Machines by Mathias
Eco proposed to investigate certain works of literature as ludic machines.
These texts would work as structural units, whose purpose is, to get the
reader involved in a game of words. The activity of reading would therefore
resemble the process of playing a game as opposed to the more teleological
task of understanding a story. It seems that computer games, too, can
be understood either as narrative devices or as ludic machines.
The narratologists tell us that every computer game has a story. In the
beginning of the game you are told what the situation you are in is like,
what the goals of the game are and what you have to do to fulfil your
tasks. In many games these descriptions are extremely short. As Andrew
Darley sarcastically remarks, the stated goals of games like Quake are
"First: Stay alive. Second: Get out of here."
developments add a set of persons the player can identify with or confront,
regional and historical connotations and a story which tries to explain
to the player why he should do what he has to do. "New York. Fugitive
Undercover Cop. Nothing to Lose." Is the compressed story of the
Max Payne game, nicely fitting onto a mouse-pad. In the intro section
of the game there are a few more details on why the undercover cop seems
to have nothing to lose. One might doubt the narratologists proposal
however, that these snippets of loosely connected fictional facts are
a story in the classical sense of the word. If one watches gamers in action
it becomes obvious that they dont care about the story for most
of the time and they are rather indulged in the performance of skills,
the reproduction of gestural stereotypes or pure curiosity.
That is why the ludites state that the act of playing the game is an activity
which is often driven by joyful improvisation. Especially when the elements
of chance and vertigo (or alea and ilinx as Caillois called them) are
predominant in a game, there is no need for a narration. Throwing the
dices or going on a roundabout are such games.
New media in general and computer games in particular inherited the twofold
nature of games. They contain narrative aspects and ludic aspects at the
same time. When we started working on a computer game about Viennese museums
we visited many museums and tried to find out what a museum-goer is actually
doing. Does he learn about a scientific field? Is he led by a narration?
Does he randomly drift through halls and have his eyes wander around amongst
miraculous objects? Does the visitor always want to keep a sense of orientation?
What is the potential use of loosing orientation? Is predictability the
death of the marvel?
In constructing a virtual museum we had the chance to change the rules,
the logical structure and the aesthetics of a museum from scratch. We
wanted to build a museum maze, a crossword puzzle of objects and stories,
an audio-visual "Wunderkammer" and a hypermuseum based upon
a computer game. In close cooperation with 9 curators of selected museums
and with the artist and project designer Christoph Steinbrener, who conceived
and set up "Unternehmen Capricorn" we sketched a layout for
the virtual museum which was going to be an integral part of Steinbreners
exhibition. We called the computer game "Expositur", which is
the name of a place where museums put their objects which do not fit in
the main collection. Expositur is a place for the strange stuff, a place
for neglected items, for embarassing objects and for those who escape
In a movie by Chris Marker the narrator's voice tells us: "He told
me about Sei-Shônagon, a lady of the court of Princess Sadako who
lived in the beginning of the 11th century during the Heian period. (...)
Shônagon was crazy about setting up listings for each and any thing:
there was a list of elegant things, a list of sad things, another list
of things not really worth bothering. One day she had the idea to set
up a list of things which would make the heart beat faster." (Chris
Marker: Sans Soleil) The Chinese fascination for classificatory systems
is exotic and interesting for us, because the rules for classification
are obviously deliberate. We forgot that the systems for classification
our Western civilisation developed are also deliberate and take the scientific
border-settings for granted. We expect a museum of natural history to
exhibit the lion next to the tiger and not next to the turtle. A virtual
museum can easily allow for multiple connotations. The tiger can be close
to the lion, because they both belong to the family of cats. The tiger
can also be close to the turtle, because they both begin with the letter
"T". The tiger can also be close to the Titanic, because they
both make the heart beat faster. The Chinese had another idea which has
been written about in a book about the classification of animals. After
having set up categories for the "small" animals, the "wild"
ones, the "ones living in foreign countries" and so forth, they
put another category there: "the animals which cannot be connected
to a category".
Computer games are an appropriate platform for this concept of de-categorisation.
The players are used to encounter a certain amount of unexpected connections.
A computer game is not a video tape or a movie. There is no linear or
preferred reading of it, but the players have to redefine the coordinates
of their system of references permanently. Even though the virtual museum
"Expositur tells about objects and processes, even though there
is a semantic framework and an underlying logic structure our knowledge
space leaves ample room for alternative readings, it encourages the users
to define their private paths away from the main roads. It requires the
visitor to set up his personal speed, pace and rhythm for the access to
information, for contemplation and sheer surprise.
Even though computer games seem to make a perfect platform for knowledge
spaces, the concept is related to much older techniques of Mnemosyne,
used by Greek singers (Simonides of Cheos) and philosophers as well as
Renaissance scholars. This form of mnemotechnique, called loci or place
method, was widely used by orators to memorise complete speeches. The
orator picked a building and learned every nook and cranny very intensely
until he was able to move about the building in his memory. As a preparation
for the speech a plethora of items of different complexity and amount
of detail could be placed in the memorised rooms, e.g. a scale for justice
etc. While delivering the speech the orator wandered from room to room
and collected the hints while the speech unfolded.
In another respect our computer aided knowledge space also adopts techniques
developed by Aby Warburg for his research on the visual codes of Renaissance
art. Warburg's scientific method consisted of connecting seemingly unrelated
imagery to gain insight into visual similarities and connotations, which
he called Pathosformeln. In our knowledge space the multiple coding of
meanings contained with the exhibited objects is made transparent by the
spatial relation superimposed upon the objects. (A technical drawing of
a prosthesis, e.g., is positioned close to Freud's Prothesengott quote
and therefore connected to Freud's theory from "Das Unbehagen in
der Kultur". The latter might lead to beautifully painted transportation
vehicles from Pakistan which have been supplied to us by the Museum of
(Sylvia Eckermann, Mathias Fuchs)
concept and realization, 3D architecture, textures, sounds, scripting
additional UNREAL scripting: Christopher Lindinger
additional 3D objects: Jürgen Hagler, Werner Pötzelberger
player skins: Philipp Brunner, Ngoc Nguyen
video stills: Ruth Kaaserer
translations: Rosemary Mackenzie, Andrew Bentley, Leena Bentley
Finnish voiceovers: Leena Bentley
English voiceovers: Andrew Bentley
Rastas, KIASMA media curator
Petri Ryöppy, Esa Niiniranta, Simo Pirinen, KIASMA technical support
Expositur - a Virtual Knowledge Space (ein virtueller Wissensraum)
was first shown in Vienna, May 2nd - June 21st 2001.
The interactiv knowledge game was part of the show: Unternehmen Capricorn.
Eine Expedition durch Museen im Karmeliterviertel. (concept and idea Christoph
Collaborating Museums: Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (Ernst Mikschi), Jüdisches
Museum Wien (Werner Hanak), Technisches Museum Wien (Hubert Weitensfelder),
Museum für Volkskunde (Kathrin Pallestrang), Historisches Museum der
Stadt Wien (Rolf Laven), Heeresgeschichtliches Museum im Arsenal (Manfried
Rauchensteiner), Museum für Völkerkunde (Axel Steinmann), Sigmund
Freud-Museum (Alexandre Métraux), Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung
Ludwig Wien (Rainer Fuchs), Öster. Theatermuseum (Agnes Pistorius).
Expositur - a Virtual Knowledge Space was supported
Bundeskanzleramt - Kunstsektion, Bundesministerium für Innovation und