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]

Twitter is a microblogging service that is currently experiencing continual outages. Users are encountering a range of Twitter functionality issues including scalability and stability problems. These outages are provoking debate regarding the future of Twitter as a primary microblogging vehicle for user-driven content.

Twitter engineers are aware of these criticisms regarding software reliability. They report on the status of Twitter through official channels and utilization of novel error messages. One such error message that has developed beyond its intended use is _The Fail Whale_:

The Twitter Failwhale

The Fail Whale [FW] is an interesting example of Synthetic Presencing. Initially, the presentation of the FW graphic resulted in a dispersal of negative reactions provoked by technical failure; his appearance softened an otherwise irritating user experience. This base intention has now been magnified and reappropriated by a growing Presencing population.

This FW demographic is loosely defined by expressive affection of, and interest in, an emergent persona. They embrace the FW as an example of a seemingly innocuous/juvenile attempt to distract, disarm and amuse a community user-base. This affective redirection – whilst still engaging the target community in a type of awareness-byproduct that results from meme development – allows users to feel connected even when experiencing software dysfunction.

FW has also evolved from a single image selected to cushion error evidence towards a synthaptic construct. FWs basic graphics, simple colour scheme and brief soundbytesque messages blend together to guide followers with a type of cartoon palatability. This synthetic assemblage now has a generating history, a fanclub, multiple representational variations, a theme song, merchandise and associative characterisation. This FW entity-threading has ballooned past Synthetic Presencing while venturing into deliberate Branding territory. Is this FW Branding strangling potential user projections? Does this activity shift Presencing towards economic ratification? When does Presencing morph from an authentic synthetic-driven [re]vision into the corporate?

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.

_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?