Bo Kampmann Walther: Questioning Digital Aesthetics

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To Interact

The American computer scientist Janet Murray believes that there are three basic features which characterise the sense of digital media: Immersion, which signifies the feeling of being transported to another (kind of) reality; rapture, the enchanting encounter with objects in virtual reality; and, finally, agency which deals with the user's delight in having a direct impact on the electronically rendered space (Platt, 1995).

The notion of 'being there', or 'to be taken in', seems to be closely connected with interactivity. Nowadays, there is a consensus in applying information science's concept of interaction, especially when it comes to understandings of man-machine-interaction (MMI), human-computer-interaction (HCI), or, as it were, natural interactive systems (NIS). Historically the development of this terminology is closely tied to the progression from batch-drive (where vast amounts of data and applications are synthesized prior to the actual processing) to 'dialogue'-functionality with which it becomes possible for the user to register in-progress-results via option-menus and dialogue-boxes, and hereby continuously influence the interactive batch through new scripted inputs in a 'dialogue-traffic' or interactive modality (Goertz, 1995; Jensen, 2000).

Popular computer games like Quake 3: The Arena or the celebrated Doom 2 emulate virtual and variable scenario-plots for automated, cybernetic responses. The easy-going motto is 'kill everything that moves!'; 'think fast! Or, even better, do not think at all!'. Serious gamers and male cyber geeks already know the sentiments by heart; on-line-gaming-environments are state-of-the-art as regards Murray's three key concepts (Walther, 2000 a, b). Eye-hand-movements and near-synchrony experiences of shock could well be cyberculture's ultimate technological consequence of the fragmented realities once described by the early modernists. Thus Walter Benjamin, in 1936, promoted the idea that the montage technique in modern film art pawed the way for the mass audience's identification with violent changes in mundane, industrialised life (Benjamin, 1982; compare Nichols, 1996 and Pold, 1999). Today, computer games are not merely mind-numbed simulacra aimed at greasy youngsters, but also a rich, cultural context frame, which resonates literary in novels such as Alex Garland's The Beach and Tesseract. And now back in history.

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