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Pervasive urban gaming: count me out, and in - click opera
February 2010
 
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Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 12:28 am
Pervasive urban gaming: count me out, and in

1. While the less fortunate were working in offices yesterday, Hisae and I were shopping for antler plushie hats and giant koalas:



Our ludic credentials and annoying privilege established, I can now proceed with today's serious business.

2. A message from someone called Alex Fleetwood appeared on Click Opera yesterday: "Hi Momus, I run a festival of mixed reality games in London. We would like you to come and play something with us in June. You can read a bit about the festival and see a film we shot last year at sandpit.hideandseekfest.co.uk."

3. So I watched the Hide and Seek Festival documentary, which is an introduction to this thing we're going to call PUG, or pervasive urban gaming. What is PUG? According to the Sandpit site, "pervasive games transform the city into a playground, make your heart race, change the way you see the world, get you playing nicely with others".



4. Hide and Seek isn't the only PUG festival; there's one called Come Out and Play in Amsterdam. "Turn Amsterdam into a playground!" is its slogan. "When you play a computer game, you interact with what is on your monitor, even if you're outside playing on a mobile phone. You don't interact with your physical environment. Now, computer scientists from Fraunhofer FIT want you to play outside, sharing the outdoor experience offered by children's games".

5. So this has to do with taking computer gaming experiences and attitudes into the real world. Immediately, the phrase "the digitisation of everyday life" starts crackling between my plushie stag horns. It isn't necessarily a positive thought; in rapid succession I get visions of MTV's Jackass show, of campus shootings by kids who grew up with Resident Evil, of HUD masks and Second Life, of Peter Sellers in "Being There"...

6. What happens when you turn a city into a playground? Well, one thing that happens -- or did in the Middle Ages -- is Mob Football, "played between neighbouring towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams, who would clash in a heaving mass of people, struggling to move an item such as an inflated pig's bladder to particular geographical points, such as their opponents' church". Count me out!

7. And yet... count me in! Because isn't this everything cool about the future as well as everything appalling about the past? Isn't this Flash Mobs and Situationism and Certeau and Homo Ludens and the thing we do when we've scaled the very pinnacle of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: replacing the Work Ethic with the Play Ethic?

8. And yet... and yet... isn't this everything terrible about the present, too? Isn't this the compulsory fun of management training weekends that "break the ice" and "get you out of your shell" to "bond as a team"? Isn't this enforced audience participation, repressive desublimation, a Butlins redcoat holiday organised by Nathan Barley and his huge team of kidult assistants?

9. What happens when fun and games become values you can't question? That's the question I asked in Sweden when I gave my Down with Fun lecture at the Krets Gallery. What happens when even straights who collect stamps talk about "getting my stamp collection fix" or when a design website asserts dogmatically that "if it’s not fun, it’s not design!”? Fun and games, at that point, become orb and sceptre, ball and chains. Liberation, at that point, becomes difficulty and differential calculus. It becomes emotion, idealism, seriousness, quietness, dignity.

10. How much "hide" is allowed to reside in a festival called Hide and Seek? In other words, when your aim is to get people out of themselves, are you forcing extraversion on introverts? What about people who dislike the weekend, and dislike what alcohol does to humans, and dislike what's happened to districts like the Lower East Side and Friedrichshain, districts which were once quiet and liveable but are now full of galumphing players bellowing at the tops of their desublimated lungs?

11. And how "pervasive" does Pervasive Urban Gaming have to become? So pervasive that it not only invades the city but penetrates and pervades the shields we all raise in the city to protect ourselves and our different ways of living, our precious, precarious cultural ecosystems which can co-exist only if they -- precisely -- don't pervade? What, in other words, does PUG do to multiculturalism and diversity? Because, just as every microculture in the city has its own gender relations, so every microculture in the city has a different sense of personal space, a different way of playing. We won't all necessarily get on, even after the application of alcohol. Some of us don't even drink alcohol.

12. Hisae and I, when we're alone, put on silly voices, call each other silly names, have in-jokes and references nobody else would understand. When other people are around, though, we don't do that. It would exclude, baffle and embarrass them. It would be rude of us.

13. This unethical exclusion, this flagrant rudeness, is something Charlie Booker and Chris Morris rammed home time after time in Nathan Barley, the story of an infuriatingly ludic prankster / media node who constantly flaunts his freedom and disinhibition in front of unfree and inhibited people. Here he is playing Online Tramp Racing from Russia ("Totally dereg, yeah?"):



14. Nathan's utter callousness is soon apparent. It's the callousness of someone talking loudly and happily into a cellphone while others around him suffer in silence. It's a normal, everyday callousness, one societies geared to competition and the inevitability of inequality tolerate much better than societies geared to collectivity and equality. If you can't beat them, join them; shout happily into your phone too, or pretend to. Play Scum Vegas.

15. But there's something wrong with you if you don't feel just a little bit guilty for playing while others work. I mean, it's a pleasure too, like being the only one awake, or being king, or the only man in a huge group of fit women, or the only consumer in a world of producers. But it's a bit evil, and you should remember that. Look, look, here:



That's people from the Soho Project making fun of road diggers by saying they're playing Tetris. People playing while others work, and pretending that other people working are really playing.

16. What's the Soho Project? It's a make-your-own-reality game from a London media company created by the same people who're running the Hide and Seek Festival. The company was called Fictional Media -- a sort of Endemol of the streets. "Players signed up via a Facebook app, created a fictional identity, did missions around Soho, filmed them and uploaded them to YouTube," Alex tells me.

17. Look, here they are telling us that real Soho people are actually not real:



"All of these people are fake and they're actually controlled by one person in Germany... Soho Second Life."

18. And here they are, most damningly, most Nathan Barleyishly of all, talking about a homeless person and saying "This tragic case of this guy lying down -- he's doing very badly at strip poker -- he's already lost both of his shoes and is feeling quite depressed about it." And it's a real homeless guy, stretched out on the pavement:



19. But -- and it's a big but -- the people telling us real people aren't real people... aren't real people. What's more, Fictional Media has made another group of not-real people who are their rivals, their antithesis. "Once you started playing in Soho, you became aware that there was a Resistance who believed that Fictional Media were disrespecting the history and culture of Soho," Alex explains. "The resistance operated out of a tent just off Brewer Street and were dedicated to doing zero-tech beautiful things, infecting mission videos and overthrowing the company". They're mostly very cute girls, these resistance kids. Here's their "training video":



20. Like God or Endemol, Alex from Fictional Media has already anticipated my objections and populated his world with people embodying them. People much more telegenic than I am, too. "We were trying to dramatise a choice for players," he says, "between a forward-thinking, ludic, technologically enhanced, corporate, sanitised Soho, and a culturally embedded, historically sensitive, luddite, anti-global Soho. Also between selling out and getting on, and keeping it real, poor, artist in garret etc." He's even got the dialectic going much more neatly than I have: "The truth is that both sides couldn't help but embody the other - the evil corporation generated numerous instances of viral happiness and creativity, and the Resistance ended up hacking the website in order to triumph."

21. Whether I or you like it or not, Pervasive Urban Gaming is the future. That's why I, personally, want in. And out. It's not just Alex and Endemol who are working and thinking and playing this way. It's British Telecom, pouring millions into the TARA engine (Total Abstract Rendering Architecture) and MARI (messaging architecture for real-time interaction), which they tested in Encounter, "an urban-based, pervasive game that combined both virtual play in conjunction with physical, on-the-street action". And it's reality TV. And it's ubicomp. And it's the future of the internet, and of meatspace, and how they're all merging in one huge, utterly real, unreal game.

22. It's also Tate Modern, where a performance piece by Tania Bruguera recently saw actors playing equestrian policemen controlling the crowds from high up on horses. The crowds obeyed -- what else could they do? A real policeman on horseback looks pretty much like someone just playing the role. The spectacle and the reality merge; one can control us just as easily as the other.

23. And isn't that what the Situationists were always saying, anyway? "All that was once directly lived has become mere representation," said Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle. "The spectacle is not a collection of images, rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images." So all this play-acting is the problem. But it's also the solution, which, Debord says, is "radical action in the form of the construction of situations". And what's that if not play, play at the scale of 1:1, play that pervades the whole city?

24. So, when it comes to Pervasive Urban Gaming, it's a no-brainer. I have no choice. Count me out and count me in.

66CommentReplyShare

gothikfaerie
gothikfaerie
sade mae wolfkittenleisurepirates
Mon, Feb. 18th, 2008 11:53 pm (UTC)

Reading this, all i kept thinking of was the movie "eXistenZ". "It's worse than that. I'm not sure... I'm not sure here, where we are, is real at all. This feels like a game to me. And you, you're beginning to feel a bit like a game character." Fascinating stuff, as always - thanks!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)

More nonsense to escape reality. "A further journey is awaiting thee."


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 12:33 am (UTC)












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eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 01:39 am (UTC)


This one's easy. The more people are doing it, the less interesting it is. Transforming the urban space into a playground is only an achievement so long as it actually remains an urban space underneath.

I read this article and I think of the dudes who played a game of frisbee golf through a performance my band was doing, nearly concussing my brother in the process; I think of self-involved, self-satisfied assholes who have found yet another way to tell the world that they have enough social or cultural privileges that they can repurpose public space; effectively claiming a 'me' ownership over what should be ours. The ability to decontextualize one's environment is a class marker... you ever read the J.G. Ballard short story about the man who conceptually reduced his wife to a collection of geometric shapes, and then drastically reorganized her?

In other words, icky poo yuck. It's stuff like this that makes me come over all bauhausy.

(True situationist act: the recent picketing of scientologists by members of 4chan, collecting on the street and chanting internet memes in the pursuit of nothing specific and then disbanding. They've achieved the holy grail of this kind of art: authentic mindlessness.)


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 02:49 am (UTC)

(True situationist act: the recent picketing of scientologists by members of 4chan, collecting on the street and chanting internet memes in the pursuit of nothing specific and then disbanding. They've achieved the holy grail of this kind of art: authentic mindlessness.)


There's more to the raids than memes and catchphrases. (http://www.dailymotion.com/SA-Anonymous/video/7341208)


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 01:58 am (UTC)

i'll take my pervasive urban games without missions or rules or time limits, thanks. it's true for grand theft auto, and it's true for the hyperreal meat street wiispace. i just put wine in coffee and it was pretty good.


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 02:30 am (UTC)

of campus shootings by kids who grew up with Resident Evil

Are you serious? I grew up with Resident Evil and I have no prior history of violence (except for a few mild instances of course). For me, violent video games take away some of my violent thoughts. Dear God Momus, don't listen to the media! Don't listen to Jack Thompson! None of those people have ever played the games they're rallying against!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)

i blame resident evil for my awful amateur voice acting


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 03:40 am (UTC)
astronomomus

every voice is a robot's if you can imagine an advanced enough robot. Or conversely, every robot is a sad robot if you can imagine a sad enough robot.

Hisae is most lovely flower in garden. *bows*




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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 03:48 am (UTC)
Re: astronomomus


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 04:14 am (UTC)

OMG NEW LAYOUT

SO MINIMALIST!


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 05:11 am (UTC)


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Re: Superman - (Anonymous) Expand
turkishb
turkishb
L'dent-de-lion
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 05:16 am (UTC)

+5

shows you how privileged childhood can be


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grzeg
grzeg
grzeg
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 05:40 am (UTC)
New Babylon

The merged idea of gaming, urbanism and architecture came together with Situationist thought and Johan Huizinga theory… mind you, not through a video-game specifically, but this earlier example of ludic architecture: Constant NieuwenhuysNew Babylon.

In this sense, Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon is the ultimate pervasive game that’s more along the definition of ‘playing’ than ‘gaming’ (or a sandbox game, “a genre or mode of some video games for open-ended, nonlinear play”), a game broader than the traditional environment of a screen, a game-space that you cannot disconnect from and is constantly coinciding with the space that you live in (as gothikfaerie says; see eXistenZ). It’s a proposal for a future society, “a society of total automation in which the need to work is replaced with a nomadic life of creative play, in which traditional architecture has disintegrated along with the social institutions that it propped up”.

New Babylon’s model is the playground, the place of child’s play, where traditionally, you leave as an adult to work, loosing freedom to do as you want – to run free. It’s imagined as a place where you never work, where you can perpetually be a child. Such state of affairs would not stem from Marxist revolution, but from a technological revolution, liberating its occupants from any burdens to do whatever comes into their minds. But a playground is a bound space of total control, and in Constant’s project, “you never get out of the playground”… even when eXistenZ ends, one character asks: “But tell me, are we still in the game?”


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 06:02 am (UTC)
I've loved you from a distance :)


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rougeforever
rougeforever
Liz
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 06:35 am (UTC)

Fascinating, well developed piece - thanks very much. Has given me much food for thought.

(I love games). I hate wanky people who call games Art. Though sometimes games can be Art. (Oh god, am I at it too?)


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 07:54 am (UTC)

I hope they kill her, and we get to see it here!

Ed


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mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 10:56 am (UTC)

Repressive desublimation is a fascinating concept (and one I wasn't aware of). Surely it ties in (dialectically?) to k-punk's ideas of "permissive hedonism"? (http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/009325.html)


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 11:35 am (UTC)

Never saw you as a Barley man Momus - I suppose Channel four's essence 'To provide programs for minority groups' suits you down to the ground - you're in the minority aren't you. Oh who are we kidding - BBC has it all.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 12:50 pm (UTC)

Homo Ludens here? It is a book about play elements in our culture, not about playing. Lots of play has become serious, like football: Play that got serious, that is seen as play. Or card games that turn from seious to play and back to serious.


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 01:02 pm (UTC)

You have a point there Scaleman, twenty four men hoofing a bladder of wind around a field is taken more seriously than just about anything else....


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rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 12:54 pm (UTC)
hyper hyper

Is getting emotional over a topic, a sign that one has stumbled upon a hype?

Is traffic the modern day game?

Last sunday it was the modern day celebration of Kosovo's declaration of independence:yes!

Cars were driving up and down Karl Marx Strasse in Berlin Neukölln,
flags outside the window,sounding like "beep beep."

Those who were not driving, stopped in front of a pizza shop called "mi amore", probably to go in and have a slice of celebration pizza.

Just find the right word for your activity, and you can fool those who decide over fundings.

The real hide and seek is of course about the money that is generated setting this game up.

I would accept, take the money, and pretend I was there. Hiding for a hype, indeed.

Meanwhile in Berlin sounds from everywhere.

Greetings from Berlin,

Rinus


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 12:58 pm (UTC)
...the last communist..

Fidel has donned his carpet slippers, expect pervasive political gaming in the playground of Bush.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC)

"I can now proceed with today's serious business."

Ha! I love you!

I daresay they´d like me to come out and play in Amsterdam, but I´m sure I´ll like their games at all.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)

Co-incidentally, We Make Money Not Art lead with a similar theme today, running a review of Ground-up City. Play as a Design Tool, edited by Liane Lefaivre and Döll and talking about the design of playgrounds, playgrounds for the elderly, and related themes.




Edited at 2008-02-19 02:04 pm (UTC)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)

Also, looking more scientifically into what play is and what it's for, here's a New York Times article from two days ago.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)

I think they´ve just lost the game.


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slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)



I love how you send the same offensive-flattering message to everyone that wants to do something with you, as we say in spanish sin pelos en la lenguaI do wonder how it must feel for the subject
here in tokyo my unavoidably mimetic nature has turned me into the law abidding, respectful person that i haven't really been since i'm 9 years old. I am not sure if i like it yet. Seeing these videos gives me the same disgust as when i see a foreigner here making a huge display of lousyness, arrogance and feeling of superiority because he feels he is in some kind of disneyland where he can get away with anything, and he stands out like gulliver among the lilliputians and his face turns a very ugly red hot potato with pink worms for veins in my eyes. But then again, i am one of them too there is no way around it. The men of japan are a great mistery to me.





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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)

Yes, I'd also noticed a similarity between this and the Vampire Weekend piece, if that's what you're talking about! Luckily in both cases the parties involved wrote back to me after the blog pieces saying they wanted to incorporate my criticisms into their future activities: VW said they needed to "take it to the next level" ("it" here being experimentation), and the Hide and Seek Festival invited me to be "the ghost at our feast". I suppose that's what a Momus is, and does. He taunts, and haunts... but usefully.

I know exactly what you mean about Tokyo making you hate foreigners and their insensitivity. Those gallumphing Gullivers! I'm sure you're bowing, blushing and averting your eyes at this very moment!


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC)



-r


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eustaceplimsoll
Eustace Plimsoll
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 05:32 pm (UTC)
Homo Ludens/The intellectual is not one of us

But it may be a mark of the fallen tone of our times -- the way that religion seems to be setting all our cultural agendas -- that Eagleton, "Britain's leading Marxist critic", had to reach for Jesus in the first place.

Eagleton's conflation of Christianity and Marxism really shouldn't be so surprising, Momus; quite the opposite. The Jewish pattern of history, past and future, is such as to make a powerful appeal to the oppressed and unfortunate at all times. St Augustine adapted this pattern to Christianity, Marx to Socialism. To understand Marx psychologically, try using the following dictionary:

Yahweh = Dialectical Materialism
The Messiah = Marx
The Elect = The Proletariat
The Church = Marxist Intellectuals
The Second Coming = The Revolution
Hell = Alienation/Punishment of Capitalists
The Promised Land/Heaven = The Socialist State/Commonwealth

(Thanks, Bertrand Russell: the old goat was maybe being a little mischievous, but the analogy clearly has something to it.)

Judging by the comments this entry garnered, I'm the only reader of your blog who also happens to be a Christian. But I don't read you for your thoughts on religion, and if I did I'd be very disappointed: all I find in this respect is the regurgitated anti-religious sentiment you have imbibed from the creeds you profess. Never a sign of intellectual engagement with religious thought, be it philosophical, anthropological, historical or mystical. I remain to be convinced that you would be able to move from blithe statement to qualified argument.

Actually, you have kind of laid your cards on the table, and revealed the extent to which you've ruminated on the matter of religion: not all that much. I remember you saying that Christ was a life-hating guerilla. Christ? The man who spent his time on earth healing the bodily and mentally sick? Who saw that love (the very foundation of the good life but delicate, so delicate) cannot let itself be besmirched by violence and was prepared to die for that principle? Have you not read the Sermon on the Mount? We will continue to suffer as long as we ignore the truths it holds. Over and against Epicurus, your man, Jesus knew that it was as a community that we either live well or suffer painfully and taught accordingly. You extolled Epicureanism soon after listening to Jeffrey Sachs’ highly disturbing series of Reith Lectures. I advised you to build the wall of your Epicure garden high, do you remember?

Unlike, say, Buddha, another philosopher for whom you have expressed admiration, Christianity hopes and works towards a transfigured earth and body: this earth and this body, transfigured by love and understood and enjoyed for the beautiful things they are. Do you know what 'salvation' means? In Greek the verb sozo and its derivatives (soteria, soterios, soter) were used to convey the idea of deliverance from danger (as in the Hebrew sense) and of being healed of a deadly illness, but also of keeping one's integrity, preserving one's health, seeing to one's well-being (saos connotes that which is intact).



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eustaceplimsoll
Eustace Plimsoll
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Homo Ludens/The intellectual is not one of us

Well, as Sachs demonstrated in his lectures, we are in fact facing a terrible danger of destruction through either pollution or war. As statistics show, we are also in terrible health: cancer accounted for less than 10% of deaths in the UK at the beginning of the 20th Century; by the end it bags a quarter of all mortalities, and over half in women dying between 45 and 55 years (Swedlow, A., dos Santos, I., & Doll, R., Cancer Incidence and Mortality in England and Wales, Oxford University Press, 2001). An interesting book called The Archaeology of Disease by Cornell University Press remarks that there is almost zero evidence of cancer in ancient remains. I’ll quote the study’s hypothesis as to why in full:

Environmental changes in pollution and atmosphere, and in diet, have brought about an increase in cancer… If, as seems likely, there has been an increase in malignant disease in recent times, the reasons may be related to the changing environment throughout history… many agents have been found to stimulate malignant change. Most of these agents are the products of modern industrial development and would not have been encountered in the village or town life of pre-industrial societies. An entirely recent hazard, too, is the effect of radiation… The incidence of lung cancer in Western society has risen steeply in post-war years. The relationship between lung cancer and cigarette smoking is well attested, with a likely association also with the fumes of modern cities…

Soteria, soterios, soter...

OK, there’s more to say but I’ve got stuff to do. One more thing: I must say that I think the way you often denigrate Islam, either explicitly or implicitly, is disgraceful. If I wanted to read the kind of narrow picture you paint of this religion and its people, I would just buy The Sun, which seems intent on featuring Islamophobic stories every day. Never forget the genocide of the Jews and how it came about, Momus. And don’t swallow the food the media gives you – it’s poison.

Now, aside from that, allow me to say how much I enjoyed the recent reading from your book: I think I’ll probably buy it when it comes out.


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desant012
||||||||||
Tue, Feb. 19th, 2008 10:58 pm (UTC)

It's all very zeitgeisty. Walk around the cities in the US and you see people in their 30s playing schoolyard games or dressed up in fake armor battling it out like a real life video game. There are also the same kind-of hide and seek things going on. All this has been going on for nearly a decade that I can remember.

It seems these SoHo or whatever guys decided to frame a generic moment of the age as Important Art About Our Time That We Ourselves Thought Of. Somebody always comes along to do it... and once they do it, a lot of the time the moment is just about over.


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