Zombies and the Shared Sensorium

I have studied immersive phenomena over the years, and still am fascinated by what Finnish language so aptly catches with the idiom “Muissa maailmoissa” (literally: “in other worlds” – my dictionary suggests as an English translation “away with the fairies”, but I am not sure about that).

There is a growing concern with the effects of digital technologies, social media, and with games and smartphones in particular, as they appear to be capable of transporting increasing numbers of people into other worlds. It is unnerving to be living surrounded by zombies, we are told: people who stare into other realities, and do not respond to our words, need for eye contact or physical touch. Zombies are everywhere: sitting in cafeterias and shopping centres, sometimes slowly walking, with their eyes focused in gleaming screens, or listening some invisible sounds. Zombies have left their bodies here, in our material world, but their minds and mental focus has left this world, and is instead transported somewhere else.

The problem with the capacity to construct mental models and living the life as semiotic life-forms has always included somewhat troublesome existential polyphony – or, as Bakhtin wrote, it is impossible for the self to completely coincide with itself. We are inaccessible to ourselves, as much as we are to others. Our technologies have not historically remedied this condition. The storytelling technologies made our universes polyphonic with myths and mythical beings; our electronic communication technologies made our mental ecosystems polyphonic with channels, windows, and (non-material) rooms; and our computing technologies made our distributed cognition polyphonic with polyphonic memory and intelligence that does not coincide with our person, even when designed to be personalized.

Of course, we need science fiction for our redemption, like it has always been. There are multiple storyworlds with predictive power that forecast the coming of shared sensorium: seeing what you see, with your eyes, hearing your hearings. We’ll inevitably also ask: how about memory, cognition, emotion – cannot we also remember your remembering, and feel your thinking? Perhaps. Yet, the effect will no doubt fail to remedy our condition, once more. There can be interesting variations of mise-en-abyme: shared embeddedness into each other’s feeds, layers, windows and whispers. Yet, all that sharing can still contain only moments of clear togetherness, or desolate loneliness. But the polyphony of it all will be again an order of magnitude more complex than the previous polyphonies we have inhabited.

From Narrative to Gameplay (And Back) – Studying Transmedial Storyworlds

Today I had the pleasure of presenting the keynote lecture, titled “From Narrative to Gameplay (And Back) – Studying Transmedial Storyworlds” in the University of Cincinnati, “Focus on German Studies” conference. My talk featured a discussion of polyphony, conflicts and ambiguous heterogeneity in cultural texts and in cultural identities, concludes with an example of transmedial storyworld design from “LEGO the Lord of the Rings” video game. You can access both my lecture slides as well as the full video recording of the keynote (captured via Google Hangouts) from below: