Videogames & The Afterlife

One of the main issues that Raiford highlights in his reading is about the physical waste humans produce and where they end up in society. Specifically, in his article, he explained that Atari’s brand took a large hit when they released a video game version of E.T. The game was predicted to make large sales because the movie had been so successful. However, the gameplay did not match the hype that was built around the game. With so many titles of the game not being sold, the company had no solution but to bury the games near an atomic bomb site near New Mexico.

Not only does the disposal of the game seem unreasonable but the location in which the company decided to get rid of the games adds to the mystery of the game. The game has been framed as a place of secrecy in where a company that was so technologically advanced had failed to create a product that would satisfy the interest of their consumers. How could a company that had been so talented in creating games fail to so terribly to produce a game? The mystery is real in which many people today still scavenge the location to see these multiple copies of E.T. in person to confirm the stories about Atari’s disposal. However, there is also a sense of nostalgia that arises from visiting the location. Many people visit the site who lust this physical reminder that Atari had taken a large toll on many gamers who were expecting to play a game that resembled the worth of Atari’s reputation. The location is literally an e-waste zone but to others has been a treasure waiting to be unveiled. A treasure that holds truths about Atari’s empire as a video game company and how that could be related to other companies today.

E-waste today is problematic in which companies are continuously producing products without considering the amount of space that is available to get rid of those products. For instance, Colombia University explains that 70 percent of e-waste is being transported to China and that has affected the health of many people in that country. People have been experiencing mutations from toxic chemicals that come from e-waste and the e-waste has been invasive as it makes its way into communities. These are some of the issues that are overlooked as a regular consumer that buys new products to replace those that are no longer functioning. Rather than recycling our products or finding ways to fix those products ourselves, we quickly seek new products.

As we continue to live in a world where technology is necessary for our lives, we need to find ways where we can minimize our production of products. If we continue to be naïve like Atari’s plan of producing a video game version of E.T., we can face larger problems that will lead to invasive e-waste. Technology can soon become more of an issue rather than a benefit to our lives.

Raiford Guins, “Landfill Legend” from Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife”.

Cho, Renee. “What Can We Do About the Growing E-waste Problem?”. Earth Institute. Colombia University.

Landfills are to video games as graves are to humans

In reading Landfill Legend for tomorrow’s class, I felt as though the way in which the author described the Atari video game and its general commercial demise mirrors that of an actual human life. The author speaks about three phases of the game’s life: pre-existence, commercial existence, and disposal and memorialization. There is talk about the conception and discussion of the game before it came to fruition, much like people discuss and then conceive a human baby. The author also discusses the “life” of the game, during which its value and purpose derive from the ability to generate profit. As soon as that ability is stripped, or in this case was never realized, the “life” of the game is ended and then needs to be dealt with.

It is at this point when the comparison of the video game to a human life is most apparent. In describing the role of the landfill in which the video games were deposited, the author calls it a “nondescript marker: a final resting place that propels us backward to learn more about why products were buried, and how they continue to reach beyond the grave and fascinate us decades after” (Guins, 209). This is much like the function of a grave, from which a haunted spirit “emerges” to remind us of past events and or human mistakes made throughout history. Just as a “writer, musician, actor, or porn star, E.T’s fame lives on long after its demise” due to the “memorialization of its burial” (Guins, 210). In this way, the author directly likens the burial of a video game in the landfill to the surviving legacy of a human public figure, as “its afterlife status as memorialized object, particularly that the legend refuses to lie dormant” has survived similarly to how the legacy of a prematurely-ended human life might have been. It is almost as if, given the way the game was hastily generated and rapidly devalued during its time on the market, the essence or spirit of Atari’s ET will not let us forget how the potential of the game was precluded by human haste and greed for profit.

Toy Story: The Uncanny Valley of Non-Robots

This will be a little bit of a stream of consciousness post. I defend this by stating that, in sorting through the ideas of discarded trash, the working through of ideas related to nostalgia and the “social death” of late-capitalist waste, incurs a kind of necessary airing out, an inherent kind of decluttering (Guins 225).

My Haunted Media project kind of builds on Raiford Guin’s work on the “afterlife” of video-games in its treatment of objects as imprintations of humanity. (Which, as a side note, I wonder to what extent Guin’s is using or employing afro-pessimism’ terminology of social death that occurs in Orlando Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death. I was only previously familiar with that phrase through works in Africana courses).

My point in this is that I’ve always read the term social death in relation to humans. So for the term to refer to discarded emblems of humanity, the objects left after us, is a complicated reframing process for me.

To what extent are “objects” ever socially alive? When they’re in use by the humans who maintain their necessity and “use-value” (Guins 226). Guins sort of eludes to the fact that some objects may become more “alive” when they’re dead, they incur a kind of legacy value in our eyes as consumers.

But I’m more curious about this idea that we look at objects as somehow sentient, as having this kind of personified relation to us. Especially when thinking about the “uncanny valley,” I wonder to what extent that term necessarily only applies to robots.

The first thing I conjure in my mind is the series Toy Story, specifically the last movie in this trilogy. The audience of children and adults alike were forced to watch childhood toys face the only immortality objects can truly have–the decomposition of their use to humans (Guins 223-225). Many characterize the last Toy Story movie as frankly depressing and discomforting.

I myself experienced this, recalling my own shorn-headed barbies and dust covered baby dolls that lay in piles somewhere to mold in a storage bin. The idea that the objects we have fondness for somehow undergo an emotional abandoning, a kind of killing, I think represents perfectly this notion of the uncanny valley.

My questions following Game After are to what extent can we come to empathize, as Guins seems to show, with objects? And how do our notions of temporality and self become bound in the materiality of the objects our hands ply on a daily basis?

In this class we’ve talked a lot about “keeping people alive” through technology such as AI, but not so much about keeping the physical manifestation of someone alive. I think it is very interesting that the only time the physical (or representation of physical) body is important in remembering the dead is when the dead person is a celebrity. For some reason seeing the physical representation of a dead celebrity whether on stage at a concert or in a movie does not seem as strange as if that person where to be a deceased loved one. For example, in the Black Mirror episode Be Right Back Martha buys and interacts with a re-creation of her boyfriend Ash. It was really unsettling for me to watch how their relationship progressed but reading the articles about Tupac and Carrie Fisher performing after their death seemed very normal to me. I wonder if this is because we do not actually see celebrities as real people and are able to separate them from the rest of the population. For all I know no one has tried to create holograms of their deceased loved ones to have at the dinner table.

The other thing I thought about during these readings was related to my Haunted Media Project. In the tributes I found for Robin Williams one of his characters was almost always referenced and I felt as if that was a way for him and his legacy to be kept alive in the eyes of his fans. Maybe this is why it would not be strange to see stars like Carrie Fisher is movies posthumously since we don’t actually see her in the Star Wars films we only see her character.

Parasociality or just sociality? Quotidian Occurrences of “(Estranged) Familiarity”

Though all of the pieces we read for today have to do with celebrity culture, I’d like to move the focus of this discussion for a moment away from celebrity deaths. Predominantly because, when discussing parasociality invovled with phenomenon like holograms and the utilization of soundbites from dead people, I think we can apply these instances to more quotidian occurrences as well.

Case in point: the mutual friend. Many people in my experience accumulate a wide variety of “mutual friends” via Facebook, Instagram, etc, who they have never met, but nonetheless develop a somewhat tangential relationship with. We become aware of significant or insignificant moments in their lives, their political opinions, their food preferences, date of birth, etc. But the relationship is, to an extent, one dimensional. We cannot conceptualize their “humanity” in its entirety, because they are, and in most cases, will always be, a relational “photograph,” or rather, profile picture to us. Alexandra Sherlock dwells on the notion of para-sociality within celebrity culture, and the way this forms a continuity with Walter Benjamin’s anxieties regarding “aura” and “authenticity” (Sherlock 168). But what if our notion of a person’s “aura” in fact obliterates their entire material reality? How is “aura” defined? In relation to the intrinsic object or to the crowd-sourced perception of the object?

What I mean to say is, to what extent is our real presence actually not that significant in the grieving process for tangential acquaintances? Are we always mourning the holograms of one another if all we are, initially, is holographic to one another? This might be one of those theoretical worm holes that has no end of holes and no resolutions.
But perhaps my conception of parasociality is somewhat skewed. It’s a complex definition that is increasingly complicated by what we are defining as simply “social.”
When I think of the wide majority of my relationships now, many of them have moved from the explicitly social realm to the para-social.

Death for profit

The readings for Wednesday’s class reminded me of the central argument of my haunted media project: the commodification of celebrity death. Just as everything during the celebrity’s life is amount the money and profit which they can make, so is everything after the celebrity’s death. My Haunted media project spoke largely about how there are many theories regarding the death of members of the 27 club, suggesting that their deaths by substance abuse or suicide were actually a business move to capitalize on their fame at the time. While the readings for Wednesday did not approach this subject directly, they do address the fact that celebrities and public figures do make money after they die, and often more money than they made when they were alive.

While I initially found it off-putting that people were fighting over the rights to the images, voice recordings and catch-phrases of the dead, I have to admit I now do not find it surprising. In this capitalist society, in which everything is fast paced and money focused, people will turn whatever they can into a profit. In the case of Marilyn Monroe, the number of people claiming rights to her estate and/or aspects of her identity were numerous. Being that she was a public figure, who has survived the past half a century through video and graphics, Monroe’s network while she was alive reached thousands of people. The claims made by the children of Monroe’s photographers are only taking place because of the money involved. Without the promise of profit through media and market, I doubt these individuals would have come forward to claim something mundane. However, the value assigned to images in our digital generation is far too great to let it go without claiming the rights to someone’s image.

This brings me to two questions which I will leave here:

  1. Who owns your face/biometric data? Does the answer change if you call it one thing or the other?
  2. In submitting yourself to the public eye and the work of consumption during their lives, do celebrities not also surrender themselves to the greater public in death?

more questions than answers

I’ve already written extensively for this class about Lil Peep’s death (which I think is one of the more interesting recent celebrity deaths in terms of what it did for his image),  and since that’s what I would’ve written about, I’ve decided to take a different approach and attempt to articulate a couple of questions and/or hypotheses related to celebrity deaths.

  1. Q: Many of the stars discussed in the readings posthumously glowed-up. Superstars in life, they became legends in death. But where is the line? How do we know who might become more than they ever were and who might experience a more modest glow-up? H: Superstars are rare in life, as is enormous wealth. Shocking deaths are less rare but they are shocking. When an immensely wealthy superstar is one of the loudest voices in the loudest generation at the time of his/her shocking death, he/she becomes immortalized, vaulted to almost godlike heights.
  2. Q: Many now-legendary individuals have died unrecognized. Is legend-status or even just fame still attainable for those that die unrecognized in today’s fast-paced celebrity culture? H: Today’s culture isn’t slowing down for a thing. Even becoming a celebrity seems to require some form of previous recognition and the only unknown-to-celebrity jumps we see anymore tend to reside in globally witnessed tragedies. Even posthumously becoming a B-list celebrity like Peep takes a lifetime loyal, even cult-like following and peer recognition. The inevitability of life moving on and more information flying in to replace the information about us as soon as we die could be playing a major role in our constant self-promotion (via social media, etc) and partially explain rises in anxiety and depression among young people.

An Elegy to Mortality

“Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art.” (15)

“To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability.” (15)

As bleak as it sounds, we are always getting older, stepping closer towards death. And whether you like it or not, there is no pill, diet, or exercise in the world that will stave off the eventual decay of our organic bodies. Time continues to steadily move forward no matter if we are ready or not. That being said, we as a species have always found methods to record and archive our lives for future generations.

Photography presents an opportunity for us to immortalize a brief second in our own history and freeze that moment full of emotion and narrative. Early photography provided people a tangible representation of a memory or moment. But like memory itself, the physicality of the photo paralleled the body- aging and eventually decaying, mortal. Even the best methods of preservation cannot stave off eventual decay of old film. However, with the prominence of digital photography and online media, we are immortalizing the mortal and giving eternal life to the memories these photos contain.

I titled this post “An Elegy to Mortality” because photographs, specifically ones that have been digitized and posted online or saved to the cloud, allow these captured stills to live on seemingly forever. Nothing is mortal anymore because it can be archived online as long as “online” exists. Though we can never truly relive a moment in our lives, digital photography, more so digital media as a whole, is the closest we can come to immortalizing events in our lives. This reading, and through writing my blog post, has made me question how I choose to remember significant life events. I know that photography, especially digital photography, allows me to never forget. But is that how I want to live? Always “remembering the good old days”? Always fondly looking back at “the hey day”? While I will still continue to take photos, I believe this article has made me realize that it is better to let time take you with it than fight against it. Being mortal means living in the moment and not letting the past keep you from moving forward.

taken from life…but in denial

I’m interested in how the dead are presented in preservations. The most obvious form of presentation would be in photographs like in ‘Taken from Life.’ That’s where I saw the most variance among the photographs. There is a general effort to beautify the dead that likely comes from our persuasion to deny death, however, its forms are many. In some photos, there is little effort to conceal the fact that the person is dead, they are simply made to look beautiful and the photographs are taken to preserve their likenesses. Other photos go to greater lengths, seeking to fool the viewer into believing the dead one is alive. In the article, all but one of this kind are group photos. It is as if the picture is aimed at preserving a past state of the group; a state where the deceased was a part of it. Even here, there are various approaches, as the young are presented as having fallen asleep while a kind of voyeuristic beauty is bestowed unto reclining young women. This isn’t to suggest that the Victorian era upper classes were full of necrophiles, but rather to postulate that the deceased were often presented in idealized states in these photographs, often going so far as to glow in crisper color than the others by nature of their stillness. This idealism is so contrary to death that it might ease the grieving process. Nowadays, there’s no need for it as most of us are photographed daily, and this has made us averse to the process, but I’d have a hard time believing that these photographs were taken because the people were more comfortable with death.

Why Dead Photography?

After reading “Plato’s Cave” from On Photography, I could not help but think about the ways in which photography has revolutionized the way people interact with media today. With technology developing at a quick pace, society has become more dependent on the media in which some people live through the use of media. For instance, people have been able to create careers and full-time jobs using media such as posting simple posts on Instagram or having plain instructional videos on YouTube. Regardless of the media, all of them have a heavy reliance on photography.

One of the main elements that photography is able to do is that it “furnishes evidence (pg.5).” People engage with photographs and publicize them to gain some satisfaction that you are able to show proof of your life adventures. It is as if you need to have photographic evidence to make yourself a more credible individual. Plus, people can use these images to add to their status online by boasting about how “fit” or “fortunate” their lives are. This is one of the many ways how photography has changed the media. It enforces this online culture of rising above one to another in which you gain this elite status. Therefore, you find many individuals investing their time when taking a photo ensuring they have the perfect lighting, pose, colors, contrast, and etc. The culture of photography has become less about capturing moments but rather capturing quality.

However, not all individuals care about the quality, others just care about content. In the article, “Taken From Life: The Unsettling Art of Death Photography” by BBC News, the idea of taking photographs of the dead seems a bit odd. The Victorians were concerned about getting photographs of their lost ones in order to respect the dead. However, the mourning method does seem unusual in which they preserve the bad part about life which is death. Although in contemporary society we mimic a similar style of mourning by dressing up those who have passed away in their coffin, the idea of preserving a photograph of a lost one when they were not alive seems unnecessary. Why not take a photo of the individual when they were alive and preserving moments of happiness?

It does make sense that this is so odd to me because, in those times, death was a natural reoccurring event that happened in their homes. Therefore, my separation and uneasiness of death allow me to feel this way. However, that does not convince me that taking photographs of the dead is still reasonable. You could say that all the photographs of the dead are just another photograph of something that is absent. Nevertheless, if I were to find myself taking photos of the dead, I would probably be concerned with much of the many things that photography has turned into such as lighting, scenery, etc. I would be concerned with getting quality to create a story from the photograph.