shell of ghosts

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Here is a snippet from the recent interview with William Gibson, which Bryan Alexander (who pointed me to it) liked especially:

It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. What we were prior to our latest batch of technology is, in a way, unknowable. It would be harder to accurately imagine what New York City was like the day before the advent of broadcast television than to imagine what it will be like after life-size broadcast holography comes online. But actually the New York without the television is more mysterious, because we’ve already been there and nobody paid any attention. That world is gone.
    My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. Some people were extremely upset by the first Edison recordings. It nauseated them, terrified them. It sounded like the devil, they said, this evil unnatural technology that offered the potential of hearing the dead speak. We don’t think about that when we’re driving somewhere and turn on the radio. We take it for granted.

That reminded me of something maybe even more eerie, which Henry Lowood has put in wonderful words:

Years later, the surviving demo movies put viewers in the shell of the ghosts of players. One of the best surviving series features perfect reproductions of matches recorded as early as May 1995; these recordings allow us to look through the eyes of one of the first ‘game gods,’ NoSkill, having been preserved on the memorial site of this now deceased player. (Lowood 2007: 65)

For clarification, a demo is fundamentally different from a movie recorded by a camera. Motion picture and still photography cameras depict a scenery at a certain point in time, dependent on variables like camera position and lighting. The resulting picture later can be manipulated, but it contains no information about how the scenery looked at the given point in time, seen from another vantage point. This is equally true fro moving and still images.
    Imagine a corridor. At the one end of it their is a camera, filming a man running towards it. Out of the resulting recording you can not make a movie, showing the man from behind, running away from a camera positioned at the corridors other end—because the needed information was not recorded. Quite obviously for recording two perspectives on the action taking place within one and the same span of time, two cameras are needed.
    In contrast to the circumstances within familiar physical space, there is no camera needed for recording a demo, because gamespace is a mathematical construct, created in real time within a computer. What the player sees on the screen are the pictures ‘made’ by a defined virtual camera, a preprocessed section of the world generated by the game engine. But this pictures are not what is recorded in a demo. Rather during a defined span of time all state-data of the gamespace are recorded. Hence a demo constitutes set of data comprising much more than any given player sees from the perspective of ‘his’ camera. Demos are ‘universal captures,’ holistic recordings. When replaying a demo, the computer does not show you a movie, but the game engine in real time recreates all events. ‘The things happen once more,’ albeit no more interactively. (Knorr 2009: 198-179)
    Meanwhile Henry has treated the case in even more depth:

Consider the example of Chris[topher Jerry] Crosby, aka “NoSkill.” He was among the first wave of Doom players to be recognized by other players as a “Doomgod,” a moniker given to exceptionally skilled players. An active player from about 1994 to 1996, he was killed in a car crash in 2001. [At the age of ↑23] His memorial site on the Web, like many others, depicts a young man in his prime of life, with his infant son in his arms. The site also offers a number of demo files for downloading, originally recorded from games he played between May 1995 and April 1996 (NoSkill Memorial Site 2004 [The site seems gone, here is ↑a substitute]). After a visitor downloads Chris Crosby’s demo files from his memorial site and plays these files inside the correct version of this old game, originally published toward the end of 1993, she in effect is able to see a now-obsolete game through the eyes of a dead player. NoSkill comes back to life as the replay file activates the game engine to carry out the exact sequence of actions performed by the now-dead player. Moreover, because we are using an essentially “dead” game to produce this replay, we are also engaging in an act of software preservation and resurrection. The result is that for this FPS, it is possible to see a historical game as played—and seen—through NoSkill’s eyes. The player is dead, but his avatar in some sense lives on through this act of perfect reproduction, accessible to any future historians of the game. Yet we cannot help but contrast the potentially infinite repetition and perfect reproduction of his gameplay to the fading memories of his life, and death. His replays alone are mute with respect to his motivation of playing or his experiences as a player. (Lowood 2011: 8)

KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2009. Maxmod: An ethnography of cyberculture. ['Habilitationsschrift,' unpublished]
LOWOOD, HENRY E. 2007. “High performance play: The making of machinima,” in Videogames and art: Intersections and interactions edited by Andy Clarke and Grethe Mitchell, pp. 59-79. London, Chicago: Intellect Books, university of Chicago Press.
LOWOOD, HENRY E. 2011. “Video capture: Machinima, documentation, and the history of virtual worlds,” in The machinima reader edited by Henry Lowood and Michael Nitsche, pp. 3-22. Cambridge, London: The MIT Press.
WALLACE-WELLS, DAVID. 2011. Interview: William Gibson, The art of fiction No. 211. The Paris Review 197.
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