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How offline fun is changing online and (offline) reality, by Ilias Marmaras

In response to the theme of the Impact festival the Matrix city , which tries this year to depict the tension between bold desires about our urban future , or ‘’ what elements constitute a city and what a city should look like’’. I would like to talk about my personal and in general on the collective experience I got regarding the transformations of the urban physical spaces in gamespaces, as a result of the new forms of resistance and political movements. My point is that, the immersion of virtual worlds and the networks of the digital social media in the recent years had strongly influenced and transformed our perception of the urban landscapes, changed the social relations and gave birth to new forms of political struggles. At the same time, the geopolitical, political, economic, cultural and social transformations that constantly take place in the physical environment (the real world) do the same thing to the virtual space, and oblige us to reconsider and doubt some of the usual expectations we had regarding for example the web 2.0 social media and the virtual worlds. 

We can not talk anymore about separated environments like the physical and the virtual but rather of a fusion that is perceived as a constant change. Consequently, in these new environments, identities, subjectivities and performative actions are born and function in a dimension that can be seen and analyzed as an imaginary dimension that is consisted by new forms of desire production while at the same time older ways of understanding the social and the political power relations and hierarchies should be considered.  A fusion that gave form, for a period of time, (according to some this forming is still running) to such a gamespace, happened in Greece and especially in Athens during the riots of December 2008. The events that took place during this period can be seen much more clear if one goes further of the standard political analysis that is usually used to explain the causes and the results of such revolts and political movements by introducing terms and concepts that are used in the online video games, virtual worlds and in the social media. Terms as single user game, multiuser game or gameplay can be very useful in order to understand the forms of participation, the ways of acting and the political demands of these urban wars''. I will also try to draw the lines of information streams that became possible with the use of social media and partly of the virtual world of second life.

Everyone who is suffering from compulsive disorder lose the earth under his/her feet, if someone moves something from its pre-fixed position inside his or hers ‘’secure universe’’. This obsessed mapping, this identification of oneself through images and forms that represent or simulate the world, aim to effectiveness, aim to guarantee a kind of functionality. As in 3D videogames the player records the objects that compose the space and reserves them faithfully in her memory, and on this base evolves the suspense of changes and the whole action, in other words the gameplay, same process run in the real world where the memory that dictates the ‘’why’’ and the ‘’where’’ that in their turn define the position of every object and the roles that we are supposed to play, is the memory that ensures the daily compulsion of maintaining the reality of public space.

In my point of view, nothing shows better the operation compulsive mechanisms of a society, than the spontaneous and almost inexplicable outburst of a revolt game a large scale location based game (one could say) a manifestation of the ‘’real’’ (in a Lacanian sense) like the game (or should I say the play) that took place in Athens –and not only- at December 2008. The so called griots, outburst unexpectedly, in a wild form, expressing the most acute and crucial situation of desire, the desire of the schizophrenic, if we want to remember the analysis of F. Guattari. The schizophrenic, which can express the free unfolding of desire, directly and in the better way, than anyone else can do.

If we search for analogies with the virtual worlds of online games, then the griots outburst collectively as a multiplayer game and not as the usual parody of a single user game, that requires from the people to ‘’be liberated’’ one by one, as if liberation was after all, a cumulative, statistic issue. But still, it is this addiction at the single user games that makes difficult for the ‘’family man’’ to understand what is going on. It is the addiction to the neat delinquency of the individual. The legalized and consequently controlled transcendence of the penal code, this kind of delinquencies that usually are realized by clans. At the end of the story, it is about the same compulsive mechanisms that are imposed by the state on the many, in order to become one.

One people, one party, a single voice and so on, in other words, a social relic in direct analogy to the outdated cultural remains of the videogame industry, the single users cultural relics. Because, it is this multiple, collective form of play and the immediacy of desire that is expressed through this, that provokes the misunderstanding and the collective hallucinations, regarding the identity (who are they?) of the hooded players/users of the public space.

And this, because the public opinion cannot see clearly the real locus, the gamespace in which the game is taking place, as opposed to this, sees only its inadequacy, the security vacuum of its compulsions, compulsions that are painful maybe but at the same time they can guarantee a certain degree of security. People look at the sudden loss of the locations (of objects) which were meant to constitute the space of social memory. And they are incapable of entering the game since they do not understand - not even temporarily - the reversal of roles. People understands (or pretend to understand) a game, only when the roles that they have to perform can be found in the isolation of the ‘’normality’’ of the single user. In the contrary, the game of what is called multitude (the multitude that ‘’burned’’ Athens) is a multiuser play, the singularities that perform the roles, the players, do not assign their rights to the power in order to get a legal status.

This is also the basic reason that allows the multitude to understand the power as a relationship and not as an essence, a thing. Multitude is situated at the antipodes of the people, which is constituted mainly by gamers that accept the imposition of the rules from outside the game.

And of course, at the same time they accept the submission of their individual freedom in cumulative and statistic dynamics like parties or football teams. If up to now, we are used to face the everyday competition (a competition that leads to elimination) the same competition that produces the legislative institutionalization of this mutual elimination of the gamers inside the arena, now it is time to face an other kind of war, the war that is turned against the gamespace itself. Against the ‘’Matrix city’’.

Now, while the physical space appears as a gamespace, let’s see what happens in the virtual sphere. In the Second Life virtual world, while business and cyber sex go on as usual, a sim arises dedicated to griots and some avatars there they declare solidarity with Greek uprising. As they say: << Individuals and groups organized through Second Life Left Unity (SLLU) have created an interactive media installation in the virtual world of Second Life in solidarity and support of the Greek protesters and for the remembrance of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, the Greek teenager who was murdered December 6, 2008 in cold blood by Greek police. This 3D internet site has been created to show the SLLU members and concerned SL citizens support and solidarity with the family and loved ones of Alexandros as well as to inform and spread awareness about the murder, the uprising and the historical context. An independent media info centre is set up with links to various web sites about the current situation to counter one-sided news from the established, corporate controlled venues. Greek independent free radio can be listened to live at this metaverse location. SLLU has plans for more actions and events to cause attention to the situation, which will be announced at the solidarity protest place in SL, as well as on the SLLU blog. 
Please join us there to show your support for tragic abuse of state power.>>

Now, compare the virtual world’s perceptivity, the power of the simulation and representation tools that they are offering, condensed in the declaration of Edward Castronova in 2007, when he was saying that: <<The coming exodus into virtual worlds will force us to change. The society that emerges in the real world will have to become more fun than the society we have now.>>

Let’s see what the role of social media was during the griots period. The first medium that reproduced the news of the shooting was twitter. Almost instantly the news began circulating among groups of people, some who were already in the area– which houses many bars and cafes that are usually full on a Saturday evening– and others who got the news via mobile phone or the Internet. A journalist, Antonis Karakousis describes the process and writes that “the
atmosphere became electrified”. Indeed, a crucial part in the reporting and communication of the riots was the hashtag used #griots.

An other journalist , Matthew Tsimitakis reports: Apart from Athens Indymedia and, independent news sites, which proved to be valuable in organizing action, there were: at least 15 facebook groups, the most popular of which comprised more than 130,000 members; The use of the hashtag #griots, which enabled the use of twitter for following the events; more than 3,000 photographs posted on flickr using the tag, and possibly many more uncategorised; more than 700 amateur videos posted on youtube; lastly, together with traditional blogs, a new form of collaborative blogs arose. Blogs of school and university occupations, though which students expressed views and shared content, writing texts about the reasons of their protests.

As December riots were a true social revolt, though a more decentralised one organised in a way that the status quo did not recognize or acknowledge. No doubts here why this happened. On the web, the revolt took place in a much more structured manner, which differentiated systemically from or responded to the rhetoric of the status quo of the media, as this was mainly expressed though television broadcasting. At this point, I need to mention the obvious that is that Greek traditional media are often biased, insensitive and serving political agendas.

According to the Economist, already, the Greek riots are prompting talk of a new era of networked protest. The volume of online content they have inspired is remarkable. Photos and videos of the chaos, often shot with cell phones, were posted online almost in real time.

It seems to be so, for many people because mobile phones and blogs, through which real-time communication is achieved, proved to be a weapon more efficient than Molotov cocktails”. An other blogger ‘’teacher dude’’ writes that “What has been
witnessed is a form of internet hyper - Darwinism in which the forces of change which usually take years have been compressed into a time frame measured in weeks.

Andrew Lam wrote an article titled “Letter from Athens: Greek Riots and the News Media in the Age of Twitter”. <<From the earthquake in Sichuan to the subway bombings in London to the recent Mumbai terrorist attack, the initial images and information that reached the public were recorded by citizens who happened to be there. The bystanders, the witnesses– with their cell phones, cameras, camcorders and blackberries– play central roles in newsgathering and news dissemination.

Lam abuts that: As a consequence of the information revolution, the likelihood of an individual receiving and broadcasting information is increasing significantly while the likelihood of any two people communicating is increasing exponentially; and world population is also growing at a furious pace. Since each of these three variables are increasing, the overall risk of protests increases as well.

But is that so? How much the political and social future and the forms of struggle depend on the social media or the virtual in general? What is exactly this state of fusion between the two worlds and for whose profit it happens? I think we are in a state of confusion.

The historian Robert Darnton has written that: <<The marvels of communication technology in the present have produced a false consciousness about the past—even a sense that communication has no history, or had nothing of importance to consider before the days of television and the Internet.>>

One study of the Red Brigades, the Italian terrorist group of the nineteen-seventies, found that seventy per cent of recruits had at least one good friend already in the organization. The same is true of the men who joined the mujahedeen in Afghanistan. Even revolutionary actions that look spontaneous, like the demonstrations in East Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, are, at core, strong-tie phenomena. The opposition movement in East Germany consisted of several hundred groups, each with roughly a dozen members. Each group was in limited contact with the others: at the time, only thirteen per cent of East Germans even had a phone. All they knew was that on Monday nights, outside St. Nicholas Church in downtown Leipzig, people gathered to voice their anger at the state. And the primary determinant of who showed up was “critical friends”—the more friends you had who were critical of the regime the more likely you were to join the protest.

In other words, Facebook activism does not succeed in motivating people to make a real sacrifice but in motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?

Again Edward Castronova: <<When people move from the real world to the virtual world, they will assess the policies encountered in the virtual world and then ask why things are different in the real world. If the people who play in virtual worlds truly enjoy the economic, political, and social games they are being offered there, it makes sense that they would become a force for change in the real world.

Yeah, ok and what if instead people that move from the real world to the virtual world and assess the policies encountered within in it, start asking why things are so different and so much more fun in the real world. If the people who play in real worlds do not enjoy the economic, political, and social games they are being offered there, it makes sense that they would become a force for change in the virtual worlds, when they will find the time to do it. 

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Page last modified on May 03, 2011, at 09:25 AM