University of Minnesota Press

Electronic Mediations

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Electronic Mediations

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Digital Sensations

Space, Identity, And Embodiment In Virtual Reality

Ken Hillis

Virtual reality is in the news and in the movies, on TV and in the air. Why is the technology-or the idea—so prevalent precisely now? What does it mean—what does it do—to us? Digital Sensations looks closely at how the “lived” world is affected by representational forms generated by communication technologies, especially digital and optical virtual technologies. Virtual reality, or VR, is a technological reproduction of the process of perceiving the real, yet that process is filtered through the social realities and embedded cultural assumptions about human bodies and space held by the technology’s creators. Through critical histories of the technologies of vision, light, space, and embodiment, Ken Hillis traces the often contradictory intellectual and metaphysical impulses behind the Western transcendental wish to achieve an ever more perfect copy of the real. He advocates that current and proposed virtual technologies reflect a Western desire to escape the body. Because virtual technologies are new, these histories also address unintended and underconsidered consequences flowing from their rapid dissemination, such as commodifications and the alienation of new forms of surveillance. Exploring topics from VR and other, earlier visual technologies, Hillis’s penetrating perspective on the cultural power of place and space broadens our view of the interplay between social relations and technology.

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Digitize This Book!

The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now

Gary Hall

In the sciences, the merits and ramifications of open access—the electronic publishing model that gives readers free, irrevocable, worldwide, and perpetual access to research—have been vigorously debated. Open access is now increasingly proposed as a valid means of both disseminating knowledge and career advancement. In Digitize This Book! Gary Hall presents a timely and ambitious polemic on the potential that open access publishing has to transform both “papercentric” humanities scholarship and the institution of the university itself. Hall, a pioneer in open access publishing in the humanities, explores the new possibilities that digital media have for creatively and productively blurring the boundaries that separate not just disciplinary fields but also authors from readers. Hall focuses specifically on how open access publishing and archiving can revitalize the field of cultural studies by making it easier to rethink academia and its institutions. At the same time, by unsettling the processes and categories of scholarship, open access raises broader questions about the role of the university as a whole, forcefully challenging both its established identity as an elite ivory tower and its more recent reinvention under the tenets of neoliberalism as knowledge factory and profit center. Rigorously interrogating the intellectual, political, and ethical implications of open access, Digitize This Book! is a radical call for democratizing access to knowledge and transforming the structures of academic and institutional authority and legitimacy.

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Digitizing Race

Visual Cultures of the Internet

Lisa Nakamura

In the nineties, neoliberalism simultaneously provided the context for the Internet’s rapid uptake in the United States and discouraged public conversations about racial politics. At the same time many scholars lauded the widespread use of text-driven interfaces as a solution to the problem of racial intolerance. Today’s online world is witnessing text-driven interfaces such as e-mail and instant messaging giving way to far more visually intensive and commercially driven media forms that not only reveal but showcase people’s racial, ethnic, and gender identity.

 

Lisa Nakamura, a leading scholar in the examination of race in digital media, uses case studies of popular yet rarely examined uses of the Internet such as pregnancy Web sites, instant messaging, and online petitions and quizzes to look at the emergence of race-, ethnic-, and gender-identified visual cultures.

 

While popular media such as Hollywood cinema continue to depict nonwhite nonmales as passive audiences or consumers of digital media rather than as producers, Nakamura argues the contrary—with examples ranging from Jennifer Lopez music videos; films including the Matrix trilogy, Gattaca, and Minority Report; and online joke sites—that users of color and women use the Internet to vigorously articulate their own types of virtual community, avatar bodies, and racial politics.

 

Lisa Nakamura is associate professor of speech communication and Asian American studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet and coeditor, with Beth Kolko and Gilbert Rodman, of Race in Cyberspace.

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Does Writing Have a Future?

Vilém Flusser

In Does Writing Have a Future?, a remarkably perceptive work first published in German in 1987, Vilém Flusser asks what will happen to thought and communication as written communication gives way, inevitably, to digital expression. In his introduction, Flusser proposes that writing does not, in fact, have a future because everything that is now conveyed in writing—and much that cannot be—can be recorded and transmitted by other means.

Confirming Flusser’s status as a theorist of new media in the same rank as Marshall McLuhan, Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, and Friedrich Kittler, the balance of this book teases out the nuances of these developments. To find a common denominator among texts and practices that span millennia, Flusser looks back to the earliest forms of writing and forward to the digitization of texts now under way. For Flusser, writing—despite its limitations when compared to digital media—underpins historical consciousness, the concept of progress, and the nature of critical inquiry. While the text as a cultural form may ultimately become superfluous, he argues, the art of writing will not so much disappear but rather evolve into new kinds of thought and expression.

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Ex-foliations

Reading Machines and the Upgrade Path

Terry Harpold

“Every reading is, strictly speaking, unrepeatable; something in it, of it, will vary. Recollections of reading accumulate in relation to this iterable specificity; each takes its predecessors as its foundation, each inflects them with its backward-looking futurity.” In Ex-foliations, Terry Harpold investigates paradoxes of reading’s backward glances in the theory and literature of the digital field. In original analyses of Vannevar Bush’s Memex and Ted Nelson’s Xanadu, and in innovative readings of early hypertext fictions by Michael Joyce and Shelley Jackson, Harpold asserts that we should return to these landmarks of new media scholarship with newly focused attention on questions of media obsolescence, changing user interface designs, and the mutability of reading. In these reading machines, Harpold proposes, we may detect traits of an unreadable surface—the real limit of the machines’ operations and of the reader’s memories—on which text and image are projected in the late age of print.

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Gameplay Mode

War, Simulation, and Technoculture

Patrick Crogan

From flight simulators and first-person shooters to MMPOG and innovative strategy games like 2008’s Spore, computer games owe their development to computer simulation and imaging produced by and for the military during the Cold War. To understand their place in contemporary culture, Patrick Crogan argues, we must first understand the military logics that created and continue to inform them. Gameplay Mode situates computer games and gaming within the contemporary technocultural moment, connecting them to developments in the conceptualization of pure war since the Second World War and the evolution of simulation as both a technological achievement and a sociopolitical tool.

Crogan begins by locating the origins of computer games in the development of cybernetic weapons systems in the 1940s, the U.S. Air Force’s attempt to use computer simulation to protect the country against nuclear attack, and the U.S. military’s development of the SIMNET simulated battlefield network in the late 1980s. He then examines specific game modes and genres in detail, from the creation of virtual space in fight simulation games and the co-option of narrative forms in gameplay to the continuities between online gaming sociality and real-world communities and the potential of experimental or artgame projects like September 12th: A Toy World and Painstation, to critique conventional computer games.

Drawing on critical theoretical perspectives on computer-based technoculture, Crogan reveals the profound extent to which today’s computer games—and the wider culture they increasingly influence—are informed by the technoscientific program they inherited from the military-industrial complex. But, Crogan concludes, games can play with, as well as play out, their underlying logic, offering the potential for computer gaming to anticipate a different, more peaceful and hopeful future.

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Gaming

Essays On Algorithmic Culture

Alexander R. Galloway

Video games have been a central feature of the cultural landscape for over twenty years and now rival older media like movies, television, and music in popularity and cultural influence. Yet there have been relatively few attempts to understand the video game as an independent medium. Most such efforts focus on the earliest generation of text-based adventures (Zork, for example) and have little to say about such visually and conceptually sophisticated games as Final Fantasy X, Shenmue, Grand Theft Auto, Halo, and The Sims, in which players inhabit elaborately detailed worlds and manipulate digital avatars with a vast—and in some cases, almost unlimited—array of actions and choices.

In Gaming, Alexander Galloway instead considers the video game as a distinct cultural form that demands a new and unique interpretive framework. Drawing on a wide range of disciplines, particularly critical theory and media studies, he analyzes video games as something to be played rather than as texts to be read, and traces in five concise chapters how the “algorithmic culture” created by video games intersects with theories of visuality, realism, allegory, and the avant-garde. If photographs are images and films are moving images, then, Galloway asserts, video games are best defined as actions.

Using examples from more than fifty video games, Galloway constructs a classification system of action in video games, incorporating standard elements of gameplay as well as software crashes, network lags, and the use of cheats and game hacks. In subsequent chapters, he explores the overlap between the conventions of film and video games, the political and cultural implications of gaming practices, the visual environment of video games, and the status of games as an emerging cultural form.

Together, these essays offer a new conception of gaming and, more broadly, of electronic culture as a whole, one that celebrates and does not lament the qualities of the digital age.

Alexander R. Galloway is assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University and author of Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization.

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A Geology of Media

Jussi Parikka

Media history is millions, even billions, of years old. That is the premise of this pioneering and provocative book, which argues that to adequately understand contemporary media culture we must set out from material realities that precede media themselves—Earth’s history, geological formations, minerals, and energy. And to do so, writes Jussi Parikka, is to confront the profound environmental and social implications of this ubiquitous, but hardly ephemeral, realm of modern-day life.

Exploring the resource depletion and material resourcing required for us to use our devices to live networked lives, Parikka grounds his analysis in Siegfried Zielinski’s widely discussed notion of deep time—but takes it back millennia. Not only are rare earth minerals and many other materials needed to make our digital media machines work, he observes, but used and obsolete media technologies return to the earth as residue of digital culture, contributing to growing layers of toxic waste for future archaeologists to ponder. He shows that these materials must be considered alongside the often dangerous and exploitative labor processes that refine them into the devices underlying our seemingly virtual or immaterial practices.

A Geology of Media demonstrates that the environment does not just surround our media cultural world—it runs through it, enables it, and hosts it in an era of unprecedented climate change. While looking backward to Earth’s distant past, it also looks forward to a more expansive media theory—and, implicitly, media activism—to come.

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High Techne

Art and Technology from the Machine Aesthetic to the Posthuman

R.L. Rutsky

In an age of high tech, our experience of technology has changed tremendously, yet the definition of technology has remained largely unquestioned. High Techne redresses this gap in thinking about technology, examining the shifting relations of technology, art, and culture from the beginnings of modernity to contemporary technocultures. Drawing on the Greek root of technology, (techne, generally translated as “art, skill, or craft”), R. L. Rutsky challenges both the modernist notion of technology as an instrument or tool and the conventional idea of a noninstrumental aesthetics. Today, technology and aesthetics have again begun to come together: even basketball shoes are said to exhibit a “high-tech style” and the most advanced technology is called “state of the art.” Rutsky charts the history and vicissitudes of this new high-tech techne up to our day—from Fritz Lang to Octavia Butler, Thomas Edison to Japanese Anime, constructivism to cyberspace. Progressing from the major art movements of modernism to contemporary science fiction and cultural theory, Rutsky provides clear and compelling evidence of a shift in the cultural conceptions of technology and art and demonstrates the centrality of technology to modernism and postmodernism.

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How to Do Things with Videogames

Ian Bogost

In recent years, computer games have moved from the margins of popular culture to its center. Reviews of new games and profiles of game designers now regularly appear in the New York Times and the New Yorker, and sales figures for games are reported alongside those of books, music, and movies. They are increasingly used for purposes other than entertainment, yet debates about videogames still fork along one of two paths: accusations of debasement through violence and isolation or defensive paeans to their potential as serious cultural works. In How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogost contends that such generalizations obscure the limitless possibilities offered by the medium’s ability to create complex simulated realities.

Bogost, a leading scholar of videogames and an award-winning game designer, explores the many ways computer games are used today: documenting important historical and cultural events; educating both children and adults; promoting commercial products; and serving as platforms for art, pornography, exercise, relaxation, pranks, and politics. Examining these applications in a series of short, inviting, and provocative essays, he argues that together they make the medium broader, richer, and more relevant to a wider audience.

Bogost concludes that as videogames become ever more enmeshed with contemporary life, the idea of gamers as social identities will become obsolete, giving rise to gaming by the masses. But until games are understood to have valid applications across the cultural spectrum, their true potential will remain unrealized. How to Do Things with Videogames offers a fresh starting point to more fully consider games’ progress today and promise for the future.

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