holy men in tights

a superheroes conference
Holy Men in TightsAt my institute there once was an anthropological project on superhero-comics and the like in the making, but never took off—I will dig up the material from the past and prey on it. Now a conference on the new gods will take place down under:

Superheroes and supervillains—whether human or god, born or created, product of nature or creature of science—they have existed as cultural icons for centuries. Why have they endured? How have they transformed over the decades? What is their cultural or mythic function? Where does the hero end and the superhero begin?

This interdisciplinary conference will address the varying roles, identities, and social functions that these enduring beings serve. A diversity of approaches will be undertaken including: historical approaches; censorship codes; industry and franchise differentiation (e.g. DC vs. Marvel Comics); mythology; national and cultural specificity; gender identity and power shifts; ethnicity, class and race; diverse media formats (cinema, comics, computer games, television) and their distinctive versions of superheroes; the female superhero; serial form and the cliff hanger; the resurgence in the cult of superpowers in recent cinema; the supervillain; the super-collective; super-auteurs (e.g. Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Tezuka Osamu, Grant Morrison); superhero universes (e.g. Matrix, Star Wars); fan culture and superheroes; the science and physics of the superhero; ancient superheroes; and the ‘hero’ who isn’t ‘super’.

The conference will be held between 9th-12th June 2005 and is hosted by the Cinema Studies Program, School of Art History, Cinema, Classics & Archaeology, University of Melbourne.
via ludology


in the wake

Alan Wake's door
With Alan Wake a new, albeit concealed door to the anthropological understanding of online-communities appeared for me. Striding through this portal hopefully will allow me to shed light on the issues my project is concerned with, by swimming in the wake of a new community. There is the chance to ‘be there’ from the very beginning, to follow every phase of community-building, appropriation, change, and so on. I dropped into the original Max-Payne community quite early, but never was a first-hour member. With Alan Wake I dare say I am. And now the situation is different, because meanwhile—after struggling to develope the project, strategies and methods of online-fieldwork since 2002—I know what to do and how. So I threw my paraphernalia into cyberspaceworthy shipping crates and am off shore in the limbo of my field again. Nevertheless I will go on to keep an eye on Max Payne modding, complete, and write up my meanwhile almost historical material. But now to contemporary action: The first stage of cognitive and emotional appropriation of Alan Wake by the modding community already has started by compiling information on the game. All the tiny, sometimes hidden, valuable pieces of straylight are gathered in order to feel closer and closer to the new, desired game-universe. And the creator gods assist. Some members of the developer team dropped by at the alanwake.net-forums, said hello to everyone, and announced that new screenshots may pop up on the official site during E3. Some more screenshots indeed went online, permitting a good look into Alan’s haunted eyes, and showing changing light and ambiance of the landscape:

Light is completely dynamic, including the day & night time cycles, trees and foliage and water reacts to the wind. Morning, day and dusk all feel completely different and the transitions in weather and time are completely seamless. […]

On the tech side, we’re doing things like complete modeling of atmospheric scattering, fully volumetric shadows that are projected through the entire world, high dynamic rendering, full weather modeling, day/night time cycles, ambient occlusion, normal mapping and so on.

We’re pretty keen on making the world feel real, so we’re pushing the envelope to get the content creation to a new level as well. In addition to all of the basic research stuff like texture shooting on location and so on, the elevation data in the environments is based on satellite data. Even the stars on the sky are procedurally generated to be completely accurate in position and brightness.

(Petri Järvilehto in Alan Wake Q&A)

It’s fun to follow this play of teasing between developers and online-fanhood/modding-community. And it’s fun to roam around on the new community’s premises. At alanwake.net I already met again quite some old-schoolers from the MP-community whom I haven’t seen for quite a while (which may well be my own fault). And there is all the joking around and crazy stunts like the 10.000 posts plus thread, just as it was in the times of thriving MPHQ—I feel at home.


alan wake

a psychological action thriller
Alan Wake
ForestAs E3 approached the usual straylight had again started to sift through the closed hatches of the nordic creator gods’ realm—and hit my modding community of course, too. Everything seems to have started on 19 April 2005 with a casual sidenote at cgonline, saying that a new game by “Max Payne creators Remedy will be showcased at E3. Then Remedy said that it will be something new, completely different. On 21 April 2005 Lon Matero posted at the 3DR forums that he had discovered something: Remedy has registered Alan Wake as a trademark (The only other trademarks applied for by the company are ‘Remedy’ and ‘Max-FX Technology’). Speculations started that this will be the name of Remedy’s new game. ShackNews shared this suspicion the very same day. Not very much later alanwake.com was discovered—without carrying content yet. On 04 May 2005—in two different threads at the 3DR forums—Jokke_r and smattbac at the very same time posted the news that the Alan Wake website now was filled with first glimpses of the game. From then on the information spread rapidly. And the Max Payne community reacted.

LighthouseStill on the same day MP-veteran ADoomedMarine erected the first beacon around which the future Alan-Wake community may condensate. He opened an Alan Wake Forum at Max Payne Forums, and on 07 May 2005 he brought alanwake.net online, immediately followed by PayneReactor‘s sister page WakeReactor. Like Stalker Alan Wake now has a modding-community infrastructure long before the release of the game. All this brought a conversation up from my memory, which I had with an employee at TakeTwo a long, long time ago. She asked if I thought that the Max-Payne-modding community was interested in Max-Payne games only, or in everything Remedy creates. Now I suspect that back then she already knew that Max Payne 3 would not be done by Remedy, and that Remedy had something completely different in the pipeline—I know that you are reading this … you easily could trust me a little more ;-) Back to topic: I did not know what to answer, but suspected that the community-members are more attached to the Max Payne character and story than to Remedy. Now I think I was wrong, although the comments are mixed. At the one hand it is said that the real hope was to learn more about Max Payne 3. On the other end of the spectrum reigns a motto like ‘Max Payne is dead—long live Alan Wake.’ For me there definitely is the chance to be absolutely close to the emerging of a new modding community, evoloving out of the Max-Payne community. Wook, are you listening? Will there be Lightsaber 5 for Alan Wake?

VillageWhat we can see in the teaser trailer gives rise to the hope that one indeed can make large maps for Alan Wake which suit the Lightsaber-theme. Apart from that the trailer refrains from showing us any action. The beautiful captions of scandinavian landscapes lets us experience the atmosphere of mystery and the unknown. Jokke_r and some others discovered a secret picture of Alan Wake—which later was removed from Remedy’s website—onto which was written: “Alan Wake is a bestselling horror writer. He made a book about his darkest nightmares. Now those nightmares come true” Is the game about a StephenKingesque writer who discovers that he lives through his own stories? The community also discovered that the lines of text in the trailer (“Some are born to light. Some are born to endless night.”) resemble lines of the poem “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake: “Some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to endless night.” Light and Darkness—Lightsabers!
Initially via Max Payne Area | tnx to Sentinel for his great summary


deciphering blogs

Some days ago a colleague of mine came to my office and said thank you for my forwarding to her a call for papers, which fell right into the category of her research. “You’re welcome,” I said, “I knew that you are not reading the ethno::log on a regular basis. So I thought direct forwarding would be best.” She replied: “You know what? When I was a kid my mother did not allow me to read comics. I guess that’s the cause why I do not get along with blogs, websites, and the like.”




It is uncommon to fire all six shots of a revolver with great suddenness when one would probably be sufficient, but many things in the life of Herbert West were uncommon.
Six Shots by Moonlight
by H. P. Lovecraft, 1922

Sometimes you can not find sleep? Everything seems menacing to you, and the shadows hide some_thing? I know, then you are tempted—just to escape the shadows’ presence—to switch on your television set … but at this time of night only the late Bob Ross (1942-1995) cometh from across the Styx, willing to be your companion on the screen, reciting: “We don’t make mistakes here, we just have happy accidents. We want happy, happy paintings. If you want sad things, watch the news. Everything is possible here. This is your little universe.”—which maketh things even worse. Just for a minute or so you think about entering the Internet’s unfathomable rotten depths. You refrain, but nevertheless fire up the computer. A rendition of Eliphas Lévi’s pentacle appears, strangely transposed to 21st century looks. And then some levels of Doom III will calm down your nerves, won’t they?

The things in the shadows keep on pestering me: “Why is there violence and gore in computergames?”—Why is there violence and gore in film, in literature, … in art? Robert Crumb jumps from his seat, knocking over the tiny coffee table, shouting: “YEAH! But is it art?,” and goes on mumbling “You tell me, because I don’t know.” Thank you, Robert, childhood hero of mine. Anyway, let’s give the floor to H. P. Lovecraft’s apparent heir, Mr. Stephen Edwin King:

The horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized … and it all happens, fittingly enough, in the dark. For these reasons, good liberals often shy away from horror films. For myself, I like to see the most aggressive of them—Dawn of the Dead, for instance—as lifting a trapdoor in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath.
    Why bother? Because it keeps them from getting out, man. It keeps them down there and me up here. It was Lennon and McCartney who said that all you need is love, and I would agree with that. As long as you keep the gators fed … (King 1993 [1981]: 205)

If you are not content with psychosocial and functionalistic explanations, and instead want to experience the thing itself, there is someting for you … Artist Bum Lee “has an interesting online flash game called the De-animator. The game is based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft. The object is to shoot horrifying zombies as they approach you. If you don’t kill the zombies they will get you and sometimes rip off your head. Yet another great time killer.” In Bum’s video & animation section is more spooky stuff from beyond the twilight zone, like “The Fly” [.mov | 9.2MB], or “Shadow Theatre” [.mov | 6.2MB]. But his creepiest tale from the crypt definitely is “The Joy of Portraiture” [.mov | 34.6MB]
via entry at gamersgame


real virtual car

Taking a Virtual Car out into the Real world and having fun with it, or is it the other way around?
The real virtual car“Just came back home, checked the blog and saw something strange—comments…[…]—Somenight at 3AM the veteran geeks over at The Real Virtual Car Project decided to make a car simulator and to build it inside a real car. So they haunted several junk yards and finally fell for a Renault Megane. They took the wrecked car—which was involved in an accident—apart, and started to rebuild and stuffing it with electronics (the good part of which live in a bucket). A LCD-projector renders the street scenery onto the windshield. This creation of a casemod and a carmod at the same time led to the project being slashdotted and boingboinged. Little wonder that suddenly they found comments in their blog, and that their video-section broke down due to bandwidth problems. The project is not finished yet—check out the realvirtualcar blog for following its progress, and for watching pictures of the building-process.
initially via entry at boingboing



Word has it that Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) once coined the phrase ‘liquid television’. MTV grabbed the vocable and named a TV-show broadcasting animated cartoons likewise. The show even was to be seen in India via StarTV, and featured goodies like ‘Æon Flux’ (The latter becoming a feature-movie starring Charlize Theron *sigh* soon—via gamersgame). But the fact remains that to date nobody knows what Dalí meant by ‘liquid television’.

But I now know what could be meant by ‘liquid computer’. The casemodder-scene’s original innovation, the liquid-cooled computer, already is history. Now them g33kz pushed it quite a bit farther: A computer case completely filled with vegetable oil, nearly all the components submerged, living under the water oil line. Markus Leonhardt even left the coolers in place, so that there is a little forced convection. The best thing, he says, is the machine being absolutely silent. It works since about one year, without the oil being replaced. Already some odour is recognizable when opening the sealed lid—hell, keep it closed then. And another thing one has to keep an eye on: the oilcomputer should be placed under the table, at least at a significantly lower level than all peripheral hardware. Due to capillary suction oil slowly creeps along inside the wires … till it trickles out of the keyboard or mouse.
via entry at industrial technology & witchcraft


threedimensional teleporter-malfunction

by KerLeone—translated by zeph
The malfunctioning teleporter in Half-Life 2The suitcase did not pass through the teleporter. I am speaking of Half-Life 2. I just wanted to take along the suitcase from the railway station. But then I am standing in the room with the teleporter and take the suitcase with me, into the teleporter. Now—first things first—the teleporter malfunctions ingame insofar as it teleports me to oh so strange places (because a headcrab had tampered with the electronics). That’s the first dimension. Inside the game I only reach a place right in front of the window to the teleporter-room. It malfunctions on another level as it does not teleport the suitcase—the second dimension. The game-developer did not foresee someone carrying a suitcase while standing in the teleporter. That’s not a technical problem. Because there is a small model of a teleporter in the anteroom onto which objects can be put, which promptly get teleported some meters of distance. Ingame the small teleporter indeed functions according to logical standards. The game-engine reads out what is lying on the teleporter, and moves it somewhere else. But the big teleporter was not granted that kind of physics. The engine just alters the location of the ‘camera’ (the non-existant player). As the player does not exist as an object inside the game, but as a camera with collision parameters.
    So I used a cheat to reconnoitre the laboratory’s vicinity. My hope was to find a spot from where I could e.g. drop the suitcase from the roof, in order to recollect it later on. With clipping deactivated the collision-readout of the camera is no more on duty. Now one can walk through walls and have a healthy look at the map from ‘outside’. But I detected some smoke’n’mirror work going on here—as it is the case with most single-player maps. The laboratory’s interior is located at a completely different location than its exterior, where one is teleported to. Analytically speaking the teleporter functions even better than meant by the ingame storyline. But now the suitcase lies far, far away at a completely inaccessible venue.
    By mistake I did not reactivate the clipping and entered the teleporter. Like an elevator it commuted upwards but didn’t take me along. I stood in the laboratory, outside of the teleporter. Quite an ordeal, not just for the ingame-teleporter as it turned out. The teleporter’s error—trying to teleport a person, a camera respectively, which is no more in the correct position—lead to the whole frangible gameworld’s collapsing. In other words: Half-Life 2 crashed.



SpackoBased on audiodata from myMTW Christian Wasser of sinn-los.de (senseless) has created a phantastic satirical Flash-movie on the computergames & violence issue. The special features everything you expect from a documentary-feature: Uncensored, uncut real-life raw audio-material directly from the field, expert South-Park-style television-talking-head commentary including supporting evidence, and matching commercials. Everybody playing CS, or interested in playing computergames, or whatyouhave, and being capable of understanding German: please watch it! The audio-material provides a glimpse into online-gaming’s everyday-life, the feature as a whole provides insight into reflexive gamer-humour. In a way it is a piece of ‘native autoethnography’ … w00t! Now that I have talked it to death, better go and watch it.

via entry at ethno::log



STELARC… completely unfinished thoughts—anyway, here we go:

When the concept of ‘structure’ suddenly burst into anthropology and replaced ‘pattern’, Alfred Kroeber (1876-1960) derogatory commented that this was merely an interchanging of words—old wine in new bottles. He was wrong, because it meant more. Namely a change of perspectives in anthropology. Same is true for ‘ethnic’ and ‘ethnicity’ replacing ‘tribe’ and ‘culture’ in the mid-1970s. (Cohen 1978: 379-380, 384-385) In other words: This vocabulary is a portal to the understanding of the history, or even the culture of anthropology itself.

In 1994 anthropologist Arturo Escobar stigmatised words like ‘cyberspace’ as misnomers—he only uses the term ‘cyberculture’ as an element of analysis due to the widespread acceptance of the prefix ‘cyber-‘. (1994:211, fn. I.)
But in my view there indeed is something behind the prefix ‘cyber-‘. The widespread acceptance of it is an indirect hint towards that something.

When Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) launched the study of control and communications—which became (as far as I understand especially in the soviet union) control theory as it is applied to complex systems—he coined the term cybernetics and called his book: Cybernetics: or, Control and communication in the animal and the machine (Wiener 1948)

In the attempts to fuse technological artefacts with human and other biological organisms, with human society, and with the socioecologically shaped environment, all the mentioned elements are envisioned as cybernetic systems. Tentatively speaking: cyberculture always comprises the more or less tacit paradigm of envisioning at least parts of the empirical world as cybernetic systems. And this envisionment does not come to a grinding halt when dealing with the human body. Attaching a modern prosthesis to a human body demands to envision both as cybernetic systems.

Now meet STELARC, “an Australian-based performance artist whose work explores and extends the concept of the body and its relationship with technology through human-machine interfaces incorporating medical imaging, prosthetics, robotics, VR systems and the Internet. The interest is in alternate, intimate and involuntary experiences.”

“Moving requires feedback loops of sensory and perceptual data that coordinates the articulation of the jointed body. Performing with machine attachments and implants, performing with manipulators and locomoters augments and extends the body’s capabilities and disrupts its habitual sense of position/ orientation in the space that it occupies and between points that it navigates.” (Stelarc Articles)
tnx to h-man8 for the hint to STELARC