Chill-Out: Games and the Effects of the Internet

In conclusion, I should like to make a few observations about the situation and future of media art.

In many places media history seems to occur cyclically and thereby to attract ever larger circles of people. Artistic tactics often repeat themselves in the new media. They spread from small elites to mass applications such as online publications in the form of blogs and videos on YouTube or other platforms. But a certain loss of aesthetic rigour and content often seems to go hand in hand with this development.

As yet, the aesthetic basis of the moving picture has not greatly changed. Even interactivity is not really a new idea. Back in the 1940s, the American film-maker Maya Deren already sought to break out of the linear restrictions of film by using a vertical mode of narration (for example, in her most famous film Meshes of the Afternoon of 1943).

Time and again, non-linear ideas have been used in experimental films, and occasionally even in feature films. (Admittedly, however, in these media the form of presentation and perception remains linear, whereas in digital media data can be accessed in any order and at any time.) It is also doubtful whether the inclusion of the viewer by means of technologically supported interaction and virtual environments can redeem the old pronouncement that art is life for any part of the population other than, at most, artists themselves. Too many of these works have not gone beyond the stage of being merely playful, and fail to ask any far-reaching social or self-critical questions.

Computer games

There is no doubt, however, that interactive applications will make up a growing proportion of the art and entertainment produced in the future, as has already happened in the field of computer games. In view of the rapidly growing market share of computer games in the entertainment sector, it is somewhat surprising that the new interactive genre has received little serious scholarly attention, apart from numerous prophecies of doom from journalistic, political and educationalist circles about the glorification of violence. Here the phenomenon of the former ignorance of art and cultural studies about film and video repeats itself.

Claus Pias, Konrad Lischka and Andreas Lange of the Computer Game Museum in Berlin (which, alas, exists only in virtual space) are among the leading experts in Germany in this field. A survey of the growing production of artistic computer games was provided for the first time in the exhibition games - computerspiele von künstlerInnen (i.e., games – computer games by artists) in Dortmund in 2002, organised by Hartware Medien Kunstverein and the curators Iris Dressler, Hans D. Christ and Tilmann Baumgärtel.

Another successful event, which toured Germany, is the Computer Game Museum's pong.mythos, which traces the suggestive influence of the simple original computer game Pong on art and presents the most various inspired by it. The giving of the International Media Art Award in 2003 to the Pong inspired games installation Pain Station (2001), created by the former KHM students Volker Morawe and Tilman Reiff and displayed at the games exhibition, attests to the increasing attention being paid to artistic computer games at international festivals and exhibitions.

A further creative use of computer games lies in the possibility of the player's himself creating new levels or changing the game environment. Machinima, a software that enables the user to develop his own 3-D films, is based on game engines such as that of the computer game Quake. There are now special festivals for Machinima. Friedrich Kirschner is a master in the Machinima scene; among his best-known works is Person 2184, a combination of real film and 3D. Kirschner shares his extensive knowledge at his web site Zeitbrand.

New political and cultural accents thanks to world-wide access

For many artists, the re-vitalisation of social utopias that resulted in particular from the rapid spread of the Internet in the mid-nineties seems to have miscarried in the twenty-first century. But if we look at the development of the media and their influence on the society of the twentieth century as a whole, we may nevertheless discern a trend towards the democratisation of global society, in spite of the undoubtedly deserved criticism of the media.

The Syrian Revolution 2011 at Facebook, Screenshot Events such as the revolution in the Arab world would have been impossible without modern media such as the Internet and mobile phone. Facebook sites such as, for example, The Syrian Revolution 2011, have an important function as information and communication platforms. Without such platforms, the wave of revolution reaching from Tunesia to Egypt could not have spread to other Arab countries at the pace that it has done.

The potential of the Internet to undermine the one-way dissemination of the mass media, to promote its own cultural and political interests, to communicate world-wide counter-information and to spread the moving image as a witness to events or of artistic work will, in spite of all justified scepticism, ensure the setting of new political and cultural trends.

Three immanent and burning problems will inevitably move more clearly into the focus of attention. First, the spread of the Net and access to it; Internet availability still ensures an American and European centrism and excludes not only regions all over the world but also certain social classes within the so-called "First World". Second, the increasing growth of information clutter, which seems to lead to a further consumerist, materially-oriented desensitising instead of to the accumulation of knowledge. And third, a problem that currently threatens to become ever more menacing: Who controls the Net? Will the wide open spaces of the Internet soon be a thing of the past? Will telecommunication, software companies and governments in future arrange for rigid control of content, as is already standard in China and other countries? Will there be a two-class society in future in which the rapidity of Internet traffic depends on the size of the user's purse? And will our private sphere become increasingly transparent?

It will be up to us, and especially to the programmers, designers, artists and activists, whether we retain the freedom of the Net and create critical alternatives, or whether we cede the field to the global players.

Monika Fleischmann and Ulrike Reinhard (eds.): Digitale Transformationen - Medienkunst als Schnittstelle von Kunst, Wissenschaft, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Whois Verlags- und Vertriebsgesellschaft, Heidelberg, 2004), ISBN: 3934013384

Konrad Lischka: Spielplatz Computer. Kultur, Geschichte und Ästhetik des Computerspiels (Heise Verlag – Telepolis, 2002), ISBN 978-3882291933
Peter Zorn
The author is a filmmaker, producer, and media art curator. He is also co-founder and chairman of the Werkleitz Center for Media Art in Saxony-Anhalt, a member of the executive board of the Werkleitz Biennale/Festival and initiator of the Werkleitz Professional Media Master Class and the European Media Art Networks (

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
February 2008, updated in August 2011

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