Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ad columnam pervenire

After the notorious Norwegian coffee (it’s in my contract to make fun of it), we moved on to what for me was more familiar ground, namely Herodotus. Being at first deluged with a barrage of facts about this phenomenon that is virtual life, we learned of the “populations” of such worlds, the millions of inhabitants, ant the now extensive economies, and the reported annual gdp of over 1 billion.
As seen here by my quotation marks, the question is whether such populations are real (the economies, if moving real dollars, must perhaps be seen as such), and if the populations and people, (so called avatars for all of you who haven’t picked up a sensationalistic newspaper article about that kooky thing virtual reality), is the “history” created within such context and by such “people” real? And what is real history?

Our tall lecturer SK moved on to describing a virtual event, motivated by an external “real” event, of a World of Warcraft guild gathering to eulogize a member of said guild who had died in this that we call real life, thus an online, virtual memorial service consisting of “fictional” people, for a avatar whose host/owner (I really don’t know the terminology here) had passed.

This guild was attacked during the service by another guild, and this has apparently become an historic occasion, with the film of the deed gathering more then 3 million viewers on youtube since 2006. This is history, as it is a point of reference, something apparently worth chronicling and retelling, even though the incident is completely virtual, except perhaps for the external fact that brought it on, and here I could digress into something external versus internal, and who actually is the agent of this story, avatar or person, but am anxious to get to Herodotus, and thus moving on. (This apparently all ties in to Herodotean reported speech)

The example of Scyllias, in 9.8, following below, with its tall tale set beside what Herodotus seems to think is the truth, put forward the question of why Herodotus reports this fable, and sets these two account, one plausible and one implausible side by side:

8.8 Now the Persians had with them a man named Scyllias, a native of Scione, who was the most expert diver of his day. At the time of the shipwreck off Mount Pelion he had recovered for the Persians a great part of what they lost; and at the same time he had taken care to obtain for himself a good share of the treasure. He had for some time been wishing to go over to the Greeks; but no good opportunity had offered till now, when the Persians were making the muster of their ships. In what way he contrived to reach the Greeks I am not able to say for certain: I marvel much if the tale that is commonly told be true. 'Tis said he dived into the sea at Aphetae, and did not once come to the surface till he reached Artemisium, a distance of nearly eighty furlongs. Now many things are related of this man which are plainly false; but some of the stories seem to be true. My own opinion is that on this occasion he made the passage to Artemisium in a boat.

Similar discussion followed for other passage of Herodotus, once again showing how the implausible is related, and then pointing to the credulous, how the re-enactment of the event is not the actual point, but rather emphasizes the tradition (once again reception!), which leads us to the similarity with the virtual histories of online events, following this pushing away of historic past in favour of the tradition, the retelling, as the images pollute each other, and towards a subjective experience, and posing the question if accuracy is actually the goal, if we could have the actual event, would we want to? (Sorry, I’m not giving a very good explanation, it made perfect sense in Norway)

With the above mentioned “attack”, the event looses its priority, and draws focus to informative mistakes of tradition, with statements becoming ambiguous. There exist several versions of this mentioned attack, many reworked with commentary (sometimes in musical form), an ongoing interpretation and contextualisation.
Virtual historians have a lot to learn from Herodotus regarding focus and narrative, and it is wrong to imagine only “real” history or what actually transpired is worth writing.
(Or something like that, am probably going to come back and purge, rewrite the narrative, give new shape and tradition…)

For the next paper my notes are better, and thankfully, it was quite visual, as this was the ultimate presentation before lunch, and we all know how energy levels at times drop at thet hour, but DL held our interest (once the PowerPoint started to work).

Armed with the lovely title “Always Already Ancient-Ruins in the virtual world” and a captivating set of screen grabs form games past, present and future, the paper neatly outlined what could be said to be the four different types of representations of the buildings of antiquity.

The first category was called Reconstruction, with the subtitle The past is a foreign country or It was new then, is represented by pristine, new buildings, appropriately enough, as you the player usually builds them, in games such as Rome:Total War, Caesar IV and empire simulation games (almost always Roman), making the player a contemporary to the buildings.

The second, with the subtitle It is ruined now, was designated as Heritage, and usually has some paring of the present and the past, as being set in a museum or archaeological dig, and thus alludes to the long gone antiquity. The buildings are ruins, sometimes not only to highlight the legendary aspect (Tomb Raider, Legendary, Barrow Hill et al), but also to give a framework of the past, especially if the game is actually set in the past, and the ruins are an easily accessible signal that, hey, this is antiquity!

The third category carries the self explanatory title of Destruction, with instant ruins, and turning buildings into ruins. (“It is one thing to aestheticizie the gradual decay of monumental buildings, another to aestheticizie the effects of disaster”). Examples shown were from Spartan: Total warrior (the back-story, an attack on Rome by the Spartans in the age of Tiberius, drew quite the merriment from the audience, as did the Aztecs attacking the Greeks in Black and White 2.), Asterix, 300 and many more.

However it was not all that common that one got to actively enact the destruction, some games were mentioned where you actually earned point in destroying, if I recall correctly in something called Serious Sam, you actually got to do this in wart was said to be Cicero’s villa, with bonuses inside pots and statues.

The final and largest group was categorized as Fantasy, with the subtitle Was ruined then, and rather presenting the idea that the Romans (or whatever, lots of fantasy in this group) lived among ruins. The ruins are naturally portrayed as ruins even in their contemporary setting because they have always been ruins, we all know that ruins are classical, and one cannot imagine them new. That’s how it was, and that’s how it is. And if there are no ruins, how can one tell one is in “antique” times?
You really can’t recognize the past without ruins, as someone pointed out, who would find a Venus de Milo with arms familiar? We can usually recognize ruins, but not the “real” thing. Also, ruins are prettier. (Yes, an actual aesthetic choice perhaps, ruins have pathos and tie in to that 19-century romantic thing, Ozymandias etc, see below, with the idealized fantasy that is already ruined)

In this category some quite ancient (he!) games were used as examples, such as Clash of the titans and Gladiator (1985), but also newer as Battle for Troy and Hercules: Slayer of the dammed, as well as two forthcoming; Ikarian and Numen.

I'm reluctant to try to find links for games, as people who are interested probably can find better ones than this dilettant, but I will serve som Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,

The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away


Andrew Reinhard said...

Hi Moa (et alii),

I just finished an obnoxiously long blog post on the entire conference here: http://eclassics.ning.com/profiles/blogs/report-on-the-greek-and-roman

That workshop was both useful and big fun!

Andrew Reinhard

SDIL said...

Oh dear. Can't really beat that...