Tag Archives: virtual world

Noxiterra (large prints)

All of the above are 13 x 19″ open-edition digital prints on smooth matte-finish fine art paper, signed by the artist.


I created these prints beginning in 2008, as part of a project I did experimenting with the use of webcams for a kind of live performance. (My obsession with webcams goes back more than a decade; I also used them in my “World of World” project, and I’ll be writing about several other projects using them as well.) I also wanted to explore the boundaries of what could be meant by the term ‘virtual world’. We think of this now as something modeled in computer software— a Second Life type of virtual reality. Sometimes the term embraces old-style text-based virtualities like MOOs; sometimes it’s analogized to the parallel universes of fiction or film. But I had been thinking about the physical model worlds that conceptually preceded the virtual kind: everything from orreries and the miniature paper theaters of the 18th century about which Barbara Stafford writes so incisively, to dioramas, Victorian terrariums (also known as ‘Wardian cases’), and especially  tabletop landscapes for war games or model railroading.

For this project I set up a tabletop biome—basically a very large dirt box with plants, sculptures, and other quasi-narrative elements. This would function as my physical stage. I linked it via live webcam feed to the UpStage virtual stage for the international 080808 UpStage Festival of online performance. The key elements for each of the several performances were simple: a roving webcam in the tabletop world and a writer improvising in response to the visual stream.

In essence, I was using the tabletop set with its miniature cameras as a generative system for art and writing. I had no real idea ahead of time what the resulting images would look like. Like a filmmaker, I chose my camera angles carefully to make the world seem bigger than it really was, even boundless. But what surprised me was how difficult it is to resolve the scale of the images—some of them could be microscopic, others look like there is half a mountainside in the viewfinder.

Each of the improvisations was done under different lighting conditions, to give a sense of the passage of time, and each print consists of 9 stills taken from a single performance. Noxiterra 1.4 (stills), for instance, is from the first performance. Within each print, the images are arranged in chronological order reading from upper left to lower right.

For a companion set of small Noxiterra prints, see this page.


Posted in 2010, prints | Also tagged , , , , , |

goodby world

txtNote: This is a repost of something I wrote on my earlier test blog, which I never formally launched. That blog lingered on for a few months and had reached a whopping half dozen posts by the time I scrapped it, of which this was one of the first. Hidden as it was, the post still drew one user comment. I was equally astonished and pleased. There is a rule-of-thumb understanding in theater that the show goes on if there is at least one person present in the audience. We honor the spirit of performance, of communication itself, by acknowledging the eternal Audience of One, who is also us. In the same spirit, I’m reposting this here, slightly revised to take account of the time lag.

On April 10th of 2008, the virtual world Uru Live was… well, what is the right word here? Killed? (It wasn’t alive; it was a piece of software.) Destroyed? (The software is still presumably intact, stored on some hard disk somewhere.) Banished? That might be closer to describing what actually happened when the Game Tap online game service shut down the Uru Live servers, making Uru Live inaccessible to its players. Banishment to the obscurity of .tar files for a little Eden. Goodbye world.

A striking feature of the Uru Live story is that these events have now happened twice. Uru Live first opened (in semi beta) in 2003 and was closed in 2004, then reopened in 2006 (under new management) and finally closed again two years later. Its 2006 reopening was in part the product of lobbying by a fantastically loyal and committed group of players who managed to convince the new management that it would be worthwhile to unbanish Uru Live. The latest closure was  protested vigorously by the same loyal player base.

Virtual worlds are shut down all the time by their managers. Another 2008 case was that of Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom, opened as a promotional move and closed down on May 21st of 2008. As with Uru Live, the decision was presented as a smart business move: “It’s now time to focus our resources on our new virtual worlds.” The Uru Live management put it this way: “The decision was a very difficult one and was made for business reasons rather than due to any issues regarding … design and vision.”

As with Uru Live, the shutdown of the Forbidden Virtual Magic Kingdom was protested by players. Disney’s response: “We hear you and we share your concern and sorrow” (subtext: but we’re not going to take it into consideration in our decision). The press releases from both companies emphasized that the game was ultimately theirs to control, and they pointedly minimized the status of the virtual world. Disney classed VMK as just a part (albeit a “valuable” one) of the larger Disneyland 50th Celebration, noting that “it was never meant to live on forever”. Game Tap dismissed Uru Live as “this grand experiment.”

This traditional business boilerplate effaced a critical distinction between virtual worlds and other kinds of properties: they generate and support (and in some cases are built by) their vibrant communities. An ongoing virtual world, in an important sense, is its players. An empty virtual world is like an empty town: just a form of organized rubble. Yet these players have no really effectual voice in the fate of their worlds. The standard ownership model has no clear way to take into account the needs, the desires, the psychological stake, and–not least–the embedded but often invisible (or transiently visible) labor of the players. I have avoided naming Disney and Game Tap above as “owners” because the ownership model is clearly inadequate to thinking sensibly about virtual worlds.

So how might one model an approach to virtual worlds that takes into account both sets of stakeholders–managers and players? A first step might be to recognize that these are not necessarily mutually exclusive groups; and that the more their needs can be harmonized, the better.

Posted in 2010, latest | Also tagged , |