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SHAPING THE VOID: An Investigation into the Self and Space in the Virtual Samuel Launders

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SHAPING THE VOID: Samuel Launders


SHAPING THE VOID: An Investigation into the Self and Space in the Virtual Samuel Launders The time is 2:30am and as I approach the fourth hour of staring into my screens I begin to think about what this invested time has accomplished…Playing as a character within a virtual dimension I have hit the maximum level 5 times over and taken place in countless battles, yet I have no physical evidence of the time and effort that I have put into the virtual realm. Short of the migraine I can feel developing and the sleep deprived state I know I will be in, in the morning, I have achieved nothing in the real world...yet, again I find myself queuing up to play, to start a series of events which I have experienced over and over, to play against people across the world who I will never know, people who will never know any more of me than the group of pixels which make up my in game representation, my avatar. People who like me, are users. Who have found an aspect of their life over which they have complete control, within a world where there are no boundaries, no rules, and no limitations. In this world we are gods. I reach the front of the queue and the game begins, and despite knowing that my achievements in this world will never amount to more than a figure on a screen I don’t even think for a moment about turning it off… The use of Virtual Worlds as both an escape and as a tool for design and communication is a well-developed and globally used utility. As described in The Information Society ‘It surrounds us and we are part of it’1. With a vast number and variety of people logging on everyday these worlds cater to their needs and enable them, the users2, a myriad of opportunities. Ranging from websites like Facebook which enables a user to connect and share with friends globally, programs like AutoCAD which have brought Architecture into an age where designs previously only seen in imagined futuristic utopias are now being designed and built and finally to games like World of Warcraft, Second Life and Tera in which the user is able to entirely reinvent themselves through an Avatar3. This essay is written as a parallel narrative from 2 points of view; a fiction underpinned by theory and related praxis. The main body of the essay in the black text is the theory-based standpoint, whilst the orange text is my own personal experience of the virtual world [fiction]. The intention of which is to give an inner voice to the essay. The fiction parts of the essay are to be read independently from one another as they each recount a separate experience within the virtual.

1  Hassan, R, ‘The Information Society’ (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008), p.VII. 2  ‘a person who uses or operates something’ in this context it is the use of the virtual world through a variety of mediums, Definition from Oxford Online Dictionary, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/user [accessed 17/2/13] 3  ‘an icon or figure representing a particular person in a computer game’ Definition from Oxford Online Dictionary, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/avatar?q=avatar [accessed 17/2/13] 3


Introduction The time is 2:30am and as I approach the fourth hour of staring into my screens I begin to think about what this invested time has accomplished…Playing as a character within a virtual dimension I have hit the maximum level 5 times over and taken place in countless battles, yet I have no physical evidence of the time and effort that I have put into the virtual realm. Short of the migraine I can feel developing and the sleep deprived state I know I will be in, in the morning, I have achieved nothing in the real world...yet, again I find myself queuing up to play, to start a series of events which I have experienced over and over, to play against people across the world who I will never know, people who will never know any more of me than the group of pixels which make up my in game representation, my avatar. People who like me, are users. Who have found an aspect of their life over which they have complete control, within a world where there are no boundaries, no rules, and no limitations. In this world we are gods. I reach the front of the queue and the game begins, and despite knowing that my achievements in this world will never amount to more than a figure on a screen I don’t even think for a moment about turning it off… The use of Virtual Worlds as both an escape and as a tool for design and communication is a well-developed and globally used utility. As described in The Information Society ‘It surrounds us and we are part of it’1. With a vast number and variety of people logging on everyday these worlds cater to their needs and enable them, the users2, a myriad of opportunities. Ranging from websites like Facebook which enables a user to connect and share with friends globally, programs like AutoCAD which have brought Architecture into an age where designs previously only seen in imagined futuristic utopias are now being designed and built and finally to games like World of Warcraft, Second Life and Tera in which the user is able to entirely reinvent themselves through an Avatar3. Within this essay I plan to interrogate the ideas of the creation of the self and the world around it in the Virtual. To do this I intend to use a variety of books, specifically the works of Deleuze and Guattari with their ideas of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, the self as a concept and smooth and striated space, Goodman’s theories of Worldmaking and Lefebvre’s ideas on the production of space. Supplement to these sources I will take reference from relevant articles, as well as certain science fiction works, particularly the book Neuromancer by William Gibson for its insight into an imagined future whereby an element of virtuality is integral to everyday life. As well as this I plan to draw on the films Tron Revolution and The Matrix for the polarizing views of Worldmaking and second life that they provide. Finally I intend to utilize my own personal experiences to fully expose all of 1  Hassan, R, ‘The Information Society’ (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008), p.VII. 2  ‘a person who uses or operates something’ in this context it is the use of the virtual world through a variety of mediums, Definition from Oxford Online Dictionary, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/user [accessed 17/2/13] 3  ‘an icon or figure representing a particular person in a computer game’ Definition from Oxford Online Dictionary, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/avatar?q=avatar [accessed 17/2/13]

SHAPING THE VOID: Samuel Launders


the places, programs, people and pitfalls of Virtual Worlds, with an aim to draw a conclusion about the current state and future of human life and design in the virtual.

Smartphones, Facebook and the endless pages of the Internet Through the power of the Internet and the rise of social media and sharing websites we have become more connected than ever before, away from real world interactions we can now communicate, share photos, create events and all at the click of a button. This ease of access has brought about a society of ‘cocoons…where people hide away at home, linked into communication networks’4. Within this digital realm we can log in and within seconds are greeted with an archive of information which would take more than a lifetime to process, an ‘information superhighway’5 upon which we can explore ‘the world rendered as pure information’6 This heightened level of connectivity has brought the digital domain into an era whereby ‘each screen is a substitute for a window, real life is inside, cyberspace has become the great outdoors’7 When a user initially ventures out into the pages of the Internet it is not wholly dissimilar to walking out into the wilderness of a desert or arctic tundra. They find themselves ‘deterritorialized’ which implies ‘the severance of social, political, or cultural practices from their native places and populations.’8 In this deterritorialized state the user will find themselves moving through space ‘that isn’t coded and therefore cannot be read…impossible to navigate’9 in so much as not coded into their understanding. However through their time spent they will eventually find themselves ‘reterritorialized’, it is important to note going forwards that this idea is not ‘a return to a primitive or older territoriality’10 i.e. in this case, not a reinstating of ideas carried over from the physical world but a bringing in of a new territory [set of ideas/ rituals] in its place. Once the user has become territorialized to the virtual then ideas of shaping the self start to present themselves. Through seemingly trivial decisions which require a mere click to put into place the user begins to feel ‘augmented and empowered. Our hearts beat in the machines’11. Although this may read as an intense idea, consider for a moment what happens Loader, B, ‘The Governance of Cyberspace’ (London: Routledge, 1997), p.38 Besser, H, ‘From Internet to Information Superhighway’, in Resisting The Virtual Life, ed. by James Brook (San Francisco: City Lights, 1995), p.67 6  Heim, M, ‘The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace’, in Cyberspace: First Steps, ed. by Michael Benedikt (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1992), p.61 7  Koolhaas, R, Junkspace, http://www.quotesque.net/junkspace/ [accessed 17/2/13] 8  Definition from Oxford Online Dictionary, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/deterritorialization [accessed 17/2/13] 9  Buchanan, I, ‘Deleuze and Space’ (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), p.29 10  Buchanan, I, ‘Deleuze and Space’ (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), p.30 11  Heim, M, ‘The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace’, in Cyberspace: First Steps, ed. by Michael Benedikt (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1992), p.61 4  5 

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when you immerse yourself in the Internet. It’s been near enough 3 months since I first clocked a visit on the vast seemingly never ending web pages of Reddit, but now the keystrokes of access come as quickly as the motions of writing my name. There always seems to be something new on here, a news story breaking or a series of pictures of dogs wearing hats. The sheer variety was startling at first but now it seems the norm…why wouldn’t you follow up the sombre news of 500 deaths in Russia with a viral video of a large group of erratic dancers…I suppose that’s just the culture of the Internet. Better get back to browsing, wouldn’t want to miss a beat… This desire to be constantly uplinked to the virtual has led in to an era whereby everyone can be connected to the internet at all times. Through ownership of a modern phone a user can maintain their connection to their online persona during time spent away from the computer. Through doing so they create a ‘dualism between cyberspace and the world we live in’12. This crossover between the worlds can be seen to ‘remake the traditional rhythms of daily life’13. Both through improving and lessening the quality of a user’s life, as despite the fact that being linked in to the virtual world entails communication with others, real world interactions become less prominent. The mourner’s eulogy in ‘E-topia’ talks of the change from the family gathering together to communicate, to a splintered unit broken apart by the supposedly ‘linked’ age, ‘The old social fabric – tied together by enforced commonalties of location and schedule – no longer coheres’14, people no longer connect with those immediately around them. They are in a sense deterritorialized by this ‘desire to be wired’15. It is important to remember a virtual dimension doesn’t necessarily have to be a vast 3D world but can just be a webpage, and likewise the self can be as little as a profile picture and a description.

Loader, B, ‘The Governance of Cyberspace’ (London: Routledge, 1997) p.38 Mitchell, W, ‘E-topia’ (Massachusetts: MIT press, 1999), p.4 14  Mitchell, W, ‘E-topia’ (Massachusetts: MIT press, 1999), p.5 15  Branwyn, G, ‘The Desire to be Wired’, Wired, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/1.04/desire. to.be.wired.html [accessed 12/2/13] 12  13 

SHAPING THE VOID: Samuel Launders


Defining and redefining the self in the Virtual Realm This chapter will address the ideas around the creation and use of a self or avatar within Virtual worlds: focusing around the notion of the avatar being used as a representation of our desired form and as an escape from the physical world. Most Avatars begin life as a ‘heterogeneous block of space-time’16, which will be shaped and territorialized into a more personalized form by the user. At the most basic level of thought this Avatar gives the user a fresh start to make themselves into the world, rather than be born into it17, free from real world limitations of finance and physique ‘the making is a remaking’18 with all the features they could only dream of having in the real world and often more. The virtual enables the user to live out a life in a variety of both realistic and fantasy based worlds. These worlds can be treated as a ‘social laboratory for experimenting with the constructions and reconstructions of the self’19, an opportunity to become something more than just a human. This ability to recreate your identity, to ‘express your true self’20 strikes many parallels with ideas of sexuality and not being born into the body you felt you should have been, within this scenario it is possible for a person’s ‘real-life self’ to learn from their ‘virtual personae’21. As well as the factor that an avatar is entirely shaped by the user there is also no limit to the number of avatars that a user can create, i.e. no limit to the number of online life’s for them to live, ‘life on today’s computer screen implies multiplicity, heterogeneity and fragmentation.’22. Through these multiple identities the user can look to ‘improve their life by using the materials they have at hand’ the material in this case being ‘embracing cyberspace as a way of life.’23

Buchanan, I, ‘Deleuze and Space’ (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), p.160 ‘Human beings are ashamed to have been born instead of made.’ Dupuy, J, in ‘Cybernetics is an Antihumanism’, Metanexus, http://www.metanexus.net/essay/h-cybernetics-antihumanism-advanced-technologies-and-rebellion-against-human-condition [accessed13/12/12] 18  Goodman, N, ‘Ways of Worldmaking’ (Indiana: Hackett Publishing, 1978), p.6 19  Turkle, S, ‘Life on Screen’ (New York: Touchstone, 1997), p.180 20  Joinson, A, ‘Understanding the Psychology of Internet Behaviour’ (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p.121 21  Turkle, S, ‘Life on Screen’ (New York: Touchstone, 1997), p.180 22  Turkle, S, ‘E-Futures and E-Personae’, in Designing for a Digital World, ed. Neil Leach (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2002) p.32 23  Turkle, S, ‘Life on Screen’ (New York: Touchstone, 1997), p.231 16  17 

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Once formed the avatar becomes the user’s window into the Virtual World, through which they are free to explore. Without the ownership of an avatar a user will be forced to simply observe the situation rather than experience it, this presents a similar scenario to Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of ‘you will know nothing through concepts unless you have first created them’24. Interpreting this statement with the concept as the avatar it succinctly describes the idea that without an avatar it is impossible to explore these Virtual Worlds. This exploration enables an escape from ‘our flesh and its inert environment’25, which currently hold us back. Now free the user is able to begin to territorialize and give form to the space around the avatar, unlike in physical space where largely ‘the space is already in place before the appearance in it of actors’26 [with the actors in this quote being interpreted as society]. Within this reinvented version the user will not only have the ability to reform the world around them, but also to communicate and interact with other users. The advantage of doing so in virtual is that ‘virtual communication is a very easy way to avoid real life problems’27. For example take the case study of Jason Rowe, in real life Jason suffers from muscular dystrophy meaning he can only move his thumbs.28 However through the use of his avatar within the virtual world of the game Star Wars Galaxies he is given a fresh ‘medium of communication’29 through which he is able to interact with others without them judging or treating him differently from any other player within the game. As Jason puts it ‘The internet eliminates how you look in real life, so you get to know a person by their mind and personality.’30 Whilst in Jason’s case the escape to virtual is one that brings about a sense of freedom, for some the lure of the virtual is the ease of success. Compared to the effort required to ascertain real world gains the level required in virtual pales in comparison. However these gains arguably end where they begin, in the virtual and as Neil Leach highlights in his introduction to ‘Designing for a Digital World’ ‘that operations within the digital world will have no value unless they impact directly upon the material world.’31 As I looked at the avatar I had created I thought not of its virtual existence but of its flawless form. This avatar would go forth and represent me in the Virtual Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘What is Philosophy’ (London: Verso, 1994), p.7 Spiller, N, ‘Digital Dreams’ (London: Ellipsis London, 1998) p.7 26  Lefebvre, H, ‘The Production of Space’ (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1991), p.57 27  Pridorogin, I, ‘Virtual Reality Vs. Real Life’, Pravdu, http://english.pravda.ru/health/20-102003/3920-virtual-0/ [accessed 18/2/13] 28  Usbourne, S, ‘Digital Disguises: Who do they think they are?’, The Independent, http://www. independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/digital-disguises-who-do-they-think-theyare-1918797.html [accessed 18/2/13] 29  Thalmann, N & D, ‘Artificial Life and Virtual Reality’ (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 1994), p.127 30  Rowe, J in ‘Digital Disguises: Who do they think they are?’ by Usbourne, S, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/digital-disguises-who-do-they-thinkthey-are-1918797.html [accessed 18/2/13] 31  Leach, N, ‘Designing for a Digital World’ (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2002), p.6 24  25 

SHAPING THE VOID: Samuel Launders


World. For all anyone it met would know I the user in control of it could well be blessed with the same incredible physique. But as I looked at it more I began to feel a new emotion, was I becoming jealous of what I had created? Despite hours invested in the gym, compared to this coded perfection I may as well have been a pot-bellied dwarf. Moreover this avatar would never know the hardships of growing up, of pain, of a 9-5 job or losing a loved one. But did that outweigh the positives of a physical life? Sometimes... With others the draw of the digital lies with the beauty of the avatar that they have created. The online game second life is the perfect example of a virtual world with this aspect of beauty. Users are able to create and customize every aspect of their avatar with far greater ease than the real world. Due to this the virtual population of second life are ‘all impossibly beautiful, and still somewhat less homogenous’32. The screen becomes a mirror of sorts, but rather than us seeing our true self we see our desired self. The idea of infatuation with something that is not real or obtainable is explored within the tale of Narcissus, A work of Greek Mythology in which an incredibly handsome young man finds himself enthralled by his reflection in a pond. The pond working as a mirror is ‘a utopia, since it is a placeless place’33. So enchanted by this person in the utopian reflection of the pond he is unable to move from the side of the pond and eventually dies.34 Taking the screen as the pond and the user’s avatar as the reflection this myth strikes many parallels when used as a tool to consider those who stay in cyberspace, not always to the extent of death but more of a metaphor for the death of their life outside their cocoon within the real world. “This is more real than my real life”35 one user exclaimed when asked about their virtual life. However, much like Narcissus when we indulge in the world beyond the screen we leave our real self ‘vulnerable to circumstances or persons in the physical world’36. This idea explored by Karen Franck is dramatized within the works of William Gibson or in the Matrix where scenes of plugged in users being sustained are frequent.

Finn, H, ‘The Reality of the Virtual’, The Wall Street Journal Online, http://online.wsj.com/article/ SB10001424053111903285704576556932506260962.html [accessed 19/2/13] 33  Foucault, M, ‘Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias’, Michel Foucault, http://foucault.info/documents/ heteroTopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en.html [accessed 26/2/13] 34  Ovid, ‘Metamorphoses: Narcissus and Echo’ (8AD) 35  Turkle, S, ‘Life on Screen’ (New York: Touchstone, 1997), p.10 36  Franck, K, ‘When I enter virtual reality, what body will I leave behind’ in ‘Cyber Reader’, ed. Neil Spiller (London: Phaidon Press, 2002), p.242 32 

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Within the Matrix the plot of the film features all but a handful of the human race put in a state of subconscious maintained by a robotic race of ‘tentacled artificial intelligences and their virtual avatars’ 37ironically created by an all powerful being known as ‘The Architect’. Within this state their minds are still living out day-to-day lives but through the matrix, A Virtual World. This strikes many parallels with our use of the virtual world as an escape from the harshness of the real world. In the essay Aliens, Alien Nations, and Alienation in American Political Economy and Popular Culture it points to the fact that the film is a ‘mirror [albeit exaggerated] of the very world in which the audience lives.’38 Through judging and forming opinions on the characters within the film the audience, many if not all of who are going to be users, are judging themselves. The essay talks also of ‘the notion that the physical world we perceive and in which we live is not the “true” reality’39. This idea is not dissimilar to Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’. This philosophical premise is that ‘the world revealed by our senses is not the real world but only a poor copy of it, and that the real world can only be apprehended intellectually’40. Plato describes an underground cave in which human beings have been chained at their legs and necks since childhood so that they cannot move. Shadows are then cast onto the wall in front of them and so they live out their lives believing that this projection is all there is to life. But if one were to be released. How would he react? Would he try to leave the cave and if so would he eventually return?41 Using this to explore the ideas of the self, taking the cave as physical and outside the cave as virtual the idea that without an avatar we only experience a half-life makes the use of an avatar as a tool to a fuller life seems an obvious choice. There are varied reasons behind the creation and use of an avatar from enabling through to achieving, however it is key to keep in mind the fact that any gains in the virtual will stay within the virtual realm unless specific effort is applied to virtual endeavors which have a physical world weighting.

Weldes, J, ‘To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics’ (Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) p.94 38  Weldes, J, ‘To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics’ (Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) p.94 39  Weldes, J, ‘To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics’ (Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) p.94 40  Kreis, S, ‘Plato, The Allegory of the Cave’, The History Guide, http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/allegory.html [accessed 27/12/2012] 41  Kreis, S, ‘Plato, The Allegory of the Cave’, The History Guide, http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/allegory.html [accessed 27/12/2012] 37 

SHAPING THE VOID: Samuel Launders


Worldmaking and the Architect in Virtual Worlds Before the advanced 3D virtual worlds that users occupy today came the Multi User Domains (MUDs). These domains rather than being presented graphically were instead ‘text-based virtual realities that require the user to rely on descriptions of space and motion to create an image of the domain’42. These initial virtual worlds would give rise to an ‘architecture without architects’43. Within the system all of the occupants of the MUD would be given the opportunity to ‘write’ their own part of the world. Much like in the real world the success of a place or room [the standard MUD denomination of space] within a MUD depends on occupancy, but given the freedom and ease of creation vast networks of empty rooms were formed. Despite this, the experiments of ‘architecture without architects’ within MUDs do come full circle to benefit the architect, giving those who experience MUD occupancy a whole new set of ideas on ‘spatial design, community planning, aesthetics and the use of computers’44. In the simulation game Minecraft the user is initially greeted with a randomly generated world of default features, laid out in a series of biomes. These form the canvas for the user’s interactions, first harvesting materials then building. These actions bring a sense of order to the chaos of the biomes, thus bringing the user from ‘nomad space’ to ‘sedentary space’45. To further apply Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas this now defined, or striated [in as much as it has been organized46] space will not remain as such for ‘striated space is constantly being reversed, returned to smooth space’47. Within the relation to Minecraft this return pertains to a starting over of construction. Such is the Ephemeral nature of Virtual Worlds. The funny thing about Minecraft is that it provides you with a perfectly cubic building block. Now for the first few days of building this was fine, I made a house, I made fences, I even made a castle but by about the 5th day in I began to find myself restricted by this uniformed unit of space I had been provided with. It seems as though I had underestimated this game. My time spent virtually then became more design intensive than I had ever anticipated when I had downloaded it for a form of respite from my Architectural degree. I had always imagined the virtual being unrestricted and free, but this most simple of building block now forced me to think and plan before I clicked.

42  Anders, P, ‘Envisioning Cyberspace: The Design of On-Line Communities’, in ‘The Virtual Dimen-

sion’, ed. John Beckman (New York: Princeton Architectural Press,1998), p.219 43  Anders, P, ‘Envisioning Cyberspace: The Design of On-Line Communities’, in ‘The Virtual Dimension’, ed. John Beckman (New York: Princeton Architectural Press,1998), p.222 44  Anders, P, ‘Envisioning Cyberspace: The Design of On-Line Communities’, in ‘The Virtual Dimension’, ed. John Beckman (New York: Princeton Architectural Press,1998), p.222 45  Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (London: Continuum International, 2004), p.524 46  Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (London: Continuum International, 2004), p.524 47  Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (London: Continuum International, 2004), p.524 11


From this newly reset smooth the user can then make the steps towards rebuilding and making the world striated once more, this new iteration will, unless thoroughly planned, take on a wholly [with the possibility of slight motifs of the prior world carrying over] different form to the one before it. This occurrence fulfills both the ideas of remaking in Nelson Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking and illustrates that of Chaos theory. The most relevant concept of chaos theory for this situation is that of ‘complex systems whose behaviour is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences’48. This piece of theory is also relevant to the making of avatars in the previous chapter, as despite the identical starting forms given to the user the huge scope of customization means that it is very rare for any two avatars to end up the same. Looking now to Lefebvre’s Production of Space we are able to define the space within the world of Minecraft as a Representational space, this is a space which is ‘directly lived through, and hence the space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’, which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate.’49 The Architects move to the virtual realm is primarily fuelled by the ‘freedom offered by CAD tools and new manufacturing capabilities’50. This is the ability that an architect now has to create CAD models of a building and take the client through the building without ever having to put pen to paper. From this point the architect is then able to extract the outcome from the reality of the virtual and reapply it to the physical.51 Through rapid prototyping and 3D printing the pace of design realisation into the physical is now so fast that ‘the hardware of the drawing has not evolved fast enough to complement the variety of concepts now open to us’52 I still remember my initial attempts at CAD modelling, the thing that struck me first was the similarity of it to making a physical model, first making the 2D elements and then combining them together into a form that had a volume. The thing that struck me second was that if I was clever about it I may never have to get gluecovered hands again. But then again isn’t that half the joy of model making, using your hands to create something tactile. Upon starting a CAD file the user is greeted by a truly smooth space, it is at this point important to draw attention to the fact that Deleuze and Guattari do not mean a homogenous space when they say smooth but one that is amorphous, that is a space without form

Definition from Oxford Online Dictionary, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/chaos%2Btheory [accessed 17/2/13] 49  Lefebvre, H, ‘The Production of Space’ (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1991), p.39 50  Leach, N, ‘Digital Tectonics’ (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2004), p.89 51  Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘What is Philosophy’ (London: Verso, 1994), p.161 52  Spiller, N, ‘Digital Dreams’ (London: Ellipsis London, 1998), p.18 48 

SHAPING THE VOID: Samuel Launders


that needs to be shaped53. From this, through commands they draw out the forms of the building, extruding this, chamfering that and all at the touch of a button. This change to the idea of design has resulted in the architect being ‘recast as the controller of processes, who oversees the ‘formation’ of architecture’54. A return some might say to the days where the architect was the all-powerful deity of a project. The transfer to virtual has also brought about the counterpoint to this return of the Architect in the form of BIM [Building Information Modelling]. BIM is a ‘Cloud-based management solution for building and infrastructure projects that provides easier access to project models and data to support collaborative, multidisciplinary workflows across authoring tools and project control applications. It enhances cross-team coordination globally as updates are immediately available in project models.’55 When the idea of BIM is applied to the blank beginnings of a new design project it is much like when Deleuze and Guattari talk of the evolution of Chaos. Initially ‘fixing a fragile point as a centre’56, with BIM this point will be the initial project brief o concept uploaded to the cloud. Around this centre point one ‘organizes a calm and stable “pace” [rather than a form]’57, upon the concept the design team begin to build ideas, feed in information gathered from site analysis and begin to lay the first thoughts of the form. Once these first two stages of evolution are complete it is possible to ‘graft onto that pace a breakaway from the black hole’58, the design to be transferred to the built environment begins to emerge, territorializing what was once a delicate concept within the vastness of the virtual. The introduction of BIM ‘will have a great deal of influence on the future shape of both the architects’ profession and the broader construction’59 it is also forms a large step towards the possibility of design becoming an entirely virtual endeavour and standing as a precursor to a possible move to a virtual life. Within this new life much like the avatar enables the user to stay within a cocoon during social endeavours, BIM will allow for the design team to remain within the cocoon during the process of design. The entire concept of virtual design is brought to life in the film Tron, the storyline of which revolves around a virtual world born from the imagination of the main protagonist, Kevin Flynn. With themes of smooth/striated and deterritorialization/reterritorialization running throughout the film it serves as a graphically awe-inspiring vision of a possible future. The central city of Tron is one of seemingly never ending blade like buildings, everything glowing Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘What is Philosophy’ (London: Verso, 1994), p.526 Leach, N, ‘Digital Tectonics’ (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2004), p.75 55  ‘Building Information Modeling’, Autodesk, http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/pc/index?siteID=123112&id=19729180 [accessed 18/1/13] 56  Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (London: Continuum International, 2004), p.344 57  Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (London: Continuum International, 2004), p.344 58  Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (London: Continuum International, 2004), p.344 59  Brady, A, ‘BIM Overlay to the RIBA Outline plan of work’, RIBA, http://www.ribabookshops.com/ uploads/b1e09aa7-c021-e684-a548-b3091db16d03.pdf [accessed 18/1/13] 53  54 

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in neon light. These are buildings that really shouldn’t be standing up, but within the freedom of the boundless virtual are able to defy the physical laws of gravity. If an architect were able to design for a Tron like world it would be key that they ‘come to terms with the fact that much of their spatial understanding will be useless’60. In Junkspace Rem Koolhaas states that ‘colour in the real world looks increasingly unreal, drained. Colour in virtual space is luminous, therefore irresistible’. This statement can be interpreted as not just referring to colour but also to variety and complexity of design. However architects are breaking down this idea with truly ‘irresistible’ designs. Examples of this are buildings like Renzo Piano’s Shard in London and the BMW central building by Zaha Hadid in Leipzig. These are both buildings that would have been designed using CAD so as to ‘decipher the complex spaces’61. They both stand out as buildings that wouldn’t look out of place in a future world and are challenging the fabric of design in as much as pushing us forwards into the next stage. So where does the future of design and space lie? Designs which stay in the virtual world, ‘uninhibited by real-world idiosyncrasies such as gravity or the phenomenology of materials’62, or design that utilizes the virtual to create stunning buildings for the physical world. The future potential of both avenues could be vast and at this point it would be impossible to say that one may take precedence over the other.

Spiller, N, ‘Digital Dreams’ (London: Ellipsis London, 1998), p.43 Lefebvre, H, ‘The Production of Space’ (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1991), p.366 62  Novak, M, ‘Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace’, in ‘Cyber Reader’ by Neil Spiller (London: Phaidon Press, 2002), p.151 60  61 

SHAPING THE VOID: Samuel Launders


To stay or not to stay Throughout this essay the intention has been to draw attention to the ideas of the use of the virtual as a self and world creating and defining tool. From this isolated realm of the virtual it is possible to achieve a myriad of tasks not possible in the physical world and so the question arises: why not stay in the virtual? This final chapter will evaluate the advantages and plausibility of a purely virtual existence and the real world implications this will have on the user. The opposite scenario of a purely physical existence will also be examined. To consider a purely virtual existence it is important to consider the difference between the society we currently occupy and one of pure virtuality. As addressed in the first topic the vast majority of modern societies are operating in at least some realm of the virtual at most times of day, whether this is through a phone or just engaging in an aspect of virtuality i.e. through looking at a screen of any kind. We have become so dependent on these that society has been changed arguably indefinitely but the step to a wholly virtual experience would require one of two things to occur: the far more radical and largely more hypothetical idea of a complete abandonment of the physical form, to ‘download our mind into cybercit to escape the body’s ‘meat’ death.’63. The more perceivable variation on a completely virtual life would be that of allowing the body to remain as an anchor in the physical but keep the mind in a wired ‘consensual hallucination’.64 This concept of an overlaid skin on top of the physical is surprisingly well portrayed in the Disney film Wall-E. Within the film the human race has been deterritorialized from the earth and in the process found itself in a state whereby each day is lived out staring into a screen. Relating back to the idea of the self it is the factors of being able to escape to a place away from the harshness of their real life that entices the user. Within this they are able to achieve a state or level of success that would be otherwise unobtainable in the real world. The freedom that can be gained from a virtual personae can also be used to alleviate a person with physical or social disabilities into a realm where they feel comfortable operating as a full member of a, albeit virtual, society. The opposing argument to this idea is that when dwelling in the virtual the user is not operating in the physical world and so to maintain the level of success gleaned in the virtual they must remain there. Also for someone to revert to a solely physical state would result in them falling off the grid, becoming a disconnected point within modern society. Then finally with regards to the creation of worlds and architecture in the virtual, the benefits present themselves in both the virtual and physical realm. Worlds within the virtual are vast, beautiful and are a welcome escape from the greyness of the physical world. However when the works of the virtual are able to break out into the built environment, thanks to rapidly advancing construction techniques and the growing level of skill exhibited by arctects in cyberspace, there is no doubt that we will soon see the architecture of the imagined virtual 63  64 

Spiller, N, ‘Digital Dreams’ (London: Ellipsis London, 1998), p.69 Gibson, W, ‘Neuromancer’ (London: Harper Collins Publishing, 1995), p.67 15


in the built reality.

So where does the future lie The pace of development within the virtual is never-ending and the points raised in the final chapter highlight the rising potential in all avenues of the realm. Within the concept of the physical and virtual the self has become a multiplicity; we no longer operate in just one plateau but many at once. Accordingly we will probably never see a return to a singular existence, this combined with the factor that humans will always strive to achieve or improve themselves leads to the final idea within this essay. The question lies in the choice: do we create a new plateau upon the physical world through a Blade Runner esque posthuman65 augmented view, or do we retreat to the virtual and live out an online life from our cocoon of cybernetic safety. In my opinion, the future is not wholly virtual. Until such a day comes that we absolutely have to abandon our physical form I believe it is highly unlikely that the draw of the virtual will be strong enough for the majority of humanity. We will however have to become more than human, and if anything this will just prove to enhance life as we know it. With innovations like ‘Google Glass’ already starting to augment the way we perceive the world, I firmly believe that the future will belong to a more connected, dually territorialized and constantly evolving hybrid human race.

65  A being with central capacity greatly exceeding the maximum attainable by any current human

being without recourse to new technological means, definition from ‘Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up’ by Nick Bostrom, http://www.nickbostrom.com/posthuman.pdf [accessed 27/2/13] SHAPING THE VOID: Samuel Launders


Bibliography Books Agger, B, ‘The Virtual Self’ (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004). Beckmann, J, ed., ‘The Virtual Dimension: Architecture, Representation, and Crash Culture’ (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998). Benedikt, M, ed., ‘Cyberspace: First Steps’ (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1992). Brook, J, ed., ‘Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information’ (San Francisco: City Lights, 1995). Buchanan, I, ed., ‘Deleuze and Space’ (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005). Thalmann, N & D, ‘Artificial Life and Virtual Reality’ (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 1994). Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (London: Continuum International, 2004). Deleuzze, G, Guattari , F, ‘What is Philosophy’ (London: Verso, 1994). Gibson, W, ‘Neuromancer’ (London: Harper Collins Publishing, 1995). Goodman, N, ‘Ways of Worldmaking’ (Indiana: Hackett Publishing, 1978). Hassan, R, ‘The Information Society’ (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008). Joinson, A, ‘Understanding the Psychology of Internet Behaviour’ (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). Leach, N, ‘Designing for a Digital World’ (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2002). Leach, N, ed., ‘Digital Tectonics’ (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2004). Leach, N, ‘The Anaesthetics of Architecture’ (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1999). Lefebvre, H, ‘The Production of Space’ (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1991). Loader, B, ‘The Governance of Cyberspace’ (London: Routledge, 1997). Matrix, S, ‘Cuber Pop: Digital Lifestyles and Commodity Culture’ (Oxon: Routledge, 2006). Mitchell, W, ‘E-topia’ (Massachusetts: MIT press, 1999).

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Ovid, ‘Metamorphoses: Narcissus and Echo’ (8AD). Rawlins, G, ‘Moths to the Flame’ (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996). Spiller, N, ed., ‘Cyber Reader: Critical Writings for the digitial era’ (London: Phaidon Press, 2002). Spiller, N, ‘Digital Dreams’ (London: Ellipsis London, 1998). Turkle, S, ‘Life on Screen’ (New York: Touchstone, 1997). Weldes, J, ‘To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics’ (Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

Articles Autodesk, ‘Building Information Modeling’, Autodesk, http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/ pc/index?siteID=123112&id=19729180 [accessed 18/1/13]. Bostrom, N, ‘Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up’, Oxford University, http:// www.nickbostrom.com/posthuman.pdf [accessed 27/2/13]. rady, A, ‘BIM Overlay to the RIBA Outline plan of work’, RIBA, http://www.ribabookshops. com/uploads/b1e09aa7-c021-e684-a548-b3091db16d03.pdf [accessed 18/1/13]. B

Branwyn, G, ‘The Desire to be Wired’, Wired, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/1.04/desire.to.be.wired.html [accessed 12/2/13]. Dupuy, J, ‘Cybernetics is an Antihumanism’, Metanexus, http://www.metanexus.net/essay/hcybernetics-antihumanism-advanced-technologies-and-rebellion-against-human-condition [accessed13/12/12]. Finn, H, ‘The Reality of the Virtual’, The Wall Street Journal Online, http://online.wsj.com/ article/SB10001424053111903285704576556932506260962.html [accessed 19/2/13]. Foucault, M, ‘Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias’, Michel Foucault, http://foucault.info/documents/heteroTopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en.html [accessed 26/2/13]. Koolhaas, R, Junkspace, http://www.quotesque.net/junkspace/ [accessed 17/2/13]. Kreis, S, ‘Plato, The Allegory of the Cave’, The History Guide, http://www.historyguide.org/ SHAPING THE VOID: Samuel Launders


intellect/allegory.html [accessed 27/12/2012]. Pridorogin, I, ‘Virtual Reality Vs. Real Life’, Pravdu, http://english.pravda.ru/health/20-102003/3920-virtual-0/ [accessed 18/2/13].

Films Kosinski, J, ‘Tron’, Motion Picture (Walt Disney Pictures, 2010). Scott, Ridley, ‘Blade Runner’, Motion Picture (The Ladd Company, 1982). Wachowski, A & L, ‘The Matrix’, Motion Picture (Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999).

Picture References Fig.1: Tokyo Train Station: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bperry/2466973538/ Fig.2: Tera Character Customization: http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRPyoxGjumtN6isBkBhtZM-FJ21Err1MQa2TCVxFok_lDsrXGrCew Fig.3: Matrix cocoons: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-CGjhRIveKjs/UF4Fw4iLYvI/ AAAAAAAADZg/sgXbqhlTyM8/s1600/matrix-cocoons.jpg Fig.4: Shard street view: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-OrYjxjVnVDk/TxtGS-jXyfI/ AAAAAAAAAHg/cqxpoNSaSSs/s1600/Shard%2BLondon%2BBridge.jpg Fig.5: Tron city: http://wallpapersfor.net/wallpapers/tron-city-1920x1200.jpg

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For general enquiries about the School please contact us directly: School of Architecture, Design and Environment Faculty of Arts University of Plymouth Drake Circus Plymouth PL4 8AA Telephone: email:

+44(0)1752 585150 l.c.saunders@plymouth.ac.uki

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ARCO: Journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License

ARCO13 Samuel Launders  

SHAPING THE VOID This essay is written as a parallel narrative from 2 points of view; a fiction underpinned by theory and related praxis....

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