TOS- You didn't even turn up for the next day's 9am panel, and we were in it!
KO- You did well enough. Or sort of, I've been told.
TOS- The panel was called "SurREAL: Dramatis Personae on the Digital Stage". It had an opening movie, and then the four speakers talked about characters in different digital forms. Elin Sjursen examined the question of identity and representation in MOOs in a live performance. She used Plato as a character. Lisbeth Klastrup questioned the character identity of the programme behind some digital fictions and its relationship to the user. Susana Tosca talked about the actions that users can perform in computer games and how (if at all) they identify with characters in the different game genres. Finally, Jill Walker explored the rhetorical assumptions behind the "you" pronoun in hyperfictions, MOOs and games, questioning identification issues.
KO- Identification is not an easy subject, it seems. Why insist so much on it?
TOS- It has been oversimplified many times, the panel tried to move away from narrative models into a specifically digital theory of identification.
KO- I admit I got up late, but I sat through the panel "Reading the Code - Literary Approaches to Cybertext". The first paper, by Rasmus Blok, was "Reading Hyperfiction-Mission Impossible?" He identified various problems of hypertext theory and practise, arguing that the field hasn't advanced as much as it was expected because its only goal has been to prove post-modernism myths.
TOS- Polemic. What did people say?
KO- They mostly agreed. The next one was Raine Koskimaa's "Reading Cybertexts - An Empirical Approach." Rainee explained the method for an empirical reader response study with digital texts that his group is preparing. He gave details about the data to be considered and the interpretation of the results that would follow.
TOS- The need for controlled empirical studies can't be emphasized enough in digital studies, where authors tend to present their own intuitions as general reception theories...
KO- Let me finish! Søren Pold's paper was "Writing with the Code - a Cybertextual Poetics". It pointed to the oft-forgotten code hidden under any digital work's interface as an important literary tool.
TOS- Algorithms as poetry?
KO- Oh, yes, and not only that, the code is responsible for the transformations that characterize digital forms. This is specially obvious with the works that subvert user-friendly conversions.
TOS- I'm glad you enjoyed that. I was quite impressed with the last keynote, Simon Penny, and his talk "Embodied Interaction and the Aesthetics of Behaviour". He commented on his various interactive and robotic installations. Digital interaction is not only limited to desktops and can be learned intuitively, as he showed with his robot Petit Mal and his "Traces" video project on CAVE. Penny doesn't want to leave the human body behind in the digital revolution, and his projects question the usual assumptions of cybertheorists, such as the separation body/mind or the disembodied presence in digital environments.
KO- Yeah, the videos he showed us were brilliant! I stayed in the same room for the last of the panels "From Monologic to Dialogic Hypertext". Markku Eskelinen's "Cybertext palimpsests: literature to the nth degree" examined Genette's transtextuality branches and argued that hypertext adds a further complexity, because hypertexts contain them not only in relationship to other texts, but also to themselves in their various versions or phases. Cybertext allows for much richer transformations...
TOS- You work too hard.
I also liked Gonzalo Frasca's "Against immersion - notes for non-virtual reality design." According to him, immersion prevents the user from taking critical distance to judge a digital work. He proposes an adaptation of Brechtian theory to show "the computer's backstage" (programming code, error messages, computer crashes, etc.). If the experience is seamless, there will be no meditation.
KO- He jokingly remarqued that Quake wasn't the best meditation about death possible, unless maybe players were confronted with the widows and children of the monsters killed by the user...
TOS- That's what you wrote down, isn't it? Instead of the proposal to create a digital "Theatre of the Oppresed" in Boal's way...
KO- I didn't understand that part! But I understood the last paper, "Cut to Future: The Prospect of an Ergodic Cinema". Collin Gifford Brooke talked about the evolution and adaptations of the different media while others appeared, and about the important role of cinema in American culture.
TOS- OK, OK, I must admit I am not entirely disappointed with you, even though you disappeared for Phoebe Sengers' concluding forum. It was called "Critical Technical Practices", and Simon Penny, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin were there with Phoebe to discuss the separation of critical and technical practices in the digital community.
KO- Was there a solution or are the two fields going to be at war forever?
TOS- You like drama! There is no war, only a lot of incomprehension. They quoted individual examples of researchers and artists that united both practices in their work, but there didn't seem to be a magic remedy: the integration of both practices seems to be a question of personal choice. And of course there is the curricular problem: where in university categories do we stand?
KO- Ooooh, you people are always worrying about your status and curricula and all that.
TOS- We have to eat.
KO- Interdisciplinarity comes by itself.
TOS- Tell that to my provost.
KO- Well, judging by what I saw, most people lost their sorrows in the Fjord Cruise that ended the conference. You all seemed to have a good time and to be really happy to have met each other.
TOS- Yes, the atmosphere was incredible. I think this is one of the liveliest research communities I've ever seen. And the conference itself is getting bigger and better every year. KO- Will we go again next year then? Tosca thinks for a moment.
TOS- Yes, but this time you'll go in the suitcase.
KO- Can you upgrade me to hand baggage?
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