Sunday, October 26, 2014


In writing about virtual worlds and video games recently, I found myself reaching deep into 'the canon'  to illustrate the enduring appeal of imaginary worlds. Using the Tempest I rehearsed the idea that dramatic performance, and the imaginary world that is conjured up by it, is an 'insubstantial pageant', with a cast of characters involved in a sequence of events that we temporarily believe in. Following this I argued that a play could be seen as a prototypical virtual world - as an event-space that is real enough, and takes place in real time with all the material supports of a theatre or similar venue. Members of the audience are embodied and present, but yet the world they are transported into is constructed in their individual imaginations, and filtered through their own particular lived experiences. Of course video games are different in all sorts of ways- ways which I won't go into here, but my intention was to argue for the familiarity (and cultural history) of what you might call imagined worlds. Attending the launch of the Reading Digital Fiction exhibition on Thursday evening, I was struck by how a different discipline works its way into the same territory. In her succinct opening remarks Astrid Ensslin reminded us how digital fiction sits somewhere between literary fiction and video gaming, as well as how print fiction lives on whilst digitally-born narrative continues to evolve.  The common thread of how new and old narratives work to engage our imaginations emerges again, along with the idea that digital technology often end up troubling existing categories such as the distinctions between games and stories, art and life, the real and the imagined. It was a successful thought-provoking event, and underscores the fact that digital fiction is now old enough to have a history.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Deep reading

I've not been posting for a while because I've been on a long break in Nepal and Tibet - but somehow or other a complete break isn't quite as complete as you might think. Noticing the impact of the digital on everyday life seems to have become a way of life, and I found myself observing and photographing the different ways in which devices and texts are woven into lives that on the surface at least seem rather different. This is a monk at Boudanath, Kathmandu reading  a Tibetan scripture on an iPad as part of a devotional practice - one of many examples of how digital texts become absorbed into cultural practices. Reading Will Self about the impact of new technology on what he calls 'deep reading', I found myself recalling this image. Is this 'deep'...or did it suddenly become shallow because its read on an iPad? Clearly not. But of course, in an otherwise intelligent and nuanced piece, Self is actually equating the immersive experience of reading fiction with depth. Although he offers a balanced account, and is certainly not bemoaning the rise of digital text, there is a sadness in his tone. He thinks we have lost something. If he's right, though, its not depth we've lost, but a way of accessing imagined worlds.