The Fallacy of Nostalgic Materiality – Research Seminar

For the 2017-18 Transtechnology Research Seminar Series the aim was to do something a little different. This time it would take the form of a slow conference. In other words, it would be like a conference but stretched out over the span of an academic year with each “seminar” acting as an individual part of a conference.

Before the main sessions began each participant in the slow conference was asked to provide their own “Liebig card“. These were small cards that were originally used to help market the Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company and its products; later known as Oxo. These cards contained stories as well as historical or geographical factoids and have since become very collectable. The research group has a small collection of these cards, so it seemed appropriate to replicate this mode of presenting information. The one I created (seen below) didn’t relate directly to the subject that I was planning to present, but it did tie to my wider project. Plus the idea I had for the card was one I didn’t want to pass over.

Zelda_liebig_poster

Coinciding with the unusual approach was the unfamiliar focus of the seminar series; that being “Revisiting Ideoplasticity”. It was a term none of us were familiar with and one that we all struggled with. But it was a challenge, one which many of us benefited from, and resulted in productive research.

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Co-presenting with Becalelis Brodskis saw us brainstorming together, resulting in collaborative, yet distinct papers to present.

 

My interpretation of ideoplasticity, through the lens of my project, was to explore the implications of having a real city like London digitally remodelled as it would have been during the Victorian era and contextualised in a contemporary videogame; my case study being Ubisoft’s 2015 game Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Taking the physical and turning it into an idea, and conversely including different instances of memory made this a worthwhile instance worth further research.

It was during my research that I was able to expand the taxonomy of nostalgia via the inclusion of restorative and reflective nostalgia that will be present in my thesis, as well as unpacking the role of authenticity and how this differs from what is “real”. This also provided me with an opportunity to begin exploring the role of cultural memory and the role that media plays in how people engage with it.

For the presentation, I also captured some footage of Syndicate that ran in the background whilst other elements were being set up and people were taking their seats. This helped to give the audience a better visual idea of what it was I was referring to during my talk, plus it provided a gradual approach to starting my talk.

The paper that was presented for the seminar was written in a way that aimed to transition into a full paper later more easily. As a result, some parts were written with the aim of temporarily being cut, and others to be expanded upon further. This will feature in the Transtechnology Reader for 2017/18 which once again I will be designing.

Below is the abstract for the seminar:

This paper considers the interplay between digital materiality, representation of the past, and their connections to cultural memory and material evidence. It offers an exploration of the 2015 videogame Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (Ubisoft Quebec, 2015). Set in London in 1868 the game provides a digital recreation of the city for the player to explore. The videogame’s developers created an authentic, albeit inaccurate, representation of London and it is this distinction and what it means for those interacting with the videogame that I want to unpack in this paper.

The discussion explores the manifestation of the ‘ideoplastic’ where the semiotics of Victorian London have been digitally remodelled. Allowances have been made to make the digital world seem “authentic” focusing on recognisable landmarks, yet –arguably– memory lies in the smallest of details. Therefore have Ubisoft just created a ‘theme park’ version of London, recalling the description of Disneyland by Jean Baudrillard (1994)?

Digital recreations of the physical architecture are not the only issue of concern with this example, as it also contains digital depictions of London life from the time. While the focus of the game revolves around a secret order of assassins, the narrative is propped up by documented events of the time and urban legends. Yet the developers have considered modern sensibilities regarding women and the treatment of subjects from the British Empire. Does this weaken the depiction of the era it is trying to create by seemingly overlooking the detestable, but prevalent, views that existed at the time, consequently failing to properly address them by assuming society has moved forward?

Does the experience that one has interacting incite an authentic response or does it create or reinforce false memories? In order to ascertain the extent of this, the paper will apply approaches outlined by Shinji Matsunaga (2016) to recognise how those interacting with these digital spaces do so in relation to the fictional actions occurring on screen. Conversely, though, the paper will subsequently query Matsunaga’s failure to address non-fictional settings, asking whether the theories he has identified are suitable for understanding the connection between actions taken in the physical space and corresponding digital space and how these are then interpreted and understood.

Keywords: Software Studies, Digital Materialism, Memory, Nostalgia

Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Matsunaga, S. (2016) ‘Did You Really Get a Mushroom?: Players’ Fictional Actions in Videogame Playing’, Aesthics: The Journal of the Japanese Society for Aesthetics, (20), pp. 89–102. Available at: http://www.bigakukai.jp/aesthetics_online/aesthetics_20/text20/text20_matsunagashinji.pdf (Accessed: 30 September 2017).
Ubisoft Quebec (2015) ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’. [Video Game] Ubisoft.

 

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