Thursday, December 04, 2008

Putting Descartes before Da Horse

Anna Munster devoted much of her book Materializing New Media to a defense of the relevance of Leibniz and a critique of digital Cartesianism, yet the language of Descartes persists for understandable reasons in a number of academic conversations about computational media, as today's session on "Avatar/Narrative" at ACM ACE 2008 demonstrates.

For example, Mirjam Palosaari Eladhari discussed how the mental model of affective action in World of Minds functioned during playtesting and the question of what Eladhari called adding a "soul to the body" in the process. In her work with Michael Mateas, she described how players attempt to build a workable mental model and reverse engineer from the situations presented in game play with passive emotions ranging from depression to bliss and active emotions ranging from fury to jubilation.

Cartesian language about mental images, volitions, emotions, judgments, formal reality, objective reality, doubt, understanding, affirmation, denial, imagination, and sense perception abounded in the papers and discussions that followed. For example, Peggy Weil, creator of the Turing-inspired Mr. Mind, and Nonny de la Peña discussed their Gone Gitmo exhibit and the application of "Avatar Mediated Cinema" and "Cinema Veritar" techniques to the representation of a real and inaccessible prison. Like Alexandra Juhasz, they note that online video in YouTube is often competing for attention with the digital ephemera that surrounds it, so they argue that the relatively large scale of Second Life environments to visiting avatars and the ability to control the environment and the visual field creates a possibility to display monumental cinema in a new way. They also noted what they called the "embodied edit" at work.

A version of Descartes' famed chimera also made an appearance in the talk that followed about non-human avatars by Gustav Verhulsdonck about the status of anthropomorphism in virtual worlds. Verhulsdonck noted the emergence of avatars derived from legends, mythology, the animal world, and "tinies." Strangely, "furries," a favorite subculture for many Internet researchers, wasn't on Verhulsdonck's list.

Jenny Brusk finished out the session.

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