Friday, April 4, 2008


Dick Higgins was one of my three transformative tutors in the avant-garde. All three were at or about my own age, but lightyears ahead in their knowledge of and involvement in experimental art. In the pre-internet early 1960's there was already a burgeoning international network -- steadily enlarged by mail, phone and personal travel -- of ground-breaking artists. These three individuals seemed to know them all.

First in my personal chronology was the high-spirited performer and composers' muse Charlotte Moorman, whom I met in 1963 at her first Annual New York Avant Garde Festival. Charlotte, always a fierce advocate for new work, contagiously passed on her generous and ecumenical enthusiasm for innovation.

Then there was the incisive provocateur George Maciunas, who I first spoke to in 1961 at his AG Gallery, but didn't get to know until the New York series of Fluxus concerts in Spring 1964. George introduced me to a rigorous, pragmatic and idealistic conceptuality for creating art.

It was in the context of Fluxus that I also got to know Dick Higgins, who was no less energetic in his enthusiasms. When Dick appointed me founding Editorial Director at his Something Else Press ("Director" of a mythical staff -- I was the only employee) my horizons expanded considerably. Here was an unparalleled opportunity to interact directly with that international array of artists whose visual art, writings and performances I had been familiar with mostly from the viewpoint of an enthusiastic observer. They were drawn from the same pool of author/artists as those who contributed to Fluxus and the various avant-garde European publishers that Something Else, in one of Dick's missionary gestures, distributed in the U.S: Editions Hansjörg Mayer, Franz Mons' Typos Verlag, Wolf Vostell's Dé-coll/age, Bernard Höke's Edition Et, and the Spanish Zaj. It was an atmosphere of bracing intellectual exchange and intense camaraderie, the only exception being Dick's more competitive relationship with Maciunas's Fluxus, from which he was somewhat estranged at the time.

This was a heady experience for someone like myself from a culturally rich but distressingly conservative background. I have vivid memories of my baptism by fire: a mammoth cut-and-paste edit of Al Hansen's wine-fueled, handwritten and audio-taped ramblings that turned into A Primer of Happenings & Time/Space Art (1) . Soon after I found myself immersed in the much more meticulously conceived text that became my editorial Everest: Daniel Spoerri's vibrantly complex An Anecdoted Topography of Chance (2) . With its convoluted structure and myriad erudite and witty footnotes by the author, Emmett Williams and others, the Topo was as stimulating a challenge as any copy editor might hope for.

I have far fewer memories of the editorial process pertaining to the series of 20 Great Bear Pamphlets that Dick published, half of which were issued or were under way before I left my editorship in late summer 1966 to have a baby. My editorial experience would appear to have been very different from what Dick once complained was the modus operandi of my successor as editor. Emmett Williams, Dick said, "would spend as much time polishing one simple Great Bear Pamphlet as working on a whole book." (3) I suspect that Emmett was more engaged in socializing with the authors than slow editing. The Great Bears were relatively straightforward and records show that they were speedily produced -- the first ten in 1966, the rest completed by January 1968.

Nothing exemplifies the press's aesthetic range more than this chapbook-like series. There are Fluxus-style scores (Zaj, Bengt af Klintberg, Alison Knowles, Philip Corner), happenings (Claes Oldenburg, Allan Kaprow, Wolf Vostell, Al Hansen), poetry (Emmett Williams), plays (Jackson Mac Low), theory (George Brecht), chance operations (John Cage), historical precedents (Jerome Rothenberg, Luigi Russolo), indescribable literature (Robert Filliou, Higgins, David Antin), and inscrutable art (Diter Rot), not to mention a lively collection of manifestos by most of the above and more.

These categories are, of course, false and irrelevant. (It was Dick himself who coined the term "intermedia" to neatly solve the naming problem.) More importantly, the Great Bears constitute an engaging, accessible microcosm of the press's ambitious agenda of disseminating experimental work. Their uniform understated character, typographic sameness and identical 16-page format (except for the 32-page Manifestos ), although in contrast to Dick's more flamboyant designs for the press's heftier books, were part and parcel of the same marketing strategy. Something Else Press targeted librarians by disguising radical concepts in conformist packaging, Dick's intentional rejoinder to the more unconventional shapes and boxes issued by Maciunas as Fluxus editions.

Our office space was similarly disguised. Avant-gardism may have been the raison d'etre , but the place where we worked was comfortably old fashioned. Located in a bland commercial building on Fifth Avenue in the twenties (what is now known as the Flatiron District), it was far from any bohemian enclaves. Miss Wormser, the stenographer down the hall, dutifully transcribed our tapes and retyped manuscripts for the printer. Our walls were undecorated and we had conventional 1960s non-electronic office accoutrements.

Prominent among these was a period necessity from the most prominent purveyor of such things, which fortuitously provided Dick with a linguistic readymade. Years later he described the moment of appropriation on a hot summer day in 1965 when he "went to get a cup of cold water from our office water cooler, which we got from the Great Bear Company, named (I presume) for my favorite constellation. On my desk was a folder of Alison Knowles' performance pieces, too few for a book, but enough to make an attractive unit of some kind. 'Why not,' I thought, 'make a series of 16 page pamphlets, miniatures in a sense of our books, and (hopefully) as refreshing as this water I'm drinking?'" (4)

To add to their appeal, that refreshment extended to price. Dick called the Great Bears "A poor man's keys to the new art" (5) and treated them as promotional loss leaders that would attract new readership. Even within the press's modest pre-inflationary price structure they were ridiculously cheap, with prices starting at 40 cents (for Alison Knowles' By Alison Knowles ) and topping at $1.50 (for John Cage's Diary ).

Dick also recognized possibilities for the Great Bears' unconventional distribution. "The pamphlets, all twenty of them, were able to get places that the larger books couldn't," he related gleefully. "For example, in the late 1960's they were sold from a rack beside the produce stand at the Berkeley Coop... ; we were always delighted by the notion of a shopping basket containing ice cream, the makings of a good salad -- and our pamphlets!" (6)

Looking at this series now, I'm struck by how, like those groceries, the Great Bears directly and unpretentiously fulfill their function. It's no secret that some authors of the press's regular books were less than happy with Dick's elaborate, often flashy designs for their volumes. The Great Bears offer no such eccentric mediation. They may be plain to look at, but there's nothing simplistic inside. When I was a neophyte they taught me well.

1. Al Hansen. A Primer of Happenings & Time/Space Art . New York: Something Else Press, 1965.
2. Daniel Spoerri. An Anecdoted Topography of Chance . New York: Something Else Press, 1966.
3. "The Something Else Press -- notes for a history to be written some day" by Dick Higgins. New Lazarus Review . Vol. 2, No. 1. Utica, NY, 1979. p. 38.
4. "The Something Else Press -- notes for a history to be written some day" by Dick Higgins. New Lazarus Review . Vol. 2, No. 1. Utica, NY, 1979. pp. 29-30
5. Ad for the first 10 pamphlets in Something Else Newsletter . Vol. 1, No. 4, Aug. 1966. p. 5
6. "The Something Else Press -- notes for a history to be written some day" by Dick Higgins. New Lazarus Review . Vol. 2, No. 1. Utica, NY, 1979. p. 30

©2008 by Barbara Moore

above copied from:

VISUAL POETRY: Artists' Writing / Writers' Art, Alan Prohm

Poetry is Art

Nothing better illustrates the problem of literature's ambiguous aesthetic status than the term "artists' books". If literature were truly considered an art, this phrase would be redundant. Any cheap paperback edition of Shakespeare, or Baudelaire, or Haavikko, would - quite obviously - count as an "artist's book". But it doesn't.

Why doesn't it? Why, to put it differently, don't students of literature have to take studio courses? Or, the other way around: Why isn't poetry taught in the art department, along with painting and sculpture, or even in the increasingly common "intermedia" or "interarts" programs?

To question the separations that exist between literature and art is to dig at some of the fundamental distinctions structuring western culture and contemporary consciousness: language vs. matter, word vs. thing, thought vs. perception, content vs. form, mind vs. body. However much they may have in common, poetry and painting, poetry and music, literature and art, are taught in different departments, and according to different pedagogies, because they are believed to deal with fundamentally different things, and to involve fundamentally different human faculties.

Visual poetry, on the other hand, one of the many modern trends to begin mixing once-separate art forms, challenges these assumptions. To engage a visual "poem", to try to "understand" it in the multiple ways it requires, is to watch these distinctions lose their certainty. If the distinctions do not disappear altogether, they at least blur significantly: words behave as things, or things as words, thought takes on perceptual qualities and there is often no way of separating the content of a poem from its visible forms, what it means from how it looks.

As the distinctions blur, the modes of culture and consciousness built on them discover new freedoms, new possibilities, new ideas of art emerging out of new relationships between materials and our modes of perceiving or " reading " them. Where a pattern of colors and lines, or the expressive likeness of a natural object, are as important to the logical or lyrical argument of a text as any words that might be there, we are dealing with both art and literature simultaneously, inseparably, as one thing - litarture - not just two things set next to each other. We are not on one side of the cultural divide or the other, and we can no longer use only half our mind to process it.

The Verbal is Visual

Historically, visual poetries originate in an exploration of, or in an exultation in, the visual forms of language. Whether we consider the millennial arts of calligraphy (East Asian, Islamic or European), the ancient tradition of shaped-text or "pattern" poetry (Simias of Rhodes, ca. 300BC; George Herbert, 17 th Century; Guillaume Apollinaire, 1910's, etc.) or the particularly modern practice of spatialized free verse that begins with Stéphane Mallarmé at the end of the 19 th Century, visual poetry emerges where writing realizes the complementary potentials of its own visual forms.

In the case of Mallarmé, for example, whose Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard ( A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance) (1897) represents the true beginning of visual poetry as a sustained and self-aware practice, the visual component was a way for printed language to do more of what it was doing already. Mallarmé, the high poet of Symbolisme , was the most literary, the most dedicatedly verbal of poets, and was not interested in "mixing" the medium of his poetic expression by bringing in foreign visual elements. On the other hand his very dedication to language as an art, to poetry as an art of ideas that is reliant on an art of sound, led him to discover the role typography and spatial form could play in replacing the poet's voice on the printed page. For him the visual layout of a text, varying the typeface, size and positioning of words, was a way of presenting a poem as its own performance score, of delivering language with just the right emphasis or delay to maximize its poetic effect. Visual variations were to produce variations in how the text sounded in the inner ear of the reader, larger words appearing louder, smaller words softer and less intoned, while loose spacing would slow the reading, allowing each word more resonance and ambiguity.

Printed language is always visual, and so if those cheap paperbacks of Shakespeare or Haavikko are poetry, they should count as visual poetry, too. The difference is that in conventional printing, as in conventional writing, the visual aspects of the language are kept as standardized as possible, so as to be effectively invisible. Seeing the text, needing to notice specific articulations in its visible form, would distract from reading it, which in the traditional conception requires us to ignore the body of the text (typography, spacing, margins, ink quality, paper) in order to grasp the spirit. In visual poetry, body and spirit are reunited, and the visible is embraced as a rich possible source of meanings. Potentially, everything is used.

The Visual is Language

The emergence of visual poetry at the experimental margins of literature parallels the rise of print advertising and other forms of visual communication at the heart of modern consumer society. Mallarmé was in part attempting to turn the blatant attention-getting strategies of newspaper typography to higher literary purposes, and the Dadaist, Futurist and Surrealist poets all made active use of the product labels, slogans and commercial iconography that had come to characterize their increasingly visual culture, and to seriously challenge the hegemony of religious and "high art" symbols in the visual imaginary.
The fact that visual poetry today remains a marginal practice, rarely given much attention within the academy, is strange considering mainstream literature's own anxieties in the face of the advancing visualization, or de-literarification, of culture. Where conventional literature now appears marginal, even archaic, within a cultural formation which increasingly privileges modes of viewing and mediated interactivity over traditional reading, visual poetry deserves recognition for having long ago assumed a position much more central to the major media shifts at work within culture.
If visual poetry's founding intuition was that writing was already visual and the visual could be used, its full maturity came with the realization that visual images are already a language, or many languages, available for writing in.

The advancing mastery of visual communication evidenced in advertising and the mass media, together with the semiotic analysis that allowed these media to be understood as linguistic or "language-like" systems, gave rise to the now-common notion of visual language. Obviously, it would seem in retrospect, if there was visual language there should be visual poetry. And particularly in the 1960's and 70's, when the semiotic analysis of visual media was applied to the wide-spread socio-political critique of media's manipulative powers, a growing number of "engaged" writers identified visual language as the key terrain on which to do the poetic work of challenging official systems of representation.

Concrete in the Visual Mix

This second realization, that poetry could move beyond the visual aspects of writing and employ any type of visuals as signs in a poetic construction, was delayed for many years by one of visual poetry's own greatest successes. Emerging in the 1950's (simultaneously in Switzerland and Brazil), the movement known as concrete poetry achieved the highest cultural profile and greatest literary influence visual poetry as such has yet enjoyed. Replacing linguistic syntax with the logics of spatial structure and material presence, concretism sought to evolve a new art of words in which seeing and reading were called upon to do equal work in the production of meaning. The "catchiness" and conceptual poignancy of many concrete poems and the seeming endlessness of the possibilities it offered brought the form a real popularity, and the clarity of its theoretical statements (in particular the writings of Eugen Gomringer and the Brazilian Noigandres poets, Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos and Decio Pignatari), won a small place for it in many academic curricula and literary anthologies from the 60's onward.

Gomringer's stated enthusiasm for concretism as a literary form had a lot to do with his interest in the international signage systems being developed for airports and train stations during the mobility boom of the 1950's. He saw his literary activity as conspiring in the advancement of important worldwide, trans-national modes of communication.

Despite the obvious role imagery and icons would have to play in such languages, his own compositional theory and practice propagated an orthodoxy that effectively excluded the use of non-verbal elements. The (relative) worldwide success and academic influence of concretism thus limited the semiotic range of visual poetry at the moment of its broadest public recognition. It wasn't until that orthodoxy softened, with the "clean" concretism of the 50's yielding to the "dirty" concretism, poesia visiva and poesie élémentaire or "langue DOC(K)S" of the following decades, that the dominant trends in visual poetry resumed the full range of visual language resources available to them. However, because no single movement or trend since concretism has attained the same visibility, the fame of that movement continues to interfere with the spreading of a fuller picture of what visual poetry is or might become. Indeed, for many, "concrete poetry" is "visual poetry", rather than just an historically and generically limited sub-species of it; though this prejudice is fading . Perhaps the single most fully realized vision of what a rigorous visual poetry might be beyond concretism, featuring intricately readable texts of both language and visuals, is to be found in the extensive and beautiful work of Klaus Peter Dencker.

Objects, Actions, Architecture

Visual poetry is often described as an "intermedia", a fusion of different media in an integrated practice. In the simplest version , and this is true for Dencker, the media fused are language and the graphic arts, or language and visual art more generally. Usually what we are dealing with are two-dimensional works on paper, perhaps created for display on a gallery wall but eventually transferable to the pages of a book, where it can be viewed/read in a format comfortably preserving at least some aspects of the conventional poetry experience. But boxes, clothing, short films, odd stage performances, holographic projections, bread, rooms, buildings, and information architectures are all on the long list of media that have been used in avowedly "poetic" productions; some of them without the intervention, written or spoken, of even a single word. Amid such a variety of forms, it would seem that the term "visual poetry" is either ill defined, or too all-encompassing to have any useful meaning. And that may be true. As a literary genre, visual poetry sprawls beyond definable boundaries, but as a culture of experiment and exploration there are certain underlying coherences that unite much of what is otherwise a very disparate corpus.

One underlying logic accounting for many very different kinds of work goes as follows: if poetry is the art of language, any artwork made of words or letters is a poetic work. Language here is taken quite literally, or rather "concretely", pushing the logic of concretism to its material extremes. Thus, especially in the 70's and 80's, a huge range of works is generated by artists/poets exploring the endless ways in which language manifests among the objects and devices of our everyday material culture. Archaic letterpress type, LED screens, the brilliant but obsolete IBM Selectric typewriter ball, ABC refrigerator magnets, letter-shaped pasta, Kellog's-brand "Alphabits" cereal, or things, like bagels, that just look like letters - all these become material inspirations for a new type of poetic play. Sometimes this play consists in composing poetic texts whose meanings incorporate the generally anti-literary values of their material base. But often the play is as much sculpture, performance or conceptual art as it is writing, and the poetry of it has more to do with imagining poetic potentials into objects and devices that are outside of literature, but may ironically reflect new possibilities back onto it. Since these materials highlight how language is embodied as tool or toy in every aspect of life, a major sub-text of such explorations is language's problematic role in constituting us as socialized, gendered and ideological beings.

Another logic that can help us understand another wide range of works is the semiotic logic that sees potentially everything as a sign in a language-like system, and every sign as a possible resource for poetic composition. On the one hand this explains widespread experiments (e.g. Max Ernst's Une semaine de bonté , Giuseppe Steiner's Drawn States of Mind , or the collage works of John Heartfield or Gerhard Rühm) in using visual imagery to construct texts that in some way "read" like poems, often with little or no verbal language involved, or alternatively texts whose poetry arises precisely in the tensions and interplay between visual and verbal meanings (cf. Clemente Padin or Julien Blaine). On the other it explains the fascination with pre-existing visual codes - semaphore, directional signage, assembly instructions, body language, sign language, the "language of flowers", fashion, dance-step notation, gang signals, weather maps, every manner of diagram and technical illustration - and their ambition to recruit the conventional or prosaic meanings of these systems into poetic service. Whether such codes are employed carefully to constitute legible "texts", or more abstractly or playfully, and whether the works employing them are presented on the page or on stage, in the gallery, on screen, or out in the urban environment, they reinforce the notion of poetry even as they abandon the medium it is traditionally done in. The notion that poetry is a liberatory extra, a potential trapped in every system, waiting for release, an imaginative surplus of meaning that breaks the conventions of language to free up new possibilities for expression and experience, this is the age-old mission of poetry served in a new way by these radically innovative forms.

Poetry - the remainder

Historically visual poetry is associated with the exhaustion of traditional literary forms, with the crisis of literature as such. And as a parallel or counter-literary activity, it can be seen as asking, and perhaps answering, two critical, related questions. First, what is left for poetry, when everything has been done, when culture itself, which once held poetry in the highest esteem, seems done with poetry? And secondly, what is left of poetry, when the traditional forms have been abandoned, and we want to keep using the word?

To address the first question first, visual poetry per se may not be the future of poetry, but it is certainly part of the bundle of experimental practices that have already identified and established a future for poetic activity in a post-literary age, where language and literacy themselves are being radically redefined by new modes of inscription and communication. The computer age has given rise already to several waves of poetic innovation, in many of which the efforts and experience of visual poets have played important roles. Appearing in the 1980's, hypertext poetry began exploring the poetic potentials of spatialized, interactive text navigation even before the internet emerged as a mass extension of those potentials into the basic functioning of our wired society. Then, since the 90's, the development of text and text-image animation tools (e.g. Java, Flash , Director) has supported the emergence of new kinetic poetries . These new forms, arising at the forefront of our evolving language- and media-scapes, are fulfilling important potentials intuited since the very beginnings of v isual poetry. On the one hand, expanding on earlier experiments with cinema, they have added movement to the resources of textual presentation, literalizing an effect Mallarmé could only hint at through suggestive typography. On the other hand they have brought the poetic enterprise into an environment of near-total media integration - text, sound, image, animation and video blended in a single compositional platform, and viewable on a single screen, or navigable within a single immersive virtual environment.

Here we have in some sense the imaginable maximum of the poetic text, the complete realization of Apollinaire's famous futuristic vision from 1917:

a new art (vaster than the simple art of words), where, conductors of an orchestra of unheard-of extent, ...[poets] will have at their disposal: the whole world, its noise and its appearances, thought and human language, song, dance, all the arts and all the artifices, more mirages yet than Morgane could have lifted on Mont Gibel, to compose the book seen and read of the future. (Apollinaire, "L'Ésprit nouveau et les poètes")

But add to this still the possibilities of full interactivity, co-authoring, tele-presence, multiple-user interaction, computer text/sound/image generation, and the self-organization of media environments as virtual worlds, and we enter the 21 st Century not merely at the conceivable limit of our conventional notion of a text, but in fact on the doorstep of a radically new and alien paradigm of textual authoring and participatory reception, a paradigm David Seaman refers to as "recombinant poetics", where the poetic enterprise is at work in still half-unknown territories into which our culture, our society and our consciousness are rapidly following.

So plenty left for poetry: to explore the creative potentials of each new (visual) media regime as it emerges. But what is left of poetry, when those explorations lead it beyond the limit of poetry's traditional materials - voice, page, book - beyond even language as traditionally understood? Already the term, "visual poetry", should alert us to a strain this trend of experimentalism is placing (along with its sister forms, sound poetry, action poetry, and computer or "code" poetry) on our fundamental notion of what poetry is. The effect, after over a century of such questioning and experimentation, has been a progressive differentiation of poetry as principle from the conditions of its historical embodiment, a distillation of poetry as an essence out from the conventional poems of words in which that essential thing was first made known, named and propagated. If poetry in this sense is the principle of fundamental creativity and liberatory play within systems of meaning and representation, then moving beyond the traditional forms of literary language and publication can be seen as simple evolution in some cases, or in others as a survival strategy.

If poetry feels endangered today (as it perhaps has always felt endangered), it is not because the cultural institutions of high literary art have lost much of their prestige, nor simply because of any possible decline in literacy or the social importance of words and reading. A greater danger lies in the encroaching uniformity of cultural messaging and human experience, the progressive domination of public discourse and common thought by corporate media, and of corporate media by a narrow set of political allegiances. What is in jeapordy is not state funding for the humanities, but an ecology of human alternatives, as the world increasingly submits to a single political/economic model and to a single version of what to expect from life, entailing the defeatist consensus that no large-scale, substantial change is possible. When poetry, as poetry, is no longer able to exert any effective leverage against these diminishments, there is no point in preserving it in its usual forms. Already in the 1950's the Situationists, who saw poetry as "the revolutionary moment of language" and developed an important critical poetics of visual media, had applied this test to poetry and declared: " One thing we can be sure of is that fake, officially tolerated poetry is no longer the poetic adventure of its era." Instead of continuing poetry within culture, they undertook t he direct poetic adventure of transforming everyday life outside it.

More recently, Steve McCaffery, without altogether abandoning poetry as a cultural activity, has argued "that contemporary poetics has reached an impasse in exclusively poetic territories", and argued that "an exclusive focus on the poem-as-such severely curtails the potential critical range of poetics," and that "for the latter to maintain a vital critical function then a radical readjustment of its trajectories seems required." McCaffery refers to this vocation of poetry outside of poetry as its "parapoetics". More than blending poetry with other media, as in "intermedia", parapoetics implies the contamination of non-literary discourses and societal forms with poetry's essentially critical/creative spirit. Thus, in looking to the future of poetry beyond literature, we can expect certain forms of visual poetry to remain highly relevant for poetically engaging society and the largely visual media that suffuse it. On the other hand, as our society and its forms of communication go on evolving together, we should not be surprised to lose sight of poetry even in the new places we have learned to look for it in. The impulse that first led poets to embrace visual materials, at the onset of our modern media regime, is now urging them to go further, to seek more effective forms in new, unexpected places. To escape the neutralizing and banalizing influence of official culture today, poets may have to go underground entirely, selling off all but the most essential of their creative/critical tools, to reemerge elsewhere without papers, and begin the search employment among the unsuspecting architects, legislators, news broadcasters, marketing executives and economists who seem to run our world.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

What Is AGI

What Is Artificial General Intelligence?

When it was founded over 50 years ago, the AI field was directly aimed at the construction of "thinking machines"—that is, computer systems with human-like general intelligence. The whole package, complete with all the bells and whistles like self, will, attention, creativity, and so forth.

But this goal proved very difficult to achieve; and so, over the years, AI researchers have come to focus mainly on producing "narrow AI" systems: software displaying intelligence regarding specific tasks in relatively narrow domains.

This "narrow AI" work has often been exciting and successful. It has produced, for instance, chess-playing programs that can defeat any human; and programs that can diagnose diseases better than human doctors. It has produced programs that translate speech to text, analyze genomics data, drive automated vehicles, and predict stock prices. The list goes on and on. In fact, mainstream software like Google and Mathematica utilize AI algorithms (in the sense that their underlying algorithms resemble those taught in university courses on AI).

There is a sarcastic saying that once some goal has been achieved by a computer program, it is classified as 'not AI.' And, as with much sarcasm, there is some underlying truth to this remark. But the deeper truth that these narrow-AI achievements have taught us is how different all this advancement in the creation of specialized AI tools really is from what's needed to create a thinking machine. All these narrow-AI achievements, useful as they are, have not yet carried us very far toward the goal of creating a true thinking machine.

Some researchers believe that narrow AI eventually will lead us to general AI. This for instance is probably what Google founder Sergey Brin means when he calls Google an 'AI company.'1 His idea seems to be, roughly speaking, that Google's narrow-AI work on text search and related issues will gradually lead to smarter and smarter machines that will eventually achieve true human-level understanding and cognition.

On the other hand, some other researchers—including the author—believe that narrow AI and general AI are fundamentally different pursuits. From this perspective, if general intelligence is the objective, it is necessary for AI R&D to redirect itself toward the original goals of the field—transitioning away from the current focus on highly specialized narrow AI problem solving systems, back to confronting the more difficult issues of human level intelligence and ultimately intelligence beyond the human level. With this in mind, I and some other AI researchers have started using the term Artificial General Intelligence or AGI, to distinguish work on general thinking machines from work aimed at creating software solving various 'narrow AI' problems.

Some of the work done so far on narrow-AI can play an important role in general AI research—but in the AGI perspective, in order to be thus useful, this work will have to be considered from a different perspective. My own view, which I'll elaborate here, is that the crux of intelligence mostly has to do with the emergent structures and dynamics that arise in a complex goal-achieving system, allowing this system to model and predict its own overall coordinated behavior patterns. These structures/dynamics include things we sloppily describe with words like "self", "will" and "attention."

In this view, thinking of a mind as a toolkit of specialized methods—like the ones developed by narrow-AI researchers—is misleading. A mind must contain a collection of specialized processes that synergize together so as to give rise to the appropriate high-level emergent structures and dynamics. The individual components of an AGI system might in some cases resemble algorithms created by narrow-AI researchers, but focusing on the individual and isolated functionality of various system components is not terribly productive in an AGI context. The main point is how the components work together.

I strongly suspect the interplay between specialization and generality in the human brain is subtler than is commonly recognized. The brain certainly has some kick-ass specialized tools, such as its face recognition algorithms. But these are not the essence of its intelligence. Some of the brain's weaker tools, such as its very sloppy algorithms for reasoning under uncertainty, are actually more critical to its general intelligence, as they have subtler and more thoroughgoing synergies with other tools that help give rise to important emergent structures/dynamics.

Now, the word "general" in the phrase "general intelligence" should not be overinterpreted. Truly and totally general intelligence—the ability to solve all conceptual problems, no matter how complex—is not possible in the real world.2 Mathematicians have proved that it could hypothetically be achieved by theoretical, infinitely powerful computers. But the techniques usable by these infinitely powerful hypothetical machines don't have much to do with real machines or real brains.

But even though totally general intelligence isn't pragmaticaly achievable, still, it's clear that humans display a kind of general intelligence that goes beyond we see in chess programs, data analysis programs, or speech-to-text software. We are able to go into new situations, figure them out, and create new patterns of behavior based on what we've learned. A human can deal with situations of a radically different nature than anything existing at the time of their birth—but a narrow AI program typically starts behaving stupidly or failing altogether when confronted with situations different than those envisioned by its programmer. We humans, dominated as we often are by our simian ancestry, nevertheless have a leg up on Deep Blue, Mathematica or Google in the fluidity and generality department. We understand, to a degree, who and what we are, and how we are related to our environment—and this understanding allows us to deal with novel contexts creatively, adaptively and inventively. And this, I posit, comes out of the emergent structures and dynamics that arise in the complex systems that are our brains, due to the interactions of various specialized components within a framework that evolved to support precisely this sort of emergence.

My own quest to create powerful AGI has centered on the design and engineering of a particular software system, the Novamente Cognition Engine (NCE), which is described in the companion essay "The Novamente Approach to AGI." I believe Novamente is a viable approach with the capability to take us all the way to the end goal. However, if for some reason the Novamente project doesn't get there soon enough, I believe someone else is going to get there via some conceptually related approach, differing in the details. There are sure to be many different workable approaches to AGI ... just as now, 150 years after the experts said human flight was impossible, we humans take to the air in a variety of ways, including helicopters, propeller planes, jet planes, rockets and so forth.

One of the reasons AGI became so unfashionable within the AI field was precisely the existence of claims such as the one I just made in the previous paragraph. In the early 1970s when I was first discovering science fiction, there were already AI researchers touting their particular algorithmic approaches and claiming that "AI is just around the coner." But just as with cars or airplanes or printing presses or any other technology, eventually the time for AI will come—and, with full knowledge of the history of the field, I predict it will come soon, so long as a reasonable degree of funding (from government, business or wherever) is directed toward AGI.

One of the messages I always try to get across regarding AGI is that, due to the convergence of a variety of sciences and technologies, the end goal is closer than most people think. The community of scientists working in the artificial intelligence and cognitive science fields have made some serious, substantive strides. They have generated a lot of very important insights, and what remains to be done to create AI is to put all the pieces together, in an appropriate integrative architecture that combines specialized components to give rise to the necessary emergent structures and dynamics of mind. At this point, it's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when we achieve the goal—and of which of the multiple viable pathways is achieved first.

History of the Surrealist Movement

Chapter Two
Salvation for Us Is Nowhere
by Gérard Durozoi
Translated by Alison Anderson

On October 11, 1924, the existence of a surrealist group was publicly confirmed by the opening at 15, rue de Grenelle (the premises were on loan from Pierre Naville's father) of a Bureau for Surrealist Research, whose aim was to "gather all the information possible related to forms that might express the unconscious activity of the mind." The press was notified of the opening and of the imminent publication of a new periodical, La Révolution surréaliste—an undertaking Breton had decided on by the beginning of July, while he was correcting the proofs of the Manifeste du surréalisme. Word of the opening spread quickly enough for the Journal littéraire to publish an account of the event the very same day: "The promoters of the surrealist movement, in their desire to appeal to the unconscious and to set surrealism along the path of greatest freedom, have already begun to organize a Bureau to unite all those who are interested in expression where thought is freed from any intellectual preoccupations; . . . all those who are closely or remotely concerned with surrealism will find all the information and documentation relative to the Mouvement surréaliste." The same commentary in Les Nouvelles littéraires: "No domain has been specified, a priori, for this undertaking, and surrealism proposes a gathering of the greatest possible number of experimental elements, for a purpose that cannot yet be perceived. All those who have the means to contribute, in any fashion, to the creation of genuine surrealist archives, are urgently requested to come forward: let them shed light on the genesis of an invention, or propose a new system of psychic investigation, or make us the judges of striking coincidences, or reveal their most instinctive ideas on fashion, as well as politics, etc., or freely criticize morality, or even simply entrust us with their most curious dreams and with what their dreams suggest to them."

Not only did such announcements emphasize the collective nature of the movement, they also indicated the bureau's primary intention of remaining open to all those who dared venture into the vicinity. The bureau was indeed organized in such a way that a daily presence was assured by two people, who were responsible for greeting visitors (journalists, writers, onlookers, even students) and for taking note of their suggestions and reactions in a daily "Notebook"; the office would also guarantee a regular amount of daily publicity for the movement (press relations, various mailings), while in another room, on the first floor, other members of the group could meet for discussions, or exchange ideas and projects, or work on their own texts, or help to edit the first issue of La Révolution surréaliste.

The premises were "decorated," as captured in a famous photograph by Man Ray, with a few paintings (De Chirico: Le Rêve de Tobie; a watercolor by Robert Desnos; a canvas by Max Morise), posters, and, before long, a headless plaster statue of a boar in a stairway. The surrealists archived works that had already been exhibited, as well as the notebooks in which they would jot down their automatic texts and manuscripts. An atmosphere of effervescent research reigned, where the gifts of chance were always welcome (a poster glimpsed on a wall might be pointed out or the ludicrous content of a classified advertisement), along with the marvelous, thought to be ever latent in everyday life and ready to suggest incongruous juxtapositions of objects and arouse the imagination by reinforcing the victory over mental habits. But the bureau was anything but a simple place for accomplices to gather, even if their affinity was confirmed daily by the communication of dreams and fantasies and by shared laughter, spontaneous exchange, and the joy of the ongoing discovery: the bureau, like the Manifeste or La Révolution surréaliste, also served a strategic purpose.

In 1924, a specter haunted Paris—at any rate, the specter of surrealism—and it was up to Breton and his friends to prove that they did not intend to allow anyone else to clarify its significance (or, inversely, to trivialize it). An evening at the Comédie des Champs-Élysées was the occasion for a first skirmish: "surrealist dances" were scheduled to be performed by Valeska Gert, whose impresario was Ivan Goll; the group disrupted the performance with a concert of whistles, and then a row broke out between Goll and Breton, and the event ended abruptly with the arrival of the police. On August 23, Breton and ten of his friends printed a collective text in Le Journal littéraire, "Encore le surréalisme," in response to Goll's declarations maintaining that a surrealist school had existed at least since the time Apollinaire first used the adjective to describe Les Mamelles de Tirésias, and among its proponents were not only Goll himself but also Pierre Albert-Birot and Paul Dermée. The collective declaration affirmed that "Monsieur Dermée involuntarily exploited the grotesque usefulness of Dadaism and his activity was always foreign to surrealism"; also, it stated that "surrealism is something quite different from the literary wave imagined by M. Goll," before introducing texts that were soon to be published (La Révolution surréaliste, the manifesto, texts by Desnos, Péret, Aragon, and Roger Vitrac) that would reinforce their claim that they had "nothing to do with Mr. Goll, or with his friends either." Le Journal littéraire then published Goll's replies (reiterating the definition he put forward in 1919, to describe playwrighting: "The surrealist poet will evoke the distant realm of the truth, by keeping his ear to the wall of the earth") as well as those of Dermée (who, in the journal L'Esprit nouveau went back over his efforts to "ensure that the term surrealism is still in force" and "keep it separate from petty cliquish quarrels"; he also reproached Breton for wanting to "monopolize a movement of literary and artistic renewal that dates from well before his time and that in scope goes far beyond his fidgety little person"). Breton responded with countersignatures from his close collaborators: "One cannot get into a discussion with such phonies and nitwits," followed by an excerpt from the manifesto that outlined the history of the issue. The quarrel did not bring an end to the debate: Le Figaro and L'Intransigeant, on October 11, both confused the opening of the bureau and the publication of a journal edited by Ivan Goll whose title alone, Surréalisme, continued to feed the confusion. The unique issue of Surréalisme opened with a "Manifeste du surréalisme," followed by an "Exemple du surréalisme: Le cinéma" (Goll cited as a model La Roue by Abel Gance); among the contributions were pieces by Albert-Birot, Dermée, Pierre Reverdy, Joseph Delteil, Marcel Arland, Jean Painlevé, René Crevel, and Goll himself (an interview with Robert Delaunay). Though such eclecticism might have seemed spicy or even, from a distance, in good taste, in the actual context of the era it only contributed to the obscurity. At almost the same time, a special issue of L'esprit nouveau was devoted to Apollinaire; Dermée brought together a good number of writers who were opposed to Breton (Albert-Birot, Céline Arnauld, Goll, Picabia, Tzara, and Ungaretti, among others) to remind people of the fact that surrealism did indeed begin with Apollinaire. As proof, he published the letter sent to him by Apollinaire, the author of Alcools, in March 1917: "All things considered, I believe

On October 11, a letter was sent from the Bureau for Surrealist Research to Pierre Morhange, a collaborator on the periodical Philosophies, where he had recently evoked surrealism in terms that were particularly vague: "This art form, invented by the genial Max Jacob . . . finds beauty only when rounded out by a lively lyrical painting, in other words, instinctive and natural." The letter is brief: "We would like to notify you once and for all that if you give yourself the right to use the word 'Surrealism' spontaneously and without notifying us, more than fifteen of us will be there to cruelly set you right." The response this provoked was Messianic in tone: "Unfortunate gentlemen, I will not address you with words of hate. You are coming forward for me to fight you. I will fight you. And I will vanquish you with Goodness and Love. And I will convert you to the Almighty," and so on. This letter hardly improved their relations.

These skirmishes show just how much Breton and his friends sought to disengage surrealism from any narrowly literary, or even poetic, significance—if one persists in seeing poetry as nothing more than a somewhat refined form of literature. The bureau, from this point of view, was also the place where this principle could be periodically reasserted—because it needed to be—within the group itself: preparations for a first issue of La Révolution surréaliste, noted in the logbook, showed the efforts made to gather texts, illustrations, human interest stories, and anonymous information. Such heterogeneity would assure a multifaceted relation with life in all its aspects rather than with the aseptic, inefficient world of literature.

The Surrealist Manifesto

Breton's work, the subject of much discussion in the weeks before its publication, was published on October 15, 1924, in a volume with Poisson soluble by Simon Kra's Éditions du Sagittaire. Although it hardly took the author's close friends by surprise, it immediately took on the significance of a global challenge for the intellectual public. Initially conceived as a preface to Poisson soluble (traces of this initial intention can still be felt in its composition), the manifesto quickly acquired the status of an independent text, delineating the goals and challenges of surrealism, even if its insistence on the supremacy of the poetic image was due to its originally intended application.

The manifesto begins with a defense of the rights of the imagination (even as far as the limits of madness) as being the only rights capable of helping the individual avoid a "fate without light " and of compensating for the burden of "imperious practical necessity." The text establishes a relation between the imagination and a taste for freedom: "Dear imagination," says Breton, "what I love most about you is that you are unforgiving," and he added right away that "the word of freedom alone is all that still exalts me."

It was vital, therefore, to reevaluate the realistic attitude born of the positivist tradition, which was "hostile to any intellectual and moral uplift." In passing, this reevaluation seemed to criticize the novel, guilty of preventing the reader's imagination from taking flight because of its descriptive nature and also of stifling emotions by the use of psychological analysis, perforce simplistic and sterile. To the professionalism of novelists—always ready to fill pages in order to conceal the lack of necessity of what they were writing, Breton opposed a categorical objection: "I want one to be silent, when one ceases to feel . . . I'm saying only that I do not report the vacant moments of my life, and that it might be unworthy for anyone to crystallize those moments that do seem vacant."

But realism was also the fetishism of logical procedures, which were in fact incapable of solving the authentic problems of existence, while their overestimation had banished from the mind "anything that could be rightfully or wrongfully accused of being a superstition, a chimera . . . any means of searching for truth that does not conform with standard usage." Given such an ossification, Freud's contributions naturally deserved the highest praise, thanks to which "imagination may be about to regain its rights."

Subsequently, the importance of dreams was emphasized, because they reinforced the idea that thought, in humankind, had a much wider scope than the dominant tradition. Breton formulated four questions to try to define a terrain for research: What are the possibilities for the continuity of dreams and their application to life's problems? Do dreams explicitly harbor the causes of our preferences and our desires? What form of reason "broader than all others" gives dreams their "natural allure," where everything seems possible, for as long as the dream lasts? How can one conceive the "future resolution" of dreams and reality, apparently so utterly contradictory, in "the surreal?"

In the sparing tone of the manifesto, the attention given to dreams led to praise for the marvelous, synonymous with beauty, capable in and of itself both of instilling interest into the fabrication of novels, as witnessed by Mathew Gregory Lewis's The Monk, and of lending a character a dimension of "continuous temptation." While the marvelous had taken on different forms throughout history, Breton proposed giving it a contemporary form by evoking a castle that he and his friends could haunt at their leisure; any attempt to contrast its existence with what could be known of the place where Breton "really" lived would be in vain. This appeal to the poetic imagination invited an examination of its very sources, and Breton, using elements already evoked in "Entrée des médiums," retraced his itinerary, from his first experiments, which sought a definition of lyricism, to the crucial experiment of Les Champs magnétiques. The definition proposed by Reverdy in 1918 had had a considerable impact in helping to define the nature of the poetic image (it "is born, let's say, of the rapprochement of two relatively distinct elements. The greater and more just the distance between the two approaching realities, the stronger the image"). Also influential was the strange phrase of half-sleep captured one evening ("There is a man cut in two by the window"), as was the long quest for "spoken thought," encouraged by Freud's discoveries and by psychiatric activity during the war.

After this historical reminder, which enabled him to sweep aside, once and for all, surrealism's very inadequate references—such as Goll or Dermée—Breton went on to state his definition and did not hesitate to give it the allure of a dictionary item, since the aim was to make up for a lack that Apollinaire himself had felt.

SURREALISM, n. Pure psychic automatism with which one proposes to express the real process of thought, either orally or in writing, or in any other manner. Thought's dictation, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, outside any esthetic or moral concerns.
ENCYCL. Philos. Surrealism rests on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of hitherto neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dreams, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends banish, once and for all, any other psychic mechanisms and to replace them in the resolution of the principal problems of existence. Have professed to absolute surrealism Messieurs Aragon, Baron, Boiffard, Breton, Carrive, Crevel, Delteil, Desnos, Éluard, Gérard, Limbour, Malkine, Morise, Naville, Noll, Péret, Picon, Soupault, and Vitrac.
"These individuals seem to be the only surrealists so far," added Breton, "and there would be no doubt about this, were it not for the fascinating case of Isidore Ducasse." But this list was followed by a second list, specifying that point of view, or aspect of their work or existence qualified others (relatively) to be considered surrealists—among them Young, Roussel, Jarry, Rimbaud, Saint-Pol-Roux, and Vaché (of whom Breton would say, maintaining an ongoing and flawless spiritual continuity between Vaché and himself: "Vaché is surrealist within me.") Nor was this list definitively closed, but it united those thinkers who were still subjugated, sometimes quite voluntarily, to a "certain number of preconceived ideas" and who clung to them "because they had not heard the surrealist voice" and were thus condemned to be "instruments of too much pride," too tensely concerned with controlling their production, instead of allowing themselves to become, like the "absolute" surrealists, simple and "modest recording instruments" in the service of that surrealist voice that they were preventing from welling up freely within them.

Breton gave a few examples of that voice, quoting excerpts from Soupault, Vitrac, Éluard, Morise, Delteil, and Aragon. These were excerpts from written work; Desnos, in contrast, "speaks surrealist as much as he likes," and this was a confirmation that the true functioning of thought could be, as the definition suggested, expressed "either orally, or in writing." It was also, if need be, a reminder to those who insisted on seeing surrealism as nothing more than a new conception of literature that it was possible to be very genuinely surrealist, that is, given over to automatism, without, however, feeling obliged to write. It should have been clear that the apprehension of "the real functioning of thought" could not be confined to a narrowly literary goal or, more precisely, that the constraints imposed by the practice of literature were not compatible with the exploration of true thought, of thought as it takes shape, well short of reason and logic as they are ordinarily defined. Insofar as human activity, however, was organized by logic and reason, it was foreseeable that thought would feel narrowly enclosed therein and that it would declare a necessary war of independence on the limits reality was trying to impose on it: as the penultimate paragraph of the manifesto affirms, "only very relatively is the world a match for thought." This, in sum, was the basis of the revolt that for years now had been drawing those who refused to submit. The control exerted by reason and aesthetic or moral concerns could only stifle authentic thought and confine it to too narrow a framework. Doubtless this framework might appear to have the advantage of corresponding to a material or social reality, as it was initially responsible for what that reality became; but if thought freed itself from its censorship yet still found itself in disagreement with that same reality, it should by rights endeavor to modify it. Thus, as soon as surrealism was historically defined, it was able to claim a political dimension. In the manifesto however, any political dimension remained implicit, although Breton, using as his starting point the experimentally demonstrated principle that "language was given to man so that he might make a surrealist use of it," envisaged the so-to-speak local effects of surrealism, where certain social relations could be legitimately questioned. The enumeration—a parody of ancient books of magic—of the "Secrets of the Surrealist Art of Magic" was fairly ambiguous, for as soon as it had listed the conditions for automatic writing, it went on to suggest recipes for avoiding boredom in company (it would suffice to formulate some revolting banality), for making speeches (the surrealist "will be sitting pretty amidst all the failings" and "will be truly elect"), and for writing fake novels (and become rich as a result). Then came the transformations that surrealism would work on conversation, letter writing, and dialogue. The pages of Barrières, in Les Champs magnétiques, exemplified the absolute truth reestablished by "poetic surrealism" in dialogue: interlocutors would be freed from any obligations to be polite and words and images would spring up spontaneously. Breton went on to describe the responsibility of the writer and said that he could respond in all good faith to any accusation his text might evince, that he was not its author; it would be enough for this type of situation to become widespread for one to surmise that when surrealist methods were widely practiced, one would need "a new moral code to replace the current one, which is the cause of all evil."

On the nature of the poetic image, Breton demonstrated, using a number of examples, that it could not be premeditated: "It is the somewhat fortuitous rapprochement of two terms that has caused a particular light to give off a spark, the light of the image, to which we are infinitely sensitive." The image, instead of being manufactured, imposes itself on the poet as if in spite of himself, and Breton disagreed with Reverdy on this point: "The two terms of the image are not deducted one from the other by the mind with a view to the necessary spark . . . they are the simultaneous products of the activity I will call surrealist, and reason confines itself to the recognition and appreciation of this luminous phenomenon." Moreover, the beauty (or, according to the assimilation suggested above, the marvelous) of images constitutes an enrichment for the mind itself: if the mind initially submits to the images, "it soon realizes that images flatter its reason" and discovers, thanks to their fleetingness, the "unlimited expanses where its desires are manifest." Finally, the power of images is proportional to the degree of arbitrariness that they display as the terms draw closer: the more contradictory the referents seem, the more satisfaction the images offer, and the more paradoxically incontestable yet, in a certain still enigmatic fashion, justified they seem. What they can reveal in this way is an underlying current of controlled thought, an effervescence operating in fits and starts, or the immediate passage from one word to another and, beyond the words placed in an unexpected juxtaposition, from one designated reality to another. It is in this multiplicity of paths—which "normal" reason seeks, precisely, to ignore and against which it raises its logical, aesthetic, or moral barriers—that the complete and complex reality of thought resides, the reality that surrealism, heard as if it were a dictation emanating from the mind, has begun to push to the surface.

If, from this point on, on everything is possible in this realm of expanded thought, it becomes clear that the mind that gives itself to surrealism can relive "the best moments of childhood, exultantly"—and is childhood, evoked at the beginning of the manifesto, not the too brief period of existence where imagination dominates and enchants reality? To relive those best moments is to experiment once again with the ability to detach oneself from the world as we know it and to find in oneself the freedom to place that given world at a distance—even if that means one will return to it at some later point to consider it in a new way, with a deeper awareness of what it lacks to satisfy one's desires. Genuine thought goes beyond the limits of a narrow "reality," and that is also why, once its wealth has been rediscovered, there is a risk that it will no longer consent to be mutilated.

When referring to ways in which thought might emerge in written surrealism, Breton had complete faith in an extension of surrealist methods to prevent the appearance, in the immediate, of "surrealist clichés": if one considered how effective the cubist papiers collés were in bringing about unexpected associations, it was conceivable that poetry, too, could work in this way, and in multiple ways, to create associations with all the desired suddenness. These might be texts obtained by reorganizing fragments of lines cut out of newspapers, and Breton gave an example that respected the diversity of the initial typographical characters. But he immediately insisted on his lack of interest in what "surrealist techniques" might consist of: all that mattered was the result—either those techniques would contribute toward that result or not—and the relation that they would establish with the founding automatism or not.

Mingling autobiography, theoretical points of view, and references to the definite existence of a surrealist collective, whose members were listed, the manifesto provided an unambiguous outline of the movement's aims and axes of research. Instead of announcing the appearance of a new school or trend in the arts (as the futurist or Dada manifestos had done), it validated the ambitions that for some time had already been those of Breton and his close circle. Moreover, the list of authors who had formerly been surrealist only in part suggested that the movement had gained a legitimacy rooted in a particular interpretation of the history of writing, which confirmed all the while that this writing had nothing to do with literature alone; literature remained "one of the saddest roads leading to everything."

The scope of the surrealist agenda—nothing less than altering one's conception of humankind and of thought—was such that the publication of the manifesto sufficed for Goll and Dermée's endeavors to seem like simple literary replastering, and they immediately suffered the consequences: from October 1924, both the press and the public considered that "surrealism" referred to the movement led by Breton alone, even if some people (Maurice Martin du Gard, e.g.) continued to believe that Breton was making too much use of a term that belonged to Apollinaire. However, the work was not viewed unanimously by contemporary critics as the de facto inauguration of a new era of ideas: Henri Poulaille saw it as nothing more than a useless and sterile restlessness; Jean de Gourmont viewed Poisson soluble as a variation on the futurist "words at liberty" and surrealism as a mixture of Bergson and Freud; Louis Laloy judged the primacy of the unconscious to be inadmissible; Edmond Jaloux, who devoted a chronicle to the manifesto, Une vague de rêves, and Deuil pour deuil, judiciously found this first work comparable to Novalis and Poe, but feared the development of a literature that would be even more artificial than the one criticized; and Jean Cassou, who asserted that poetry must indeed resist the excesses of rationalism, was disappointed by the criticism of the novel and feared that Breton was preventing himself from obeying his "lyrical power."

In Le Disque vert (January 1925), Henri Michaux questioned the possibility of complete automatism ("It won't be that easy to reach such a complete letting go. . . . There are always concerns."), and as a result he judged Poisson soluble a disappointment, "monotonous, like a clown," envisaging all the while "a fusion of automatism and volition" and the subsequent production of surrealist texts that would "no doubt yield admirable works." In his periodical Manomètre, where in early 1924 he had greeted the "beautiful, pure language, Rimbaldian and personal at the same time," of Clair de terre and announced the foundation of "suridealism," Émile Malespine also revealed his hostility toward automatism, which, as a professional psychiatrist, he intended to reduce to a clinical case: "[The insane] who write in the manner of Monsieur André Breton are a very special category of patient: they are maniacs. Mania is a state of continual agitation, where the patients speak quickly and incessantly. The carping baptized surrealist writing by Monsieur André Breton is called verbal automatism by the alienists." As a result, Malespine considered the manifesto to be a pointless preface to the texts of Poisson soluble; paradoxically, the text as a whole "lacks spontaneity" and suffers from "an impeccable style."

Virtually all of these articles betrayed the obvious difficulty in situating the tenets of the manifesto in the project Breton had defined as extraliterary. Praise and reservations both were applied to a literary context, and it was not so much the life of the mind that concerned these observers as, logically, the life of letters.

Among Breton's close collaborators, reactions were obviously very different. They had agreed long ago with the principles he put forward, so the articles they devoted to his book were more a confirmation of affinity than a critical reaction. For Aragon, Breton "knows the ways between the constellations, and if he doesn't know them, he'll discover them." Éluard was primarily interested in Poisson soluble and accompanied his chosen excerpts with a prose that was poetic in itself; Victor Crastre, more of a theoretician, praised the manner in which Breton linked inspiration, genius, and the unconscious.

Copyright notice: ©2002 Excerpted from pages 63-74 of History of the Surrealist Movement by Gérard Durozoi, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2002 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of University of Chicago Press.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rothko Generator Project

Rothko Generator Project

authors: Maya Kalogera and CSDVU

Rothko generator - # untitled till infinity is software/installation which deals with the proliferation, overload and recycling of electronic pictorial waste, incorporating it into CG images based on Rothko's work.

Artist's Statement
As internet is full of boring banners, pornography, dull images, etc., I decided to make an automatic image generator which will make "Rothko's paintings" where pixels will be substituted with the images from the internet. I like his paintings particularly and it is a challenge to make computer generated paintings visually based on Rothko's work from late 50's and early 60's, which will achieve high level of "authenticity" due to its use of texture, hue alterations and oblong shape modifications so characteristic for his work at that period.

Beside that intention, this project lies within my interest in collecting datas from the Internet and using that informations to create a completely different visual outcome. In this project, those two streams, infinitely CG images and collected profane net pictures, amalgamate themselves in very appropriate way.

Maya Kalogera

Rothko once said: 'It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.'

For Rothko, color is "merely an instrument." Rothko demanded his paintings be organic, art that "lives and breathes," an object among others. He noticed: "The fact that people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions... the people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them. And if you say you are moved only by their color relationships then you miss the point." His work concentrated on basic emotions, often filling the canvas with very few, but intense colours, using little immediately-apparent detail. The rarest sense for fine saturated color values, in from of us there aren't dead abstract surfaces, but the surfaces which breathe, emanate their inner glow. Rothko repeatedly protested: 'I'm not interested in color' and 'I'm not a colorist .' Color, he explained, was nothing more than an 'instrument "for expressing something larger: the all important 'subjects' of his pictures". Rothko said for his paintings that they are organic, that they breathe. At the micro- structure they indeed change their inner glow: spiritual and mystic is suggested by colors and their displaying order.

And rightly to that mystic feeling, it seemed to me as a great challenge to confront something so profane as are advertisements, porn pics, charts, banners, etc., and yet to camouflage it and leave that colored superficies to emanate.

Spatial installation of RGenerator / untitled till infinity :

Viewers enters among projections, they are surrounded with them from at least 3 sides. Colours are slowly changing, melting, generating new hues, transforming into new shapes. Viewer can sit, rest there, for no matter how long, the images will always be new ones, somehow more or less similar, but never ever the same.

That continous stream in infinity with significant rhythm changes (from leggero to moderato, with never the same pace), makes color significance more stronger, vivid, expressive. Like at the sacral place, energy arises by the lenght of time being spent amongs the paintings.

I hope that the viewer will feel exactly as in Dominique De Menil's saying about Rothko's paintings:"They embrace us without closing us. Their dark surfaces do not stop the gaze. A light surface is active - it stops the eye. But we can gaze right through these purplish browns, gaze into the infinite."

Rothko Generator Project is still in beta phase, meaning that still some improvements on souceOver matrix are on its way. But even though, the
final output has alredy the visual appearance which was intented to

For purposes of this project, 18 Rothko’s paintings were analysed and
treated by same hypothesis: as they were consisted of background and foreground surfaces. It wasn’t always applicable smoothly, but it considerably facilitated the analysis of shapes and colors. Other element which further alleviated the process was presuming that shapes in paintings are places on different co-ordinates on z-axe: smaller shapes have higher co-ordinate value, bigger forms have lower co-ordinate value. By this factor it was gained bigger maneuvering space for later manipulation and placement of new generated forms and for their use in sourceOver matrix (alpha blending).

One of the biggest obstacles at the begining of the process was how to gain "realistic" shape modelling similar to forms on Rothko's paintings. This was solved with Kok F.Lai's Gsnake image processing library for edge definitions. Gsnake provides tools for contour modeling, extraction, detection and classification, based on generalized active contour model. It consists of a set of objects, suitable for use in the area of feature extraction, character recognition, motion analysis and etc.

The closest technique which was the initial point for developing the algorhitms
in this project is photomosaic. The typical photomosaic algorithm searches from
a large database of images one picture that approximates a block of pixels in
the main image. Since the quality of the output depends on the size of the database, it turns out that the bottleneck in each such algorithm is the searching process.

In this project we used a technique to speed-up this critical phase using the Antipole Tree Data Structure. This improvement allows the use of larger databases without requiring much longer processing time. This is a new method invented by Gianpiero di Biasi to speed-up the search process. This technique is based on the Antipole Tree Data Structure and allows us to obtain impressive effects in an efficient manner. The Antipole Tree is suitable for searches over large record sets embedded into a metric space (X, d).

The Antipole Clustering of bounded radius is a top-down procedure that starts with a given finite set of points X in a metric space. The first check is if there exists a pair of points in X such that their distance is longer than the radius. If this is the case, the set is partitioned by assigning each point of the splitting subset to the closest endpoint of the pair (A, B).
Otherwise the splitting is not performed and the given subset is itself a cluster. Once the data structure is built a suitable nearest neighbor algorithm can be designed.

The search, starting from the root, proceeds by following the path in the tree, which guarantees to find the nearest cluster centroid pruning the impossible branches. A backtracking search explores the remaining branches of the tree
to assure a correct answer.

RG algorithms can be divided into two phases: database acquisition and RGB value recognizer/pixel replacer process.

The acquisition of the database of images is very simple: each image of the database is partitioned into 9 equal rectangles arranged in a 3x3 grid and compute the RGB mean values for each rectangle. This leads to a vector x composed by 27 components (three RGB components for each rectangle). x is the feature vector of the image in the data structure. When all the images in the database have their own feature vector the Antipole clustering can be performed.

The painting creation explained in few steps: first the input image is subdivided into a regular grid, then each cell of the grid into another 3x3 sub-grid. Second the RGB mean values for each sub-cell of the sub-grid are computed. This leads to a vector x composed by 27 components (three RGB components for each sub-cell). x is the feature vector of the cell. After performing the best matching we resize the selected tile to fit and paint it over the cell with RenderBot.

The final image is created when the simulation is finished by having each RenderBot execute its painting function.

RenderBot classes differ in their physical behavior as well as their way of painting so that different styles can be created in a very flexible way. So they provide an unified approach for stroke based rendering.

Final visual output is a computed motion map between two generated images, and warped one into the another through a smooth animation.

Finally it is pointed out that the algorithm for RG output is completely automated and requires no human hints. In particular there is no need to manually select the directional guidelines in the input image or at other stage of painting production. This is a heuristically based, efficient and direct geometric construction scheme that leads to generated "Rothko paintings" with a good visual impact.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Semiotic Immersion of Video Games, Gaming Technology and Interactive Strategies

The Public Journal of Semiotics I(2), July 2007, pp. 31-49

Eduardo Neiva
Professor of Communication Studies
University of Alabama-Birmingham
Carlo Romano
Virginia College and American Sentinel
Birmingham, Alabama
CEO of 3Romans LLC

More than the word game is present in both video games and game theory. At first glance, it is improbable that concepts designed to explain economic transactions (Morgenstern and von Neumann 1944, and Nash 1950 [1997]) or even evolutionary biological enigmas (Maynard Smith 1982) and other modes of conscious interaction between human players could be of any use to elucidate what succeeds when a rational individual faces deep interaction with a mechanical computer1 or a software application.

Because of the popular interest in video games, considered to be the forefront of the new media, academics, social theorists, and even industry participants have systematically tried to define and understand games as they relate to traditional genres of entertainment and social tendencies. Such attempts fail to address in depth the key factor of games - strategy, and do not take into account the amount of interaction and the degree of immersion typical of video games. Interaction and immersion through semiotic input and output is not only what differentiates games from other media like film, TV, and books,2 but also what explains the novelty of the games and the effect they exert over players. In this paper, game theory is presented as the alternative to the prevalent theoretical tendency to search (albeit from the outside and with a dangling grasp of the interactive structure of gaming) for analogies linking well-established conceptual systems from sociology, media effects theory, philosophy, studies on literary narrative, or psychology, to game playing.

We will argue that the interactive exchange of game design, delivery, and immersion made possible through signs circulating between humans (end-users) and computers brings exponential consequences on the player and the contemporary state of game design. As the gaming experience unfolds, the act of playing (gameplay) defines the user’s ability as he/she acts in a virtual world with its own laws, rules, modes of gameplay, and degrees of freedom. Moreover, we maintain that the theoretical apparatus to clarify the gaming experience is found in game theory, because game theory is fully committed to explaining the processes of interactive decision-making.

Our approach to this subject arrives from both an academic and professional perspective.3 Communication principles and game theory when applied to game design and player response illustrate not only the function of strategic gameplay, but also how interactive decision-making is the vital component of immersion. To examine this process better, first, there must be a mutual understanding between the perspectives.

Concepts and discussions of video games, in the academic and professional world, should come to an agreement of terms before progress can be made in defining the attributes of playing games. Although, a tug-of-war is probable, both having ownership over games, neither should forget that it is the players that define the terms mostly and evolve these terms to have specific meanings. Terms used in this paper will apply the common usage and meaning, as it is related to the subject. An example of this is the term cue, which is a category of sign, but in regard to game design specifically it is a device used to direct the player’s progress, or virtual worlds which is commonly known as the construct in which the player’s representation in the game exist, usually replicating reality with 3D or 2D art.

Game testing and player feedback solidifies concepts that work in games and is used here to discuss game design and player immersion. Many specific comments come from the professional experience of overseeing a process called, Quality Assurance (QA).4 This process includes addressing development issues with the Producer responsible for the end product being a success in the market, fixing all software defects, and most important making the army of testers agree that the game is finally fun and worth playing.

It is important to understand what is common in all games before discussing the impact of a specific type of game on a player. Additionally, it is the player and his interest that should be in the forefront of talks about games. This provides a foundation for future discussions about evolving genres and innovative features that are the driving force behind the popularity and level of immersion only attainable in games. Research on the sociological effects of games or theories about the relationship between games and other mediums are beneficial, but only conclusive in respect of the limited gameplay scenario.

Research attempting to enter the world of video games has found it quite difficult to separate the game’s design from the designer’s own biases, and therefore has problems simulating the interaction needed to explore social tendencies. Holin & Sun (2003) – for example - found the designers of the research application (game) preferred what is commonly considered fun factors to gender and social representation. This fact changed the goals of their research and illustrates why there must, first, be collaboration between academia and professionals concerned with studying video games and game players. This paper unifies these two perspectives, and although giving credit to other research goals, identifies the fundamental elements of game playing, game design, and how both are affected before addressing the effect of the game or the game design on the player.

Taking into account the fact that many players engage in role-playing with a community of immaterial individuals living a virtual life quite the opposite of their daily routine, Sherry Turkle (1996) argues that game playing is an “identity workshop”, suggesting that the use of computers is a healing tool to repair uncomfortable, fractured, or damaged selves. After defining the computer as “an evocative object because it provoked self-reflection and stimulated thought”, Turkle (1996: 362) levels human players and cyber-machines, claiming to have acquired, as a result, a new perspective on the nature of intelligence, free will, and life in general.

Although it is correct that a new perspective on intelligence and human will is revealed through the use of video games, as the player manages his/her own strategic choices in risk-taking, Turkle’s approach tends to merely humanize the computer. The title of Turkle’s earlier book – The Second Self (1984) – suggests that the computer is subaltern equipment in the hands of the user.

It may well be that cybernetic role-playing in games is an effective therapeutic tool of lasting value. It may also be a counseling tactic that unveils a horizon of experiences for introverts and individuals locked up in rigid presumptions crippling, maiming, or impoverishing their lives. If, for example, gender swapping is readily available for end-users, they will then acquire a new human perspective and an array of experiences usually barred from their regular interactions. Playing games generates personal and social effects. However, objections can be raised to support the criticism that a research such as this does not quite deal with the nature of games. In Turkle, what really matters is role-playing. Game playing and its peculiarities are visibly absent in this approach.

Another analytical tactic dealing with the problem of games could be to consider games from their components. If the player is frequently following semiotic and narrative cues, being involved as well as attempting to unravel a tale, it is tempting to presume that literary theories concerned with the issues of narrative could be the key to the experience of game playing. Here the objection is not any different from the one observed in the case of therapies of role-playing: Is a digital game a secondary literary object or a product with its own peculiar qualities? Bogost (2006) argues that similar principles are at work in literary analysis and computation, which would in turn be extensive to games.

To avoid the mutation of game questions into what should pertain to literary analysis of narratives one ought to find crossroads where the study of games intersects with the study of narratives. Bogost (2006: 67) observes: “we use narratives to make sense of experiences, and games have embedded stories and backstories that are undeniably narrative”. In this remark, the commonalities of games and narratives are obviously articulated, but that does not in itself lead to the fullest understanding of games. Consider the case of the skateboarding game Extreme Boards and Blades, in which the player is offered a style of gameplay called Freestyle. In the Freestyle mode of playing, the player is free to skate in an open area with no restrictions, goals, or obligations. The player experience is measured only in relation to his/her performance and not to any narrative elements or storyline. Moreover, the lack of narrative is more common in games that aim at pushing the boundaries of design, thus offering to players the opportunity of living the extremely personal experience of transforming his/her previous capacity and performance.

The solution to the quandary of giving analytical priority or not to narrative may reside not in the search for common points between narration and gameplay, but in their distinction. In games, the player is at the core of the gaming process, while, when compared to the deep intensity of game immersion, the power of literary narratives comes from a relative sense of alienation, for the reader of literary narratives always acquires knowledge from the distance, from a radically external viewpoint, whether in the obvious case of a story told from the perspective of a third person, or else reading a tale told by a character directly involved in the scene, in other words, by a first person narrator, who is obviously not the reader.

When compared to traditional literary narratives, games are not experienced from afar. The players of games are immersed in a world of cues signaling the path of their navigation. If, on one hand, in some games, tales and navigation are inseparable; on another hand, the readers of traditional literary tales are consistently aware that they are not the narrators (in the third or first person narrative) who supposedly had direct experience of the fictional plot and the incidents of the story. While the reader of literature may be told of a possible world, the player of video games is acting in a world of possibilities unfolding with a force akin to direct experiences. The players are exposed to digital simulations that may, in some game designs, correspond to real events, thus allowing the assessment of risks without paying the price of living out such scenarios in reality. Games that may not require the player to accomplish any narrative challenge, like Extreme Boards and Blades (B&B), have a definite objective: They foster self-improvement. The player has a sense of self-accomplishment, when he/she skates, and is free to take risk like skating off buildings and up higher ramps, attempting more intense stunts (tricks) to achieve a higher gameplay status. The substitution of actual experiences is far more enticing and dramatic than any narrative development.

Not only does the excessive and improper use of narrative procedures often indicate poor and unimaginative game design that does not take complete advantage of gameplay possibilities, but also narratives do not define a game, otherwise many extreme sports, flight and military simulations, as well as games with open-ended gameplay could not be considered video games, and indeed they are. One defining attribute for video games stands true in every scenario – video games are devices where a player attempts to achieve something desirable through strategic actions. However, the player’s initial expectations of wining are not relevant when measuring the impact of immersion and interaction in video games because the player always gains: When the player uses a vehicle to achieve something desirable, for example, experience is added to the existing player. The player has changed. In a general way, the player acquires information about him/herself, either negative, in the case of failure, or positive, in the case of success.

Video games take countless forms, a direct reflection of the irrepressible growth of the game industry, reaching all kinds of social actors, according to their interests and demands, regardless of race, age, gender, and social class. Statistical data about the market of games, released by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) in its “2006 Essential Factors about the Computer and Video Game Industry”, reveal that, contrary to the previous stereotype, video games are not just an exclusive medium for socially challenged teens any more. Presently the average age of game players is 33-years old, and the average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 40-years old5. According to the NPD Group-Point-of-Sale Information, 228 million game units were sold in 2005. These figures undeniably demonstrate that games are more than just a passing trend in contemporary popular culture. The permanent economic success of video games is evidence of the demand for more and more technologically sophisticated forms of interactive entertainment. To understand the intricacies of interaction is a challenge that cannot be dismissed by the theory of the new media.

Although games are approached and enjoyed from differing perspectives, the popularity and the communication strength of games are, in all forms, related to the fact that they offer the chance for a player to live out intense scenarios in a virtual world, even if these designs are flagrantly fantastic. Games provide an emerging interaction, whose progress is previously captured in algorithmic development, performing implicit or explicit strategies that mutually circulate from player(s) to computer. Even in games such as Rebel Trucker and Grand Theft Auto 3 that provide open-ended gameplay and storylines, the player and game interaction is coordinated by active and reactive strategies. These games offer the player missions to accomplish without time limits, and therefore freedom to not participate in the common design. However, the game is also designed to incorporate and even promote deviant and rebellious acts, and has programmed a virtual world to interact with the player accordingly. What is usually called “eye candy,” like pedestrians on the sidewalk, can become active, and even hostile to the player that chooses to stop the vehicle beside them, get out, and assault them. Also, police cars and beat cops can even respond to the player’s anti-social behavior. The game designer may not have forecasted that the average player would act this way; but to produce a game of intense immersion, the designer must program the artificial intelligence (AI) to react and learn from such behavior. Narratives are secondary devices in playing a digital game: “There is plot in any game, but for the most part it is created by the player himself. It is the player, not the game’s designer, who is the author of the game’s events. The game is a tool for allowing the player to create stories.” (Rollings & Morris 2003: 13).

Determined through gameplay, the player’s experience does not happen in a vacuum. As shown in Fig. 1 (below), the original game design provides a game state in which the player interacts by deciding a mode of play or simply progressing through a training scenario. In each case, the player enters the virtual world through one filter, as in a color/shade wheel, and is faced with options and choices, indicated as new filters or shades of the wheel. Once the player has accessed an option, the previous filter, indeed an acquired experience is added to the new filter that loops back and changes the state of the game. Each filter of the wheel adds to the shade of the next, expressed in the wheel as lightening or darkening each time around, thus forever changing the state of the game in correlation to the player’s experience. The game environment or its Virtual World grows as the players make strategic choices. Technologically, this ever-revolving and looping process accounts for greater immersion in the case of player experience, and it also prompts changes in behavior of non-player characters (NPC), and additional artificial intelligence (AI) routines and new instructions that alter the game state.

The simple equation in Fig. 1 illustrates how the initial game state (G) and player input (P) is divided by the choice (X), either available or taken. This choice dictates a new path (Y) of gameplay. The original design (D) should take into account the paths resulting from the player’s choice and experience (Z), and guide the player with intuitive gameplay while providing the freedom to alter paths. The changed path is a new experience, and the new game state loops back in reaction to the player’s input. This should be understood as a semiotic loop of signs, signals, cues and reactions. The reactions are both organic and scripted, both human and mechanic – generating exponential growth of the game state and the player’s experience.

If narrative is not the determining factor of gameplay, the question remains: what is the essential attribute of video games? Primarily, a game must have a point, which defines the purpose and the procedures of the gameplay. Before coming to the discussion of the point in video games, a recurrent mistake should be clarified. Points and genres should not be identified with one another. The focus on narrative dismisses the centrality of the player’s role in the creation of the game’s events. Genres, such as fantasy, or what Rollings and Morris (2004: 12) dubbed as J. R. R. Tolkien’s rip-offs, are at best the goals of the designer, merely pushing the player into a potential direction. Narrative references to game genres may be appropriate in some cases, but lacks the needed player perception.

With this in mind, it is easy to see that Action games include sports games and games whose point requires a great deal of hand eye coordination, but so do Adventure games that are usually story driven. Strategy games demand simulated interaction, and Simulations offer the player interaction that is designed to evolve skills, but so do Educational games. Then, there are Puzzle games that are considered analytical, but even so-called Toys, which are designed for the sake of fun, include puzzles. This is why most players consider genre relevant in terms of the style in which the game is played. A sample list and brief description of game genres should include, without being limited to:
  • Real Time Strategy (RTS): simplified simulation of a conflict.
  • Turn-based Strategy – Players move in turns (simultaneous / sequence)
  • Simulation – Skill enhancer: Flight, Military, Poker, etc
  • Role Playing Game (RPG) – Mostly played from character perspective.
  • Action/Adventure – Storyline - played in first or third person perspective.
  • Sports – Simulated or fantastic: football, baseball, golf, racing, tennis, etc
  • Puzzle – Casual gaming with out character or storyline involvement.
  • Educational – Directly related to the goal of learning specific content.
So, the genre is not the point of games and it is evident that, although end-users have favorite types of games, players play many styles of games, which may be irrelevant to the point of playing. Hence, the player switch favorite games, genres, and style many times depending on the performance and challenges achieved. The point of video games is not achieved through the theme or style of gameplay, but in fact the point of games is realized only though the action of end-users, and never solely through in-game scenarios.

Game On
Although theorists of games have been tempted to draw definitions of their object from Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (1950 [1994]), a classic book on gaming and civilization that projects the qualities of make-believe and lack of seriousness to playing, the relationship between games (all kinds of games) and reality is not so easily established. Games and reality are undeniably distinct, and yet to play a digital game is to experience a fascinating and potential world that can be seen as a transformed surrogate of reality.

Before any attempt to comprehend how a possible world is actualized through the input and the output of digital signals, it is necessary to ponder on games and other types of game playing. Under its many forms, gaming is an experience that cannot be easily dissociated from social practices. Perhaps through make-believe and fun, and although societal interactions are not solely play, game playing is an integral aspect of social life. More than a couple of decades ago, Sebeok (1981) noticed that naming in animals –the application of tags to individual organisms is possible through playing. All across nature, and in many species, socialization, playing, and naming are not only directly linked, but most specifically occur through signals traveling through the sensorial channels available to the living organisms.

The social trait of gaming is evident in the fact that playing a game is a recurrently interactive practice. For that reason, since von Neumann and Morgenstern’s book of 1944, The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, economic game theory postulates generally that games are not just recreational activities, but also any situation in which the interest of players collide. As a theory of conflict of interest, game theory deals with haggling and bargaining, buying and selling real state or stocks, labor negotiations, warfare, and political disputes among other human interactions. In situations such as these, a player develops plans of action with the goal of obtaining gains and advantages, but considering primordially what the opponent may do. For that reason, game theory should not be concerned with the evaluations of optimal strategies in abstract; it indicates what strategy or plan of action should a player pursue always bearing in mind the potential actions of the adversary or the opponent. In a loose manner, recreational games of dispute fall easily into that set of games that economic game theory tries to explain, but more important than that is game theory’s concentration on interaction through dynamic rationality. The player adopts an optimizing strategy not according to an abstract collection of logical principles, but in a dynamic relation to another interactor (whether a human being or a digital program). This is what Robert J. Aumann (2000) calls individual rationality.

If that is true, how to explain games that players play alone? What are the players doing in this case? Is a solitary game an anti-social experience, or is there another trait besides interaction that may define the gaming experience? To produce a transmedial definition of games, Juul (2003) contends that, despite their multiple features, games (all kinds of games) share similar properties. In games, players must be aware that their behavior is, like all social behavior, demarcated by rules, although not determined by them, for deviance and cheating are persistently feasible. Such rules are integrated in an autonomous, systematic and formal manner, as is the case – for example - “Extreme Boards and Blades,” “Muscle Car 3,” “Rebel Trucker,” and “Grand Theft Auto 3.”

Yet, even before rules of interaction of both end-users and in-game scenarios are established, game design must lay down the physics of the virtual world. Game design determines the technological and digital tools that are the foundation and the unity active in any of the game’s interactions. The foundations are the laws, the physics at work all over the virtual universe of the game. If these laws are developed consistently and correctly, the player will be immersed in a total world that may or may not follow the physical strictures of nature. The player can then collide, fly, and jump with or without gravity’s limits. In all kinds of settings, whether in fantastic or realistic universes, laws are the basis for the game virtual experience. The choice of the set of game laws must be made in complete agreement with the experience presented to the player. If this criterion is not met, the development team of the game will certainly fail: To give life to a game design, the developers must be in the technological forefront of programming innovation, searching for the most advanced systems of simulated physics, artificial intelligence, and graphical rendering systems. Programming errors, popularly known as bugs, disrupt the player’s suspension of disbelief, forcing the players to guide their attention on the design flaws of the virtual system, instead of the unfolding experience of gameplay.

The degree of success or failure of game developers and designers is directly proportional to the players’ immersion in a virtual world. The player must be allowed to uncover game elements in a natural state of discovery and experience – as in reality – therefore providing the player a game design that is not dictated, but instead actively interactive. Baggaley (2002: 282) establishes the basic condition for the immersion of players: “To ensure that the player remains immersed in the experience, the game designer must keep as much of the needed exposition as possible within the interactive game world.” The players must thus accept the totality of the virtual universe that is offered to them. Without that, the players’ immersion is unattainable, and so only after the determination of the laws of the game can the rules of interaction begin to be digitally implemented.

It is correct to state that the rules of video games function as laws, but it would be more precise to identify rules as procedural of gameplay, and yet not worldly to the game environment or virtual world. Procedural rules are therefore elements of game design and can be used to define modes and sets of rules of gameplay. The institution of rules determines the player’s satisfaction with gameplay. By nature, rules are arbitrary: A set of rules may be too restrictive or void of restrictions, depending on the game’s objectives. As result of their essentially arbitrary nature, rules can even enable a temporary relief from the laws of the digital game. In the same spirit, a set of rules, in fact a mode may require the player to finish the proposed, required, or suggested task before a certain time limit expires. Moreover, sections, levels, or features of the game may not be unlocked until the task is accomplished under the conditions demanded by an array of rules. Rules indicate the availability of competitive factors, under the form of non-player characters, and by that it is meant incidents such as hindrances, obstacles, weapons, vehicles, as well as goals and rewards. Rules are actively constitutive of games, and for that reason, they must be put in place prior to the interaction of players.

Now talking of all kinds of games, digital ones included, gameplay is more than the search for outcomes. Games have outcomes that result from conditions, from rules that are mutual and reciprocal. The mutuality and the reciprocity of rules grant legitimacy to disputes between players. Rules are shared components of playing; they should also be common knowledge to all players in a game. Rule sets may be displayed on the load screen (the screen that is used as wallpaper while game assets are being rendered and processed for gameplay), and therefore adhered to any player that continues from the point of interaction. Because of the constitutive nature of rules, players behave uniformly in the way they do. The reciprocal acceptance of rules explains why players of some online games play, in groups, strictly against computer generated opposition, while other online games are played with players opposing each other. How many games can one play with the same deck of cards? There will be as many card games as there are constitutive rules accepted and known by players. Rules are present all throughout games. Rules confer unity and identity to a game. A rearrangement of rules indicates a new game, or in video games – a new mode of gameplay. Rules are not supposed to be questioned, or disputed, or changed as the gaming progresses: They must be followed even in the paradoxical situation when the rule is freedom from rules.

Despite their constitutive role establishing levels of secure interaction among players (as well as fairness in disputes), one should not assume that rules are capable of describing and prescribing the outcome of a competition. That would imply the automatic disregard of the creative actions and strategic choices of individual players. Rules are akin to a score in a concert. Rules and scores guide possible actions, but performance is far more than following rules and scores.

If one grants to rules the status of the prescribed essence of a game, the inference would be – like Claude Lévi-Strauss (1962: 48) states in La Pensée Sauvage – that playing a game is no different from being involved in a ritual. Games and rituals may have some family resemblance: They are social practices actualized through rules, but, considering that the performance and the actions of players in a game produce winners and losers, norms and prescriptions do not establish the outcome of playing a game. Moreover, conforming to rules – even in the case of rituals – assures that outcome is legitimate. Rules are consistently present in dispute because of their effect over an outcome. Performing a ritual, following conventions and shared rules, can also be a way of distinguishing individuals. Take into account video games with modes designed for training exclusively. Game rules are conceived as an exercise for the benefit of the player alone who wants to evolve past the initial learning curve, and start the game with improved strategic means. This is an example of a situation in which the player faces his/her own inadequacies with the goal of achieving better performance. As always is the case, in any game, whether digital or not, and in rituals, performance harvests prestige and reputation for an individual. Complying with a group of accepted rules not only avoids for the players the tag of being of low worth, but also ensures that the outcome is unquestionable.

That is not different from the case of rules stored as a system of algorithmic clues in a computer game. Even more so than in human social interaction, in video games a series of procedural rules is robustly realized, offering courses of the game play, and fully driving - although not shaping completely - the player’s movements. The player cannot freely change or bend the embedded norms of procedure. Whoever plays in a computer must follow the given clues to constitute the experience of game playing. In games of extreme sport, the course of actions can be free, but the assessment of someone playing a digital skate board game – for example – observes the parameters established in the computer program. What the program does is to serve as a means of assessing the performance of the player. Then, two plans of action are pitched against each other. The player must act freely from the strictures of the program, generating a strategy outside of the design, whose tree of potential solutions has been algorithmically laid down. That is why players engage in a digital game setting: They do it to achieve personally desired – and yet variable – outcomes.

The simplified design grid of the digital game Rebel Trucker (Table 1) illustrates how a player’s initial choice prompts a set of choices. The paths are designed and developed for entertainment, but the player is the one who decides what is entertaining. The player has the binary and excluding option of defining their player status, meaning that “[i]n every game, players are continually being presented with costs and tradeoffs. A cost doesn’t have to mean money or victory points; it can be simply the things you had to succeed at before you could get to the options you’re facing next. What is the real cost of a game choice – in terms of time, effort, attention and alternative resources to get there?” (Rollings & Morris, p.77) The choice made will determine gameplay attributes, which lead to in-game scenarios that alter the playing experience. Also, these choices lead to paths of gameplay that may or may not satisfy the player’s objective, but regardless of satisfaction, information about cost and benefit, risk and achievement are gained. Now, the player is redefined in a way that the game designer and the game state should match.

Although the player faces a pre-determined set of unambiguous and definite algorithmic alternatives, to a point that a digital game is beyond the influence of the player, it is fair to declare that, through the player’s choices and performances, “the game changes the player that plays it” (Juul 2005: 96).

Players may predominantly wish to win a game, but it is quite feasible to imagine exceptions, as in the case of a father, who wants to encourage a son or a daughter to improve his or her playing skills, making every move to lose the game. Again, the game provides experience and information, and the parent should recognize the child’s status and progression – therefore changing the parent’s strategy accordingly. More than searching blindly and mechanically for a rigid victory, players must have a definite point and an outcome in mind when involved in a game; and – but not always - frequently point and outcome overlap.

It is thus also quite reasonable to expect that players will devote themselves to produce the intended outcomes. Because the players desire an outcome, Juul (2003) presumes his/her attachment to a previously designated goal. However, if the desired outcome is not a given, but a variable result, embodied in the formal system of the game, the outcome is a challenge. The player then feels that the effort expended during the gaming process is justified, although depending on the situation and context of each particular game challenge, the player may or may not be quite enthusiastic about the necessary effort to be successful in the fame. Variable outcomes presume more than victory and defeat; they indicate a progressive scale of payoffs.

Games and Players
In several game settings – such as parlor games and sports – the main trait of playing is conflict of interest. That was von Neumann and Morgenstern’s hypothesis when they compared economic competition to poker. Economic competition and poker playing would always end in a winner takes all situation. In the same way that the interests of competing economic agents collide, the poker player who has the higher hand of cards will consequently collect his and her chips as well the ones of the players with lesser hands. Each chip taken by the winner is a chip that his/her opponent lost. In mathematical terms, the addition of plus one with a minus one is always zero: (+1) + (-1) = 0. Technically, poker playing is a zero-sum game.

As games of extreme competition, zero-sum games are unashamedly committed to selfishness. In zero-sum games players try to implement – with different success – strategies that will simultaneously maximize their gains, while minimizing their losses. The interactive gamers in zero-sum competitions bluff (which is authorized deviance) or even cheat. The optimal strategy in zero-sum games is always a minimax plan of action: minimizing losses, while maximizing gains. The outcome of the game is the one in which A wins, while B loses, or vice-versa: A loses while B wins.

Nonetheless, when a buyer and a seller close the deal of a car, for instance, that does not mean necessarily that one player lost, while the other won. Both economic agents can win: The buyer gets the car that he/she wants, and the dealer sold the car with a margin of profit. Buyer and seller reached an equilibrium point, from which ideally none of the players have any reason to depart. This is a non-zero sum game. In non-zero sum games, interests do not collide; they meet a common point.

However, if a player interacts with a digital game, one cannot say that he/she is colliding with the computer or meeting a common point. The interaction with the game’s system of algorithmic clues is of a different type. Outcomes such as win/lose and lose/win of zero-sum games, or win/win and lose/lose of non-zero sum games are either irrelevant, or not even a possibility. In video games, outcomes do not define playing. Something more general than an outcome is needed.

As previously suggested, the point, and not the genre, is what define video games. The point of video games is to face a formidable opponent, the omniscient programmed computer laid into the machine prior to any playing. The thrill of playing comes from the impression that he/she is overcoming a supreme adversary. The player and the computer have no conflict of interest; frequently end-users do not play against other end-users.

Digital programs merely follow the players’ actions. Therefore, video games are inevitably one-player games. The de facto opponent cannot be the set of previously conceived algorithmic choices. How can the computer be a leveled adversary of the player if its digital program is in charge of all alternatives? The actual opponent of the player has to be paradoxically no one but the player himself/herself, whose recurrent actions measure his/her present abilities. No greater degree of selfishness is possible: the players are involved in the radically self-centered experience of a zero-sum game in which they are the sole player. Is it surprising that self-absorption is the governing feature of video games?

However, the suggestion that the player has gains is consistently embedded in the design structure of a great number of video games, either under the form of overcoming hurdles or living out a scenario. Yet the player cannot gain a victory in the strict sense of the word because he/she is not facing an adversary. Superficially, the player appears to have accumulated points, but that cannot be the dominant point of playing. What is attractive to the end-user is the opportunity of adding skills and capacities to a previous and evolving repertoire or inventory of abilities. For that reason, game playing must offer to players the chance of becoming better and better in the game that they chose to perform. Again, the game cannot be about the actions and the events around the in-characters and the scenarios that structure gaming experiences. The game is all about the players themselves, and that is the fundamental reply to the puzzle of deep immersion as well as the effect of full absorption on the part of end-users.

Virtuality and Virtuosity
Digital game development follows a blueprint –frequently named The Design Document– in which gameplay details, technical specifications, and developmental architecture are laid out. The idea is that, in this document, each aspect of the game is fully described, but with consideration for technical deviations. From the viewpoint of product design, the developmental logic of video games is an initial progression from the whole to the parts, while complemented by the evaluation of how and if the parts adequately fit, thus leading to potential alterations in the way the design had been at first conceived. Yet, from the viewpoint of the end-users’ experience, the players have partial and progressive access to the totality of the game, even if the totality is established a priori, albeit provisionally, since the earliest stages of the design. The virtuality of the game design and the virtuosity of end-users are the two complementary features and attributes of video games.

The Design Document is more than a mere technological tool; it actively defines how an imaginary end-user can achieve improvement through strategic choices made during gameplay. Whatever the game is, whether occurring in a fantastic setting, or simulating a real life situation, in any case always unfolding in virtual environments, in virtual worlds, gameplay is established so that the player achieves virtuosity. Virtuosity broadens the player’s experience and capacity for more challenging gameplay. This is an effect where the player evolves as a result of playing the game, an effect that can have an impact on the player’s real world experience, as in the case of military pilots able to get a plane off the ground and return it with a safe landing, never actually flying a plane before, only because a flight simulation had provided them the experience – risk free.

The role of the Design Document determines the developmental milestones of the game in all of its aspects, ranging from requirements of game completion to the final characteristics that will be offered to the public. Video games are ever changing organic entities that are developed not simply as the software is designed, but also as marketing strategies. It is perhaps trite to emphasize it, but video games survive or perish in competitive markets, where the products are successful in direct relation to their innovative features and player satisfaction.

If the immersion of the player in gameplay attributes is the factor that brings in sales, the discovery and the improvement of new means of immersion is a constant goal in game design. Because the games must sell, and the players buy products that have innovation, video games and players are involved in a process of co-evolution. Why buy a new game that simply repeats what other games have done before? Why go through the same experience if the result is wholly predictable? Redundancy is not only incompatible with immersion: it is the technological opposite of innovation.

Consider the phenomenon of sequels. A successful game is offered again to the market, but it must present definite innovations. While it is quite true that market demands allow the game designer to provide sequels of the original game design, this possibility comes with conditions. The players expect more gameplay from sequels as they have evolved as players, and require more semiotic stimuli and innovative features. This progression feeds the need for new modes of play that advance both the state of game design as well as player interaction. For this reason, one cannot say that the end-users face a completely adversarial computer program. Emerging gameplay indicates to players the possibility of improving their previous physical, mental, and emotional responses. The game design is an enabler, although presenting escalating obstacles and difficulties.

As the gameplay progresses, and as the player moves to higher and higher levels of achievement, the outcome should point to an improvement of the end-users’ initial mental, emotional, and physical responses, generating the gratifying sense of having done what was not possible before. That is the function and purpose of modes of playing. Through the set of rules that compose each mode of playing, the end-user is steered into scenarios of action, objectives, and rewards. The sequence of modes of playing is a definite progression, affecting the player as a whole. In this sense, and as such, video games are a new media, radically different from traditional media. In traditional media, the spectator is no more than a passive participant, frequently a mere voyeur. New interactive media is wholly active with direct effects over the player who is allowed to experience the exciting transformation of his/hers initial abilities.

In a game like Muscle Car 3, for instance, the player has the chance to train in one mode of gameplay, called ‘Testdrive’, in which it is possible to drive on tracks without opponents and time restrictions. The experience in this mode of gameplay is the one that prevails in arcade games. The end-user has a view of what he/she can do in a world without competition or challenge. However, when the player chooses the mode called, ‘Checkpoint’, the player must race against six other drivers, and complete the race in the top three places to open new racetracks. Another mode, ‘Career’, allows the player to ride around a city free of time restrictions. The player may challenge vehicles to street races, and should avoid the police This mode of gameplay puts the end-user in direct relationship to what can be a closer simulation to real-world and underground racing experiences. The initial arcade experience is left behind and the ante has increased.

Playing Digital Chicken
Although without the risk inherent to real-life situations, video games are strikingly similar to a game called Chicken. In real-life, Chicken is a zero-sum game of intense risk that reveals the intrinsic personal qualities of the players. The most famous game of Chicken is shown in an American movie of the 50s, Rebel Without a Cause, despite the fact that the standard description of Chicken is quite different from the movie scenario. In Rebel Without a Cause, the game is referred to as “chickie, run”: cars do not collide, but they are driven toward a cliff.

In the canonical game of Chicken, two drivers speed up cars going toward each other. The collision seems inevitable: if one driver does not swerve, the crash may be fatal. In real-life, Chicken is a two-person zero-sum game with potentially awful consequences, as the script of Rebel Without a Cause dramatizes the outcome of playing reckless “chickie, run”.

The end of games of Chicken is reached when at least one of the drivers (although sometimes both) swerves, avoiding the crash; but the one who dodges the crash loses, and the loser is publicly humiliated, symbolically and socially “slaughtered”, and dubbed “chicken”. Video games are Chicken games played in an environment of multiple scenarios that may include human against human, human against machine, and all the variables between. Digital gaming. though simulated and controlled, is a virtual world that requires strategy and challenges just as Chicken does. The goal of real-life Chicken and digital chicken games is to reveal the personal qualities and attributes of the ones who are challenged. And yet, video games are games of Chicken with one significant difference and social advantage: if the opponent defeats the end-user, he/she can try it again, without public shame or death. In the end, after subsequent attempts the player will eventually became better and better. Digital Chicken is brinksmanship without a physical personal price, a mode of play that is not lethal or fatal. What seemed impossible to occur happened to the game of Chicken: it is feasible to play Chicken digitally with tolerable humiliation, without symbolic and social death, and moreover without risking one’s physical integrity. Digital Chicken is a tamed game, which makes the real and dangerous game of Chicken far more exciting. Video games transformed Chicken into a useful, attractive, and yet harmless parlor game.

Like Chicken, video games also build reputation: they assess personal qualities and attributes, revealing the end-users’ virtuosity, under multiple forms: in a horror game, the lights blink out and it is evident the inmates are free to roam the asylum. This sign can put the player on edge. Then some bizarre creature, never seen before, jumps out of the dark at the character in the game; the player has an emotional response of moving in the seat and maybe even freezes and loses a life the first time. Undoubtedly, the monster is only on the screen, but the player’s flinch mechanism kicked in all the same. This and other end-user’s reactions to the event’s in-game can only be defined as the result of immersive gameplay; the ability to have control in similar situations is the result of virtuosity.

That is not all: Outside of the game, the player has been changed too. The player has gained personal information about himself/herself, which in turn, has improved his/her neural processing of similar data. A player using game input has acquired information that included reactionary functions of output, hand and eye coordination, as well as the capacity of performing physical actions, even when the game is over.

In both video games and in real-life Chicken, the behavior during gameplay must be asymmetrical. The end-user must not follow the same strategic plan of the opponent, whether a human end-user or a computer. That is the case, because all games of the mode Chicken have two structurally excluding equilibrium points that solve the game. The solution is not strategic, but wholly dependent upon the personal qualities of the players. The equilibrium points are: 1) end-user outdoes the computer (in real-life Chicken, driver A does not swerve, but the opponent B avoids the crash, losing the game); 2) the computer outdoes the end-user (in real-life Chicken, driver A swerves and loses, while B stays the course and wins the game).

As is always the case with games of Chicken, in video games, the end-user (or end-users against one another) and the computer must follow different and asymmetrical strategic plans. The plans of action do not define the outcome of the game: in real-life, if both players stick to the same plan of action, the result is either a tie (both swerve), or a catastrophe (both stay the course and collide). In either case, bearing in mind that zero-sum games demand a win or a loss, the game ends without a solution. In real Chicken and in video games, the two players (the end-user and the computer, or in the case of humans playing against one another) should follow opposite plans. Real-life Chicken is a game whose outcome is either power or dishonor (the winner calls the loser “chicken”); but – as said before - without paying the potential price of symbolic, social, or actual death, the end-users demonstrate their hierarchical qualities, displaying clout and virtuosity.

In real-life, the solution of games of Chicken does not come just from the implementation of an optimal strategy. Victory depends on dissuading the opponent of driving head on. The optimal strategy of driving straight toward collision is a prerequisite for victory; but what defines victory is the capacity to drive straight, and at the same time to force the opponent not to pursue the optimal strategy, not just out of fear, but mainly as the result of the certainty that the player will not give in at the last moment.

The vivid and intense sense of liveliness in real and video games comes from the experience that the game is decided at the brink of the last moment. Indeed every stage of the game is a last moment. Nothing can be more akin to life itself, for life is succession of last moments, and moments are a succession of last seconds. No excitement and feeling of deep immersion can be greater than this one. In this type of demand, immersion has to be total, for the decision of the game can be reached at the flickering fiat from which life hangs on. Of all games, only Chicken can express the fullness of this ordeal. Games must go on until the smallest fraction of time before the final crash. Up to the last moment, the player can turn the game on his/her favor; and they ought to try to do that: the payoff is survival or extinction, defeat or victory.

The success of playing Chicken depends on intimidating the opponent to give up on the optimal strategy. The solution of Chicken is not in the driving, but in the signs that are sent to the opponent. The winner delivers signs whose role is to force the other player to do it differently. The winner is not a strategist only, but the player who can personally do what the opponent cannot do.

Interactive and Digital Semiosis
We must now develop, in terms of games, the insight coming from the notion that that the solution of the real-life Chicken emerges from the signs sent from one player to another. In real-life Chicken, the solution comes when the player persuades the opponent that he/she will truthfully drive head on. To convey his/her intent, the player has to send more than the signs that he/she deems as truthful. The delivered signs must be representations forceful enough to influence the opponent before the crash; otherwise the game is not won, and ends in collision. Collision is more than a tie: it puts the player at severe risk.

In games, the expression “the sign is on the wall” is more than a literal statement. Signs are on almost everything. In reality, a billboard on the interstate may merely advertise a product, however in a game it has another purpose. The same sign, represented in a driving game, may present a cue to the player or it may be there to further immerse him/her in a virtual world. The sign, instead of advertising a film called Earthquake, is a clue that the suspension bridge will be demolished. If the sign is not interpreted appropriately, the player cannot escape danger, and therefore loses a life in the game.

Signs, cues, and symbols work together in the game and are created to immerse the player in a world that must be constantly reinterpreted as the hinting signs of something else. The hints are not always fully conspicuous. The player experiences the semiotic texture of the game, indeed the structural elements of game design, and then learns to react to this data in an more efficient way. Conversely, perception and game experience increase the player’s involvement and his/her ability to achieve greater player’s status. This is a factor no game designer can afford to ignore. “On occasion, a well placed symbol can generate cognitive resonance in the player.” (Lamaree, P.269) During their first appearance, gameplay hints (cues, signs, and symbols) bring about mental, emotional, or physical responses, not necessarily conscious, but always immediate. The player knows that all attention is demanded, and that is an immersion factor of gameplay. At the second time, the player will have a more controlled response and may even achieve something formerly not possible. At this point, when a player sees, for the second time, a sign saying Earthquake, he may already have his finger sitting on the B-button ready for the broken bridge that is around the corner. The player has used the experience to become ready and more capable.

The delivery of signs follows the classical principle of semiosis. The actual material sign must be considered in relation to what the receiver can interpret. The interpretation of sign, a posterior semiotic action, should embody the intent and express the true resolve of the sender. The sent sign address a receiver, creating in the receiving mind an equivalent of more developed representation.

Game Over
This paper recognizes that games are composed of multiple layers. Besides details and procedures concerning the market possibilities of the game as an economic product, the game design can establish a narrative level in the case of fictional games, but that is not even a strict necessity. An interesting digital game should allow the player to have the freedom to skip a narrative plot. That is commercially attractive for it expands the market of potential buyers, thus including gamers who can simply not be interested in the narrative, but attracted to the technological advances of this particular gameplay. Thus, coming from the study of traditional media, theories of literary narrative do not deal fully with the experience of video games. Furthermore, games of sport, simulation, and training are also part of the digital game world, although devoid of narrative.

Despite the fact that it is a component of the gaming experience, virtuality does not define gameplay. Virtuality is the net of possibilities for the virtual environment and the end-user: it is the lattice upon which the player performs. Virtuality lays out a world of possibilities, while playing is decisively and to varying degrees sheer virtuosity. Virtuosity is not what is merely possible; virtuosity is the actual. Virtuality exists so that virtuosity may be exercised or demonstrated. Virtuality triggers immersion. Immersion is feasible because the players perform at his/her level of virtuosity, attempting to improve previous performance. Virtuosity is always performance.6

The relation between virtuality and virtuosity is akin to the one that holds an energy field together. Virtuality is a weak force, while virtuosity is the strong force of video games: virtuality emerges from the pressures of deep immersion in gaming experiences. Virtuosity demands nothing less than the whole constitution of the players, who must engage physically, emotionally, and mentally in the experience that virtuality proposes; and that is what responds for the profound effect of games on gamers. Moreover, that is why graphic art of video games may appear to be ugly, clumsy, rough, and awkward for a non gamer, and yet rather effective for players. The illusionary effect of video games has nothing to do with mimetic trompe-l’oeil. The player is not immersed in the visual art and the look of a game.

The experience of video games redefines the nature of illusion as much more than absorption of an image into the object that it intends to represent. Digital illusion is a short script for immersion and deep thought. The player and the totality of his/her experience is at the core of gameplay; as he/she is involved with all of his/her capacities and abilities. This is the threshold of immersion: “immersion is mentally absorbing and a process, a change, a passage from one state to another” (Grau 2003: 13).

So, among all games Chicken is the one that accounts for total mental immersion, brinksmanship, escalation, revelation, and expression of the individual power of players. As we demonstrated, the underlying presence of Chicken in video games explains the intense and vital experience that not only fascinates so many players, but also constitutes the dominant trend of what has been appropriately called the new media.

1 Mechanical Computer is a reference to the hard drive or component configuration of a computer.

2 An example of this standpoint is Rollings and Morris’ (2004:11) statement: “an interactive game is no different than a work of ‘classical art’. For example, if you read the epic poem, The Iliad, you construct your own unique narrative, which certainly differs from what Homer had in mind.”

3 The authors represent both academia and professional game design. Eduardo Neiva Ph.D. is a
Professor of Communication Studies, University of Alabama-Birmingham and an authority on visual images. Carlo Romano, CEO of 3Romans LLC is a professional game designer, and a teacher of Game Design at Virginia College and American Sentinel in Birmingham, Alabama.

4 Quality Assurance and game testing is a process that resembles a focus group, organized to determine if the game is immersive, intuitive, bug-free, and most of all – fun. The Project Manager and/or Game Designer manage this process. Carlo Romano, a 10-year veteran game designer, has overseen this process many times with groups of testers and producers to coordinate with. The information gleamed from this experience is illustrated in specific comments in the text. A list of the titles observed, during the testing stage of Alpha, Beta, and Gold Master, is provided: Country Justice, (2005); RebelTrucker, (2004); Ultimate Demolition Derby, (2003); Muscle Car 3, (2003); Muscle Car 2, (2002); Roadrage, (2001); Boards and Blades 2, (2000); Tech Bike BMX, (2000); Shwinn’s Freestyle BMX, (2000); Bass Tournament 3D, (1999); E xtreme Boards and Blades; (1999) – All titles required at least twenty testers at each stage.

5 The gender shift in the market of video games is also striking. Women gamers over 18 are more numerous than boy gamers under 17, according to the Entertainment Software Association. The demographics of age and gender groups transformed not only the pool of consumers but have also placed female creators and developers of casual games at the head of game developing companies (see Jan (2006) for a journalistic report of the trend). Casual games are frequently based on existing games such as bowling, tennis, and mahjong. Characteristically, casual games are made with simpler graphics, and have short learning curves.

6 Although this phenomenon does not occur presently in the United States, in South Korea, extraordinary players of the game are pros. Ten of thousands of spectators flock to stadiums to see players like Derek Jeters and Peyton Mannings, top performers of an online game, StarCraft (Schiesel 2006). Video games are featured in Korean sports channels. South Korea has almost twice the number of broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants than the United States, which contributes to the generalized fever for online video games. However, in both models of consumption of video games, the solitary one in America and the South Korean two-person-zero-sum gaming, the dominant characteristic of video games is individual excellence in performance.

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