a balding gray-haired old man who limps his way to his final steps. Early in the game he can choose love (or not) with a young woman who will age with him throughout the rest of the game. Their coupling makes the game more poignant, especially the ending, but renders certain movements more difficult within the various passages of the maze. In The Graveyard, we embody an old woman visiting a graveyard. The game is played in three-dimensions, using the standard aesthetic of real-time engine based rendering, albeit with the nice touch of a black and white palette. Like Passage, the game is short and spatially limited: the old woman can move forward or backward on a short path leading up to a church and a bench where she can sit down. As she rests, a song about nostalgia takes over the game, and (in the paid version) ends with the death of the woman, slumped over on the bench. Within the world of “indie gaming”, Journey is a Sony-funded super-production/mega-blockbuster behemoth, especially when compared to the one/two-person auteurs of the two previous games. Even if That Game Company, the creators of Journey, remain a relatively small studio, the production values here are on an entirely different scale. As can be expected, there is more or less a traditional game here, full of beautifully rendered levels to explore and tokens to collect, and even an extremely subtle use of networked multiplayer gaming. But the title is a thinly veiled manifesto — precisely in the vein of The Graveyard and Passage –, on the possibilities of gaming as a medium for sensitive experience (aisthetikos) beyond the goal-oriented mechanics of traditional gameplay. Here too, the player advances on a path leading unambiguously to their death: inevitably, inexorably, and joyously. And once this goal of the game has been more or less removed as a form of strategy, or at least relegated to a mere point of reference, the game switches into a more symbolic realm. //// There this great moment at the beginning of the filmed dialogue on Arte TV between game designers Chris Crawford and Jason Rohrer, filmed at the Independent Games Festival in 2009. While discussing Passage, Crawford begins by suggesting that the significant bit of the game comes from the introduction of a relationship between spatial navigation and metaphor: “What is, I think, most important about your approach is that you’re taking the idea of spatial navigation — which has always been done too damn literally —, and suddenly turning it into metaphor. And then exploring, well, what kind of metaphors can be explored with spatial systems?” — Chris Crawford in “Au coeur de la nuit : Jason Rohrer et Chris Crawford“; Arte TV; “Durch die Nacht mit…“; episode 61; July 2, 2009; 08:40. Like the figure of death, the history of spatial design in video games is as long as the history of video games itself. In many ways, the form or shape of a video game world, and the way in which that world is mapped onto its display, is so determinate to the game in all its aspects that it becomes more or less conflated with the game itself. When Super Mario Bros. was released for the NES in 1985, it used a form of spatial representation — sideways scrolling –, which had already been explored extensively by a multitude of games before it (cf. Defender, 1980; Scramble, 1981; Pitfall!, 1982; Moon Patrol, 1982; etc.). So while Super Mario Bros. did not invent sideways scrolling, it nevertheless added a significant novelty by equating this left-to-right movement with not only the advancement of the game strategy (survival), but additionally with the advancement of the game narrative. In Super Mario Bros., this left-to-right movement is not only about advancing the player, it is about advancing the story itself. Taking much of its inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Super Mario Bros. allows players to flip through various episodes of a story about a character (Mario) tumbling down the rabbit’s hole (here, a pipe) simply by moving from the beginning of the chapter (left) to the end of the chapter (right). What used to be a mechanism for survival (ex: Moon Patrol) or exploration (ex: Pitfall!) is now a journey of discovery. Many games, especially the “on-rails shooter” sub-genre such as Resident Evil (1996-), are in many ways a continuation of this tradition: as the player advances throughout the (highly linear) game-space, episode after episode of the narrative unfolds. Newer games, such as Red Dead Redemption, attempt to break the narrative into pieces and scatter them throughout the game, allowing players to explore other aspects of the gameworld before irreversibly advancing the more linear form of the narrative. In some senses, this form of exploration is nothing more than a superposition of parallel linear threads on top of the main linear thread of narrative. One can obviously imagine that eventually game designers will be able to write these threads in such a way as to interrelate with one another concurrently. Generative storylines have also yet to be fully exploited in game design. But currently it appears that we are circling round-and-round the end of cul-de-sac of contradiction: classical narrativity wishes to be linear, or at least to be explored linearly, while algorithmic machines desire structures that are more emergent, with bifurcating forks of expansive parallelism. The machine loves multiplicity, whereas narrative experience desires linearity. It is almost as if we’ve reconstructed in video games the figure of the brain itself, especially its’ serial vs. parallel contradictions. //// A few weeks ago, at the Atelier Hypermédia, I was exploring the use of boolean values as “flags” with some students: we were looking at how to detect certain types of activity by setting up an interrelated series of boolean true/false variables that could flip from false to true and vice-versa depending both on changes in the environment and the states of internal variables. Our example was a simple object on the screen: a student wanted to know how to program a single-fired action when the object entered into collision with either another object or the player (via mouse or touch, whatever). As we explored various situations, we eventually were confronted with an fairly straightforward behavior that left most of us stumped and took about a half hour of collective experimentation and debate to code. The behavior itself is of little importance here; it had something to do with an object splitting into two when touching another object. What is important is the fact it took us about a half an hour to describe how one simple “state” would affect a subsequent “state”, and that we were debating it with the code sitting in front of us all as a group, as if it were some sort of enigma that required solving collectively. Anyone who has sat bewildered in front of their television for a half an hour of Lara Croft trying to figure out how to advance the game, should just about now be recognizing the scene. When you pull off the various layers of representation of bodacious ponytailed scientists in dark caves with molten lava, waterfalls, rock formations and dynamite, the player is essentially looking at the same complex interrelation of true/false boolean variables that we were looking at when structuring our code. In other words, a Lara Croft game is just a series of interrelated true/false switches that the player has to enact in the right combination in order to unlock a new series of true/false switches. ########################################################################## # RSG-SMB-TAB-1.1 # ########################################################################## How to Win "Super Mario Bros" Nintendo Entertainment System WORLD 1 - LEVEL 1 +----------------------------------+ Key: < = Left | | > = Right | ^ | ^ = Up | < > O O | v = Down | v select start B A | B = B button | | A = A button +----------------------------------+ < ------------------------------------------------------------------------ > OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO ^ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ v ------------------------------------------------------------------------ B --------------------------OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO A ------------------------------------------------------------------------ In Alex Galloway’s “How to Win Super Mario“, a listing of left/right/up/down/a/b button combinations are printed out in text files organized by chapter (“World 1-1″, “World 1-2″, “World 1-3″, …). If these “how to play Super Mario” instructions look just as obscure as artist Ben Fry’s “Dismap” visualization of the Super Mario Bros. code itself, it is precisely because in many ways the two forms (gameplay vs. game code) are simply different forms of representation of the same algorithmic substrate. In order to play a game, we need to understand something about the algorithmic, and even machinic, structure of how the game was constructed. Playing a game requires a certain process of exploring the game code in reverse, reading it on the player’s end of the equation via the render engine, even if the player knows little to nothing about how pointers, variables, and if/then structures work. But from a purely experiential/intuitive perspective from within the game, the successful player of Super Mario knows exactly how these very-same structures work in order to actually play the game. //// The principle criticism of back-in-the-day text adventures (circa 1977-) was the tedium of this logic of interrelated boolean switches the player had to unlock in order to advance in the game: open mailbox, get letter, open letter, read letter, drop letter, close mailbox, go north, look, pick up shovel, dig hole, get gun, shoot self in head. Here is a map from the first commercial textual adventure game hit, “Dungeon” (later renamed to “Zork”), where we can see the complex interrelations of one room to the next and the objects they contained: — Click for hi-res: Dungeon Map, by Stephen Rost, taken from “You May Be Eaten By a Grue” In order to play the game, players had to map out all these interrelated rooms along with the objects they contained and discover how they were all interconnected. While the unwrapping of this maze/puzzle could indeed lead to storytelling (“It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.” – cf. Grue), for the most part the player was simply trying to poke their way around a hopelessly complex maze and find the right combination of non-sequitur commands. From the documentary, “Get Lamp: The Text Adventure Documentary“, interactive fiction writer Dan Shiovitz: “It’s like, you ring a bell and kick a dog a bunch of times, and it starts crying after you ring a bell a couple of times.” While Shiovitz was originally criticizing the absurdity of mazes in interactive fiction, his description is equally apt in describing the absurdity of interactive narrative at its most basic level. Most of the time, the author as well as player are simply trying to unlock a series of boolean switches in the right combination, in order to advance to the next chapter of the story, i.e. the next set of boolean switches in the code. While puzzles are interesting in and of themselves, and can indeed contain interesting opportunities for storytelling, in the case of interactive narratives we seem more to be playing with the machinic structure that made the story possible, than the story itself. //// Most interactive storytelling, whether it be in the form of a 3D first-person shooter or a 2D sprite-based platformer, evolves directly out of the data structures originally designed by Will Crowther as “Colossal Cave Adventure“. This original “Adventure” was based on a map of a real cave, the Mammoth Cave system of Kentucky. Crowther’s idea was to equate each item of data to another data item via a spatial relationship: item “a” is connected to item “b” via the command “north”, which in turn is connected to item “c” when item “d” is present at item “b”. By using the real cave as a map for the data, he was able to create potential walkways that players could use to move from one datapoint to the next as if traversing the successive grottos within the cave system. It was essentially a representation for navigating a datafield, much like the Mac Finder or Windows Explorer offers their own representation via folders and subfolders. By situating data items as points on a map, one could move around the data as if moving around in space. It was upon this foundation, using data points as map points and placing narrative excerpts at each data point, that contemporary interactive narrative was built. From this idea we get text adventures, such as “Zork“, point-and-click adventures such as “Day of the Tentacle“, maze-monster first-person-shooters of the “Doom“/”Quake” variety, and more poetic propositions such as the “Zelda” series of adventures, or “Ico“. While many of these games contain story, character, landscape, dialogue and all sorts of choices and actions that must be enacted to evolve the narrative, they are still fundamentally structured around finding the location of the next switch that will lead to a new series of switches. At the beginning of the game “Ico”, the player must first climb up a series of ladders, find the right windows to climb out of the castle and then back in again, enabling safe passage to a platform close enough to jump onto a cage that will then lower a trapped girl to the first floor where she can safely exit. Once all of these tedious tasks have unravelled, some dialogue ensues, and the story moves on to the next task at hand which is also the next piece of narrative cue. Unfortunately, from a purely literary perspective, such pulling of levers and pushing of switches embodies all the poetic charm and substance of searching for a missing hardware driver buried deep within an external hard disk. //// *Spoiler reminder: stop reading this if you haven’t played any of these games. The beauty of Passage, The Graveyard and now Journey, is that none of this peeking and poking matters any more. Passage truly began the trend with a powerful opening volley: here is a game in which you will lead a character to his death. And while this goal is not explicit at the beginning of the game, it is part of the beauty of realization that takes you over when playing the game. When demonstrating the game last week to the Media Design students, one of them — upon realizing the fatality (note that I did not use the term “futility”) of the game as the player starts balding and slowing down his gait –, exclaimed “c’est horrible!” His reaction was unambiguously emotional. Teeny pixelated graphics with a dorky 8-bit retro soundtrack, and yet a game can still evoke a sentiment of inevitability. It’s just a funky little pixelated representation on a screen, nevertheless “c’est horrible!” Journey follows this formula fairly closely, to such a degree that I wonder in what way the former influenced the later. If so, it certainly would be a nice touch. We know through interviews with Journey’s central designer, Jenova Chen, that he definitely is looking at fellow games and gaming history with an informed eye, but so far I have yet to see a direct causal relation. Whatever the case, Journey is very much a similar affair. At the beginning of the game we are simply a voyager who picks up a scarf in the desert. In the distance, framed in a sweep of the camera straight out of that pivotal desert scene in Indiana Jones: a mountain beckons us, clearly inspired by aforementioned Hollywood classics, but almost certainly as well the Mount Fuji woodblock prints by Hokusai. The landscape is gorgeous, the simulation of the sand beneath your feet subtle and totally pleasing; we are experiencing an aesthetic audiovisual convergence reminiscent of grandiose cinematography on the scale of Nestor Almendros in Days of Heaven or Caleb Deschanel in Black Stallion (we’ll still have to wait for rendering shaders on the level of Sven Nykvist on The Sacrifice, but I am now hopeful). Unsurprisingly, all of this subtle and-yet spectacular beauty takes place within a highly stylized rendering queue. I say unsurprisingly because it is only in embracing the artificial nature of the image construction that 3D simulation will find its way. We are clearly in the realm of animation, illustration even, and far from the realistic renderings that occupy more and more of the gazillion-dollar 3D shooter blockbusters currently on sale for $75 at your local supermarket. Perhaps, and this might be due to the algorithmic nature of the image, my cinematographic references should instead be harking back to the history of animation, and not live action. For it looks as if we are inching ever closer to the visual plasticity of a Brothers Quay production, à la The Comb or The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. Again, not quite, not even close, but one can always hope. From this luscious tableau, we begin our journey from desert to mountain. The sophistication-in-simplicity argument comes from the translation of Passage’s 2D left-to-right narrative mechanics into Journey’s 3D near-to-far construction: the next “goal”, which is more the next “step” on your path, is often a barely perceptible building or outlying natural structure that acts as a beacon leading you forward. Amazingly, the mountain itself acts like a character in the story, through mere shifts in lighting and humidity levels which interact thematically with the evolving storyline and landscape to evoke different “moods” as we progress: at first ominous, then distant, ethereal, massive, brooding, violent, festive, and ultimately, ambiguous. //// I won’t linger any further into the journey itself because it is not really important to what is, I hope, shaping into my central thesis: namely that by removing the tedious goal posts as the motivating factor of a game and replacing it specifically (and quite explicitly given the title itself of the game) into the space in-between — i.e. into that aesthetic field where the gameplay can unfold –, the game designers have further evolved a narrative language that was originally suggested by Colossal Cave Adventure, re-articulated in Super Mario Bros. and then Zelda, and finally brought into the more literary realm of figure and metaphor via Passage. //// One of my favorite cinema sequences comes from the third chapter of Akira Kurosawa’s end-of-career tone poem, “Dreams”. The dream is entitled “The Blizzard” and depicts a group of exhausted explorers climbing a mountain ridge in a snowstorm, haggard, nearly extinguished, and clasping to their last breaths. The scene is interminable, and often shot with a telephoto lens from the side so as to further flatten their gasping faces into the underexposed terrain that visually engulfs them. All we hear are their panting breaths, and eventually their complaints amongst one another. No back-story, no character motivation, just the sound of desperate breathing and a vague image of faces dragging their bodies through the blizzard. There is a moment near the end of Journey (although not quite at the end), when two voyagers, ours and the voyager accompanying us, are similarly pulling our heavy bodies up a snow-covered mountain. Our gait is troubled, weighed down by fatigue. We carry on, ever more laboriously, into the headwind. Eventually our body gives out, the controls disconnect from our persona who keels over, face-first, into the snow. It is a moment of inevitability, of loss of control, and yet everything about the scene feels just right. It is progressively clear to the player what is about to happen and yet we advance into the snow nevertheless, resigned to whatever the narrative is holding out for us. In a medium that tends to prize interactive mastery above all else, this loss of control from within the interactive realm comes as a refreshing relief. This is not some pre-rendered cut-scene superimposed into an interactive fiction; this is the interactivity itself leading to its own extinction as a sort of accomplishment. Exhausting gameplay. //// The second time I played through Journey, I was lucky enough to experience a lovely little poetic moment right at the end the game, as the two travelers approach the abyss. For those that have played the game (*at this point, it’s your problem if you have never played Journey and have herein spoiled any future experience of it), you will know that by pressing one of the buttons you can make a little melodic chirping sound, allowing you to communicate via very rudimentary means with your fellow traveller. So it was precisely at this point, just before the abyss engulfed us, that my fellow traveller and I decided to stop, not at first but eventually, in a back and forth choreography of following each other’s lead. At some point, we both simply decided to stop, just standing there before the abyss, the obvious ending point of the game. We had already travelled to this point and given that the game is cumulative, much like Passage, there is no real going back, even if one would want to. So in order to prolong the experience and simply take it in, we both at some point, through subtle character body-language, decided to just stop. At that point ensued several minutes of dialogue: “Piou piou?” “Piou piou.” “Piou piou piou?” “Piou.” While I generally try to avoid cinematographic analogies when speaking of gaming (I in fact loathe such uniformed discourse), at this point I’m so guilty of hyperbole that I might as well just suck it up and give in to the impulse: the moment was damn cinematographic, despite the obvious cheesy cliche-ness of it all. The experience just worked, and on an emotional level rare for me when playing a video game. It was an experience which I have only previously known through now canonic, well-worn aesthetic forms such as music, literature, painting, illustration, photography or cinema. //// Popular rhetoric, even within the video game community, gives great weight to the notion of “choice” in interactive narrative, as if choose-your-own adventure texts had somehow given us a heretofore unexploited key to some future form, despite the fact that no one seems to be interested any longer in the format. Maybe it is just because we haven’t tried enough angles. Perhaps. Count me in on trying all those other angles, and this is in fact precisely what we are trying to do at Media Design and at the Atelier Hypermédia. Some of the experiments students are trying out in this direction are profoundly exciting, in spite of all my doubts. And I do not doubt that there is indeed something yet-to-be-discovered in branching narratives, but in my opinion we are “digging in the wrong place” if we think that choice (more of it, better choices, etc) is going to enrich our experience of interactive narrative. I do not doubt the intent of games like Mass Effect, which prolong players choices all the way through three super-productions, taking the risk of alienating their players at the end of the game as they try to resolve an infinite series of narrative threads. I wouldn’t know anyway, I have’t even played the game, my students have. But given that the apparent solution to their dilemma is to pull out a Deus ex machina (cf. On the Media, New Endings) à la “it was all just a dream”, I figure my long polished reticence on this subject (15-years and counting) is still well founded. To further flog the comparison-with-cinema horse, Robert Altman never felt the need to wrap all his intersecting narratives into a tight little package. //// In the novel and subsequent film “Sophie’s Choice”, there is indeed a scene involving a profound choice that a woman has to make in order to save her child. And while this choice is indeed harrowing enough to be recounted and still retain something of its power, it is ultimately in the pregnant pauses between the lines that the true force of this choice is felt in the narrative realm. In the film rendition, it is on the infinite white screen of Meryl Streep’s face that we project all the horrors of her unbearable choice. The context of the choice itself is merely the frame upon which this face hangs. This we have known ever since the days of Lillian Gish in “The Wind” or Renée Falconetti in “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc“. More recent film-makers understand this perfectly as well, for example Quentin Tarantino in the “La Louisianne” scene of Inglorious Basterds: we know going into the scene what the stakes are, and most of all we understand the strategic details of the narrative plot (underground bar, offset alcove with an eavesdropping nazi, etc); it is ultimately the dialogue as they intersect the faces, the how and not the why, the adverb and not the verb, that unpacks layer by layer the tension of the 25-minute scene. The whole thing is harrowing and entirely bad-ass, two descriptors that gamers would love to use to describe their games, and yet the entire weight of the scene hangs in the balance of the length of an vocal inflection. Lillian Gish, The Wind, 1928; via Bouchards Unfortunately for gaming — at least for the time being –, there is no equivalent to the face of Lillian Gish, especially when it comes to 3D attempts at realism such as Call Of Duty. Everything must be constructed by hand or through code. Motion-capture isn’t there yet, just watch any recent hollywood film. As a result, games are currently relegated to wide or medium shots of battle scenes, or over-the-shoulder renderings such as in Gears of War. While photography, too, was a originally an affair of landscape before moving in to portraiture, photography nevertheless has a natural relationship with the real, a relationship that algorithmic machines have not yet developed with the physical world and the bodies that inhabit them. //// Given these limitations, I find it encouraging that a new generation of game designers are beginning to experiment with the form of gaming on a level not only of narrative complexity, but also of narrative subtlety, perhaps even maturity. We obviously still find ourselves in a significant dichotomy between the games sitting on big-name physical/digital store shelves, and the more independent/auteur fare that often has to play the distribution game at the margins, via Flash-based websites, etc. But this has always been the case with previous media forms. Solutions are out there and the landscape is currently shifting anyway. Most importantly, it would seem the new generation wants to attack the issue of a more diverse narrative language in gaming. And while death seems to be one of the easier targets, it has been a central trope of the medium since nearly its origins, so why not. In any case, it unambiguously shifts the focus of the game back into the aesthetic and emotional experience of play. By removing all the goals, and keys, and puzzles to unlock, we settle in to a type of narrative where wider themes can be explored. Case in point, a recent exchange between Brooke Gladstone and Sebastian Janisz on the excellent On The Media: — BG: Your game was about depression, and this was the game that for me most fulfilled the goal, if that was your goal, to summon-up what it feels like to be depressed. There is the metaphor of beating your head against the wall. The second you get through to a new place, the same arduous process of beating your head against the wall begins again, or beating your head against various objects with little, very minor, spatters of blood, lest you forget that this is painful. And the whole thing feels very lonely. — SJ: Thank you. That really sounds a lot like what I would have hoped someone might get out of the game. — BG: You picture your own death. Or did I just… Spoiler alert! “Personal Video Games“, On The Media, March 30, 2012 //// For another reading of Journey, try Ian Bogost’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Game Studio“ ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This post first appeared on Douglas Edric Stanley's blog. For more interesting observations, […]
- Anatomy of a Series – Santiago Ortiz’s Lostalgic Italian author and meta-fabelist Italo Calvino arranged a grid of tarot cards as an engine to propel his 1973 novel The Castle of Crossed Destinies. The interwoven lines and columns of this grid were used by a narrator to reconstruct the stories of a whimsical cast of characters who had become mute, traumatized after venturing through the wilderness. These kind of narrative games are not the exclusive domain of authors, as passionate readers—or viewers–can bring enormous energy and insight into revealing the structure, connections and veiled references that are baked into a sufficiently intricate plot. Buenos Aires-based information visualization specialist Santiago Ortiz's most recent project has exactly these ambitions, and provides a suite of interfaces for exploring the scripts and character relationships across the 121 episode corpus of the ABC television series Lost. Working with data scraped from the popular fan site Lostpedia, Lostalgic opens to a list-like super-script of every line of dialogue from the six seasons of the Lost. Zooming down to the resolution of a single episode reveals a staccato arrangement of bar graphs that represent each scene and exchange that occurs between characters. Cells can be hovered over to reveal individual lines and the interface provides a chronological map of the series. Clicking through to the matrix view switches over to more dynamic network of character relationships and this is where the utility of Lostalgic really becomes apparent. The matrix visualization displays shifting social constellations – how characters interact within an episode or across the entire series. Opening up the link between two characters reveals a display with a venn and bar diagrams that maps their shared screen time and clicking on an individual provides tree maps that situate the character in relation to the rest of the cast. The matrix repurposes many of these same visual tropes and represents each episode as a narrative grid for mapping character interactions. There is a also a renactment view that provides a chronological retelling of the series as a 'thumbnail slideshow'. Lostalgic is a successful undertaking because it completely ignores Lost's mythology and its confounding plotlines (and plotholes!) and instead focuses on depicting the underlying structural narrative and how it emerges from a sprawling ensemble cast. Ortiz is astute in observing that Lost surfed a big "zeitgeist wave" to mass popularity and part of the reason that the show was so habit forming for audiences was that it echoed the ascent of "social networked narratives" during its 2004-10 run. Less pragmatically and more poetically, it repurposes the 44 minute television drama format as raw material for the construction of a combinatorial playground that demands exploration. This is an important project that invites comparison to Frederic Brodbeck's Cinemetrics (2011) and more archaic methods of shot length tracking, but instead of yielding an 'aesthetic DNA' of colour and composition, Lostalgic finds its rhythm and form within a much more expansive dataset and through an extremely close reading of the script. CAN posed a related line of questioning to Santiago Ortiz about his new project – note his expansive commentary below. I think the most obvious place to start would be in asking why did you select Lost as the basis of this script-mapping experiment? Did the desire to develop these interfaces emerge from your fascination with/fandom of the series or was your selecting it a pragmatic decision based on the amount of data available at Lostpedia? Both! Being a big fan of Lost I naturally ended up at Lostpedia, and in the very moment I discovered that all scripts were there, available and, at first glance, coherently formatted, I knew I would create something with that material. Actually, when I was eagerly consuming the first season, I started fantasizing about a visualization project. I've been always interested in network visualization and it was clear Lost is based on a networked narrative, more accurately a social networked narrative. When the first season was being broadcast, it was also a time in which Facebook started being very well known and the concept of social network was entering popular culture. That is, no doubt, part of the success of the series: it surfed a big zeitgeist wave. Previous to Lost you had choral TV shows and movies, based on multiple characters and intersecting stories, but none systematically explored almost all possible differentiated characters relations like Lost did. That's in its DNA, it's basically how they wrote the scripts, by combining groups of characters, inventing narrative excuses to place different groups of characters in different parts (or times!) in the island, like if they were bacteria placed in different petri dishes exposed to differentiated environments. Kate+Sawyer in a cage, Locke+Boone in a crashed plane, Locke+Desmond on a hatch… a big etcetera, and that's only for pairs. Not that [Lost writer] Damon Lindelof told me that! Not that I needed to be told either. If you want to 'feel' these combinatorics going on, just open Lostalgic in matrix mode, and press the ↓ key several times, you'll see how the relations patterns change dramatically episode to episode. At that time of the first season ABC published its own network interactive visualization, adequately called 'connections' (it seems that is not longer available), it was pretty well done and that probably deter me to try my own approach. That, and not having any data. The very day I found the scripts in Lostpedia I started working. It's interesting that this social networked narrative was created by small social collaborative network (more than 35 writers), and then comprehensively documented by a community (Lostpedia contains more than 7000 articles), another collaborative social network. And then, across the internet, we have seen a lot of other spontaneous projects created out of the TV show (maps of the island, games, comics, conspiracy theories, visualizations, etc.), mine is just one to add to the list. This one for instance, is fantastic: However, I do think this is potentially a general tool that could be used to visualize, analyze and enjoy any other TV show script, and eventually other narrative texts, in a similar way this great project does with movies. Can you describe some of the development challenges you faced with this project? Grabbing the data could have been the hard part in this project but it wasn't. I was gladly surprised by how consistent was the format throughout the 115 episodes… with very few exceptions for which I had to write some contingent code or even perform some changes by hand. The really difficult part was to deal with the hierarchical structure, to define the statistics that works in different levels in the hierarchy and to develop the API aimed to respond to all the possible queries. For instance, for a single character I need to know how many times he or she speaks in a scene, in how many lines of an episode they appear, in how many acts, in how many episodes in the entire series… and for two characters I need to know the co-occurrences in the series, per episode, per line, etc. In terms of visualization each view had its own challenge. For the matrix I wanted to do something different… not only to express the weight of the relation for each pair of characters but to say something else. I ended up using proportional surface Venn diagrams but instead of drawing the entire diagram I just drew the intersections, the lenses and this works because the lens by itself conveys the complete information of the entire Venn diagram (a portion of circle, no matters how small it is, completely defines the circle)! Not that it is easy for the eye-brain to complete the diagram, but it's a matter of training (the eye-brain system is very good completing information gaps). The name 'lens' for this visualization method is not merely a metaphor, this shape actually describes the section of an optic lens whose optical behaviour is determined by the radius and distance of the two circles. You mention that one of the goals for the project is to allow users to “read and enjoy the series in a different way” – could you elaborate on this intention? I believe books, movies and in general stories could be visualized in ways persons not only will learn about the contents, the context and the structure of the narrative but will actually read in a different ways the story, or, if you want, will read another story out of the atoms and molecules of the allegedly analyzed one (and I use the word 'read' in the most wide hermeneutical possible sense). These aren't new ideas at all, for many that's exactly what literature and art criticism should do: build new meaning out of the previously existing one. When it comes to create interactive visualization, or, in general, interactive creation based on pre-existent narrative material, I think there are multiple unexplored ways to create new meaning, new stories… or to re-tell the same story (which is as impossible as to take a bath twice in the same river, as Borges perfectly explained in his Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote story). 'Re-telling' has been explored in digital arts but not so much in visualization. When I was building the first view (the big zoomable index) I found myself reading the episodes, line by line… reviving the series, Lost in nostalgia (the name comes from this)… thus I decided to create a view aimed to reenact the episodes. I've already seen a few episodes with the reenactment view and it works pretty well. Again, as happened with the lenses visualization, our brain is good at completing incomplete streams of information, so with just character images, dialogues and timing, it's possible to build a theatrical experience. Scott McCloud has written on how important the non-existent information between frames is and how our brain 'fill the gaps' with narrative substance. Ok, so we've spoke in generalities about how this project might re-present the narrative of Lost, how has executing this project changed your thinking about the series? Mainly I've learnt about the way the scripts are written, about techniques the writers used. As I commented before, it was clear to me that the writers actually were looking for multiple characters combinations. Other interesting patterns that can be seen with the graph or the matrix views are related with the rhythms, how from one episode to the following the characters network changes abruptly. In general a similar characters network reappears two or three episodes later (meaning that the particular story regarding these characters is resumed). The alternation of stories allows to develop more cliffhangers and Lost is full of them. Going through episodes in the matrix mode another thing became clear to me and that is the importance of the changes in balance in networks. Some episode are very well balanced, meaning that the number of appearances for each character is similar, and the co-occurrences as well. This is the case of "Walkabout" (episode 4) and also the case of the final episode, "The End", in which all characters and relations are treated as equal, on purpose. Two episodes before there's "Across the Sea", the most eccentric and unbalanced episode in the series. First and, overall, last episodes in each season tend to be very balanced. I'm not completely satisfied with Lostalgic in his current version as a tool to see and explore global patterns. I plan to add a couple of views that I'll be more directed towards that goal, in particularly one that will depict a network of episodes (instead of characters), whose relations will be defined by networks similarity (so the result will be a network of networks). In this view things such as the alternation of balanced and unbalanced episodes will be more clear. I also want to visualize the writers involved in each episode. View Project | Santiago […]
- emoto – Data sculpture by Studio NAND and Moritz Stefaner + Drew Hemment Back in July, Studio NAND with Moritz Stefaner and Drew Hemment created emoto, an online web application that captured and visualised the excitement around the Olympic Games in London. The project moved from real-time (see our post) to ”Archive” data sculpture which is now on display at WE PLAY. Based on approx. 12.5 million Twitter messages which were aggregated in real-time, all the data gathered has been represented in physical form in this interactive installation which allows visitors to identify patterns in message frequency. The emoto data sculpture represents message volumes, aggregated per hour and sentiment level in horizontal bands which move up and down according to the current number of Tweets at each time. The full install is a 9.50 meter long multi-layered print, designed for the visitor to explore the overall timeline of the Olympics. Th graph shows the average mood for all events and topics as tracked by emoto. It was printed on transparent acrylic glass and offset from the wall by approx. 7cm to reveal the content behind it. All messages were directly attached to the wall and have been selected for peaks in the graph based on the occurrences if the Tweet text. From the emoto archive, the team aggregated frequencies of messages per hour and sentiment level into 2-dimensional heat maps. These heat maps were then transformed into 3D geometry using Rhino and finally CNC-milled in collaboration with their manufacturer Tischlerei Bächer using Polyurethane-foam (’Chemiwood’). Additionally, the objects were painted using a dual component paint with particles to optimise the surface for projection. On top of this sculpture they have projected multiple heat maps, only displaying events for the currently selected theme (i.e. Team GB). A visitor could control which theme to show using a Griffin Powermate. Pressing the button would cycle through the themes. Rotating it would move the cursor along the timeline, showing most retweeted messages for each hour and theme. The projection mapping was custom developed in Processing as part of the installation software. The 2D heat-maps were generated in Tableau and used as textures for the mapped virtual geometry. The final outcome for these textures was designed in multiple quick iterations exploring the use of many geometric shapes for the heat maps. Project Page Created by Moritz Stefaner, Drew Hemment, Studio NAND. A FutureEverything project for the Cultural Olympiad programme and London 2012 Festival. See also Reflection II by Benjamin Maus & Andreas Nicolas Fischer Emoto Installation from Studio NAND on […]
- Best Friends – Casting in wax 451 connections on Facebook [Objects] Is post social media friendship an emotional investment of diminishing returns? It really depends who you ask. Midwest-based designer Colin Pinegar's recent BFA project Best Friends definitely calls the authenticity of ubiquitous connectivity into question, or at least adds some nuance to qualifying these relationships. Pinegar created a 'scorecard' for his Facebook friends that awarded each online connection 1-25 points based off a range of criteria (do I know this person's phone number? can I recognize this person by their name alone? etc.) These scores were plotted on a colour spectrum representing the 'intensity' of friendship and wax busts were crafted for each of Pinegar's 451 connections and arranged by value. The resulting array offers not only a bar graph plotting the prevalence of weak ties versus more meaningful bonds, but a physical representation of (and personal response to) social data culled from the web. Colin's 'friend plot' was accompanied by a series of concise information graphics and CAN was curious as to how this sidebar material related to the arrangement of wax busts. Colin provided the following response via email: "The printouts were supplemental infographics showing data from my 'friend audit' that I found interesting, e.g. when I met my friends, how many busts were in each row, as well as the data I found most alarming: how many of my "friends" I had never met (1%), how many 'friends' I didn't recognize by name alone (14%), 'friends' with an unknown (to me) location (24%), and 'friends' that I hadn't even seen from a distance in the year prior to my project (55%). There was also a short description and some FAQ's about the project and a small poster showing how the meaning of the word 'friend' has changed." When asked to describe the reasoning behind articulating his quantified friendship analysis as physical artifacts, Colin offered the following thoughts on post-digital production: "Like a Facebook 'friendship,' most graphic design relies too heavily on the computer—probably for the same reasons: it is quicker, easier, and what most people expect. Since this project was all about the importance of physicality in relationships, it seemed appropriate to avoid the computer and make something with my hands, and I think the outcome provided more impact than reading a number or seeing a graph on a poster. I also wanted to make something for my friends as an act of love and gratitude for supporting me and coming to see the exhibit (each friend was given the bust that represented him or her at the closing reception)." Best Friends clearly capitalizes on a pervasive social vertigo that has become all too familiar. Colin denies that the piece is anti-Facebook—or a polemic against any social network for that matter—but is concerned that the social web is "the communication equivalent of fast food". While Colin may be wary of the standardization of mediated relationships, he certainly has been savvy in reappropriating this logic to claim ownership of his own social data. Check out Colin's project documentation for additional info and images. via The New […]
Posted on: 10/08/2012
- Senior Digital Designer at CLEVER°FRANKE
- Interaction Designer at Carlo Ratti Associati
- Creative Technologist at Deeplocal
- HTML / CSS Developer at Resn
- Climate Service Data Visualiser at FutureEverything
- Web Developer at &Associates
- Creative Technologist at Rewind FX
- Coder to collaborate with Agnes Chavez
- Data Scientist at Seed Scientific
- Data Engineer at Seed Scientific
- Design Technologist at Seed Scientific
- Creative Technologist, The ZOO at Google