Historical Overview
Technical Aspects
Recent Developments
Artists and Projects
Potencials and Dangers
Questions and Doubts
Space and Architecture
Our Project
Research References
Home Page

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 Spatial Stucture

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 to exist).
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 MUD’s 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 are rigorouslygeometrical.
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 MUD’s 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 host’s 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.

Exogenous 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 computer’s sensors directly to the brain!

Models 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.

Behavioural animations

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.

The 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.

Virtual 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 artist’s reactions to reality, but also by the artist’s 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.

Artists’ difficulties in the face of the virtual

Mankind’s relationship with technology is becoming increasingly easy, but this does not make the artist’s 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 artist’s own symbolic system. Their rules must be subverted or new ones invented.

The 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.

Hybridization: between the real and the virtual

Today’s 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 viewer’s 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 character.

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… Of all the metaphors, however, the dominant figure is that of the labyrinth, the labyrinth that hypermedia in particular convoke, install and construct.