Augmentology" 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]

In 2008, several articles here at Augmentology examined the concepts of Synthetic Presencing and Synthapticism. Both concepts are part of a theoretical framework that attempts to explain developing cultural > augmentological patterns. Presencing embodies a rethink of conventional entertainment modes:

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 EffectGeohashing, Image macro generation and Internet meme threading…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.

The complementary concept of Synthapticism involves:

…Crowdsourcers [who] produce clusters of user-mediated data through surges of concentrated attention… 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…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 contemporary example of a Presencing/Synthaptic Campaign centres on a PR-created character called “The Old Spice Guy” or @OldSpice. This campaign, which makes extended use of social media > network dynamics, initialized with a Synthaptic threading system directly developed from conventional advertising:

Anything is possible when you smell like an Old Spice man and our hero, Isaiah Mustafa, is back to illustrate just a few of the amazing things that an Old Spice man can do. The latest effort is a fully integrated campaign with TV, print and digital executions, targeted at both men and women.

On July 13th 2010 [USA Portland time] the Old Spice brand extended this “personalised” social presence/character via synthetically dependent platforms including Youtube, Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook. “The Old Spice Guy” character urged cross-platform users to AMA [a popular internet thread on several boards which means "Ask Me Anything"]. The humorous > quirky responses included almost instantaneous @OldSpice micro-video answers to selected users, including meta-referencing by Isaiah Mustafa:

One response that encapsulates the Synthaptic aspects of this campaign began with the user @Jsbeals asking @OldSpice to make a marriage proposal on his behalf:

@Jsbeals later tweeted that his girlfriend had accepted the proposal:

@Jsbeals: @OldSpice SHE SAID YES!!!! #OldSpice @Jsbeals

….and who then changed his Twitter Biography to:

The Old Spice proposal was real. Thank you Old Spice for helping me with this.

A second response set resulted in the sending of roses [referenced in a micro-video response] to Alyssa Milano. A third instance that highlights the episodic > cross-platform > Synthetic Presencing aspect is summed up by Twitter user @rob_sheridan:

Presencing In Action: @OldSpice + Reddit Contributors

Each episodic response illustrates the flattening of traditional entertainment factors [think: @OldSpice responding to "everyday" users as well as more established Hollywood/Internet celebrities]. The campaign realigns passive entertainment construction and distanced absorption via real-time Immediation and Regenerative Comprehension. The Old Spice Guy Synthaptic threading is currently ongoing with replies continually being posted via Youtube.


Sidequest! Screenshot

Don Woods famously added the more “Tolkienised” aspects of the Colossal Cave Adventure game after rewriting it in 1977. Woods’ rewriting/recoding/versioning of the game is another [TGOTT] inspirational treasure: Woods and others who have remixed and rewritten Adventure have opened this game to a constant flow of imaginative reinterpretations.

When immersed in Sidequest!, players may sometimes find themselves following an Ancient Path to a city inside the Hollow earth called Agartha. We members of [TGOTT] found an entrance at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. As we crawled through the portal we passed through – and became – Will Crowther, crafting his computer-mediated memory of the present moment to share with his daughters. With Admiral Richard E. Byrd flying overhead (in a story told to us by Dr. Raymond Bernard in 1969) and 2,300 miles beyond the South Pole through a hole in Antarctica, we/he began watching the sky mirror reflect the sky below as he went inside the Hollow Earth. UFOs and Governmental Secrecy? December, 1929? February, 1947? November, 1955? January, 1956? February, 2009? Many unanswered player questions can be found frozen in the Arctic ice.

There are more Sidequest! entries buried underground than the Library of the Mystic Arts. Since 1969, the ARPANET has run on dedicated cables which were themselves buried underground. This internet backbone stretched across the United States and now has (obviously) expanded to an international and ubiquitous scale. ARPANET, that early military-industrial-academic-complex of only a few nodes, literally lay the underground network for us to crawl through. We (as William Crowther) were instrumental in the original ARPANET development team when we worked at Bolt Beranek and Newman building core technologies. In Sidequest! there is an option to begin at this starting point and crawl into lower levels of the military-industrial-academic-operating-system. This point resides closer to the kernel beside a datastream tumbling along a Classical Von Neumann machine.

Sometimes we drift out of this datastream, sailing upstream against assumptions to the The Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab: another Sidequest! story starting place. We surface in the warm Californian sun at the end of Arastradero Road. This road sits before the D.C. Power Building in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Californian foothills roll across the view with scattered trees underneath. Graduate Computer Science students run through these trees in infinite loops while attempting to decode the possibilities of playing chess with a majikal machine. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully and you, William Crowther, can remember when it was made of pure data and flowing along underneath the cave floor at 56K.

Sidequest! is written in Python with entries authored by jonCates and programmed by Tamas Kemenczy and Jake Elliott: metaphors are mixed and transcendentally transposed over unstable timespaces. As we crawl closer to the center of the game, the connections are more random and fleeting, and flirt with more self-reflective recursions. This is what we mean when we say Sidequest! is “cyberpsychedelic” through combining the effects of mixing Cybernetics and Psychedelics as cultural influences, technologies and aesthetic principles.


The Guardians of the Tradition are an Art Games guild that recently created Sidequest!: A Classic Cyberpsychedelic Text Adventure. In Sidequest! you – as the game character William Crowther – crawl through a generative, cut-up and recombined twisty little maze of passages through timespace that criss-crosses multiple networks. Examples of these networks include: Mammoth Cave, ARPANET, The Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) and The Hollow Earth. This Art Game is playable online as well as being Free & Open Source Software Art.

The Guardians of the Tradition (or simply [TGOTT]) formed in 2009 after an invitation to participate in the “Play Up!” exhibition at the Jack Olson Gallery, Northern Illinois University School of Art. “Play Up!”, curated by Mike Salmond, featured work by Eddo Stern, Ben Chang and The Guardians of the Tradition. The Games Guild is made up of jonCates, Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy.

In 2006, [TGOTT] member Tamas Kemenczy created a text adventure engine/editor called Forklore, a collaborative platform for writing forked narratives via telephones. For our text adventures in Sidequest! Tamas employed a more generative approach so as to keep the game narratives coherent while also creating a significantly randomized, responsive and psychotropic narrative environment. This environment can collapse and regenerate depending on the gameplay. We define parameters (in order to keep the actions/subjects coherent) by keeping track of the avatar, chosen actions and the subjects acted upon. We use that ‘game data’ to generate text adventures (having the generated text adventures self-reflexively/recursively reflect the underlying state of the machine).

Sidequest! finds you, William Crowther, crawling through a generative twisty maze of passages, all different. The maze of passages is sometimes:

  • the caves William Crowther explored with his daughters prior to his divorce
  • the physical network of computers that constituted ARPANET
  • the original location of The Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL)
  • the mythical/mystical Hollow Earth
  • a cyberpsychedelic cutup of all these places/networks.

Will Crowther wrote Colossal Cave Adventure in 1975/1976. Colossal Cave Adventure is recognized as the classic/original text adventure that established this genre of gaming/Interactive Fiction. Patricia and Will Crowther:

  • traversed a tight passage between two networks of caves previously thought to have been unconnected in 1972
  • helped map Mammoth Caves in Kentucky
  • contributed to the field of spelunking
  • were in love
  • married
  • had two daughters (Sandy, born in 1967, and Laura, born in 1970)
  • by the mid-1970′s were divorced when Will Crowther wrote “Colossal Cave Adventure”.

Apparently Will wrote Colossal Cave Adventure to recreate his shared experience of crawling through/exploring cave systems (based on Mammoth Caves). His construction of the game was to allow himself and his girls a asynchronous existence in a virtual-memory-space after his divorce from Patricia. [TGOTT] are excited/inspired by the conceptual/emotional basis of this kind of game development and gameplay.

February 2, 2009


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_In real life_ [irl] is a phrase employed in a wide range of networked interactions and used notably in early phases of internet communication [eg IRC, ICQ and Y-talk]. _Irl_ is used as a label to demarcate a subject’s presence on-and-offline. In this dichotomy, definitions of reality are binary with a clear schism evident between the geophysical and synthetic. The title of _Second Life_ is an example of this divide via the implication of a necessary “First Life” [phenomenological reality]. _Irl_ is often relayed with negatively-inflected emotionality towards those who display a perceived preference for online/synthetic immersion.

In contrast, the term afk [_away from keyboard_] indicates an inclusiveness regarding geophysical and synthetic states. Whereas irl evokes hierarchical connotations in relation to reality definitions, afk indicates a fluctuating, fluid involvement. Afk illustrates a fuzzy presencing that eclipses easy polarisations; a subject’s physical body is removed from the synthetic environment whereas their synth/avatar is still actualised in-world:

“Away from keyboard means a user is not at their computer. There is a command, /afk, which marks the user as AFK. The name of the character will show up as <AFK>Name, and an auto-response will be sent to anyone who sends the flagged user a tell…


Person A says: /afk eating food

Person B says: /w A Hello.

Person B receives: A is Away from Keyboard: eating food”.

The afk concept demonstrates the murkiness of establishing reality gradations when considering synthetic environments. Paul Milgram suggested the Reality-Virtuality Continuum as a type of linear reality scale where at one end lies Geophysical Reality ["The Real Environment"] and the opposite end houses the Virtual. In-between lies an area defined as Mixed Reality: a mixture of augmented virtuality and the corporeal.

This Reality-Virtuality Continuum as such offers a vectored compartmentalisation of reality within scientific confines. An elastic, contemporized version of this Continuum might read:


…with each mode spawning distinct “swarmic variables” or “notional massing”. Conditional examples of such masses/variables are:

[Synthetic] = Avatar Fluctuations / Non-Player Character Annexing / Auxiliary Proprieception / Networked Socialisation

[Mixed] = Layered Attention / Identity Extensions / Augmented States of Consciousness / Multiple Theories-of-Mind[s]

[Cartesian] = Euclidian / Non-Euclidian / Human Area Networks / Dimensional Consciousness

[Geophysical] = Primary Consciousness / Ego-Mediation / Geospecificity / Geolocation

These masses could parallel volume [in the audio sense] in terms of measurement and production of reality clusters that map and mix composite modes simultaneously. For instance, the phenomena of Geocaching or mobile gaming such as _Parallel Kingdom_ which: “brings new meaning to Role Playing Games by using GPS to place the virtual world on top of the real world“.

In relation to the creation of such a _Reality Spectrum_, one intriguing by-product could be a redefinition of established principles regarding conceptions of consciousness, perception, identity construction and associated mental health conditions related to “normalcy”. If reality isn’t what we once thought it was, perhaps the inclusion of an Internet Addiction Disorder in the DSMV should not be a desired aim. Instead, should there be a proposal to include a range of disorders that diagnose the inability of a subject to adapt to reality contouring? For instance, a type of _Geospecificity Complex_ that highlights a dysfunction perceiving modalities that exist apart from concrete geophysical markers?