abstractmachine

7 March, 2009

Invaders! video

Filed under: abstractmachine,code,exhibition,interview,play,rant,youtube — Douglas Edric Stanley @ 23:01 pm

Some time has passed since my Invaders! installation started something of a $#!¥storm back in August at the Leipzig Games Convention. I tried to give the piece some context and gave a few interviews to responsible journalists, but ultimately the whole thing just blew up as people lost all sense of scale and started taking for granted all sorts of assumptions about the work. Ok, so that’s the backstory, and you can think of all that what you will.

But now that hipster pop acts such as Röyksopp are reportedly referencing the work (I have my doubts) and given that some time has gone by, it is perhaps finally possible to post this video which I have already been showing to crowds at various talks over the past few months. It’s actually not that great of a video, but it does shed a little more light on what actually was going on in Leipzig. As it has been reported elsewhere, there was something of a disconnect between the public reaction to the piece on-site, and people’s reaction on-line. Playing it was apparently very different than just reporting on its visual aspects, especially the types of images at the end of the video, I assume, where you can see the full extent of the damage of the buildings as the game matches ever more closely the historical progression of events (planes, impact, fire, structural damage, jumpers, etc). It would obviously be better to release a more complete video tracing the way in which the game itself mapped the historical events back onto the 8-bit classic, but given that the Games Convention itself wasn’t really the ideal place for this type of analytic meditation anyway, I’ll just go with this video testimony of people playing it, as it was presented. Some people only saw either the Kotaku image, or the Laboral Video, which made for another form of disconnect as people didn’t understand what was actually going on and therefore what the fuss was all about.

Here’s the Röyksopp video by the way:

If it’s true that Röyksopp is referencing my piece, that’s very cool, especially since it’s a great song. Again, I have my doubts since many pop acts don’t really use imagery all that critically, pull $#!¥ in from any direction, and therein pastiche everything into one big self-same pile. It’s always frustrating to see the extent to which music videos often end up whitewashing the images they reference. There is a long history to this tendency, although there is perhaps one recent notable exception: Justice’s « Stress » which was able to reference Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and recontextualize it with a new political charge which it successfully maintained throughout, going so far as to provoke significant debate in France concerning the ontological status of the image (Is it protest? Is it glorification? Is it criticism?):

Pulling all this back to the Invaders! debate, I actually had an interesting public conversation with Louis Bec last november at the Biennale Figures of Interactivity while presenting this work. According to Bec, there are certain complex calculations in mathematics that require the introduction of a « zone d’ombre» in order to be resolved, and that if you do not in fact include this shadow region, the equation becomes incalculable. Bec tried to draw an analogy by suggesting that September 11th had become culturally unthinkable, and that in order to re-render it imaginable so as to process it, a certain « zone d’ombre » is required, which he suggested comes here in the form of a historical reconstruction (or simulation) of the event which reconstructs the violence in a highly symbolic form so as to able to process it. He went on to create similar analogies with animal simulations of violence and combat in play, and so on. That last part is actually part of the general narrative gamers often use defending the role of violence in video games and I don’t know if I want to get lost down that path because the argument hangs on a certain subtlely that often gets lost in translation. But beyond this idea of simulation, for Louis, the ambiguity of this work « on violence » is merely one of the pre-requisites of needing a shadowy region in order to render the violent act re-thinkable.