The Secret of Game Narrative – Live

Adventurex-2018

This Saturday (10th November) at 12:15 pm GMT, ihobo’s founder Chris Bateman is giving a talk at AdventureX entitled The Secret of Game Narrative. The event is being streamed live on Twitch. We hope you’ll join us for this special talk about the unique ways that videogames create and subvert traditional narratives.

12:15 pm GMT, Saturday 10th November 2018. Cross posted from ihobo.com.


Earpieces

EarpieceFascinating cyborgs are made through the use of miniaturised speakers and a microphone in what is frequently called ‘an earpiece’, a term that also refers to the speakers of any telecommunication device held up to your ear. The earpiece joins two of more humans through a local cybernetic network allowing either two-way communication or just listening. The most famous uses for such a system is in bodyguarding or espionage, but the situation you are most likely to encounter earpieces is radio DJs and TV news anchors, whose producers provide constant steering directions direct to their ear.

The question of the cybervirtue of earpieces is that of the positive and negative behaviour it might bring about, and the earpiece encourages a kind of attentiveness that can be viewed as beneficial. Although there is a subtle and largely harmless element of subterfuge entailed in these arrangements – an invisible presence communicates covertly – the moral implications of this are largely innocent. For the most part, earpieces provide beneficial ways to bind co-workers into communicative groupings, and allow for new forms of co-operation that were strictly impossible before radio technology – although the famous scene in Cyrano de Bergerac is at least suggestive of earlier precedents, albeit with substantial poetic license and modestly nefarious intentions.

In science fiction games and stories, the earpiece is replaced with an aural splice – a digital device implanted directly into the ear. Here, the Bateman-Clarke Conjecture strikes again! This idea is solely appealing because we treat this cyberware body mod as if it were magic. In practical terms, given the inherent fallibility of all digital components, would it really be superior to require surgery to add or remove an earpiece when you could simply slip one on or off? There is the stink of what I have called cyberfetish about this fantasy – we oddly think cybernetic replacements for bodily functions are cool, and fail to notice that to wish for, say, cyberlegs, is to fantasise about being crippled on the grounds that replacement robot limbs must necessarily be an improvement. From The Six Million Dollar Man onwards, these escapist views of body modification have dominated sci-fi narratives. The paraplegic surely has reasons to wish for such technology – but it is perverse for anyone else to do so.

Even with just an aural splice, which does not involve amputation to make it work, are we so sure what we are wishing to get from body modification is not entirely deluded? Might it not be the case that a good pair of headphones already offers a perfectly reasonable way to put audio into our flesh-and-blood ears? Do not be fooled into thinking about technology as magic; every tool has its price, and this is doubly so for imaginary cyberware.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #40


Spaceships

EarthriseArthur C. Clarke’s Third Law famously proposed that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But there is an subtle corollary to this... call it the Bateman-Clarke Conjecture: “Any entirely imagined technology is interchangeable with magic.” To put it another way, the only difference between science fiction and fantasy is that the former depends upon manipulating our scientific beliefs, whereas the latter can make up absolutely anything. Thus with a passing knowledge of contemporary theory, you can invent a sci-fi technology to do anything... plausibility disguises itself as possibility.

With this in mind, there are three essential kinds of spaceships: those we have built, those we can plan to build, and those we can only imagine.  The trouble is, those latter two kinds get mixed up all too easily. Is a Europa lander something we can plan to build, or merely something we imagine? What about a colony ship? A Dyson sphere? Not seeing a technical objection is not equivalent to possessing the capability to implement. Science fiction consistently deceives us in this way, and we let it because we are imaginative beings and while we are capable of debunking other people’s mythologies, we can never quite manage it for our own.

The NASA lunar missions, and the Russian orbital missions before them, served political roles that entailed crafting the way people imagined them. “First man...” is a logic that serves political goals – as with “First woman...” and “First black...” There are positive aspects to this mythos-crafting, and Joseph Campbell was keen to stress the way the first Earthrise photograph (pictured above) opened the door to a new perspective on our planetary existence. But this hoped-for shift in perspective did not spread very far (although it’s there in utopian visions like Gene Roddenberry’s). Rather than uniting the planet, the post-Earthrise planet is fragmented into different responses to the existential threat humans pose to themselves: the environmentalist rally for prioritising the Earth; the reactionary denial of any need to save the world; and the insane confluence of those positions in the ‘flee the planet’ mythos that proposes that rather than solving the problems of human life on Earth, we should escape our doom here and magically work out our problems on another planet. The Bateman-Clarke Conjecture strikes again!

Part of the moral problem of spaceships is that we deceive ourselves about them in the same way we do about cars. We imagine the autonomy of the Millennium Falcon and ignore the immense cybernetic network required to make any industrial vehicle tenable. Bruno Latour remarked that airplanes don’t fly, it is airlines that fly. Well, spaceships do not visit other planets, it is space agencies that do, whether public or privately owned – and at a considerable cost in resources. If the achievements of NASA in producing the Earthrise photograph are not understood as the product of immense and expensive co-operative endeavours, then all space travel scenarios dissolve into mere fantasy.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #39


Halloween

JackolanternIf the spooky festivities of Halloween do not strike us as having any corresponding cyborg, it can only be because we habitually fail to see the technological networks we are embedded within, and thus the vast webs of machines and organisms we are living within. Take Halloween candy as just one simple dimension: cocoa plants in equatorial countries are harvested by humans and shipped by giant container vessels to factories in industrial nations. There, spherical moulds used to make chocolate snowballs for sale in December will instead make chocolate Jack-o’-lanterns, and humanoid moulds make ghosts and vampires before they turn to making Santas, and soon after anthropomorphic rabbits. Then off by giant freighter once again to supermarkets where they are bought to hand over to young children at the doorsteps of millions of houses on one single night of the year.

As already explored, our calendar is inherited from Christianity. Christian festivals were influenced by older pagan festivities – such as Ostara (Easter) in Spring, Yule (Christmas) in Winter, and Samhain (Halloween). Whatever ancient Celts may have done at this time of year, contemporary pagans celebrate Samhain (pronounced ‘sah-wun’) as a time to honour the dead, and the Day of the Dead on November 2nd that is celebrated in Mexico and elsewhere is directly parallel. In the Christian calendar, All Hallows’ Eve (from which Halloween takes its name) is not even the significant date: it is merely the night before All Hallows Day, which is the day before All Souls Day – which is the aforementioned Day of the Dead. All Hallows Day, or All Saints Day, is for honouring the beatified dead prior to offering prayers for everyone else the day after. This aspect of these festivities is all but lost in the vast commercial cybernetic network these religious practices have spawned.

If we ask about the cybervirtue of Halloween, we’re enquiring into the positive and negative behavioural effects of this odd cybernetic network. Buying candy does not seem to offer much sign of virtue, although giving it away for free is ostensibly generous, if it is not done out of fear of reprisals in the form of egging and the like. Strip away the commercial veneer of neutered monsters and mandatory candy, however, and focus upon the surviving Christian and pagan rites of remembrance and it is easier to have something positive to say. Even without invoking anything supernatural, the world around us is a living echo of those who came before, and we are as much the cybernetic production of the souls of the dead as of our trade distribution networks (also set in motion by those now gone). The cyber-respectful honouring of the dead wrought by calendars and mementos off the departed is far less entertaining than the circus that is commercial Halloween, but it also might be worth far more to the humans involved, who may yet gain a clearer vision of their future through reflection upon the past.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #38


President of the United States

Contains ideas some people may find offensive.

Presidential SealWhat a fascinating cyborg the President of the United States has become! Heads of state always had their vast networks of beings and things – “all the king's horses and all the king’s men” which, then as now, couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again. But the US President, or ‘POTUS’, as the internet has crowned him, is the boy with the most toys. The White House, the secret service, Air Force One, the Presidential Emergency Operations Centre bunker, not to mention all the military hardware connected through his role as ‘Commander in Chief’, which includes – for the last three Presidents – an army of killer robots that can assassinate anyone deemed worth killing in complete disregard for international law.

Now a lot of ink has been spilled, or rather, pixels enflamed, over just who carries the title ‘President of the United States’. And to be sure, this is a highly influential position, quite possibly living up to the sobriquet ‘most powerful man in the world’ (and for now, at least, it appears this role does require a penis). But there is something highly misleading about treating the vast cybernetic network surrounding the Oval Office as crystallising in the absolute power of the one individual. For it rather seems as if, with the state of, well, the States, the President is more akin to a rodeo clown clinging to a careening bronco, more engaged in clinging on than having the capacity to steer this lumbering behemoth of a nation in any specific direction.

The murderous drone fleet is a dead give away in this regard. It began under Bush Jr., escalated under Obama, and continues to do so under Trump. Now if we understand the President as being ‘in charge’, what are we to think? That all three men held in common a reckless disregard for human rights agreements the US had been instrumental in drafting? Or perhaps a strong desire to encourage terrorist recruitment and the entrenchment of ‘America’s enemies’? No, I doubt this is what we’re dealing with here. It seems vastly more likely that the institutions of state in the US, and the vast cybernetic network surrounding them, are beyond the direct influence of any elected official and that it is either impossible or at the very least tremendously challenging for any individual to steer it in new directions.

I love the United States, I love the ideals it was built upon, and I love its citizens, both liberal and conservative – I even married one. But I cannot buy into this story that the occupancy of the White House is the root problem with this once-great nation. I fear that POTUS is secretly IMPOTUS, and that the entrenched battle over who can sit in the top seat obfuscates a far more troubling crisis of communication and citizenship identity, and the horrifying absence of any honourable disagreement that might allow a politics that is something other than endless figurative and literal war.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #37


Introducing the Chronicles of International Hobo

ihobo_biglogoBig things are brewing at International Hobo… After nearly two decades of providing our acclaimed game design and narrative services to nearly 60 clients on four continents, we are opening a new office in downtown Manchester and putting together development teams to work on some intriguing game projects of our own. We’re still delivering our award-winning services to clients, but over the next few years we’ll also be dipping our own toes into development and publishing – not to mention some crowdfunding to help those projects get off the ground.

To help our loyal fans, clients, friends, and associates stay abreast of what we’re up to, we’re launching a new email Newsletter, The Chronicles of International Hobo, as a place for keeping track of our game projects, speaking gigs, and crowdfunding campaigns, as well as contractor and staff openings. We’d be truly grateful to anyone who wants to sign up for the Newsletter, using the box in the sidebar here, or via the landing page over at TinyLetter.

We will still be posting updates here at ihobo.com, but the Newsletter will provide additional behind-the-scenes information that won’t be here on the site, including opportunities to collaborate with us on game projects in ways we’ve never offered before.

Please sign up for the Newsletter – and thank you for supporting International Hobo!

Cross-posted from ihobo.com.


Suits

Lars JuhlOur contemporary mythology is rife with associations between clothing and power – every superhero and supervillain testifies to the importance of sartorial influence, every queen and king has their crown. How would you know a superhero without their costume? How would you know an executive without their suit?

The suit-human cyborg is something we encounter so regularly that we seldom notice. Here, amidst us, walk a class of humans who through their symbiotic relationship with their tailored clothing transcend conventional notions of equality and warrant disproportionate pay scales. The suit communicates something very specific: we are management. We are more important than you, we are worth more than you, we can give less and take more. Be careful not to mistake ‘middle management’ for the real deal: a white collar is still just a minion. And don’t think for a moment that simply wearing a tailored suit is enough. You could spend a grand on these garments, or even five times that much for a suit from Saville Row in London, but you would only be an impostor if you did not also both earn more that the other people in your organisation, and believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that this situation was justified. The suit manifests a superpower: superiority, power, control.

The tailored suit was and is a tool of Empire, specifically the British Empire. From roots in the wardrobe of Charles II in the seventeenth century, we arrived at a style of dress required essentially as a uniform for the British gentlemen, and for anyone from elsewhere in the world that wished to emulate them. Then as now, the suit paraded your opulence, displaying to all around that you possess influence, money, or both. The idea that class became a thing of the past in the twentieth century is a quaint conceit – what happened was that blood became less important than money in determining who deserved a bigger share of the pie. This particular gentlemen’s club now admits ladies... but even they must be able to use a suit if they are to be a true executive. It is the cost of admission to a institution that upends all sense of fiscal proportion.

Alasdair MacIntyre drew attention to what he called ‘the moral fiction of managerial effectiveness’, which is to say, the idea that elite managers are so much better at making decisions that they not only warrant greater institutional power but also disproportionate remuneration for their talents. It is perhaps the defining deceit of our time, and the tailored suit serves to elegantly reinforce it, to allow those humans who have become complicit in the corruption of the ideals of equality to reassure themselves: “I'm worth it.”

A Hundred Cyborgs, #36


100Cyborgs: 21-30

The Virtuous Cyborg - Cut-outWhat are the behavioural effects of technological networks? What happens if we stop thinking about technology as shiny machines and start looking at other, subtler tools? Can we design technology to have better effects upon humans? These and other questions are what this blog project, A Hundred Cyborgs, are all about. Here are the third ten posts:

    21. Trees
    22. Vintage Collectibles
    23. Robot Recommendations
    24. Euthanasia
    25. Calculators
    26. Cash Machines
    27.  Contactless Payments
    28. Twitter
    29. Lotteries
    30. Houses

#21-25 were part of ‘All Request August’ and suggested by players of the game - my thanks to everyone who contribute to this! The remaining five are loosely themed around money, except for #28 Twitter, which continues my critique of social media. For those drawn to the strange and wonderful, the most line-blurring of the bunch is #21 Trees.

I am always interested in discussion, so feel free to raise comments either here (ideal for longer debates) or on Twitter (perfect for quick questions). And if you’ve enjoyed any of these pieces, please buy a copy of The Virtuous Cyborg and support my research into cybervirtue!

More cyborgs every week in October.


Techno

Drum MachineAlmost all human music is made by cyborgs – from the pipes and drums of the Stone Age to electronic music today, the compositions we are engaging with are facilitated, created, and distributed through technological networks. Techno was among the first genres of music to arise specifically from digital computer technology, and as with most twentieth century innovations in music, it grew out of Black urban culture. The Belleville Three pioneered a new Detroit sound that they described as “like George Clinton and Kraftwerk were stuck in an elevator.” Along with the house and electro styles it inspired, techno spread thanks to the inexpensive music robots like the the Roland TR-808 programmable drum machine that opened the door to a more intimate relationship between musician and machine.

Techno and its brethren grew in power in part because the British rave scene, fuelled by widespread availability of the illegal drug Ecstasy, made it the centre of their culture. As a teenager in the 1980s, I loathed the roughshod electronic dance music that seemed inescapable on the club scene that I felt honour bound to attend each week. But nostalgia wins you over eventually, and now I remember fondly what was once an audio ordeal, no doubt helped by an ever growing love for electronic music that began with The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds and never ended. Like my love for electronica, Techno never went away: it is now so ubiquitous on the Balearic island of Ibiza that people complain about the scene having been diluted to the point of being “over-exposed.”

To ask about the cybervirtue of Techno is to enquire about the positive and negative effects of the network of beings and things it connects. And what a network! Detroit musicians, a Japanese electronics company, British ravers, illegal European drugs labs, radio stations (both legitimate and pirate), media corporations, privately owned clubs, DJ’s with lifelong careers and vast collections of vinyl records... Techno has fostered a global network that successfully brings communities together. If those groups of people are less tightly knit than churches in preceding centuries, they still share with these older communities a striving for authentic communal experience and a desire for transcendence.

There are dark corners, too – deaths from misused or mismanufactured Ecstasy, brains burned out on too much of a good thing, people reduced to ‘living for the weekender’ – yet compared to any other cybernetic network of this scale, the negative impact is rather less than tabloid sensationalism would have you believe. The Techno cyborgs created something that has lasted because the good outweighs the bad, and the music ultimately means more than the drug-taking it attracted. Considering my teenage animosity for this bastard child of Parliament-Funkadelic and kosmiche (itself born of the musician-computer cyborg), I find today I hold Techno in great respect for what it achieved outside of the strictures of governments and corporations.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #35