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]

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e) Information Deformation: akin to process centering, this Social Tesseraction involves a shift in the very definition of information:

Information may be defined as the characteristics of the output of a process, these being informative about the process and the input. This discipline independent definition may be applied to all domains, from physics to epistemology.”

These deformed systems of data are constantly in flux and available for perpetual revision. Examples include:

Users are able to simultaneously modify, update and adapt their input in real time:

This type of liminal practice results in a deformation of current information architectures. Although traditional information construction may be flexible over time, it still demands unitary data snapshots for knowledge formation. Deforming such data in real time acts to fundamentally alter meaning production. Socially structured input is the keystone of such a dynamic, perpetually fluctuating system:

Here the notion of Social Froth takes on a new level of importance: information becomes a constantly shifting construct with variable endpoints.  Rewiring information in such a way radically changes its cohesive nature. This in turn effects:

In this deformation system, facts can be reality-edited* in real time:

Information becomes pliable in ways that challenge the perceived authority of institutions. The concept of narrative deforms as:

Narrative progression repositions the representational towards the freeform [think: paidia as opposed to ludic]. An instance of this information deformation in action is troll play [or uncontrolled play]. A social example of troll play is found in the wiki Encyclopedia Dramatica which:

satirizes both encyclopedic topics and current events, especially those related to or relevant to internet culture. The wiki has been the subject of media attention given its focus on trolling and use of shock value, as well as its criticism of other Internet communities. It is also associated with the Internet subculture Anonymous.”

_Encyclopedia Dramatica_ – and the affiliated imageboard/meme propagation site 4chan - showcase the challenge faced by narrative frameworks.  Platforms like _Encyclopedia Dramatica_ encourage troll-based comedic intent. Users remix absurd, and sometimes taboo, content. In particular, invasion boards like _4chan_ utilize shock networking*: where social content attempts to subvert social codas through deliberate agitation. In comparison with established narrative conventions, platforms like _Encyclopedia Dramatica_ offer an experimental system which bypasses strict censorship and ethical constraints. These platforms cater for unfiltered interactions that operate via immediacy-of-response. They are highly idiosyncratic in execution and linguistic formation: censorship and moderation may be limited or non-existent. The output is propagative, with contributors encouraged to riff and rip-off, replace, and even delete content. Narrative is deformed beyond a sequential structure whereby the climax or pay-off event becomes the spectacle:

An example of such modification is Copypasta, which consists of repeatedly copying and pasting blocks of text designed to evoke a heightened emotional response:

A time-tested classic. This ending usually comes into play at the climax of a very troubling or exciting situation. Rather than resolve the story, one of the characters will abruptly say something to the effect of “I had Reese’s for breakfast.” At this point, the other character will completely forget about his/her worries and jump into the corresponding commercial dialogue, enamored by the peanut butter and chocolaty goodness that is Reese’s Puffs cereal. “It’s Reese’s… for breakfast!”"

_Copypasta_ derails notions of story or plot progression, resolution or dénouement. It embodies context-counteraction* and meme perpetuation. Dramatic intent shifts to reiterative moments containing affectivity spiking which ignores the rigors of institutionalized framing [think: morality, hierarchy or ownership]:

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f) Attribution Modding involves an extension of Stewart Brand’s iconic phrase “Information wants to be free” to “Identity wants to be freeform”. This category describes users focused on mobilization rather than individual recognition.  The group Anonymous* projects attribution modding via collusive identity constructions. The collective’s title is based on the method _4chan_ uses to brand all contributors “Anonymous” by default:

As making a post without filling in the “Name” field causes posts to be attributed to “Anonymous”, general understanding on 4chan holds that Anonymous is not a single person but a collective (hive) of users.”

Anonymous is a social-tesseractivist group who perform raid actions [think: the immediate action to halt the abuse of Dusty The Cat and Project Chanology's DDoS attacks]:

The collective broadcasts non-attribution ideologies where members are viewed as units of a social mechanism with a deemphasis on individual identification. Attribution modding illustrates the rise of collective identity cognizance and the accompanying shift from expert-centric disciplines.

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g) Decline of Silo Ghettos: as information deformation impacts knowledge formation, there’s an increasing need to provide social tesseractors with comprehensive dimensional engagement. This type of borderless interaction deforms monostreams into cross-channelled productions. Social tesseracts assist in addressing the somewhat restrictive walled garden approach to software and platform production [think: the frustration levels encountered whilst experiencing the locked door syndrome].

Google Wave is one system that removes such constraints and allows users to input directly into previously distinct arenas. Other instances of interoperable systems that require the reorientation of Information Silos:

  • augmented applications that encourage a pairing of geolocative and geophysical needs:

Information Deformation, Attribution Modding, and the Decline of Silo Ghettos are paradigm-shifting markers that highlight socially directed trends. One significant user-centric challenge involves ensuring a smooth migration into a Social Tesseracted future. Such transitions should lessen future shock and encourage a type of overlaid meta-comprehension which promotes the seamless recognition of synthetic conditions.

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* Shock networking, reality editing, context-counteraction and Anonymous will be discussed in upcoming augmentology entries.

Discussions addressing the connection between architecture and gaming cycle in and out of design discourse with some regularity. And why not? The experiential qualities of surface, volume and movement in game space are compelling, immersive and, quite importantly, shared points of reference. Conversations about this relationship often address the fact that the underlying means of production in both disciplines are fundamentally connected through an assortment of shared tools and methodologies. Beyond advances in software and hardware, we could definitely point fingers at the uncanny digital materiality of James Cameron and the influential design practice of Greg Lynn for causing a conflation of architectural, animation and visual effects culture. Origins aside, it is important to note that both architecture and gaming are equally invested in the representation of space, and both have codified standards for “sound construction”. This works at the diagrammatic level of vectors and polygons and experientially when discussing the qualities of immersion in specific narrative spaces, be they inhabited or played.

There are a number of pitfalls to be avoided when reading space in gaming. One must resist the urge to completely aestheticize gaming, avoid eclipsing play with narrative and acknowledge that game space telescopes outwards from play and also encompasses various layers of control and perception which augment and inform immersion. These layers include interface, the picture planes that comprise the display, related hardware and software and even the body of the gamer. The idea of gameplay as a collaboration between player and software was outlined succinctly by Alexander Galloway in his 2006 essay Gamic Action, Four Movements. Galloway identifies gaming as an “action medium” whereby all activity can be categorized as initiated by the “operator” or “machinic” and as being either diegetic (contributing to the narrative) or “non-diegetic”. These criteria provide a handy classification system for reading gaming and interpreting the nature of specific interactions and events.

What is of interest to this examination of space in gaming is generally contained within the “operator” and “non-diegetic” quadrants of the above diagram – events initiated by the player that aren’t directly connected to the narrative of the game. Galloway identifies these types of operations as “acts of configuration” that “happen on the exterior of the world of the game”. In this series of posts we will use this definition as a reference (rather than a pair of handcuffs) to read these “actions” as Tentative Spaces – temporary, informational enclosures that a gamer inhabits and modulates while immersed in play or setting the parameters for it.

Mez Breeze’s notion of synthetic presencing (previously defined and discussed here on Augmentology) is another useful precedent. Breeze identifies presencing as blurring the middle ground between the clearly defined fiction/non-fiction divide associated with firmly established narrative models and mediums (i.e. detective fiction novels, crime-drama films). Examples of presencing include fan fiction, the social infrastructure of MMOG guilds, and the rapid, permutational evolution of internet memes that riff off pop culture. How does presencing relate to this discussion of space in gaming? Since tentative spaces operate as sidebars to and overlays on game space, they exist tangentially to game narrative. While these spaces relate to the fiction of game space they are not completely contained in game space. Tentative spaces provide enclosures in which the player can act, assess, analyze and sometimes socialize while being slightly detached from the actual experience of play – augmenting gameplay, if you will. Navigating strata of interface, socializing in multiplayer game lobbies and around post-game box scores, in-game microphone communication and interface informatics are all examples of tentative spaces.

Schematizing gameplay in this manner resonates with the idea of Russian nested dolls – volumes within volumes within volumes. This series of posts is based on an optimism that in isolating these “layers” of play, interface and information will reveal a range of idiosyncratic spaces slightly outside the realm of most discussions of gaming. Tentative Spaces will catalog a variety of general phenomena across gaming as well as analyze the construction of specific gaming titles. The following represents a quick sketch of the characteristics of tentative spaces, these will be further developed in future posts:

  • Transparency – Tentative Spaces often occur on top of game play and players are able to inhabit/navigate these spaces and still “see through” them while engaging in gameplay (eg. team status monitor information overlay in multiplayer gaming).
  • Hybridity – Referencing Lev Manovich’s suggestion that emerging media forms are combinatory in nature, Tentative Spaces will be examined as interactive assemblages comprised of text and image, maps and diagrams (eg. game analytics).
  • Interstitial – Tentative Spaces are often employed to bridge narrative sequences in gaming or to provide a green room in which players can wait during a “machinic” event (eg. network configuration/team selection lobbies in multiplayer gaming).
  • Supplementary – As previously mentioned Tentative Spaces often sit at least partially outside game narrative, if not completely detached from it (eg. an easter egg or minigame).
  • Sites of Interaction – Tentative Spaces have the potential to aggregate community and user labor towards building communal resources (eg. in game or web based wiki construction to inform gameplay).

To bring this introduction full circle, it is worth returning to the bridge built between architecture and gaming in the first paragraph. Since gaming plays out across space it is very much about space. Gamers have acclimatized themselves to a range of perspectives, views, GUI assemblages and camera movements that emulate a host of physiological, cinematic and cartographic conventions. As a by-product of this rapidly evolving array of representational techniques, gamers find themselves highly “interface literate” with the ability to simultaneously navigate numerous narrative, informational and social planes. As a series of posts, Tentative Spaces is invested in isolating and qualifying a variety of niches, pockets and marginalia within game culture. It is all too easy to dismiss many of these layers of gaming as instrumental when in fact their superimposition on and control over play represent a fundamental aspect of not just the experience of play, but the structure of game space.

Presencing – as described in an earlier entry – is a type of synthetic engagement that extends contemporary entertainment. Fan fiction illustrates how Presencing utilises traditional entertainment spin-offs within “amateur” arcs. The Urban Dictionary describes Fan Fiction as:

1. “A piece of fiction within a fandom utilizing characters and situations from a pre-existing work including (but not limited to) books, television programs, films, and comic strips.”

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2: “…Fanfiction is when someone takes either the story or characters (or both) of a certain piece of work, whether it be a novel, tv show, movie, etc, and create their own story based on it. Sometimes people will take characters from one movie and put them in another, which is called a cross-over. ”

Leoben Character Entries

The Cylon Twittercast is Presencing that creates a type of “nesting fiction” similar to nesting functions employed in computer programming. The Cylon Twittercast uses the 2003 -2008 Battlestar Galatica series [which is in itself reimagined from an earlier series] as a procedural plate from which to construct a “character-based RPG over twitter”.

Cylonhybrid RPG Entries

This RPG is made up of microblogged output from BSG personas, both Human and Cylon. Some characters are known [intentional], some are unknown [self-initiated] and some are yet to be represented. Several of the Twittercast players choose whether to adhere to the plot developments and conventions established by the TV series. An example of this mirroring where certain BSG TV series script/semantic markers ["Frak" and "Gods"] are employed by Twittercast players:

Saultigh Entries

The Cylon Twittercast promotes character development through extensions that accommodate alternate characterisation, elastic narratives and fandom overlays. Twittercast participants operate as character controllers or puppet-masters which acts to push this RPG into conventional ARG territory. Feel free to participate and shape the resulting narrative/player architecture:

“…it’s a pretty anarchic situation — there’s no Laura Roslin on twitter as far as I know….I’m open to the idea that she could participate in some way. and Leoben and Galen are off amusing themselves — I’m sure they would appreciate having someone else to talk to. make a big entrance, if you’re going to jump in? I could help? Tory was just about to show Laura around the baseship”.

Entertainment is associated with the concepts of fiction and non-fiction. Fiction involves the projection of a willing suspension of disbelief with variables designed to further narrative progression. Indicators of traditional fiction include characterisation, foregrounding, plot and/or sub-plot[s]. Non-fiction is fiction’s logical counterpoint; chronology, history and “fact” play clear parts in non-fiction constructions. There are many variations on the standard fiction/non-fiction dichotomy.

Fiction and non-fiction classifications are designed to map to boundaries of known forms [think: cinema, literature, television and music]. They are so designed to provoke audience responses introspectively and externally. Current synthetic practices are refashioning this entertainment base via the perpetuation of types of unintentional and deliberately augmented recreation. These recreation types are reliant on immediacy of response, play, and Pranksterism. They employ Sandboxing, Gonzoism and spontaneous engagement. This type of entertainment is termed _Presencing_.

Presencing involves loose clusters of pursuits that evolve in, or are associated with, synthetic environments. Examples include the Streisand Effect, Supercutting, Flashmobbing, the Slashdot/Digg Effect, acts by the group Anonymous, Geohashing, Image macro generation and Internet meme threading. Less defined examples include: MMOG guild interactions [think: user generated games-within-games], Virtual World involvements, and Social Networking via application adoption and creation. These instances illustrate how Presencing pushes recreation beyond a fictionalised/non-fictionalised framework.

Presencing showcases accidental or reflexive entertainment elements where the fictional/non-fictional divide is erased; associated validity qualifiers are also removed and reconceptualised. Amateur production is equated with valued expression. Presencing also offers adaptive potential for augmented attempts at mediating geophysical constraints.

Version 1 of _Unpacking the _Synthaptic_ outlined the concept of Synthapticism and its formation in synthetic environments. Synthapticism rests on an underlying set of semantic structures. These structures allow for the development of credible synthetic relationships and vary according to platform specifics. Common semantic elements include a combination of the _lingual_ and _multivariate_.

In synthetic environments, social interaction occurs through multichannelled communication. Relevant language evolution is reliant on communication patterns generated through brevity and massed consistency. In Second Life, avatars mimic the physical action of writing on a keyboard when their geophysical selves type on screen. Second Life avies may use a combination of local or global text chat or messaging. SL avies can also communicate via voice. Many MMOGs use similar text-based communication with VOIP allowing for layered engagement. Mobile technologies, social games and ARG items all encourage text abbreviation resulting in dense stylistics. These lingual variables help define the mechanics of synthaptic transmission.

Another component of semantic synthapticism is a multivariate method of data absorption. Synthetics navigate and produce constant streams of data. This data may be funnelled through specific software types [eg PMOG] or via self-selected parameters [think: RRS feeds or Friendfeed]. This filtering acts to flatten primary data in terms of acceptable methods of verifiability. Synthetics assign priority to this data through shared attentional chunking. This chunking is multivariate; filtered data transforms and embeds into a socially-elastic comprehension system.

One way of assigning comprehension in this synthaptic data refinement is deliberate _content pinpointing_. In printcentric models, this extraction would parallel the linear construction of meaning via narrative or expositional means. One hazard of the accumulative nature of this process is _rechannelled bottlenecking_. The process of multivariate data absorption creates serial flagging of emergent concepts [ie tipping-points]. These concepts create information bottlenecks via repeated flaggings. Entities may target-mine these areas in line with capitalistic reappropriation. Current examples of this phenomenon are Corporate “Social Media Experts” who mask their synthetic participation so as to claim individuated authorship of such aggregated concepts. Should limits be placed on such reappropriation attempts?