Synthetic worlds are a key concept of contemporary infonautics. A broad spectrum of scientific disciplines is located at this interface of computer simulation and the visualization of information in dataspace. Especially those research areas concerned with the game theory, where complex worlds are outlined by game rules, play an increasingly significant role, but also the functions of art and culture are of primary interest.1
Learning while playing and productive work as a game are developments that are gaining significance in media hybrids. A multimedia future of digital expert systems and knowledge databases will change teaching and learning and also the working process. Will post-industrial society suffer the computer game recreational shock?2
Hopefully, the dark millenium of "work makes free" has come to an end, and it seems high time to free work from its inhuman context and to do justice to a new significance of recreation time and employment. In recent history, the game age seems to have set in. A president, who in the 1980s went into raptures about training American youngsters with video games to become perfect fighter pilots, was permitted to experience how in the 1990s war itself was turned into a video game. This was, however, no clean "telesurgery" but a bloody war employing so-called mass destruction weapons.
Scientific and military research is focusing on the creation of virtual worlds and the realistic simulation of complex, dynamic, and multi-dimensional space and processes, thus further gaining economic significance. The interaction with complex technical systems (the intern- space stations for instance) or complex data in many cases requires leaving the 2-dimensional on-screen user instruction or menus behind to navigate in spatial structures. Today, through the mass production of powerful multimedia computers for a broad market, many results of this research and development can be found in generally available user programs.
Progressively, the creation of unknown galaxies, which no human has ever entered before, has become easier. These developments have become apparent especially in the field of home entertainment and in the computer game industry.
With growing success, simulation is being employed for exploring real contexts, from material research to cosmology. Although we are approaching the simulation of reality by means of technical media, we seem to be distancing ourselves all the more from a homogenous perception of reality. The multiple realities of non-linear games and hypertextual narrative structures of digital space and electronic poliversities are preparing us for the simultaneous existence of different levels of reality. Software not only makes our world smaller by drawing us closer together but it also seems to be making it "softer". The representation of the world is a system of game rules and symbols for codified perception. The more reference points this system offers (thus becoming more useful), the more risk factors seep in... This means that what we are "sure" about is not real after all. Theory determines observation and humans inevitably perceive the complex world through limited means. Thus the foundations of understanding are based on the misunderstanding of the comprehensive world around us.
It has become more difficult for us to know whether objects actually exist and can be distinguished from the remaining world in any way, especially after having realized that space and time are relative to our perception. Frequently, even the limits between a real and a very life-like and distinct imaginary experience are blurred. The human nervous system adjusts itself according to what it considers real – this peculiarity is the basis for many psychological mnemonic phenomena. (ARS Memoria).
Dead Hollywood stars live longer – ever since they have been digitized to become virtual actors and their motion have been captured. The designer pop star has been translated into electronic space and numerous virtual TV hosts and kids' idols made of bits and pixels (Date Kyoko, Lara Croft, Sonic Hedgehog) are soliciting the attention of mediated society. The mimetic gesture of pure information bodies in telepresent infectious postures offer social standing and positions. The bio-cultural game rules of social reality are becoming ever more complex and abstract due to mediation. A "special affects" industry is being engrammically inscribed into collective unconscious; Just as viral genetic information has surreptitiously entered into the human genotype, the human being is becoming its own double. Bionic WoMen in cognitive homeostasis (self-regulation), psycho-cybernetic game figures with aim-seeking servomechanisms, on the stage that mean the world to them, cloned from the triplets of trivial media. (Do android dream of electric sheep?)
Economic change, in which growth is based on the propagation of information instead of industrial goods production, is transmuting into a virtual economy, where the course of the money economy's fever curve relies less on real production values than on self-referential cycles of dematerialized game rules in electronic channels. The continued instantisation of media to hypermedia is pursuing the trend of multimedia and broadband usage of data networks and we must brace ourselves for the compression to the gravitational collapse of a black hole whose pyschosocial aftermath holds surprises in store for us: On the way to global self-fulfilling media, the data demons in virtual environments are turning into emancipated knowbots. On the silicon planet, the "deus ex machina" is producing the "ghost in the machine" in medial logorhythm. What role can art play in this age of biocybernetic self-reproducibility?
The human is a symbol-controlled organism, and complex systems or organisms are on the lookout for entertainment, young computer game enthusiasts are just one example. From this perspective, it seems meaningful to ask for the entertainment value and dramaturgy of technical systems and the structures of our wold. The rare accidents, coincidences, and improbabilities in media production are then explained by the necessities defining action. Contextuality, the mother of all postmodern perplexity, is being obliterated by hypercontextuality associated with the growing certainty that everything is somehow interconnected.
The design, and architecture of information also has deep implications on social politics. The dramatic acceleration in the flow of persuasive communication transports not only entertainment and information but also standards of behavior. If information flows faster than most people can take, then perspectival filtering and structural selection increasingly play a role in the creation of social reality.
Representation systems and images of the world as a simulation of reality are efficient inductors and thus astonishingly high costs are put up with. The depiction of the world has always been a political instrument and the distortions, as produced by the projection of multi-dimensional space onto planes, has been well exploited in this context (maps as an abstract view of the world itself but also of those who are drawing them).
Reducing complex multi-dimensional structures, not simply the projection of a sphere onto a surface, inevitably creates ambivalences and distortions, or a subjectivation of depiction. The perspectival loss of the setting not only leads to a shift in the relation of sizes and forms, but also to visual oscillating effects as the ones that occur during optical illusions.
A standardized perspective prevents in-depth perception and the reassessment of relational dimensions. For this reason, humans, in the ideal case, have at least two eyes and two ears. A restricted and pre-determined perspective enables numerous special-effect illusions, similar to those used in feature films and the creation of "necessary illusions" in the social collective.
For visualization and information architecture, which functions with dynamic complexity, the expansion of Euclidean space into the field of hyper-dimensionality, the supposition that more than 3 dimensions exist, has become necessary. An example thereof is the architecture of super computers, which would be impossible without a multi-dimensional hypercube. Not only up and down, left and right were suggested for hyperspace, but also ana and kata as additional spatial differentiation.
A new dimension of digital space is evolving in software-generated architectural structures, intelligent software environments, and in the algorithmic spawning of the software itself. Adaptive virtual environments have a special status in this context. Hopefully, there will be enough open systems to enable such dynamic information environments to express a unique culture of their own. Likewise, the limits of representation have become clearer by employing simulation systems. Tools that enable us to use limitations for the redefinition of possibilities and to reveal new, undreamed degrees of freedom, which were not included in the original semantics.
The fascination for role games and their transcendence using virtual actors may not only allow for a more differentiated understanding of gender stereotypes but also help transpersonal and inter-subjective qualities to move into the foreground.
1. In the field of artificial ife and expert systems, Artificial Intelligence and operations, research, visualization technologies and computer graphics, mathematics and physics, politics and economic theory, behavior and conflict research, psychology and sociology, chemistry and evolutionary biology.
2. Computer simulations for iterative and territorial forms of the prisoner dilemma can show, for instance, how cooperation strategies succeed even if deceit promises the biggest benefit in the short run.