Çatalhöyük in Second Life, Fall 2009

Spring_in_Catalhoyuk_001

Once again Spring has come to Çatalhöyük! We’ve removed all the snow and icicles and the tell is green and grassy. Work has started up again, and we’re lucky enough to have a class dedicated to “Serious Games” working on the site, as well as undergraduate research apprentices through Berkeley’s URAP program.

We have a number of great projects planned, including exploring some of the new ideas about architecture that came up during the 2009 field season with wooden floors and second (and third!) stories on the houses.

We have never had such a large group working on the island before, so we started to formalize some of our procedures. While we may elaborate on the document at a later time, here is our Archaeological Building Protocol for Second Life.

Building archaeological sites and objects in Second Life can be a powerful visualization tool for archaeological research. On OKAPI island we strive to further archaeological visualization while integrating a substantial public outreach component to our research.  In Second Life, as with all archaeological reconstructions, it is especially important to maintain interpretive transparency and authorship. Additionally, we work in a large and changing research team and need to maintain the ability to edit all objects on the island to preserve existing work as the team changes.

To this end, we have established building protocols for building on OKAPI island in Second Life. We believe that these protocols not only apply to our particular reconstruction, but should be applied more broadly for archaeological site construction using the Second Life toolkit. By applying these protocols a maximum of contextual information, authorship, and interpretive surety is maintained. Additionally, we believe that all objects should be copyable generally, and specifically repackaged for consumption and use off the island. In this way, our work and interpretations live beyond the relatively limited life of this particular reconstruction.

Picture 1

OBJECTS

Objects should have the following permissions set:

X = checked, 0 = not checked

X Share with group
0 Allow anyone to move
X Allow anyone to copy
X Show in Search
0 For Sale

Next Owner Can:

X Modify
X Copy
X Resell/Give Away

Objects should have the following fields filled out:

Name: Catalhoyuk _____________

Description: Short interpretive paragraph, followed by specific image or text citation.

TEXTURES

Textures should be uploaded with their Name and Description intact with the same citation information. After uploading, immediately enter your inventory, where the texture should be highlighted. Open the Inventory Item Properties and set:

X Share With Group
X Allow Anyone to Copy

Next owner can:

X Modify
X Copy
X Resell/Give Away

In other exciting news, the Archaeologies article is live! It is on Springer’s Online First section and it should be Open Access. Please let me know if you have any problems downloading the pdf.
(Re)Building Çatalhöyük: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology

(Re)Building Çatalhöyük: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology

I submitted the final version of my Archaeologies journal article today, through their digital editorial manager.  It is a reworked version of a paper I wrote for the World Archaeological Congress last year in Dublin and it will be my first official publication.  Many thanks to Krysta Ryzewski, the editor of the volume, for organizing the session and accepting my paper!  Also thanks to Ms. Lei-Leen Choo who lended her exacting eye to proofreading it and asking all the right questions about the content.

Already I can see the many ways in which the article is lacking and it feels dated even after only a year.  Heck, even the images that I included…the reconstruction houses on Okapi island don’t even look like that anymore!  It is probably good to be able to fix scholarship in time, but that doesn’t make it much more comfortable.  I hope Michael Shanks is kind in his introductory comments–fingers crossed. I am a bit uncomfortable with some of the traditional forms of publishing, but I was delighted to see Springer’s copyright policy:

Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress The copyright to this article is transferred to Springer (respective to owner if other than Springer and for U.S. government employees: to the extent transferable) effective if and when the article is accepted for publication. The copyright transfer covers the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the article, including reprints, translations, photographic reproductions, microform, electronic form (offline, online) or any other reproductions of similar nature. An author may self-archive an author-created version of his/her article on his/her own website and his/her institution’s repository, including his/her final version; however he/ she may not use the publisher’s PDF version which is posted on http://www.springerlink.com. Furthermore, the author may only post his/her version provided acknowledgement is given to the original source of publication and a link is inserted to the published article on Springer’s website. The link must be accompanied by the following text: “The original publication is available at http://www.springerlink.com”. Please use the appropriate DOI for the article (go to the Linking Options in the article, then to OpenURL and use the link with the DOI). Articles disseminated via http://www.springerlink.com are indexed, abstracted, and referenced by many abstracting and information services, bibliographic networks, subscription agencies, library networks, and consortia. The author warrants that this contribution is original and that he/she has full power to make this grant. The author signs for and accepts responsibility for releasing this material on behalf of any and all co-authors. After submission of this agreement signed by the corresponding author, changes of authorship or in the order of the authors listed will not be accepted by Springer.

The original publication (will be) available at www.springerlink.com.  Barring something horrible, it will be published in the December 2009 edition of Archaeologies.  Here’s a link to the self-archived author version, sans images:

(Re)Building Catalhoyuk: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology

I would love to get any and all feedback y’all had to offer on it.

I am cooking up a much more in-depth article, so watch this space!

Basket Weaving at Çatalhöyük

I uploaded the above test clip for the longer machinima that I posted about a little while ago.  It took an immense amount of work to get this far, and this is only a tiny clip of a somewhat awkward avatar doing a single animation.  I used Jing for the video capture and downloaded Soundflower for the system audio redirect.

I think I’ve complained before about having a hard time finding a variety of avatars on Second Life.  Well, this lady is definitely in a different  mode than my usual avatar.  “Wearing” an identity like this one is deeply uncanny, and the reactions and perceptions of other people you meet in Second Life are absolutely different.  I decided to follow a fairly popular strain of visual interpretation at Çatalhöyük in dressing her as a goddess figurine in the bandeau that I made for a decidedly younger character.

Once again, the exercise of recreating this small scene raised more questions than it answered:

She’s weaving reeds, so it must be summer.  Were there cicadas?  Yes.  Why would she be doing this inside by firelight during the summer?  It would be excruciatingly hot and smoky.  What about her vision?  I’ve put her in a less than optimal situation for weaving, that’s for sure.   Why isn’t there anyone with her?  Could she hear other people?  Maybe sheep! We’ll add some sheep sounds. I think she’d be humming to herself.  But what sounds?

It’s a lot of interpretive responsibility, wearing these second skins.

More Projects Than Time

Kabyle House
Kabyle House

One of my least favorite traits is overcommitment–meaning that I always commit to too many conferences/papers/projects and something always falls by the wayside.  My batting average is pretty good, but I still swing at the air a bit more than I’d like.

So, while I have the attention of the Cal community, I’d like to let one of my pet projects escape and maybe be picked up by someone who can properly feed and nurture an honors thesis out of the thing.

I’ve been intending to reproduce Bourdieu’s Kabyle House in Second Life as a fun exploration of digital habitus, with the attendant theory in scroll-overs, but I just don’t have the time.  If anyone would be interested in this project, drop me a line.  Or just do it yourself, and let me know about it!

Popular Online Visual Aesthetics

Bone Bead

Radical remediation, you say?

What’s odd is how ridiculously fun making this image was, and how it felt slightly transgressive.  Would I do the same with a photo of a skeleton?  With an assemblage from a Hansen’s disease settlement? This is actually fairly sedate; I could have added dancing kittens and diamond dollar bill signs.

When you make a photo “bling” on Blingee, it automatically saves it to the broader social network–what will people (probably mostly children and young adults) think when they see this next to more typical photos of grinning friends and anime characters?

More broadly, I wonder about this moment in internet aesthetics and whether it has more implications for visual representation in both the personal and professional realms.

I’ve never played World of Warcraft, mostly because I want to finish my dissertation someday, but partially because I never found it very appealing.  Frankly, it looks like a mess to me, but now I wonder if I just didn’t see the internal visual logic behind it.  Now that I’ve been in Second Life long enough to understand the importance of proper avatar maintenance, I can see how easy it is to end up with leopard skin and multicolored eyes.

This isnt my avatar, but you get the idea.
This isn't my avatar, but you get the idea.

As a sidenote, this person would actually get taken more seriously within Second Life than a tenured professor in a “newbie” skin.  An interesting commentary on this phenomenon is here, a commentary on the growing phenomenon of educators in Second Life and their conduct therein.

Regardless, it’s always interesting to perform these kinds of visual experiments to see how archaeological photos actually form the performance of our profession.  And I’d love to see more blingee archaeological photos.

Fake Dead People

joey-ramone-doc-martens

What exactly is the agency of the virtual non-human human? This question hit me when I was in the midst of editing what is shaping up to be my first publication, (Re)Building Çatalhöyük: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology, a text refashioned from my more stridently titled paper presented at the World Archaeological Congress, Get Real: A Manifesto for Virtual Reality in Archaeology.  In this paper I establish Second Life as a pretty good venue for changing the way we reconstruct archaeological sites and examine the use of avatars and non-player characters (NPCs) in these reconstructions. My good friend (and professional copy editor!) Lei-Leen had done me the favor of proofing it and she highlighted my use of “person” while I was discussing these NPCs.  Certainly these people-created constructs were not people themselves.

In the paper I argue against the creation and use of NPCs in virtual archaeological reconstructions:

NPCs are “non-player characters,” entities generally created as a kind of set dressing, present to answer scripted questions about the reconstruction, or to provide ambiance. This tends to bring out the worst in reconstructive impulses; in one example, Julius Caesar reclines on his couch, reciting information about his villa to the user. A recent simulation of an African American site in Oakland, California contained prominent members of the community who stood by the side of the road to robotically impart their knowledge when approached by the user’s avatar. Turning people of the past into mere mouthpieces for their architecture diminishes the rich potential of reconstructions to impart information about complex lifeways. Using programmable objects such as the previously mentioned mano and metate allows avatars to act as their own guides to the past, populating the re-created ancient landscape with avatars of people interested in the past, interacting with artifacts and taking on roles suggested by these artifacts. This is simple for archaeologists who are accustomed to telling stories through objects and adds another level of interactivity to the virtual reconstruction.

I still believe this to be true, that fundamentally we are better off wearing Caesar’s crown for ourselves rather than asking a poor simulacrum about the weather in the Republic.  Thinking of Caesar as a non-player character in history is a stretch by any means.  But game developers (and digital archaeologists) will probably not stop populating virtual worlds with fake people.  These NPCs are nonhuman manifestations of a network of agents (polygons, “modern” humans, fiber-optics, and the dead person herself) and the relationships between these agents and as a result should be studied as such.  But does this understanding of an NPC as a network make it ethical to take such liberties with the visages of the dead? What does it mean when Joey Ramone comes back from the dead to sell Doc Martins?

Of course, I could just be reading too much Latour.  Let’s ask Eliza.

* Hello
> How are you today.. What would you like to discuss?
* Latour
> Tell me more…
* Have I been reading too much Latour?
> Can you elaborate on that?
* He’s a modern social theorist.
> What does that suggest to you?
* That I should be reading him for my dissertation.
> Say, do you have any psychological problems?
* Possibly.
> Tell me more…

Consider it Burned.

burning-catal_002

I’m happy to report that the Burning Çatalhöyük was considered a success! We soldiered on despite considerable language and technology barriers, including a point where Karl Harrison was trying to speak about the buildings and was completely frozen.  We had a lot of visitors throughout the day, and about 30 for the main event, with numbers dropping off as it got later in the day in the rest of the world.  The exhibit will remain up at least through January, and you can still visit by downloading the Second Life software and loading this URL:

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Okapi/128/128/0

The day of the event I managed to upload a video of Michael House and Karl Harrison discussing the burning of Building 77,  which you can view on the large screen in-world, but  can also view on vimeo, linked above.

I’m so happy that people took a bit of time out of their day to come check out the burn.  Kris Hirst from Archaeology@about.com had an insightful review:

http://archaeology.about.com/b/2008/12/12/second-life-and-public-archaeology-burning-catalhoyuk.htm

Declan over at the Moore Groups Blog also visited, in larger-than-life-size form!

http://mooregroup.wordpress.com/2008/12/11/catalhoyuk-in-second-life/

I would like to ask that if you participated in Burning Çatalhöyük, or if you have since viewed the reconstruction on Okapi island, that you take this poll:

http://polldaddy.com/survey.aspx?id=c5393d48b2124280

Finally, I would like to thank the following for their help with Burning Çatalhöyük.  I couldn’t have done it without you! In no particular order:

Noah Wittman
Karl Harrison
Michael House
Lizzy Ha
Ruth Tringham
Jason Quinlan
Michael Ashley
Niema Razavian
The DeCal Students!
Dan E.
Burcu Tung
Daniel Bracewell