Augmentology"...is a concise manual of reality for our digital age."

Mark Hancock,_Augmentology: Interfaccia Tra Due Mondi_

[Sponsored by The Ars Virtua Foundation/CADRE Laboratory for New Media]

Biological science defines _synapses_ as neural units that primarily operate as a juncture between neurons. Synapses are viewed as conductors that are essential in determining functions in the central nervous system. Synaptic connections provide for transmission and production of information crucial to the survival of the relevant organism. Each synaptic connection operates via surges in a system dependent on constant electrochemical streaming. In Synthetic environments, a similar fluid process of content absorption and production, social data surging and information engagement is termed _Synthapticism_.

Synaptic performance is specific to a biological organism; in contrast, synthaptic functioning is specific to synthetic spaces and the entities that inhabit them. Synthetics engage synthaptically through a networked equivalent of geospatial orientation, biochemical triggering and geophysical body language. These equivalences are dependent on the platform[s] involved and levels of operational focus generated. This focus is represented by a concentrated mass of aggregational attention. An illustration of how this focused/concentrated attention manifests is the phenomena of _Crowdsourcing_. Crowdsourcers produce clusters of user-mediated data through surges of concentrated attention. MMOGs also utilize aggregational-generated information through the construction of guilds or collectives.

Synthetics display attentional surges appropriate to synthaptic shiftings. Synthetic environments operate in accordance with this surge potentiality, with users adopting platforms that offer a contemporary catering for the relevant surge. For instance, early adopters flock towards software that allows for adequate community transference. Synthapticism is evident in the transference of attention from one synthetic platform to another via this surging. Contemporary examples of such shifts are MMOGers uptake of the newly released _Age of Conan_ whilst abandoning their current game platforms, or Twitter users migrating to consistently usable micro-blogging software.

Synthapticism produces unprecedented connections between synthetic participants. Adjunctive relationships are constructed via Identity interfacing and cushioned by support networks with a comparable emotional weighting to those found in traditional sociocentric structures [acquaintance>friendship>family>community]. Synthaptic communication may appear as fractured or trivial to those not connected synthaptically. One important component of the establishment of these synthaptically-defined relationships is the formation of appropriate semantic structuring. This will be discussed in _Unpacking the _Synthaptic_: Version 1.1_.

In Social Psychology the concept of _Identity_ formation stresses how a subject is demarcated as an individual. Common Identity definers include geophysical locators via street, city, country and biological factors such as age, weight, and height. Consciousness contributes to Identity formation via assessments of an individual’s personality traits and corresponding _ego development_.

Identity formation is deemed beneficial via the mechanics of statistical marking and the achievable entrenching of a subject into a surrounding social milieu. Medical and psychopathological models frame the concept through a health dichotomy that positions dysfunctional identity as potentially Dissociative. This type of fragmented dissociation from a subject’s internalised concept of self is viewed as undesirable. Alternatively in synthetic environments a type of projected or distributed Identity is considered acceptable _and_ beneficial.

Most synthetic creches – whether they be gamer-pitched, environmental or social networking in orientation – form identities that emulate the ecological or topological. Instead of relying on preformed psychological or sociological architectures, MMOEs and virtual environments encourage deliberately fluctuating Identity construction. These identities, established through the use of avatars or profile creation, alter according to the foibles of specific platforms and interfaces [think: Seesmic, Facebook, Meez, ExitReality, or Vivaty]. A subject may have a multitude of profiles created across a wide distribution base. Each profile may consist of the creation of two-dimensional or three-dimensional projections such as multiple character creation in WoW. Individuals may also utilise programs that allow for cross-navigation of such profiles according to usage patterns. These staggered profiles create a type of _Socialphrenic_ functioning that eclipses solo-persona extensions. For example, a Facebook user may create a profile that constructs a user’s identity according to variables such as their name, age, education, employment and interests. However, a user is not restricted in terms of manipulating these answers to evoke an identity structure vastly removed from their primary geophysical housing. An illustration of this is a current ARG narrative strand that situates itself in two active “false” user profiles on _Twitter_ and _Facebook_. The fictionalised Identity associated with each profile encourages other traditional identity-defined users to interact and engage with it. Some of those users defined as reflecting a _true_ identity may be unaware of the fictionalised profiling involved.

Other identity intonations can be creatively interpreted via the employment of Gravatars or Profile picture selections. This selective presentation of visual Identity stamps are mirrored in channel adoptions appropriate to specific Synthaptic identities. Connected users display the slipperiness of identity markers when engaged within a synthetic environment; users may reference a fellow Synthetic by their character/avatar name even when interacting in phenomenologically-defined reality.

According to traditional psychological theory, these type of identity ecologies would represent a subtle splintering of a primary identity akin to Schizophrenia. In synthetic realities, they represent a user’s ability for comprehensive immersion and allow for seamless and aggregational engagement. There is room for an overlap of these constructions including the potentiality to learn extensively from these synthetic Identity formulations.

_Convergence of the Real and the Virtual_: The First Scientific Conference in World of Warcraft was held over the weekend of May 9th to May 11th 2008. It was an attempt to host a definitive synthetic gathering of scientific practitioners through the use of WoW’s Guild system. The conference involved three separate conference sessions and expeditions [or in-world adventuring scenarios]. Each session consisted of a selected team of “panelists” responding to moderated questions via the guildchat interface. The expeditions were an attempt by the organisers to appropriately adapt a traditional conference model to an online format. Other real-world conventions were replicated completely, including a hierarchical separation of Professionals vs the Audience. Text was the only channel utilized publicly; VOIP was solely employed by the moderators as a monitoring tool and was not infrastructurally incorporated to allow audience participation.

The Second Session of the Conference explored the interplay of relationships in synthetic environments and the geophysical world with specific referencing to World of Warcraft. The chatlog listed below is a _textshot_ segment of the session. This _textshot_ incorporates several text streams that were generated at the event, including emotes, whispers, trade chat, general chat, and guild chat.

5/11 02:31:48.796 [Guild] Southerncal: THIS IS MY WAY OF GETTING THINGS STARTED. Hi, all. I’m Dmitri Williams at USC and I’m chairing this session. Please do not type in /g while this is going.
5/11 02:32:18.171 [2. Trade] Oldirtyblu: wts Heavy Clefthoof Leggings 115g
5/11 02:32:21.390 Ronaan’s pet begins eating a Chunk of Boar Meat.
5/11 02:32:21.890 Gontrus dwddd
5/11 02:32:24.296 Hycintha has joined the guild.
5/11 02:32:24.296 Forthewin tells Tiral NO. Not going to happen.
5/11 02:32:27.687 Gonzorina’s pet begins eating a Stormwind Brie.
5/11 02:32:29.593 Noralore’s Lionel is dismissed.
5/11 02:32:29.593 [Guild] Southerncal: We have 4 excellent panelists here today, and I’m eager to get started
5/11 02:32:29.593 [2. Trade] Asmodius: Enchant Boots – Fortitude 19G my mats….
5/11 02:32:29.593 [Raid Leader] Lightsydor: a few of us have joined “/join sciencechat” for a place to chat outside of guild chat during the conference….
5/11 02:32:30.109 Yasura goes “Shhh”
5/11 02:32:30.125 [2. Trade] Asmodius: Enchant Chest – Major Resilience 39G my mats… Nice PVP Enchant………..
5/11 02:32:33.296 [Guild] Southerncal: So:

<continued here>.

Alternate Reality Games [ARGs] are forms of entertainment that derive their structure from a mix of fictionalised world framing and real-world narrative components. Players create a required suspension of disbelief when connected to an ARGian world construct. This construct operates “…via interconnected narrative threads/cues beyond exclusive parent forms or individualised game parameters. ARGs make players step outside the restrictions of mono-genre game boundaries and narrative-seek through the use of webtrawling, email, phone/sms contact, real-time interactions and extensive online engagement to glean cues + puzzle pieces. These games work within a collusive reaction principle; that arousal, curiosity and search-behaviour will result if info-schooled gamers are offered teasing data as narrative tip offs.”.

ARGs display commonalities with Viral Marketing and Viral Media campaigns. All three forms have structural similarities that attempt to promote meaning formation. ARGs use a Gestalt system pieced together through pervasive content. Successful ARG navigation requires the employment of Active Narrative Gathering [ANG]. ANG involves genre amalgamation, prosumerism, and attentional layering. The Social Networking software _Twitter_ is a contemporary example of one variation of prosumerism in action. Twitterers micro-blog via text snippets [tweets] of 140 characters in length. Users can respond in the public communication stream/timeline, direct message others, or restrict their tweets from general view.

Twitter users create and absorb in concentrated attentional narratives. These tweetstreams blend observations and user-regurgitated facts. Content occurs with attentional “tasting” as users choose to collaboratively incorporate snippets into their streams. Alternatively, they can express introspective or otherwise nuanced updates without accounting for replies or additional user interactions. These integrative comprehension streams represent Synthaptic units – a synthetic network measurement that gauges attentional consciousness.

Prosumerism, like successful ARG navigation, is not passive but active in intent. Synthetics embody the attentional as an extension of a fiction/non-fiction meltdown within streams of ego-consciousness. Should notions of pop culture be replaced by a corresponding attentional conception of entertainment?

Subject x [X] is a 27 year old American male. X began playing the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft [WoW] in June 2005. On Average, X will be logged into WoW between 2 to 8 hours per day. X has created 7 WoW toons or player characters/chars. His characters are located on _Frostmane_, a USA-based realm/server. His main [primary game character] is a level 70 male Gnome Warrior named _Xster_.

X plays Xster during the majority of the time he is engaged within the WoW environment. X has 5 alts [alternate game characters] which he plays sporadically. X also has a bank character which he uses for all in-world economic transactions. He is a member of a group of players who have voluntarily chosen to band together to achieve specific goals within WoW. This group is called a Guild. Xster’s guild is titled _Carpe Pwnum_.

X/Xster is currently immersed in a specific game variable within WoW. This game variable is an instance called _Karazhan _ [Kara] which is an example of a raid. X is present in the instance with 9 of his fellow guild members. Each member has been included specifically for their race, class and talent make-up.

The raid members have just completed one of their raid targets by killing a boss Non-Player Character or NPC. This boss encounter was difficult; it has taken the raiders 4 attempts to kill Attunemen. The unsuccessful attempts ended in the successive deaths of each raid member, otherwise known as a wipe. X decides it is time for a break and informs the other raid members that he’ll be afk [away from keyboard] for 3 minutes taking a “bio break”.

X makes this announcement through 3 channels. The 1st and 2nd are via text, using the /g and /ra commands to tell his guild “afk for 3″ and to tell the raid “afk bio”. The 3rd is via Ventrilo [Vent], a VOIP program through which he has been verbally communicating with his raid team, 3 non-raiding guild members and 2 out-of-game friends.

Before X leaves his computer, he positions Xster in a safe area in-game where he can wait in suspension until X’s return. As X types the /afk command, Xster appears no different to the other raid chars; the toon still loops through a basic standing state. Xster continues to function via base movements such as breathing and blinking as if X is still present and waiting at the keyboard. There are no visual or otherwise discernible char changes occurring in-game to indicate X’s absence apart from his text and verbal announcements.

X has moved to the kitchen and is now, in a geophysical sense, completely afk – an example of “hard afkism”. However, X is also in a hyper-aware state, conscious of the estimated time assigned to his game absence. X has the game volume turned up to allow for monitoring of the raid member’s voices and game sounds. Any heightened verbal intonations may indicate that the raiders require his immediate presence back in-game.

X rushes his food preparations and arrives back at his keyboard within 2 minutes. He switches back into WoW via maximising the game window but does not put on his headphones and thus does not resume his presence in Vent. He is told that several of the other raiders are still afk. He then alt-tabs out of WoW, checks his Insoshi and GeoSimm Philly accounts whilst still unconsciously checking the game via sound scanning [an example of "soft afkism"]. If a combat sound occurs, he will switch back into the game and resume his activity on Vent.