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Getting weird with Galloway and medium

“Begin like this: If photographs are images, and films are moving images, then video games are actions.” Galloway opens his series of essays by emphasizing this fundamental difference between video games and other forms of media.

I say, “It seems quite clear video games form a new medium.” Here’s a related example. The Albright Knox showcases a piece by Rachel Lachowicz. A small 26×20″ canvas is covered in a thick glossy red coat. On the credit/speck card next to the piece, the medium is shown to be “lipstick on canvas”.

Medium is a complex idea that definitely encompasses the materiality of a work. Perhaps Galloway wants to note this difference (games are created from computer code, film captured with the camera). This distinction accounts for the variation despite having the common conduit of the screen. This distinction of process parallels the common platform of the canvas between a traditional paintings and Lachowicz’s work.

With Galloway’s emphisis on action, I can hardly settle on this topical conclusion. I would like to impress the gravity of particularities in manifested dimension of a medium. High Classical paintings emphasize three dimensions (illusion of depth) in a two dimensional world (surface of canvas) that exist on a three dimensional plane (anything that exists in real space, like a canvas). Film emphasizes four dimensions (time, depth, height, length) through a two-dimensional world (a cross section in a stream of light).

Videogames to film, like Lachowicz’s untitled piece to traditional painting, metaphorically use medium to short circuit the distinction between a works concept, the viewer’s/user’s experience with the work, and the user’s life. Videogame reflexivity simply necessitates a process of user interaction that contains the final form within itself. How do you account for the compounding process that simultaneously asks and gives? Does “object and process” break the present cylinder? I believe it to be a fantastically mind-bottling materialization of an old concept, which is why I’d like to base my research on this relationship.



4 thoughts on “Getting weird with Galloway and medium

  1. I think the idea of games as action is interesting and valuable. Certainly it underlies the principle of an algorithmic culture. However I don’t think we can so simply that photographs are images and movies are moving images. As such perhaps games as action also has its conceptual limits. (I’m sure it does, and I imagine Galloway would agree.) A photograph isn’t an image, or at least it isn’t only an image. It’s a chemical reaction of light on paper. Or. today, it’s a digital procedure that follows upon the recording of a light sensor. One might say that digital photos (and digital video) are also algorithmic, that image and videos are also actions. One might object that one cannot “play” a digital image. And my response to that would be, “let me introduce you to Photoshop.”

    Ian Bogost has co-written an interesting book titled “Racing the Beam” that talks about game development for the early Atari system. Those games were played on cathode ray tube TV sets, which, as you probably know, created images by shooting a single beam of electrons at the screen. Unlike the movie, which is a two-dimensional slice of light, you might say the cathode ray tube TV is a one-dimensional medium, a stream of electrons.

    Posted by Alex Reid | June 13, 2013, 12:27 pm
    • Wow, that’s wild. I’ve never heard of the ray tube TV. I’m not sure anything can be one dimensional outside of abstraction. Theres got to be a plane, right? I can’t imagine a dot could existing without a surface. I did a little reading on the CRT and I can’t quite figure it out. Are you saying it one dimensional because it emits its own light based on the algorithms? So math could be the single dimension root (Do you agree? I’ve never thought of it that way?) plotted on a two dimensional surface (the screen).

      This fluctuating dimension set is exactly what I’m interested in. That’s precisely what makes something art and what makes something a game. It has a varied relationship to the world and exist in a different state than a normal object. Four dimensions could be appearing in a three dimensional place or two dimensions could be crossing through four dimensions. I think video games compound that further because of the mediums qualities. The dimensions multiply in unique ways as reality and software cross (diegetic/nondiegetic, user/machine, etc.), flavoring the medium. These facets uniquely react to the process of transmission, which has its own set of dimensions.

      I agree with you about Photoshop, film, and photos. I didn’t mean to draw attention away from the technical specs of each medium. I’m just saying something more along the lines of, “A photograph is a photograph, film is film, painting is painting. Each of these have particular qualities that play on definitive qualities in reality to convey their meaning.” The only thing I’m trying to homogenize is reality and, of course, the mechanics of human perception. The abyss looks back, the process is reciprocal, and so art defines life just as much as the latter defines the former. In what way? And, “What does that mean?” That’s what I wanted to talk about in my post and what I’d like to discuss in my research project. For credibilities sake, I’m going for something similar to what Foucault did on Velasquez’s painting in the introduction to The Order of Thing.

      Posted by chasecon | June 13, 2013, 4:37 pm
      • as you point out in your original post, everything has three dimensions, including the photons that compose the stream of light that is the film. The CRT television shoots 3-dimensional electrons at a 3-dimensional screen. The notion of it being one-dimensional is thus more figurative. If a painting can be said to be a 2-dimensional representation and a film (at least a pre-digital one) can be said to a string of 2-dimensional images through time, then, in a similar vein, we might say that the CRT is a string of 1-dimensional points through time. It’s just that those points are composed so quickly as the CRT fires across the screen that for humans we see a 2-d image that looks similar to the one produced in a cinema. If you’ve ever watched TV on a non-HD television (which I assume you have), then you’ve watched a CRT TV.

        It makes sense that you can assume that the real world and human perception are constant for all art forms. So this then becomes a question of mediation, right? How does the video game mediate between the real and human perception? My point would be that there is a non-trivial shift in the movement from analog to digital that applies to images and videos as well as games. So when is a photograph not a photograph? When it is a string of ones and zeros, which is of course what any image file is. When it is a series of voltage fluctuations on a motherboard, which is what the file becomes as it is processed to become viewable on your screen.

        What we are looking at here is the algorithmic, procedural quality of digital objects. This connects with your interest in user interaction, though as you indicate with your reference to Galloway’s gamic actions, the player is not the only source of action in a game. I would just say, in response to Galloway, that it is not just video games that are algorithmic or action-oriented. The same might be said of digital photos and videos, though the applications we typically use to view these objects to not allow for much user/player action. What would we say of the capacity to scrub a YouTube video (i.e. to move the playback head back and forth along the timeline)? Is that a diegetic or nondiegetic user action? I suppose it would have to be the latter. I’m not an expert in experimental film, but I don’t know of any films that call upon viewers to manipulate the playback as part of their design.

        Posted by Alex Reid | June 14, 2013, 10:11 am
    • From a mathematical standpoint one-dimensional analysis can occur but is normally applied as a convention to simplify complex 2D and 3D problems. The idea of dimension is something that is used to define objects so when it comes to defining a line some would say it is one-dimensional due to the number of dimensions required to define it. In a physical space a one-dimensional object would be unperceivable due to its lack of area. When we see a line we are looking at its length as well as its width which is created by the item used to draw it (if drawn there is always a factor of depth that would be the thickness of the ink on the page of lead). If we take and reduce this item to a single dimension meaning that we reduce all but one dimension to zero we find that the item would disappear due to the thickness and the width being zero.
      I am just pointing out this strange convention that is used when describing waves of light as a single dimension when in fact we believe electrons to have mass as well as photons (photons are thought of having no mass at rest but they do have momentum when moving which proves mass, momentum=mass*velocity) and that for something to have mass it must occupy space which would make it multidimensional. E=mc^2 also gives us an idea of this idea of a photons mass. It is also funny that often in higher level math classes we work with dimensions over 3 even though we would not know how to perceive them as well due to our idea of dimensions being orthogonal to one another.
      Other ideas of perception to comment on the lower post is the use of 3D gaming which anyone watching you knows that the screen isn’t turning the screen into a 3D object but is merely changing the gamers perception of the screen. This is a nondiegetic concept that that assists with the diegetic translation to the user.

      Posted by diomazurek | June 14, 2013, 3:22 pm

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