Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Manchester England, England

Although it seems should be associating this northern English city with the gloomy electronic music of my youth and bands like Joy Division and the Buzzcocks, instead I find myself with the cheerful repetitive refrain from the song from Hair running through my skull as I walked through the city streets under the urban canopy of CCTV cameras.

Of course, my first stop was Manchester Cathedral, where sadistic and gory murders were virtually staged for the videogame Resistance: Fall of Man without the church's permission. As a site of political conscience, where the term "Welfare State" was coined and a sermon against the slave trade launched a petition drive that garnered signatures from a fifth of the city, and which was rebuilt after bomb attacks from Nazi planes and the IRA, church elders are now very protective of the images of the church, which they treat as intellectual/sacred property. Signs read "No photo-imaging devices or recording equipment may be used in the Cathedral without the express and written permission of the Sub-Dean." Actually, the cathedral is remarkably modest in size compared to its larger ecclesiastical cousins on the Continent. It is dwarfed by a nearby sight-seeing ferris wheel and nestled among historical English taverns.

At the end of the evening we had a tour of the Manchester Museum, where our guide pointed out how Victorian scientists arranged displays of stuffed animals to suit patriarchal and Eurocentric agendas. It was also interesting to hear about how interactive touch-screen displays that had ceased to function were replaced with tried-and-true techniques for interactivity like large paper and cups of crayons.

(Thanks to Simon Harper for organizing the Hypertext 2007 conference that brought me to the city.)

Update: Regarding the Manchester Cathedral controversy, Gamasutra has a great piece by pal Ian Bogost, "Persuasive Games: The Reverence of Resistance," which actually looks at the rhetoric of sacred spatiality that the game presents.

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