Although there is no real revolution in digital images, some important
developments are to be noted, particularly with regard to different types
of exogenous interactivity. The input and output devices which condition
the man/machine dialogue have undergone considerable diversification.
The keyboard is now joined by devices of ever greater variety: mice, lightpens,
joysticks, spaceballs, datagloves, datasuits, moving armchairs. Alongside
the figures and letters entered via the keyboard, data can now enter the
computer as emanations from the real world movements, forces, pressures.
These in turn are digitized and transformed into symbols. As for the output,
the screen remains the most usual mode of display, but has also been transformed
teleprojections, individual helmets with liquid crystal display
screens, laser scans on the retina... The man/machine dialogue no longer
relies on language alone. Finally, though not the sine qua non of virtual
reality, real time ultra-rapid responsiveness helps to give
the virtual the appearance of full, complete reality.
MUDs: Cyberspace Communities and MUD
MUDs are text based and graphic based on line social structures. The primary
purpose of MUDs is to support social interaction. Citizens of MUD communities
often participate in the creation of the domain. Though not physical,
MUDs retain many characteristics of earthbound communities. Even so, avatars
and agents are constant reminders of the artifice of the on-line experience.
Opposite to the raucos, extreme of action games is the comparatively placid
world of MUDs. MUD is a generic name for a class of role-playing games
found on the internet. MUDs are mostly text based virtual realities. Text
MUDs are abstract and cognitive, they are external shared ennvironments.
The earliest MUD, EssexMUD, was created in 1979 by Roy Trubshaw and Richard
Bartle. Unlike its predecessor, the computer games of Adventure and Zork,
EssexMUD let several players log onto the game simultaneously. Like its
predecessor the theme of EssexMUD was fantasy-based. Adventure and Zork
were derived from the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons, that let to the
acronym MUD- which originally stood for Multi-User Dungeon. Some MUDs
retain game-like qualities, however many MUDs also take their cues from
Internet Relay Channels (IRCs), which are aimed more at socializing than
at navigating (if no one is logged on into a particular IRC it ceases
There are many MUDs without fictional themes. These may be based on physical
models, perhaps the hometown of the funding wizard or the physical site
of the MUD server. Using physical sites is a point of reference. A conventional
urban space provides a familiar spatial framework for navigation. Streets,
building, rooms and places keep directions simple and memorable. As the
MUD develops, the structure sometimes evolves by leaving the real-space
reference behind. The freedom allowed by the wizards directly affects
the MUDs structure. Logical Agency Models (LAM) are tools to understand
the spatial and cognitive structure of the on-line space MUD. LAMs, because
of their node/ connector construction they resemble large, molecular models.
LAMs are necessarily imcomplete because of the size and ephemeral nature
of the MUDs. The LAMs of more tightly controlled (by administrator) MUDs
The logical adjacency structure of each MUD has a distinct form. Often
MUDs start as a verbal diagram of a neighborhood, an existing town, or
even the earth. A MUD administrator will determine themes, rules of play
and often designs the preliminary spaces. Upon joining the MUD (logging
onto its host computer), the new citizen receives an allot of memory.
With simple programming they may build virtual object within the MUD.
Long-term citizens accrue power and influence by rising in the MUD hierarchy.
The more time the player invests in a particular MUD, the more exposure
she/he has to others and the MUD administration. This time investment
pays off in memory and in special powers granted by the wizard.Citizen-builder
rarely write their code from scratch. In object-oriented MUDs-called MOOs-
each object is usually a modification of a parent object. Movement is
categorical, accomplished by typing directions or destinations offered
by the game. There is no dynamism involved in walking from room to room.
Users instantly relocate episodically with a directional command. Depending
on the MUDs policy most MUDers can build their own rooms once they
have citizenship. These rooms are usually independent of the main MUD
structure, floating outside the domain. Most private spaces can only be
entered by teleportation and only at the hosts invitation. Teleportation
requires the address of destination.
In their mind the users are "there" in the MUD, seeing the spaces
and chatting with friends. Some users insist that the introduction of
graphics would diminish rather than enhance MUDing.
In MUDs user momentarily escape the pressure of every day life, the major
risk is betrayal. Concept of psychological moratorium. MUDs provides the
users with a safe zone for exploring matters of identity and social behaviors(avatars
as a mask of the user).
Telepresence is a more general term used to describe an experience provided
by a set of technologies that enable people to feel as if they are physically
present in a different place or time from their actual place or time.
The notion of presence is of the essence here; it refers to the whole
range of human capacities for perceiving space and experience, based on
psychological and physiological cues. Sensory immersion is a necessary
precondition for the sense of presence in a virtual world.
For a long time, the images seen by visitors to virtual space such
as the images produced by NASA in the 1980s were very simple. Until
recently, it was very difficult and expensive to generate complex images
fast enough twenty or thirty images a second for the user
to have the impression of real immersion in a virtual environment, with
instantaneous changes in what he saw corresponding to movements of his
head and eyes. Today this technology has made considerable progress and
there are now advanced computer cards that can create detailed stereoscopic
images at very high frame rates.
One of the original aims of telepresence experimentation was to allow
operators to enter environments which would be too dangerous to enter
in reality, environments such as the ocean bed, outer space or the hazardous
zones around a nuclear plant. But the field of applications has now widened.
In Japan, a recent research programme resulted in the design, for a private
firm, of a device whereby clients could visit a showroom without leaving
their homes. A computer-controlled, wide-angle, wireless camera system
not only gave users a life-size view of the whole scene, but also enabled
them to see their own body from outside as others would see them, a strange
experience to say the least.
interactivity: some examples
Where exogenous interactivity is concerned, two examples may be given
to illustrate recent developments. The first, designed at the University
of North Carolina is a graphics tablet incorporating 3D modelling which
allows, using a cursor or a dataglove, for the production of forms in
real time. The second, produced in the United States, by EXOS and NASA,
is an exoskeletal glove which commands an analog robot device. Combined
with a viewing helmet, it makes it possible to manipulate real objects
at a distance or animate virtual objects. These examples illustrate the
interactivity now possible between an operator outside the image and elements
inside the image. But one cannot really call this dematerialization here.
The human body is still necessary, and even if the perceptive situations
are of poor quality, the operator is placed in a totally new intellectual
and sensorial context. Some researchers, such as Marvin Minsky, a computer
pioneer and one of the founding fathers of artificial intelligence, even
go so far as to envisage the suppression of the human body, connecting
the computers sensors directly to the brain!
of endogenous interactivity
Considerable progress has been made recently on endogenous modes of interactivity,
that is to say between virtual objects themselves. Virtual reality will
only behave like real reality when the relations between the elements
which constitute this virtual reality begin to obey their own laws, defined
by models of simulation. On this point, we should note all the research
work being carried out, in particular in the development of behavioural
models of ever greater sophistication, applied to the animation of synthetic
actors, in both the literal and figurative meanings of that word.
The Media Laboratory and the Leg Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology are both working on behavioural modelling. The Media Lab
is designing a behavioural animation programme, functioning in real time
within a dynamic environment. This involves two levels of interaction:
a sort of insect moves about in an autonomous manner whilst also pursuing
a given objective represented by a sphere and avoiding the
obstacles in its path. Interactivity allows this insect to modify its
strategies of movement. The Leg Laboratory is developing a simulated form
of walking. Artificial creatures progress in a somewhat strange and cumbersome
manner corresponding with that of a real robot. The images produced may
look rather funny, but the underlying aims of this research are not so
amusing, since these are essentially military.
importance of models in virtual worlds
The virtual world is radically different and unknown, but this is not
always immediately apparent. This is one of the paradoxes of simulation.
Simulation enables us to approach reality but also to leave it. Computer
images may present a perfect resemblance with a two-dimensional photograph
just as they may display a four-dimensional fractal object in three-dimensional
space. The space-time continuum in which simulated objects are immersed
is often identical to the real world: we need representations that allow
for effective control of reality. Simulation is inspired, therefore, by
logical models which are taken from reality itself. These scientific models
are formalised representations of reality which are developed out of the
technosciences. Several types may be identified: those which enable forms
to be displayed on a screen, such as lighting or texture models; those
which are used to produce forms and their movements, such as interpolations,
accelerations, decelerations, walking, growth; and, finally, those which
are inspired by processes of the human mind, such as models of learning,
reading or cognition.
order and the Artist
Even if the imagination is not dead, the age-old relationship between
the artist and reality has undergone a radical change. The world in which
the artist now operates is no longer one of natural or artificial realities,
but the world of virtual reality, that is to say another reality. The
conditions of creation are no longer governed essentially by the artists
reactions to reality, but also by the artists relation to the virtual.
The world of these virtual realities, composed of digital data, calculations
and logical operations, is of another type. The creator no longer works
with raw, untamed materials, with energy and matter (pigments, marble,
light-sensitive film, electronic signals, etc.) but with abstract materials,
with models. These are intelligible laws, formalised interpretations of
reality, descriptions of the real which have been forged at the fires
of calculation and intelligence, products of knowledge. And this change
concerns not only the artists who work with computers and design their
own programmes, but all those who are in contact with the virtual world,
however close or distant that contact may be.
difficulties in the face of the virtual
Mankinds relationship with technology is becoming increasingly easy,
but this does not make the artists task any simpler. The artist
can either adopt the vision of the world imposed by the models of simulation,
which structure the virtual, a vision which is inevitably fragmentary
and incoherent. Or he may exercise authorial responsibility in a different
way and divert the models originally designed to produce knowledge or
technical effects, transforming the quasi-certainties of science into
the uncertainties of sensibility, and knowledge into aesthetic pleasure.
He or she must go beyond the available models, beyond those he or she
develops, beyond mere technological accumulation to transcend the mere
techniques of modelling, however full of artificial intelligence these
may be. The accumulation of digital models will never make for a work
of art. For the artist, these models may be powerful tools, but with their
own particular constraints. They have to be freed from their scientific
or technical capacity for performance, to be interpreted and translated
into the artists own symbolic system. Their rules must be subverted
or new ones invented.
virtual: a disconcerting reality
It is not too difficult to understand the resistance, the fear and the
doubts expressed not only by many artists but also by art critics and
theorists, faced with this unprecedented technological mutation which,
once again, places art in a new position and forces us to reassess it.
If the artist is confronted with another, disconcerting reality, this
does not mean that the frontiers of the virtual world define a space which
is closed off and dead. On the contrary, they open out onto a new world
which, for all its distance from reality, is fabulously rich.
between the real and the virtual
Todays artistic upheavals do not necessarily mean that the artist
will have to become pure mind, pure calculation. The artist is still in
the real world, rooted in it like the technology he or she uses. It is
in the real world that the artist interferes or interacts with the virtual.
Virtuality is nothing, can do nothing if it is not questioned by reality,
in contact with it. And it is here, in this zone of contact and testing,
at the interface between the real and the virtual, that the artist must
take up residence. It is a narrow but fertile margin, where ways of seeing
mingle with ways of calculating, extremes come together, and where the
virtual and the real form hybrids. And it really is a question of hybridization,
this new art; not so much an art of collage, mixture or patchwork, which
are juxtapositions or insertions of fragmented reality, as an art active
in the tissue, the structure and the understanding of reality and its
simulated counterpart, the virtual, in the depths of their relations and
intrications, bringing them together organically and genetically where
they are most foreign to each other.
Hybridization may concern the very forms of perception, melding several
possible meta-stable, self-generated states. It can affect the play between
images as long as they are all digitized , and also texts
and sounds. It can intervene between the image and the object, but also
between the image and its observer when the interactive image is the more
or less immediate result of the viewers action. There can also be
hybridization between the symbolic world of models, made up of language
and numbers, and the instrumental world of tools and techniques, between
logos and technè between technoscientific
thought which can be formalised and automated, and figurative, creative
thought where the imagination draws on a symbolic universe of another
nature. Finally, there is the hybridization between the real and the virtual.
The art of hybridization is but one of the avenues opened up by the new
digital technologies and figurative processes based on simulation. All
will depend on how artists yoke these technologies to their imaginative
requirements while taking inspiration from their fundamentally innovatory
Computers: multiplicity and transformation
Two constituent aspects of present-day technological possibilities and
of the practices that exploit them are becoming particularly marked: multiplicity
and transformation. The first covers the principles of accumulation and
memory, and corresponds with the idea of the encyclopaedia, or of the
library. The second is founded on the principles of genesis and metamorphosis.
Both emerge through exploration, trajectories and journeys and give rise
to numerous metaphors which could well be the subject of another debate:
the pastoral metaphor we go for a stroll; the maritime metaphor
we navigate; the ruminant metaphor we browse
the metaphors, however, the dominant figure is that of the labyrinth,
the labyrinth that hypermedia in particular convoke, install and construct.