Far Cry 3 and designer inducements

Thinking some more about the ideas in Andrew Vanden Bosche’s great post that I responded to the other day, I realised that I hadn’t really thought about it from the perspective of the game designer, i.e. from the position that someone like Jeff Yohalem is in. So what is it like to be Yohalem, and to be in his position? What is compelling him, from his perspective?

As a disclaimer, this is going to be largely speculative and may or may not prove accurate. However the structure of the game designer’s explanations for why they made the game design choices that they did are often remarkably similar from person to person, so much so they form something of a trope. The culprit that is inducing the game designer to produce certain types of things is quite usually (though by no means always) gamers themselves, or perhaps more accurately (thought more abstractly) gamer expectations. In other words some kind of cultural push that Yohalem et al. feels from outside their own workplace is limiting, directing or shaping the kinds of choices that the designers themselves can make. Marketing departments at Ubisoft probably form a part of this ecosystem, but game designers aren’t aloof from their own culture, either. They tend to know what “gamers” like and enjoy because they are gamers themselves, they buy the same games, they read the same publications, they have Twitter and Facebook, etc, etc.

I’m going to pick out a quote from the Yohalem interview at RPS that I linked in my original post that I think is pretty telling, and highlight some of the important phrases:

“I feel like we’re in this place in the videogame industry where we’re in an abusive relationship. Players feel like game developers don’t respect them, and don’t create meaningful works for them, so they call a lot of games stupid. And a lot of developers get upset because things are being called stupid, and they say that players don’t get it anyway, so they just handhold them all the [way] through. I think that’s an abusive relationship. You need to break that cycle. You need to cause both sides to step back and say, “Maybe there’s something else that we can both have between each other.” We can create situation where players go, “Huh, maybe games have something interesting to say after all, and I’m going to listen.” And then that puts the pressure on game developers to not create lazy crap.

So here’s a clue: Yohalem feels that players can and do put actual, real, felt pressure on developers somehow. For gamers themselves, this probably comes as something of a revelation, since the closest any of us come to feeling like we have any influence over the games that get made comes either through voting on which banal version of the boxart we like better (which is more like participating in a focus group without getting paid), or by organising boycotts or petitions (still rather abstract; though it occasionally gets things done by demonstrating a significant market, a la Dark Souls on PC), or slightly more directly by backing Kickstarter projects. As far as I know, Far Cry 3 involved none of these.

Putting aside for the moment Yohalem’s troubling views on arbitration and breaking the cycle (tl;dr – when two ‘sides’ aren’t equal there’s no such thing as breaking the cycle by making tem both ‘step back’. Imagine doing that in something like apartheid South Africa and see how unfair that attitude actually becomes) how might Yohalem be directly feeling the pressure from game players? I think the clue is in that all the vectors for ‘player pressure’ on developers come in the form of aggregates or otherwise abstracted forms. There are no direct conduits for ‘player agency’ to express itself on game development, so no wonder players become hyperbolic and feel like Shinji Ikari who gets no say in the matter of what kinds of games are available for him to play, or over the future direction, development and philosophy of these games.

There’s an easy target of all-caps CAPITALISM! here but I want to ignore that for a second and think more about the difference between individuals and aggregates. The problem with aggregating and encapsulating player agency into these ‘markets’ or collectives of petitions, or cumulative buying power, etc, etc (we might add – collective outrage/influence power to this list, but that’s a far more complex issue) is that it is a reductive process. My concerns, wishes and desires are not going to be identical to your concerns. They may overlap, but there is no way to non-reductively combine our issues and ball them up into one collective ‘pressure’ unit to direct at game developers to get them to stop or start doing something, or influence them in other more nuanced ways.

For example, I’m thinking of a post by Claire Hosking that really highlights the troubling intersection of valid and important concerns about the representation of women in games with the just as valid and just as important concern about allowing women of all body shapes and sizes (including women with large breasts! Hello Lara Croft!) be represented in media and to also possess their own rich inner life. The concern here is that in the push for more ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ or (heck) even realistic body shapes we can accidentally trip into the situation where we deny busty women the kind of nuance and interiority that we grant to, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Veronica Mars. Claire’s example in the forthcoming post is Christina Hendrick’s character on Mad Men, who is voluptuous and objectified by those around her but which the show itself treats with the same respect as any other character.

So it is incredibly difficult to aggregate such nuance effectively – I’m “for” more body-diversity in games, and I’m all for the reduced “objectification” of women in games, but I’m also not happy with sacrificing representations of busty women just to stop teen boys objectifying them? Suffice to say, shit is complicated.

For another great example, look at the intellectual work that Robert Yang has to do to unify even in a blog post the “Queer Feminist Agenda” for games. Imagine how much harder it’s going to be to unify actual people, with actual opinions and hesitations and peccadillos and all the other things that come along with being human. But there’s a good reason to try, particularly since it’s partly how we get game designers like Jeff Yohalem take notice of us. There are good reasons to encapsulate or aggregate.

I’ve half-joked before about the need for a Gamer Union or something like that. I don’t have the time or ability to organise it myself, but I actually quite seriously believe in the potential in something like a gamers lobby group or union or something (at least, one that was done well. We’re already sort of doing this in a loose and anarchic way through twitter and the like). Imagine the impact we could have had when the Girlfriend mode thing happened if we could go to Randy Pitchford and say “Here are 10,000 people not happy with that glimpse of your studio’s development culture. What are you going to do to change that?” How’s that for some pressure?

Passive agression, Spec Ops: The Line, and the individual onus

Andrew Vanden Bossche has a great little post up on his tumblr about the way Shinji Ikari in Evangelion reacts to being told what to do, wanting to resist doing it, while also being unable to say ‘no’ to his father. It finds its realisation in passive agression, frustration and following orders with a bare minimum of effort:

He’s a kid and this is the only possible way of saying fuck you to his dad and that is very important to him. His contempt for the life and death game the adults are making him play is obvious.

This is super familiar to me, especially at this time of year, as Christmas is often the time of year when I feel I have the least amount of personal agency, a stifling lack of freedom regarding what to do or where to go, am often unable to retreat to a private space (when staying with relatives), locked into the schedules of adults. Christmastime frequently became a period of painful obligation and a test of endurance. But I digress.

Andrew says that this rejection of his lack of agency, expressed as resistance through resentment and acts of minimal enthusiasm, was how he played Spec Ops: The Line,

The game insists over and over that it’s my fault all the bad things that the game is forcing me to do to continue are happening. Spec Ops is barely self aware that this is the case—people are dying because you just keep going forward, a voiceover informs you. But they’re only dying because the game orders them to die. Video games are pretty eager to blame players for killing when designers are the ones that turn on slow motion every time I score a head shot.

This is absolutely spot on, and something that we also see in Far Cry 3 writer Jeffrey Yohalem’s interivews, for instance:

So in this case it’s torturing your little brother, and there’s no real reason to be doing it. You’re not saving the Earth, you’re not doing anything that makes that act okay. That was meant to really shock people.

This said with no awareness, of course, that the player knows this and has the additional piece of information – that the writer intended this to happen to the player. And yet Yohalem wipes his hands of any personal responsibility in making the player “torture” his own in-game brother. This trend (and I really do think it’s a trend) is super interesting to me, not least of all because of the way that Andrew in his post frames this as a clash of systemic responsibility with individual responsibility:

I think it would be pretty cool to have a game about how cruel oppressive systems survive by pushing on their problems onto individuals.

I agree, it would be an extremely cool game that dealt with that issue. In my PhD thesis, I’m attempting to build a case for certain types of fairly novel arguments about, for one example, the way certain ontologies give us permission to outsource responsibility, and to shift and move it around depending on which way the wind is blowing. Certainly at present, what gets called ‘neoliberalism’ (but which I’m mostly calling ‘Capitalist Realism’, following Mark Fisher) gives permission to outsource responsibility onto individuals the end results of systemic issues which result in individual cases of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and stress.

Consider this: if your work conditions are so precarious, your conditions so utterly decided by the whims of the ‘market’ or ‘consumer demand’ or even a the will of a capricious boss who can’t keep his dick in his pants, how is it your fault that you are depressed?! Surely in those circumstances depression and severe anxiety is normal! And yet responsibility under neoliberalism always trickles downwards… was Reagan secretly right?

Thesis tribulations

I’ve found that sometimes the biggest impediment when it comes to actually sitting down and writing a certain thesis section is un-thinking the things that I had thought about that section prior and which now… are incomplete, wrong, or just don’t fit the argument. It’s like my provisional thoughts – having had some before – actually blocks the process of forming coherent complete thoughts in the present. Weird. WEIRD.

This has been a tweet.

Far Cry 3 – On tessellation, FOV and enjoyment

So I changed two minor video settings at some point this week and it’s like I’m playing an entirely different game.

I changed the geometry to ‘Ultra’, and the Field of Vision (FOV) to 90 degrees, up from the default 75. These two changes have literally flipped my experience of Far Cry 3 on its head. Before it felt like I was fighting against the game at every step, now I feel more ‘relaxed’ and at-east within the game, being able to inhabit the world much more fully.

Which seems bizarre, right? Two tiny settings and now I can enjoy the game, whereas before it was a pain? But it’s absolutely true. Lets talk about what these two settings actually do in detail and speculate around why they might be so important to my enjoyment.

So some important PC spec details:

  • Intel Core i5 2500K overclocked to ~4ghz
  • 8gb of (I think?) pretty fast timed RAM
  • 256gb SSD
  • Nvidia GTX560

Pretty powerful stuff that I shelled out for last year, should be able to handle pretty much whatever I throw at it reasonably well. But there’s a catch with the 560 and a particular DirectX 11 feature involving ‘tessellation’, which in a nutshell adds more triangles to more complex geometric objects as the viewer approaches them. Here’s the Nvidia ‘endless city’ demo that shows off this pretty neat piece of tech. Watch the following zoom-in/zoom-out section to see how it dynamically adds and subtracts geometric detail.

“If I zoom out you’ll see how all that simplifies, and if I zoom in more and more triangles come back.”

This is neat! It makes complex in-world objects look… well… complex! But there’s a catch. How do you render the addition of these triangles without it looking like the object is morphing before your eyes? The nVidia demo manages it because there’s a lot of shadowy darkness around it, and in the textureless and wireframe views we don’t notice the unrealism of the morphing because of the abstract nature of those views.

But in Far Cry 3 this technology is where the rubber hits the road, for me at least, as the method of smoothing between geometric levels of detail becomes painfully distracting. Essentially, a shimmer effect is applied over the object as detail levels are added or removed, and in complex scenes with a lot of dynamic addition and subtraction this gets overwhelming really fast.

Here’s as good an examples as I could find, watch the two crates/boxes besides the hut at the third place the camera swings around to after the player turns off the radio tower. I’ve set the time on the video as close as possible to the point. It may take some re-watching to see what I mean, and admittedly it doesn’t look that ‘bad’ here, but there are scenes where it has been incredibly distracting for me. (You’ll have to watch in 720p to even notice, but it’s plainly visible at 1080p)

It also happens on a basket sitting on the bench in the first scene, and on a flower in the bottom right corner of the second location the camera pans around to. Once you start noticing it, it can get distracting very quickly, and what has been seen cannot be unseen.

So what was the purpose of setting it to Ultra? Well the change that effects is to decrease the amount of culling of triangles, so once the high detail is there it generally stays till you are very far away, and (I think) you also begin to see the shimmer happen further away form you, reducing its impact. When the shimmer effect looks like an item is being beamed in by teleporter from the Starship Enterprise, it’s worth trying to minimise it as much as possible. So that change was something of a revelation.

The second change, to widen the FOV to 90 degrees rather than the default (even for widescreen!) of ~74/75 degrees felt reminiscent of the cessation of an irritating noise just below conscious attention. It was that kind of release of an ambient tension that is pent up just below the surface, the kind you are entirely unaware of until it actually lets up at which point you suddenly go “Wow, I was clenching my jaw without realising”.

Such a simple fix, and one I didn’t realise I was missing until it happened. What does this tell me about myself and what I am used to? I think it’s a sign that I have so habituated the ‘angle’ or ‘perspective’ that goes with a certain field of vision that I resist attempts to be squished into anything less. But this is strange, why would I feel so claustrophobic when constrained by something as simple as FOV?

The 90 degree FOV puts ‘your head’ further back from your arms, as a consequence of the bending it does to include more of the field of vision into the rectangle of your monitor. You end up ‘further away’ from your arms, as a result. This is a weird paradox because, as I said about Far Cry 2, it was my identification with my arms that caused me to feel like I was so much more a part of the world. In fact what I said about Far Cry 2 was that it wasn’t so much a first person shooter, as a first person hander. You ‘do’ most of your verbs with your hands in that game, heal with your hands, climb with your hands, swim with your hands, shoot with your hands (hands that very competently translate your instructions into weapon handling) but which are also interrupted by sick hands when you have to cough and splutter and take anti-malarials.

So in Far Cry 3 getting further away from my hands (and further ‘back’ from the screen perspectivally) ends up ‘feeling’ better, and along with a couple of the skills which allow me to (I think?) run faster generally, I feel more competent and confident at inhabiting the world.

How silly that such things depended on two little menu settings, and that it took me so long to realise.

Livin the gun life

Check out the weird dissonance of this:

At the same time, though, I was a little jealous of those getting permits. Taking my guns from the safe was a rare treat; the sensual pleasure of handling guns is a big part of the habit. Elegantly designed and exquisitely manufactured, they are deeply satisfying to manipulate, even without shooting. I normally got to play with mine only a few times a year, during hunting season and on one or two trips to the range. The people with carry permits, though, were handling their guns all the time. They were developing an enviable competence and familiarity with them. They were living the gun life. Finally, last year, under the guise of “wanting to learn what this is all about,” but really wanting to live the gun life myself, I began the process of getting a carry permit. All that was required was a background check, fingerprints, and certification that I’d passed an approved handgun class.

Gun life… living a life of competence and familiarity with a piece of “elegantly designed and exquisitely manufactured” death dealing machines. Guns are designed to kill, you can argue all you want that there are other concerns that come before the priority of killing displacing the primary purpose of a gun (“to look elegant, to deter attackers, etc, etc”) but the spectre of a gun being about meting out death or maiming never goes away. Remove that dimension of a gun and it stops being a gun. Even the “less lethal” (not non-lethal; the haunting never leaves) guns cannot excise the spirit, the possibility that accidentally or unintentionally someone is killed by a less-lethal bullet.

There is nothing life affirming about a gun, and anyone living around them regularly who forgets that is like the person who gets behind the wheel without any of the quiet fear that comes from never being able to forget that a car just as easily crosses into the territory of ‘weapon’.

Bonus: Check out Amanda Marcotte’s pinterest post pointing at the “psychosexual weirdness“of gun fetishists, and the advertisement for the Bushmaster type semi-automatic used in the recent Sandy Hook massacre. It’s a banal point that Americans have weird sexual hang-ups (for reals) and I wonder how often “living the gun life” becomes a Freudian ‘return of the repressed’ for many. “Consider your man card re-issued” addressed to the viewer, looking slightly askew down the barrel of a machine that promises no impotence ever, aka full potency is such an easy target for this kind of analysis. (Quentin Meillassoux’s partner has apparently done a lot of interesting scholarship on the importance of Aristotelean ‘potency’ on middle ages Christian theologians thinking the concept of ‘omnipotence’ (full potency) seems very promising here, I want to read her stuff)

I have a copy of C.J. Chivers’ “The Gun: The History of the AK” (extract and neat videografik here at Esquire) but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet (I should hurry up, it’s my brother’s book lol).

Transcription: highlights from Timothy Morton’s Q&A session after ‘On Entering the Anthropocene’

On Friday, August 24th 2012 Tim Morton gave a rapid fire talked entitled ‘On Entering the Anthropocene’ as part of the launch of the new UNSW based journal of Environmental Humanities. I went along to the talk which was typical of Morton’s style, way too fast to keep up with (for me, at least). But after his short paper he spent a long period in discussion (though it was more like a discursive monologue with occasional input from those of us in the audience) that elaborated on some incredibly compelling ideas.

So taken was I by the Q&A section that I decided to transcribe some of the best portions of the talk (which ended up being, as you can see, quite a lot of it). The recording of the talk is available here, and the Q&A portion starts at around 30 minutes into the recording, so he spoke off-the-cuff in Q&A for far longer than the paper. The following transcription is riddled with the relics of spoken word, lots of pauses and ‘like’s and other phrases that don’r work as well in writing as they do in speaking, so your mileage may vary. The ideas Morton covered give, I suspect, a good idea of the direction he is going in with his forthcoming book Realist Magic, due out sometime next year, presumably. I have focussed solely on Tim’s answers, so refer to the MP3 for the questions that provoked these monologues, and the few timestamps I have included refer to that file. Because of the nature of transcription and because I focussed solely on the answers that most interested me, there are gaps and inaccuracies throughout. I encourage you to consult the original recording when in doubt or if anything seems mistaken, all transcription errors are my own.

Morton starts by answering a question from the audience…



“Ecological awareness, to me, is a kind of reflexive openness to… ‘strange strangers’. To these entities… DNA it’s made of things that aren’t DNA… rabbits are made of things that aren’t rabbits. So a rabbit is also a not-rabbit. In order to be a rabbit it’s also not-a-rabbit, it’s made of bones and… the legbone is connected to the headbone and the headbone is connected to the footbone… and the footbone is connected to the… toxic waste bone. And so… then we have at a slightly bigger scale… we have ecosystems, and they are sets of lifeforms aren’t they? And things that are made of lifeforms, like rocks, and things that are basically deposits of iron and oxygen, which is basically deposits of bacteria from billions of years ago. And these sets contain things that aren’t them… so it seems to me that lifeforms and the sets they comprise, like ecosystems and biomes… biosphere… exemplify Russell’s worst nightmare, which is the set of things that aren’t members of themselves. So in order to think ecologically we have to accept that some things, at least some things in reality are self-contradictory. This means that we need a logic that is not about reducing things to non-contradiction.

Section gamma of the metaphysics asserts that… something can’t be itself and not itself at the same time, but it’s never really been rigorously proved, people have just accepted this as a kind of rule of logic. And you sort of have to think, well can we have wisdom? When I hear wisdom, there’s part of me thinks ‘that means outside of logic’, but I think actually maybe we can have a logic that is not that way trying to boil everything down to non-selfcontradictory things. All the incredible discoveries of the 19th century, like Evolution… and also Cantor’s transfinite sets, are entities that you can’t directly point to, that consist of other entities that aren’t them. You can’t actually see the difference between a proto-parrot and a parrot, you can never see evolution happening. Nevertheless there are parrots and there are chimps and there are nematode worms. And there are discrete, unique beings. And the sort of joke…. If only Darwin had had emoticons it would’ve be easier for us to understand what he’s up to because he could have said, ‘The Origin of Species wink’ 😉 The punchline being there are no species and they have no origin.

I personally, I’m with Graham Priest of Melbourne who thinks that you can be perfectly logical and have self-contradiction. So within logic you can find this wisdom, but it means you have to go back, you have to go past, underneath, Aristotle, but it also means you have to accept some of the things that were discovered in the 19th Century, such as precisely these things that I call hyperobjects. Like the very first one, weather wise, was El Niño, this weather pattern in the pacific that creates all this trouble in America, it’s a symptom of global warming really, but it’s an entity you can’t actually see it but you can think it. Like the notion of rational vs real numbers. Somehow the set of real numbers contains the set of rational numbers but there’s no continuity between them. So we have a set of things that aren’t sort of… totally continuous. So this was Russell’s big problem…  And so if we’re going to have ecological awareness, we have to start accepting that things are sort of uncanny which also means familiarly strange, which means they are themselves and not themselves at the same time. So to me that is what wisdom would be. It would be accepting that it’s perfectly logical, it’s not outside of logic, to allow things to be self-contradictory. You just have to drop a prejudice that doesn’t work… the kind of metalanguage police of the early 20th Century, Tarsky, all those guys, tried to say “Oh well those sets aren’t really sets. They’re something else.” For Tarsky, the liar is…  is not a sentence. Because you have decided, metalinguistically, that it’s not a sentence. Okay great Mister Tarsky, now I can invent a sentence that will blow your one up: “This is not a sentence.” And so begins this kind of arms race between these viral, self-contradictory sentences, another example would be Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Every logical system, in order to be true on its own terms, has to have at least one statement in to that cannot be proved. Something like “This statement cannot be proved.” In order to be TRUE!

And it seems to me that, also life-forms, and just regular, nonliving, physical objects have this kind of inner-fragility. There’s at least one magic silver bullet that could kill you. And death in this way, or destruction, just means you would become the other thing. When Wiley Coyote eats road runner, road runner becomes Wiley Coyote. That’s the definition of being destroyed. When the opera singer sings a certain frequency of note, the glass sort of shimmies a little bit and then… poof… it’s a not-glass. It’s been translated by the soundwaves somehow. So it his this kind of inner Achilles heel, a fragile sort of wound. And I think this wound is the difference between an object and itself. It’s that self-contradictoriness because, on this view things are not what they appear all the way down. So that even if they were…. Totally physically isolated they would be themselves and not themselves at the same time.

You can isolate a tiny, tiny object that’s actually really big from a quantum point of view. You can isolate a tiny little tuning fork that’s like 30microns long you can put it in a vacuum very close to absolute zero, that’s pretty much operationally closed… what you see is this thing sort of breathing.

This is Aaron O’Connnell, he’s got this Ted Talk ‘making sense of a visible quantum object’. It’s not quantum it’s actually macro scale, this shouldn’t work from a Neils Bohr point of view. What you see is this little tiny thing, you can see it with your eye…

[[ Tim then elaborated on the TED talk he mentioned, which I believe is this one ]]

“When you isolate a physical system it seems to go into coherence. Which means it’s here but also not here at the same time.”

“At bottom… existing means contradicting yourself. And ceasing to exist means becoming consistent.”


“Everything is sort of translating everything else.”

[[Gives the example of carpet ‘carpetromorphising’ me, me anthropomorphising carpet, etc.]]


“This kind of irreducible gap between the way something is and the way it appears, even to itself… the way something is is ‘futural’. Like think about reading a poem. You don’t know what it means yet, this is why you read it. Then once you’ve read it, you might have another reading of it. So the meaning of the poem is always in the future. I think it’s also the same with anything. It’s the same with grass. It’s the same with seagulls. It’s the same with my hair. It’s the same with moles, it’s the same with money. The essence of a thing is the future. And the form of a thing just is the past, on this view. The way something has been shaped, or moulded, the way something appears is the past. This makes sense from an Einstein point for view, but also an Aristotelian point of view. Formal causation just is the way something has been formed. So on this view, there’s a kind of temporality that doesn’t have the present… I’m sorry… now I’m doing ecology without the present… The present is a kind of optical illusion, it’s like a kind of relative motion. You’ve got these two trains… one is the past, one is the future, they’re sliding past each other they don’t ever touch each other because essence and appearance don’t touch… but the relative motion caused by both things sliding over each other is what we call present. And we can kind of metaphysically say, this is now, this microsecond, this dot, this atom of time… or this bigger thing, this blob, this year, this century, this millennium. Whatever we do is always a kind of arbitrary construct that’s always subject to sorites paradoxes. In other words, you can always do a Zeno on any atomic version of time where you’ve got little atoms of present’s moving one side to other… so if you drop that, you’ve got the past and the future moving.”

[[ Tim talks about hyperobjects, objects “so big and so futural” ]]


“Thinking into the future… this is my version of it… Art is like a message in a bottle from the future. It’s like Percy Shelly says, poems actually do come from the future, I truly believe that, I’m not just talking gibberish and I think I just explained why I think that’s true…


“Thinking is always into the future, in that sense, because there is always an encounter with non-identity in thinking. That’s where I actually really love Adorno, because his whole thing is that really thinking something is encountering something that’s not identical, otherwise you’re just moving pre-arranged stuff on a grid, that you’ve pre-established, that’s not really thinking that’s just manipulating pre-formed objects. Which is basically the past. They’re living in the past, from my point of view. So thinking is always into the future, I just think that ecological awareness – which is just realising that we coexist with many other nonhuman beings that are not necessarily living or sentient – is futural. So unlike Latour, I do think we have been Modern, we have been thinking we are just about to hit the… it was bad then, and now it’s gonna work, just another little final thing! …I think we really have been modern, and we are kind of waking up form that and realising that ever time we do that we were just going round this Mobius strip, not moving at all.

Thinking the future is thinking ecologically, and obviously it means transcending the horrifying stuff that’s happening right now… one of those things is the way capitalism is organised.


[[ At this point I asked Tim a question about his views on whether he is a materialist, what he thinks of matter, etc ]]

“When I hear the word matter what I hear is… a kind of… perspective trick. Matter is what something was made out of, but when I look for matter it’s the same as when I look for nature. Like when I look for nature I see bunny rabbits, trees, mountains, bacteria… but I never see this thing called nature, it’s always off the edge of the list somewhere… else. When I look for matter I see photographs of cloud diffusion patterns in cloud diffusion chambers, I see drawings of nuclei, I see stones, I see cement, I see flesh, I never see this thing called matter. Matter is the object that something was made out of (or objects). So on this view, materialism is a kind of correlationism, to be very technical about it. What materialism does is it both, in Graham Harman’s words, undermines things… to some smaller or larger thing that’s more real. Tables aren’t really tables; they’re actually made of wood. Then by definition the wood is more real than the table. Wood isn’t really wood, it’s made of cells. Cells aren’t really cells they’re made of molecules. Molecules aren’t really molecules they’re made of atoms. Atoms aren’t really atoms they’re made of quanta. Quanta aren’t really quanta, they’re made of fluctuations in the void. What have you just done? You’ve just gone to nihilism, because you’ve just decided that the most real and fundamental thing is this void, with quantum fluctuations. Or you can say that the  table is just an instantiation of a table process, or some kind of life force, or some kind of Bergson/Deleuze way of doing it… there’s this flow of something (Spinoza), as a substance and it extrudes itself as a table. The substance is more real than the table. So that would be undermining.

Then overmining… the table is a discursive produce of my cultural make up, or it’s a figment of my imagination or it’s a mind projection, or it’s a moment of my consciousness. Going upwards also you encounter the void, eventually. Because you say, well it’s not really a table it’s my positing of the table as a table, it’s not really positing, it’s my self-reflexive act of positing myself. It’s not really myself it’s a pure ‘I’ positing itself in a void. You’ve also gone to a void, upwards. So I think that in general, materialism is both those things together. It’s saying this thing isn’t really a thing, it looks like it’s a thing to you but actually it’s made of these other things that are more real because they’re smaller or bigger. And it’s just saying, well small things are better than big things, or medium sized things. Or big things are better than medium size things. And I’m sticking up for medium sized things, like people, chimps, bacteria, elephants, polar bears, ocean, y’know… just that idea. And so I’m happier with the idea that there’s a possible infinite regress. I thin the anxiety is “oh my god you never get back… you want to get back to the beginning”. But if we are trying to go past metaphysics you can’t have a beginning thing at all. So you have to accept the possibility that there’s an infinite regress of entities. It may not be the case, but it’s possible – it’s thinkable that there might be an inifintesimal, like liveness(???), number of little thingies inside me. That basically everything is a Tardis. Y’know Dr Who’s Tardis? … Everything is bigger on the inside than the outside. Everything is like that, from this point of view. And I’m happier with that than the idea that everything is made out of some primal thing. That seems to be a hangover from a kind of scholastic, Neoplatonic, Aristoteleanism. That saying there’s a kind of fundamental first cause that is the cause of itself. But this is what Hume and Kant just blew out of the water, this idea that you can just have these factoids like “Everything must have a cause!” Now what we have are just correlations of data. So you can’t really do that anymore, it’s just we’re really addicted to it. And the trouble is the addiction has political, social, therefore ecological consequences. So I think for example the Higgs-Boson, what did they really discover? They discovered some statistically meaningful data that fit with the standard model. But from my point of view, this Higgs-Boson is a kind of hysterical symptom of a correlationist view. Because from that kind of quantum theory, which is standard model, it’s saying the measuring device makes it real, there’s nothing really happening it’s just that when you measure it, it becomes real so…measuring it is more real than what’s measured. So you’re a metaphysician there. You’ve just decided that measuring is more real than what you’ve measured… so you’re an overminer from that point of view. But then if everything is like that, what’s holding it all together? And so along comes this Higgs-Boson, that somehow magically particles pass through this Higgs field, which just so happens to be evenly distributed throughout space-time so you can’t see it… well what does this remind you of? The ether. It’s back… partying like it’s 1759. But, with billions and billions of dollars! “We just need another… 4-more gig of electron volts and we’ll get it. Just give us another 60 million and we’ll find the ultimate particle.” And you can easily do a Locke on that, right. You’ve got this field of particles… and what’s surrounding that? The whole kind of deconstruction of the notion of the ether. The ether is made of particles at some point, well what’s the ether around those? You have some kind of infinite regress problem.

So I think… you always end up with… you need something to fill in the gap in the theory. Unless you just accept there are quarks, there are giraffes. Giraffes are not reducible to quarks, and so… there’s a kind of tardis quality to a giraffe. I’m happier with that. So I’m not a materialist.


“There’s this conversation with nihilism going on. Everybody’s terrified of it, or embracing it, or something. And it seems to me that once you’ve decided there’s a gap between how thing are and how they appear you’ve let the nothingness genie out of the bottle. You’ve decided there’s a lot of little holes in reality and now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall, and it’s all very disturbing. And I used to think that nihilism was a problem that we had to kind of surmount. But now I think it’s more like a problematic that we have to kind of go underneath-through… underneath it. And so basically this is a long way of saying ‘I haven’t got a clue. I’m just road-testing it.’”


“Since there is no real rigid boundary between life and non life, in my view, all entities are kind of ‘un-dead’. So a more accurate picture of reality would not be nature in particular, or even environment, but something more like a charnal ground. There’s a sort of thing that many different styles of Tibetan Buddhism do, in particular Turd(??), which is generated by Madrick Labdrun(??) who is one of the Sidhes (which means ‘highly accomplished people’, in what we would call the middle ages) and their whole thing was to try and stay in these horrible places… I’ve been in some, you’ve got bits of limbs. They just chop you up and leave you there for the vultures. It’s the ultimate ecological burial… There’s this guy called the Sky Butcher and he just chops you into little pieces, there’s no burning. So there’s all kinds of ideas that there’s these demons and ghosts and the whole idea is to kind of co-exist in that space. And I think… Nature and human are like small, rather arbitrarily constructed regions of this much bigger space which is more like… the modern would be an emergency room. There’s lots of blood, and there’s lots of pain. As a depression person… I think that…


[[ Tim then talks about Goths and depression (as one stage of grief) ]]

“Depression could be, to go back to the wisdom thing, it could be sort of frozen wisdom. I’m just a traditional Freudian, I think melancholia is a default state of being something at all, because to be something is to be marked by something else. You have inner wounds, which just are your ego. As Freud says the ego is the precipitator of abandoned object kathexies…


“I’m just trying to trick americans into it… trying to find some kind of clever way to get Americans to give a shit… about reducing their carbon footprint… inside the depression is what I’m calling ‘sadness’ which is the sort of feeling of connection with at least one other entity. But unconditional. Like when you examine Kantian beauty, it’s an experience of an object-like thing, but… you can’t point to it, but it’s not objectified, but it’s not you… it’s a footprint of something non-human inside your psychic space. And it’s sad, by definition, because you can’t hold onto it, it’s ungraspable. Like if you could specify ‘oh, it’s the smile of the Mona Lisa that makes it beautiful’ you could make a million Photoshop versions… jpg’s of the smile, and that would be a million times more beautiful than the Mona Lisa. Or if you could say, “Oh it’s actually my brain chemistry, I’m getting off on my brain”, then you could isolate the active ingredient of that, you could make a little pill… lets call it MDMA. Just arbitrarily… you take a thousand of those it’s a thousand times better than the feeling of beauty, but that doesn’t work either.


“There’s a certain je ne sais quios, you can’t point to it, you can’t impose it on anybody, so there’s a certain sadness in the feeling of beauty. You can’t hold onto it. And that’s coexistence, underneath. I think that the human experience of this is like a chocolate, you’ve got the frosting on the outside which is guilt, inside that is the shame… then inside that is the depression, which is the frozen liquid centre the cherry flavoured… inside that is the real liquid, which is the sadness… that’s what it mostly depends on. Just coexisting with 1+n other beings. And that’s what we need to hit, or to tune to, or allow to tune us, if we’re to get through this thing we created… and also other species.”


[[ Tim gives the example of a “chimp” and the only thing that a chimp needs to do to ‘evolve’ is to pass on its DNA/genes, etc. ]]


“But I’m trying to convince… pseudo-sophisticated nihilists inside the American academy that it’s really cool to think that was, not really primitive…”


“You can have even more irony when you have a trickster nature… underneath the tragedy level, underneath the sadness even, there’s a kind of comedy level.”

[[ Underneath the tragedy sadness level, Tim suggests is a comedy level ]]


“Trying to trick people into that, rather than saying “you must abandon all your modern stuff” …people go into defiance when you tell them directly the modern age is all fucked up… or tey get really religious about that…”

“I must totally change my entire way of being!” Well that is just modernity.


[[ Around this point I asked Tim a question about the best way to convince Americans in love with the notion of individualism to believe in collectives, aggregates, and objects that are larger than single human entities ]]

“How do you convince individualists they’re actually a part of something larger than themselves… well they actually love that feeling, a certain version of that (which is basically Fascism)… which is a feeling of being part of something bigger.

“There’s basically two views of religion: Battaille, philosophy of religion, he says you can think relgion means feeling that you are part of something bigger, and I’m totally integrated into that… now in my view you can never be totally integrated into something bigger, there’s always a gap between a chair and a set of chairs. So there’s America and there’s capitalism and there’s me, and then there’s groups within that and they’re all discrete in some strange way, and there’s the biosphere… but it’s not a completely functioning, totally integrated holistic machine. But Americans actually love that, they love the idea that they are totally dissolved like sugar in water, into something bigger. So you’ve got to defeat that one…

What both those thing are warding off is what Battaille says religion actually is, which I think is really cool. Which is that it’s a kind of search for a lost intimacy. It’s intimacy. Intimacy is not feeling part of something bigger, it’s coexisting in a vulnerable fragile sort of way with at least one other entity. And intimacy is what we need in ecological awareness, not feeling like we’re part of something bigger, we need some kind of intimacy.


“What we’re warding off in that joyful, ecstatic immersion in the Big Other is the uncertainty of just encountering a unique being. So the basic message of Levinas or even some forms of Christianity or some forms of Buddhism is an intimacy with another being… which could be yourself. Like the basic definition of meditation, which is getting used to reality, which isn’t you. The Tibetan for it is ‘Gom’ which means becoming accustomed to or acclimatised to. So your basically just getting used to reality. You are being intimate with… it… for as long as you can stand…”


“So you have to deal with non-violence, which is allowing things to coexist, including yourself, on a very fundamental level… with a lot more different beings than just humans, and even nonhumans, even non-living or non-sentient beings. So… you have to tap into… if it’s about convincing Americans… you have to tap into the quite cool aspect of Americanness, which is “Just let us be weird, anarchsitsitc, weird puritans in the forest, being weird… Just let me be weird on my own, I’m not bothering anybody… just let me be a weird non-violent guy with a big beard”. If you tap into that it sort of works a little bit, because they get the anarchy thing. But they love the totality thing, which is a symptom of the individualism…

“Individualism is different from uniqueness… there are rules about what constitutes an OK lawn…”

[[ Apparenty in some states you can be arrested for lawns that are not regulation – wtf? ]]

[[ Tim thinks there should be more public spaces where you can be introverted in public ]]

Links from Avatar of the Book event

I’m at the Avatar of the Book event in Sydney today, and a couple of interesting talks with some great examples that I just wanted to link to, mostly so I don’t forget. Grouped according to the speaker who mentioned it:

Mitchell Whitelaw

Just like at CODE2K12, Mitchell had some really fantastic examples, this time they were (mostly) his own.

One that wasn’t is the spam-based artwork of Alex Dragulescu. Architecture from spam, and also ‘plants’ from spam. Spam emails become spaces. V cool.

Here’s Whitelaw’s page for his projects, and here’s a piece based on ‘generous interfaces’ more about exploring or browsing through collections rather than being search/query based – Manly Images. He’s keeping a blog about ‘generous interface’ experiments here. And here’s a search/query based interface that still allows some ‘browsing’ – Trove Mosaic.

Jason Nelson

I made a lotta tweets. Mostly it was Nelson talking about his cool art experiments, and what his art/work process is, which is always interesting and valuable to me. Jason Nelsons site with all his art projects is here. I love his ‘game, game, game and again game’ which went massively viral around the place, especially in the videogame blogosphere. Another really cool thing of his is the poetry cube – very cool computer mediated poetry. Interesting spatial reconfiguration stuff.

Jason uses a Google app/product/thing that converts Flash to HMTL5, called Swiffy.

This is a strange site.

Ned mentioned a piece to me, think it was this one, I forget why exactly. I might put it aside to read later. Something about metamodelling.

The afternoon’s talk by Peter Sefton was good but his examples are harder to link to, here’s his website anyway. UWS has an eResearch position now, and Sefton is it. Huh. He seems to know his stuff too.