Article in Second Nature journal about The Mobile City project and urban gaming

The second issue of the RMIT journal Second Nature is about “Games, Locative & Mobile Media”. I wrote a short article about urban games and their importance for the issues we address with The Mobile City.

In this article I discern five possible ‘levels’ to understand urban games: (1) the city is often used as a model to construct an architecture of computer and video games; (2) the city itself has historically been understood in multiple ways as a game or playground; (3) pervasive games take digital games out to the streets and bridge the digital-physical distinction; (4) (serious) games are used in the process of (re)building actual cities; (5) urban games are a metaphorical lens through which to look at utopian and dystopian futures of cities. For each of these ‘levels’ I raise some relevant questions.

You can read the article here >> or download a PDF of the article (1,6 MB).

There are a number of other interesting contributions. See the journal’s table of contents.

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Visibility of urban electronics

Not really in the field of ‘mobile media’ but here’s an observation Nicolas Nova-style. While being on holiday in France recently I saw these entrance ports in French warehouse chain Auchan.

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I wonder why Auchan made these anti-theft ports transparant? Possibly the visibility of the technology behind this form of surveillance makes people even less inclined to steal stuff..? (“It looks serious so it will surely work well, I’d better watch out..”). Anyhow, transparency is one possible way to visualize the omnipresence of informational devices in urban spaces. Rather than faced with an opaque ‘black box’, we now get a better sense of what networked/informational machines are operational in our presence. I can just imagine these things being built to go off with a spectacular light show when someone tries to steal anything, just to increase public attention and shaming…

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Shoot-n-Share: a mobile phone documentary

Shoot-n- Share is a documentary made by two young students at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, Lieke van Pruijssen and Bieke Versloot. It is a film about the relation five inhabitants of Rotterdam have with their mobile phone. More specifically: how they use the camera on their mobile phone. The film was shown a while ago at a filmfestival in Groningen, and in Rotterdam April 28, 2008.

The film is a mixture of documentary following a number of ‘Rotterdammers’ an their mobile cam use as well and interviewing the, as well as a showcase of the mobile phone movies and photographs itself that are made by them. This is done quite ingeniously, by blending the two together in such a way that you get a good view both from the ‘real life’ perspective and the ‘virtual media-perspective.

So what kind of people are portrayed in the film? The first are Thom and Osama, two young guys (both 16) who film their daily movements in the city, go to weird places and shoot themselves fooling around a bit, and upload their material to Youtube. See the following Youtube accounts: Osama (osama015); Thom (jump266) ; and together they operate under the nick osamathom1991.

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Then there is a young mother Annemarie (24 years old) and her daughter. The mother makes little clips of for instance her daughter and her singing and dancing together, and shares these with friends and family online.

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There is Hans, a guy of about 30 years old who mainly takes photos of things he sees in the city in an artistic fashion.

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And finally an older man, Cor Been, age 75, who has filmed the entire process of the construction of his new apartment building to which he is moving.

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There are a couple of things I found really interesting about this film:

Different age, different use
First of all, the film shows how people from different ages do very different things with their mobile phone camera. Osama and Tom went for the kicks and sought out the ‘dangerous’ and exiting urban places they normally wouldn’t go or weren’t suppose to be. The young mother did it in a very social way to share her life with her daughter with other; the 30 year old guy made all kinds of photographs of the city in a very aesthetic way; the old man used film to get accustomed to his new habitat, as a kind of narrative medium to incorporate the new into his life.

Mobile film as an emerging genre
What kind of new pictorial language is emerging through the use of the mobile phone for photo and film? It is a radical first person perspective; a 3D view of the world, the camera does not only pan from left to right but also up and down (one’s feet!); movement while shooting instead of stills; no cuts; position of the filmer in his own film; enactment in front of camera: it’s is not acting as if it is real but made absolutely clear that it is acting in full awareness of the presence of a camera.

Experience of multiple places at the same time (moving in hybrid space)
The two young guys were making a film while sneaking into a building (hotel?) they clearly weren’t supposed to be. While prowling through the corridors and pushing elevator buttons in a seemingly spontaneous way, all of a sudden one of them yelled: “This is certainly going to be on Youtube!”. This seems to indicate that these kids are adding an extra dimension to their physical world, namely concurrently imagining a digital world. They interweave their here and now experience of what they are doing in physical space with an added dimension of presenting it later elsewhere on a digital platform.

Social aspects of sharing: niche vs. platform
The young mother was sharing films and photos of her and her daughter with friends via online platforms (Youtube, Hyves). There is something very social about creating content. A new sociality? Or sharing as age-old ritual (gifting)? Only within small circle? But interestingly she chooses a platform that is accesible to everyone. This raises questions about how people want to express themselves, either to small niches vs. sharing broadly.

Experiencing city space through the mobile phone camera
Filming the city while being on the move adds an extra reflexive dimension to this mobility. First it adds another lense in front of you, a layer of mediatrion in a (new) visual movie language. And second it enables you to look back almost immediately on what you have just experienced and how you have captured this. The experience of a city may change through this additional reflexive layer. It enables you to distrance yourself from your own immediate experience by viewing it again through the eyes of a bystander, like an being an audience to your own captured experience.

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(thanks Bieke for the pictures, additional info, and small corrections!)

Hackers attack epileptics forum: crossing digital borders

[I wrote this blogpost earlier for The Mobile City]

Just a few more or less recent items that I find interesting (cutting it up in multiple posts):

Wired reports that hackers have attacked an online forum for epilepsy patients. They placed fast-moving images on the forum, which resulted in a number of epilepsy patient getting a seizure.

Internet griefers descended on an epilepsy support message board last weekend and used JavaScript code and flashing computer animation to trigger migraine headaches and seizures in some users.

What triggered me:

The incident, possibly the first computer attack to inflict physical harm on the victims, began Saturday, March 22, when attackers used a script to post hundreds of messages embedded with flashing animated gifs. [my emphasis]

A cruel yet fascinating example of the blurring between online space and the physical, and how the ‘virtual’ is creeping (or in this case seizing) into the world we formerly knew as ‘real world’. Of course, examples abound of people carrying their online avatars with them outside the (MMORPG) game, or people making hard cash out of virtual real estate, etc. Yet what makes this case special I think is the intention of the attackers to target this specific group in this way, in order to inflict bodily harm on actual persons through digitally mediated ways. No doubt they must have imagined epileptic patients getting fits and seizures behind their computers when crafting their attack. It’ precisely this intentional aspect of breaking out of screen space, stepping outside of the bounded online world with its own rules that thrives on willingly forgetting that there are actual people in flesh and blood sitting behind their screen (in their underwear picking their nose), that makes this a special case.

It is just a matter of time before hackers launch similar attacks on the digital infrastructures of the city, be it the RFID transport system, CCTV surveillance, the various wireless data networks, or any combination. The first attempts are already there. The physical seizure this may cause to the city is hard to imagine now.