YOU ARE IN A STORAGE ROOM

I have managed to collect a ton of CD-ROMs. And diskettes. And two flashdrives. And no, Google, I don’t delete emails, I just leave them in my mailbox so you can data mine them. I have at least two email accounts that have gone dormant. Maybe I should check that earthlink account. . .

One thing that I don’t have, alas, is any of the disks for Mystery House. One of the things that I was inspired to do after reading Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms is to try to read the mechanism of my old disk for Mystery House. I remember playing the game over at Greg Donohoe’s house, and solving the mystery. It seems that people who like games like this also tended to like Choose Your Own Adventure Books. We also liked Trixie Belden over Nancy Drew.

I wanted to play along with Kirschenbaum: I wanted to find the crack screen so that I could see what else was on the disk. Alas. No diskette was to be found, and so I went to the FTP server that Kirschenbaum used to get a disk image of Mystery House at ftp://ftp.apple.asimov.net. I wanted to see if I could access any disk image at all there. I downloaded an ftp of a game that I recognized because Mystery House wasn’t there. Bang. A problem. I needed to download an emulator so that I could emulate an Apple II on my MacBook Pro. I found one at http://www.virtualii.com/. I also found Mystery House at another apple ][ site that had some cool stuff, like an apple ][ for sale (ah, yeah), and downloaded that. Then, I chickened out.

A lot about computing for somebody like me is not chickening out. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the process. Sometimes, it’s like reading Greek. Sometimes my contact lenses fog up and I can’t see. All that happened. And I chickened out. So now I have an emulator, an disk image of Mind Castle, and only a blog post to show for it. YOU ARE IN A STORAGE ROOM.

Then, I struck a little bit of blogging gold. I wanted to find what others were doing with classic games. I found this interesting little site where a review was posted of Mystery House. Here are some screen shots (click on them to read them; it’s enlightening):

The most interesting and telling thing that the reviewer, fragmaster says is:

Mystery House is basically a sub-standard text adventure with simple graphics. The graphics consist of (sorta) black and white lines and look like something a ten year old would create in MS Paint. The command system doesn’t match Infocom’s, and neither does the writing. It just isn’t a very good game. When compared to Zork, which was also released in 1980, it just doesn’t compare. The plot of Mystery House involves the search for jewels in an old house, with a lot of dead people thrown in for good measure. It’s somewhat of a predecessor to The Colonel’s Bequest and other later Roberta Williams mystery games.

I would hate to think that this review was written by either Martin Scott Goldberg or James Hunt, who are the staffers on classicgaming.com, because it reads like a review written by some zitty youth living in his parents’ basement sucking down Mountain Dew and eating RedVines like they’re going out of style, and not some Gen Xers who have actually tried to get classic gaming into the hands of people too young to enjoy games created at the moment of personal home computing.

The review is a really great example of what Kirschenbaum makes of Jerome McGann’s bibliotextual interpretation, but only part of it, the formal materiality of the computer program. Formally, from an eye unused to examining a game or a disk as a mechanism, the game as experienced by an end user is “just not a good game.” The graphics suck. The directions are tedious and long and hard to read. The mystery is easy to crack. It’s a choose your own adventure book that is not worth a re-read. Kirschenbaum agrees: “Solving the murder is not hard, and the game offers no replay value” (129).

Textually, the disk image is much, much more interesting. As a forensic text, Mystery House would be a “trophy. . .a multivalent forensic environment, one where all these different levels of engagement — player, pirate/cracker, postmortem investigator — find their correspondences in the multiple layers of textual events that both drive the game as code and are explicitly thematized within its forensically charged spaces” (129). I would hate to think that classic gamers such as Goldberg and Hunt are not thinking of the code that hides behind the game in the disk image. The mechanics of the game are much more interesting than finding a note saying, VALUABLE JEWELS ARE HIDDEN IN THIS HOUSE. FINDERS KEEPERS. The valuable jewels are the code and all that the code can teach about the history of computer gaming and the mechanism of a disk operating system.

Kirschenbaum points out the following about the graphics. “The graphics for Mystery House were created with a Versa-Writer, a primitive CAD tablet that worked by tracing a stylus (mounted on a mechanical armature) over a line drawing. The software then plotted a vector image that corresponded to the drawn art. . .Perhaps Roberta Williams felt the allure of the machine ‘reading’ her writing” (132). For Goldenberg and Hunt, who I desperately hope are not fragmaster, the question is not whether or not the graphics are good, but how Williams created them, writing with a stylus on a tablet, something that was quite advanced and novel at the time. It is as though fragmaster has refused to step into the wayback machine: he can’t envision how graphics for World of Warcraft came to be. They always were.

So now I am stuck in a storage room with Goldberg and Hunt, and we all fail at being real geeks. Nice, guys.

What up with the sexy, Cyborg?

“We’ll become silhouettes when our bodies finally go” We Will Become Silhouettes The Postal Service

For the full effect, play the video when you read.

My life on the web and in cyberspace has early beginnings, and continues at a dizzying rate. Early on, I played Zork. I also would log on to the UNM internet and get my fortune told to me via a logarithmic text that would spit out a proverb or quote when you entered a command. I sent my first email to Pascal Adam in 1993. My life as a cyborg started early. Blade Runner on VHS was all burbly and wobbly by the time it got tossed out in a move to Santa Fe. Now, having read Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”, I wonder if we aren’t standing somewhere she predicted we would find ourselves: hybrids of machines and humans, in identity and purpose, framed by our gender and undone by that framing at the same time.

This week has been a particularly rich week on the interwebz. Facespace gave me a really good lead for how our interaction with cybermedia is changing our engagement with the world on a global and a personal scale. First up is Sabastian, one of my former students, who has suddenly come to terms with the inexorable and execrable link between video games and drone warfare.

seebass

Both Vannevar Bush and JCR Licklider anticipated a not so distant future of drone warfare, where the interface between humans and machines became as close as a sniper to the trigger. Instead, adolescents, trained up on multiplayer online games, would perfect the art of killing from a distance in Air Force training labs on bases around the country. Halo and Call of Duty have created interfaces that do the desensitization for the military. Cyborg selves no longer recognize the humanity of the target. Haraway warned at the birth of Reagan’s Star Wars project, “modern war is a cyborg orgy, coded by C31 (command-control-communication-intelligence), an $84 billion item in 1984’s US defense budget.” The most unfortunate part? The young players don’t see themselves as cyborgs enlisted in a war against humanity. They are part of the machine. The symbiosis is so total that Sabastian is just becoming aware of what Chelsea Manning was trying to warn us about in 2010 in her leak to Wikileaks. We are losing ourselves. And somebody is profiting at that loss. And, as Haraway points out, that someone is the military industrial complex. In a subversion of the employer-employee relationship, consumers pay for the games that turn the consumer into the fodder for the cannon–except that they can stay safely in the confines of Kirtland Airforce Base, never venturing to the battlefield except in the multiplayer world of the game-room.

The second surprise that I had was the sexualization of the term “cyborg.” Go ahead. Google that. What do you see but hypersexualized images of both male and female bodies. While Haraway longs for a Cyborg without gender, that will subvert the male dominated cyberworld, this is not so. It is sadly, just not so. First up in cybermisogyny is the prevalence of intimations of violence by males, who perceive some sort of gender transgression by cyberwomen. Rebecca Watson, of Skepchick.com, blogs about her interactions with some deranged cyberbully named “Rick”. Her cyberidentity is threatened as much as her physical safety is threatened, and I have to wonder if these intimations and menaces of rape and murder have something to do with the popular notions of what cyber”chicks” look like. They are penetrated, skin flayed off, hypersexualized, and mechanical. They are, for the viewer, not real women, not real human beings, and the sensual poses they adopt echo poses not just from comic books, but also from pornography, strip clubs, and peepshows. Shut up, Rebecca, and be the cyberslut I want you to be.

Another surprise came from gamer and cosplayer Caitlin Seida who writes in Salon about how her photo, uploaded to Facebook and shared widely, gained rather creepy attention from those who believed that her Lara Croft costume should be reserved for those cisgender females resembling Angelina Jolie. Seida, in her article, reports how commenters on various failblogs and reddits were suggesting that someone kill her or that she kill herself. The cyborgs are going to eat us alive. None of the sensuality of Lara Croft would be possible without the female voice actors who depict her in the games: Keeley Hawes, Shelley Blond, and Jonell Elliott. Their disembodied voices carry the script with a sexiness that one commentator compared to velvety quality of Kathleen Turner’s Jessica Rabbit. Indeed. The voice, even in cyberspace, should match some gendered ideal of what a cyborg woman should look like.

In the end, I think that the Frankfurt School and Haraway have it right: we are not in control of the symbiosis that is the cyberworld. We are products of it, and we produce what it expects us to produce. In turn, we consume what we are conditioned to demand it produce. Sexy, muscular, cyborgs, instead of real cosplayers, typing bloggers, and thinking posters. We are disembodied, and will become silhouettes when our bodies finally go.

She Who Gets Slapped

The medium is the message.

The moment of the meeting of media is a moment of freedom and release from the ordinary trance and numbness imposed on them by our senses.

The telephone: speech without walls.
The phonograph: music hall without walls.
the photograph: museum without walls.
The electric light: space without walls.
The movie, radio, and TV: classroom without walls.

From Understanding Media, by Marshall McLuhan (1964)

Culture today is infecting everything with sameness.

From The Dialectic of Enlightenment, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944, 1947, 1969)

I needed a break this weekend, but could ill afford to spend either time recovering from a massage or a massage itself. I needed time away from a screen, time in the air, time when I was not typing or reading something that someone else had typed. My life is ruled by the immediacy of type. Or maybe it is ruled by the mediacy of type. At any rate, j’en avais marre, and I needed to take a break.

So I went and sat in front of a screen. In the dark. And watched a screen. With a digital print of a silent movie on it. It was glorious. The medium, or rather, the media, were the message.

LARMES DE CLOWN

This weekend has been dedicated to some rather dense critical theory that I find myself agreeing with, once I am able to untangle it. I am breathing the rarefied air of the Frankfurt School, engaging in the dialectic of the enlightenment (or rather, trying to keep up with people who are talking over my head), with Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. Let me tell you something. Every word is worth it. Every hour spent muttering about the culture industry; fretting about mass art as opposed to art for the masses; grumbling about whether we have all been duped about beebop, that it might not be art; worrying about pseudoindividuality; every one of those moments is a moment well spent. If you haven’t read the Dialectic of Enlightment, then, believe me, you are totes missing out. And I am not being ironic about this.

grumpymen

You’re missing out on some real gems: “Existence in late capitalism is a permanent rite of initiation.” “Fun is a medicinal bath which the entertainment industry never ceases to prescribe.” And this one: “Joy is austere.” But it started me thinking. . . was I about to go out to experience art? Or culture? Or entertainment? Or something else?

I needed a break from Adorno and Horkheimer, but I also needed a break from Marshall McLuhan, who, after Theo and Hork, was a laugh riot. McLuhan expands upon Northcote Parkinson’s law, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” by asserting that with the computer, ” ‘work to be done’ is actually the movement of information.” I needed to stop moving information for a while. But in doing so, I would have some time to think about the medium of silent film being the message.

Marshall McLuhan seemed to make his living coining neologisms and witticisms about the media–all media. Clothing (a medium for. . .not being naked?). Cars (a medium of conveyance disguised as a statement, or maybe the other way around). TeeVee (it’s sound! It’s moving pictures! It’s soap and JFK and Jack Ruby and Jack Parr). The hifi (get your Mel Torme ready). Money (more than a store of value). Clocks (a medium of time). Wheels fer chrissake. We have him to thank for the phrase “global village,” and if you can make it through his book without grinding your teeth at his own self-satisfaction at being a white guy who pats Africans on the head when they don’t know how to look at a photograph and without poking your eye out with a pencil every time he refers to a not-man as a girl, you’re going to get to think about some really interesting stuff. Around eye poking and teethgrinding. For McLuhan, whose estate carefully controls all McLuhania, the medium is the message. Rarefied air it is not.

The Alloy Orchestra was my escape. They set silent films to music, and I had the opportunity to see them at the KiMo Theater in Albuquerque in 2011, where they accompanied a screening of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Alloy Orchestra is three guys who make a lot of noise. Their score is performed live without loops or delays, which lends an intense immediacy to the performance. Yet these three guys, Roger Miller, Terry Donahue, and Ken Winokur, create atmosphere and mood with synthesizer, clarinet, accordion, and a “rack of junk.” Electronic and traditional instruments together. Oh my.

The silent film they scored this time was HE Who Gets Slapped, a tragicomedy about Paul (Lon Cheney), a theorist whose ideas are stolen, and scorned by the Academy, he turns to clowning. His schtick? Getting slapped. The Baron (Marc McDermott) who steals his ideas, also steals his wife, and will try to steal the girl again. The Girl (Norma Shearer), is the bareback rider Consuelo, the daughter of a disgraced count who is reduced to wearing only an undershirt with cuffs and collar under his coat. Paul, as the clown HE, falls sweetly in love with Consuelo, but knowing that he can never have the girl, protects the nascent love of Benzano (John Gilbert) and Consuelo, unleashing a lion on the ignoble Count and Baron. You see. . .ok. Enough of this. Two guys get eaten by a lion. And they deserved it. But HE dies. And I was wondering. Why is it important that this medium, or these media, had this message? Is the message one of “hotness” or “coolness?”

McLuhan, probably in an attempt to get jiggy with the hipster youth of the 1960’s, decided to adopt the terminology of cool and hot. He’s such a square, so it comes off badly, but let’s go with it. “Cool” media is that media that does not give away too much, or does not contain a large amount of information. A telephone call, speech, “so little is given and so much has to be filled in by the listener.” “Hot” media is low in participation because it contains so much data, so much information, that is “high definition.”

The movie that I saw, and the concert that I listened to contributed to a “hot” experience, according to McLuhan. But according to his statement, that the media are the message, I was having a cool experience. i need to figure out what the message was. Was it that the clown gets slapped? Was it that schadenfreude is a cruel sentiment? Was it that the bad guys get eaten by lions? Was it that silent movies make you think about the music, and the music makes you think about the movie? Was this the tonic bath of fun that the culture industry prescribed for me?

What ever it was, it shook my brain loose from my typewriter for an hour or so, and I experienced a bit of amusement, a bit of relief, and the bad guys got it in the end.

clown