8-Bit Mystique: An Ingardenian Aesthetic Analysis of the Appeal of Retro Computer Games

8-Bit Mystique

Roman Ingarden and Our Times: An International Philosophical Congress • Uniwersytet Jagielloński, Kraków • April 12, 2021

ABSTRACT: Recent years have seen a revival of interest in 8-bit computer games developed in the 1980s, along with the rising popularity of “8-bit-style” or “retro” games that are created using current technologies but designed to imitate the look and feel of such historical games. Judged objectively, 8-bit games appear far more “primitive” than typical contemporary video games, which often include hyperrealistic 3D graphics, lush orchestral scores, and sophisticated literary plots. For this reason, some have suggested that 8-bit games are relatively deficient as works of art, with their resurgent popularity being understandable only as a form of nostalgia, as older gamers seek to revisit the experiences of their youth. Here, however, we draw on Ingarden’s thought to argue that 8-bit-style games’ supposed “crudeness” is not a weakness; rather, it is a form of indeterminacy that possesses rich artistic value and can give rise to singularly meaningful aesthetic experiences. By analyzing Ingarden’s account of how the recipient of a work of art “concretizes” a schematic construct by filling in areas of indeterminacy through imagination and judgment, it is shown that the act of playing an 8-bit-style game both allows and requires players to perform a kind of concretization that is impossible with more “sophisticated” contemporary games and which can give rise to uniquely enjoyable aesthetic experiences.

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Revisiting Ingarden’s Theoretical Biological Account of the Literary Work of Art: Is the Computer Game an ‘Organism’?

Horizon: Studies in Phenomenology 9, no. 2 (2020)

ABSTRACT: From his earliest published writings to his last, Roman Ingarden displayed an interest in theoretical biology and its efforts to clarify what distinguishes living organisms from other types of entities. However , many of his explorations of such issues are easily overlooked, because they don’t appear in works that are primarily ontological, metaphysical, or anthropological in nature but are “hidden” within his works on literary aesthetics, where Ingarden sought to define the nature of living organisms in order to compare literary works to such entities. This article undertakes a historical textual analysis that traces the evolution of Ingarden’s thought regarding the nature of the literary work of art as an organism-like entity and uncovers its links with the simultaneous development of his systems theory and its central concept of the “relatively isolated system”: for Ingarden, a literary work and an organism are each a systematically transforming, “living, ” functional-structural whole that comprises a system of hierarchically arranged and partially isolated (yet interdependent) elements whose harmonious interaction allows the literary work or organism to fulfill its chief function. Having completed that historical analysis, we test Ingarden’s assessment of works of art as organism-like entities in a novel context by investigating the organism-like qualities of the contemporary computer game; insofar as their AI-driven behavior displays a form of agency, such games might appear to be even more “alive” than traditional works of art. We show that Ingarden’s conceptual framework provides a useful tool for understanding the “organicity” of such games as works of art, despite the fact that they differ qualitatively from those art forms with which Ingarden was directly familiar.

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The Self-Revelation and Cognition of VR-Facilitated Virtual Worlds: Towards a Phenomenology of Virtual Habitation

Three Axes of a VR-Facilitated Virtual World

AVANT: Trends in Interdisciplinary Studies 11, no. 2 (2020)

ABSTRACT: In this text it is argued that immersion in virtual reality (VR) with the aid of contemporary VR equipment may offer access to novel types of virtual worlds that differ qualitatively from the “real” world and from other types of fictional worlds. The text begins by (a) distinguishing between VR systems, virtual environments, and virtual worlds; (b) showing how the virtual worlds facilitated by VR systems resemble and differ from the “virtual worlds” created in one’s mind when, for example, reading a novel or watching a film; and (c) identifying necessary and optional elements of a VR-facilitated virtual world. Employing a phenomenological approach that draws on the thought of Ingarden and Norberg-Schulz, it is shown that a visitor to a VR-facilitated virtual world can (and frequently does) shift his or her conscious attention along three different “axes”. First, one’s attention can move “horizontally” between the media that disclose the virtual world through different senses. Second, one’s attention can shift “vertically” between the virtual world’s different ontological strata, including its layers of myriad atomic stimuli; distinguishable elements that possess spatiotemporal extension; assemblages of elements that have a context and relations but lack individual meaning; glimpses that build up a lattice of meaning and contribute to one’s knowledge of the world; and the virtual world envisioned as a coherent mentally concretized whole. Third, one’s attention can shift “interspatially” between the many different overlapping constituent spaces of the virtual world, including its perceptual, concrete, natural, built, identifiable, technological, emotional, social, economic, political, cultural, ecological, and possibility spaces. This triaxial phenomenological framework can shed new light on the rich and diverse ways in which VR-facilitated virtual worlds manifest themselves as emergent wholes constituted within human consciousness; also, it suggests approaches by which visitors might more proactively mentally explore and come to inhabit such virtual worlds.

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Phenomenology of the Gameworld: A Philosophical Toolbox for Video Game Developers

Phenomenology of the Gameworld (front cover)

ISBN 978-1-944373-74-0 • Defragmenter Media, 2019 • 362 pages

Good video games transport us to incredible new worlds. We don’t just enter such unforgettable “gameworlds” when we play first-person RPGs with high-resolution graphics; even relatively simple 2D puzzle or strategy games with retro visuals can immerse players in worlds that are beautiful, terrifying, mysterious, or moving, that are brutally realistic or delightfully whimsical.

The process by which a particular gameworld emerges is a symbiosis between developer and player: the game system presents a carefully architected stream of polygons and pixels, which somehow leads the player’s mind to construct and explore an intricate world full of places, people, relationships, dilemmas, and quests that transcend what’s actually appearing onscreen.

This book is meant for developers who want to create games that will evoke richer and more memorable gameworlds in the minds of their players. Drawing on insights from ontology and philosophical aesthetics, it provides you with conceptual frameworks and concrete tools that will enhance your ability to design games whose iconic gameworlds encourage the types of gameplay experiences you want to offer your players.

Once you’ve undertaken this philosophical and artistic journey, you’ll never look at your games – or their gameworlds – in quite the same way again.

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Beyond Buildings: A Systems-Theoretical Phenomenological Aesthetics of ‘Impossible’ Architectural Structures for Computer Games

Beyond Buildings (figure)

In Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics: Volume 11, edited by Connell Vaughan and Iris Vidmar Jovanović • European Society for Aesthetics, 2019

ABSTRACT: This work draws on Ingarden’s systems theory to develop a phenomenological aesthetic account of the kinds of reason-defying buildings that cannot exist as physical structures in the real world but which are frequently encountered within the virtual gameworlds of computer games. Such “impossible” buildings might, for example, take the form of colossal biological entities or violate established principles of physics or geometry. First, the evolution of Ingarden’s systems theory is traced, and an account of his mature systems theory is presented: pivotal is his concept of the “relatively isolated system” whose contents are partially engaged with and partially sheltered from the external environment via the system’s complex array of semipermeable boundaries. By applying Ingarden’s thought in a novel way, a systems-theoretical phenomenological architectural aesthetics is then formulated that conceptualizes the “building” as a set of overlapping physical, informational, and psychosocial boundaries that generate interior spaces that possess rich structures and dynamics and mediate their occupants’ relationships with the world. Using this conceptual framework, it is shown how the systems-theoretical properties of real-world buildings and virtual gameworld buildings can (and often do) radically differ. Three types of “impossible” gameworld buildings are analyzed: (1) the floating castle that is a recurring element of fantasy games; (2) the shapeshifting haunted mansion that appears not infrequently in horror games; and (3) the high-tech facility that functions as the gigantic “body” of an AI, which is common in science-fiction-themed games. This aesthetic framework may be of value to game developers seeking to employ techniques of “hyperdeconstruction,” “hyperfolding,” or architectural posthumanization to design more memorable and meaningful gameworlds.

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Twarde światło i architektura kosmiczna: Analiza fenomenologiczno-estetyczna filmu Tron jako wzorca paradygmatu ‘Siatki Cyberprzestrzennej’

Twarde światło i architektura kosmiczna: Analiza fenomenologiczno-estetyczna filmu Tron jako wzorca paradygmatu ‘Siatki Cyberprzestrzennej’ (M. Gladden, 2019)

In Rejestry Kultury (Perspektywy Ponowoczesności, vol. 9), edited by Ksenia Olkusz, pp. 481-501 • Wrocław: Facta Ficta Research Centre, 2019

ABSTRACT: W niniejszym rozdziale przedstawiona zostanie fenomenologiczno-estetyczna analiza sposobu, w jaki użycie namacalnego, „ucieleśnionego” światła jako budulca architektonicznego w filmie Disneya Tron z 1982 roku przyczyniło się do założenia paradygmatu konstrukcji i wizualizacji immersyjnych światów elektronicznych. Paradygmat ten (Siatka Cyberprzestrzenna) pozostaje aktualny w dzisiejszej erze rosnącej popularności technologii rzeczywistości wirtualnej. Analiza obejmuje dwie części. Po pierwsze, rozważane będzie użycie „twardego światła” jako elementu architektonicznego w świecie elektronicznym, przedstawionym w filmie Tron. Druga część analizy obejmie sposób, w jaki użycie twardego światła w Tronie przyczyniło się do stworzenia jednego z podstawowych paradygmatów albo metafor konstruowania cyberprzestrzeni i wizualizacji środowisk wirtualnych, to jest, paradygmatu Siatki Cyberprzestrzennej.

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A Phenomenological “Aesthetics of Isolation” as Environmental Aesthetics for an Era of Ubiquitous Art

The Polish Journal of Aesthetics 49 (2018), pp. 11-25; MNiSW 2016 List B: 12 points

ABSTRACT: Here the concept of the human being as a “relatively isolated system” developed in Ingarden’s later phenomenology is adapted into an “aesthetics of isolation” that complements conventional environmental aesthetics. Such an aesthetics of isolation is especially relevant, given the growing “aesthetic overload” brought about by ubiquitous computing and new forms of art and aesthetic experience such as those involving virtual reality, interactive online performance art, and artificial creativity.

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