Halo and other totalizing digital projects

The intricacies and online infrastructure for Halo are absolutely astounding. A few guys in my suite pointed this out to me, and my thoughts immediately leapt to postmodernism, probably to simulacra and simulation in particular, but to overarching narratives (hmm "incidental commonalities" might be a less loaded phrase) of pm in general.

What wowed me in particular is the way in Halo, like Everquest and other games that are explicitly marketed as insular worlds, is an insular world. Say you're playing Halo 3 on your Xbox, against other gamers, online. You could do a pretty interesting pm unpacking here--invisible people, violent avatars, they could be from anywhere in the world, they might not speak English, no one knows anyone but everyone knows there's a person behind the pixels being killing spree-ed into oblivion--but what I'm interested in for the moment is the archival treatment this gameplay gets online.

After playing, you can review the film of the match, from the perspective of any player, and each of those from °360, at any speed. You can pause, record, or take still frames, and whatever you decide to save gets uploaded to the Halo website (you have to register a player profile w/ personal info in order to play online). In addition, the site tracks every match you're ever played, every conceivable detail, and all of this information is public domain.

For example, go to http://www.bungie.net/default.aspx. Put the cursor over "My Stats" and click on "find a player". On the ensuing screen type "greensmurf30" into the search window at right. You get the player profile for Mr. greensmurf, a friend of mine, and his (oops) game history. Click on that for a complete breakdown of all 237 games (and counting; note that this is just since his registration on 10/18/07), including the usual details, like how many kills, to the miniscule and arcane: click on game viewer, and then on a player from the left hand menu to see the precise location of that player on the map at times when he/she made a kill and was killed, who she killed and was killed by, and where the killed and killer stood in relation to this player.

It's a totally comprehensive, 100% archived digital universe. I also heard this evening about a man who has allied himself with google to make his entire life a digitized and searchable archive. He walks around with a camera and a voice recorder, photographing and recording everything he does. Truman show, much? But searchable--my friend/informant did not know anything more about the project, does anyone else?

Simulacra, cognitive maps, totalizing projects, participating in user communities that belie underlying profit motives--anyone have any other thoughts or intersections to point out? Where does art figure into this?

The experience of encountering, or at least being made aware of real events recorded into, or generating, enormous data sets, strikes me as an experience common to postmodern living. The way that this happens in Halo 3 reminds me strongly of the way this happens in our world of huge corporate and governmental databases as well; the "map" of data points that we stretch over reality and closely scrutinize. To me this is one way that paranoia, so frequently identified with post-modern living comes to play a role in our lives. The legacy of scientific inquiry tells us that within these number sheets lie patterns that it is important to uncover, but because we are able to survey such vast territory with our maps, we begin to feel the lingering fear of overanalysis; as we study things increasingly larger or smaller than ourselves, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish between paranoid delusion and groundbreaking law of nature. Or we discover ourselves living more and more within our maps, and the different anxiety of simulated living sets in. Living within the stats of Halo 3 seems to give you double meta points: a simulation within a simulation.

This also reminds me of a passage in a William Gibson book (Mona Lisa Overdrive maybe), I don't remember which, where a student wears a motion tracking suit constantly for his thesis. His plans for the data aren't clear, some kind of analysis, but it helps to build a picture of a society who fetishizes data sets something much like ours.

This article supplements our in-class discussion of the vast amount of (potentially useless) data and history that the internet contains:


Is it now necessary to reintroduce the importance of forgetting--do we need to press for more "humane" uses of data retention? Or should we adapt to the ubiquity of memory? Or, finally, will information overload eventually protect against a whole-scale sifting through of this data?

I especially like the Gibson example. Not only is the student accumulating data for an undefined reason, all the data centers on himself, his positions and motion and stats. We're applying our fetishization for data for narcissistic uses--as if the datasets will reveal an important kernel about ourselves, our identities.

I read an article a while ago reviewing a device that monitors and records your pulse and calorie intake and burn rates. The idea was that athletes could post their bio-functions online and compare their workouts with others. The reviewer pretty much went over her readout and tried to determine what she was doing at a given time - how many calories she burned chewing, sleeping, talking, checking email, etc. Like the student in Gibson, the use value of these data-sets is seems pretty paltry.
Anyway, I couldn't find the article, but I did find this one about cyborg soldiers and another about a robot controlled by a moth brain:



In adding to the frightening mix of ways to throw oneself most completely into the dark depths of cyber-living, I am working on a senior seminar group project related to the Internet 'game' (i use the term losely) Second Life. For those untouched by the craziness that is the meta-internet world, Second Life is an online world, where any web user may create a personal avatar and carry out living in a digital cyber sphere to her/his heart's content. There are CNN reporters and million dollar marketplaces (the unit of trade is the Linden dollar) and opportunities to buy land...the list goes on. On a theoretical plain, I find Second Life absolutely terrifying...but I have yet to partake. However, my group project mandates that I spend a consecutive 24 hours 'playing' so I guess I'll report back (assuming I'm still a functioning real-world human afterward). Here's the link:


I don't know what to make of the fact that Second Life is referred to as a game. While searching the site, I realized that there is no ultimate goal. There is no scoreboard and there is no winner. It is like the Sims, except much scarier. There are almost 11 million "residents" living in this cyber reality. There are dance clubs and vampire castles for users to visit. "Regardless of your mood, there's always something to do." Suddenly, life is just a game. While I understand the fascination with this site, I must take the cynical approach. Why are people so eager to create a second life for themselves that consists of interactions with people they will never meet? This simply serves as further proof of humans' need to continually escape reality. There is no veil blinding us - we have accepted that there is no tangible reality and instead transport ourselves into a cyber world. We create our own identies and fool other cyber residents into believing us. I don't specifically know why but this "game" really freaked me out...