Sungkuk Park
2020.07.21
Critique
Seamless Society

Text. Sungkuk Park

I’d like to ask you a question, I am referring to you reading the article on the web browser: How many hours a day do you spend checking on your social media, watching YouTube and playing mobile games? A phone application can count how many hours are spent on unproductive activities within 24 hours; it classifies and records the hours we spend on every mobile app. phone app. However the logging¹ will not be able to help you get rid of your time-wasting habit because highly developed technology is in extreme competition to catch your eyeballs on every digital device.

LIVE-ISH is a live stream and web publication work by Jenny Rodenhouse, a Los Angeles based media artist, designer and researcher. This work consists of three episodes: EP1: CUCUMBER KOOL-AID: THE RISE OF ESPORT LIVESTYLES, EP2:AR-TV, and EP3: PAIRINGS. In cooperation with many designers and researchers Rodenhouse explores within this work the “livestyle” concept, newly named by her, this “livestyle” represents the new lifestyle emerging from live stream media, ranging from game, to show, exhibit and performance.

From lifestyle to livestyle

“Lifestyle” became a popular term after successful businesswoman Martha Stewart commercialized ways of living including cooking, gardening and interior designing under the name Lifestyle in the 1990s. By appropriating the word, Rodenhouse has created “livestyle” to indicate the experience of purchases which take place constantly through a screen, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She says that such “experiences that are found, activated, watched, played, shared, tracked, favorited, followed, friended, and designed by ‘user experience’ (UX) designers” in commercial companies.

The effort to classify and control user experience had already started before Google launched their search engine. This trend is currently moving into the next phase using live stream technology. Previously, the experience on the web was to provide content that was divided and segmented across multiple pages. Now the content is consumed while centering around an endlessly continuous feed. For example the core experience of the TikTok app (also called Douyin) is to get an endless number of video feed recommendations by simply swiping from bottom to top. This experience has an important characteristic referred to as “seamlessness.’’

LIVE-ISH, EP3: Pairings, 3-The Live Spin Cycles Sessions: a set of live performances, 2019 - ongoing, courtesy of the artist Jenny Rodenhouse

Seamlessness

The contemporary world has a new taboo named the “interrupted experience.” Urban people cannot imagine the internet disconnected. However, we recognize what has been taken for granted, the disconnect, when we experience WIFI interruption on the subway. The edge is the “seam.” A “Seam” is the stitched part of clothing. “Seamless” is an adjective to indicate an “experience without interruption,” a quality experience without any disconnection, just as it is hard to see the seam where the material meets or connects on well-made clothes. In the gaming area, a “seamless” experience is well displayed in open world games. Game players exploring a virtual world do not want to wait to move to another area after they complete a mission. For the last 10 years open world games like Grand Theft Auto V (2013) and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017) have had a strong showing in the market. These games minimized the loading time between different areas in the games, meaning they realized a “seamless world.”

Likewise, LIVE-ISH realizes feeds created with exhibit content using Infinite Scroll on a web browser. The Infinite Scroll function is technically not very special: when a user fully scrolls down the scroll bar the system observes the event on the page and then provides new content on the same page. In fact the special point of this work to be noted is that the artist expresses “seamlessness,” which is the raison d’etre of this technology, to provide seamless content consumption. Convenience for users which provides sensuous pleasure, is not the final goal of “seamlessness”. Strengthening of the “seamlessness” experience is a tool to exploit the time and cognitive resources of consumers who are obsessed with constant consumption. As a result commercial companies benefit through profit from advertisements. Retention is an indicator in the game industry, demonstrating how long a game can hold players in the game. “Seamlessness” serves this indicator. Seamlessness is just a tool for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) on the web browser too.

SEO

Successful launch of a website or mobile game means surviving the advertisement market or app ecosystem occupied mostly by giant platform holders like Google, Facebook and Apple. The only key to survival is to attract new users by being exposed through a search engine or featured algorithm. This depends on which site or game is placed first in the results when we search for a word. For example, if a game is exposed in a list of “Popular Games,” or in the top 10 or 100 in a certain category, there is a significantly higher chance that a user will download it, which then produces a profit.

What decides the order of the exposed sites, apps, games and recommendations from the word inserted in a search? This is determined by the search algorithm or recommendation algorithm. The competition among platform customers to be chosen by an algorithm happens every minute and every second on Google Play and Apple App Store. This algorithm is protected by strict technology security. The worst possible threat to the competition would be the emergence of someone who uses an algorithm for personal purposes to send a message or content and in turn receives an enormous benefit.

Such persistent and fierce competition among between corporations sacrifices users and players in the end. To obtain virtual goods in the game or even play one more game, you must be exposed to in-app advertising for at least 10 to 20 seconds. It has been years since some companies started focusing on hyper casual games that aimed for profit from the in-app advertisement. Machines do not experience fatigue, they can run continuously 24/7, and thus this “seamless experience” interrupts the circadian rhythm of humans as an organism.

Jenny Rodenhouse, Circadian Rhythm: Twitch While you twitch, Video Game, 2020, Courtesy of the artist

Research Image for the work Circadian Rhythm: Twitch While you twitch (2020)

Circadian rhythm

The “Circadian rhythm” is a biological clock in the human brain that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats every 24 hours based on our brain. Jetlag after a long-distance travel shows how our circadian rhythm can be interrupted. In the era of live stream, without much travel the biological clocks of individuals are constantly interrupted. Modern people wake up in the morning with their mobile devices, they send and receive emails and messages on Slack at work, and then after work return home to again check out Instagram and TikTok feeds, watch Twitch game streams and fall asleep to YouTube real-time trending shows. Exposed to an endless amount of content, humans always lack sleep.

The player character in Rodenhouse’s game Circadian Rhythmz, is a red translucent circle, tagged with “HYPNAGOGIC JERK.” The game is all about controlling HYPNAGOGIC JERK, jumping and wandering around in the rectangular world. By borrowing the style from platformer games the artist presents us with an individual living in the time of live stream, living in the game loop, operated by the rendering game engine Unity.

The player hears a “lo-fi sound” that fills the rectangular space of the game. “Lo-fi” stands for low fidelity, in which sound quality is reduced or mixed with other sounds like rain or waves, intended to give a sense of analog or to attract less attention from the audience. Such sounds are uploaded or live streamed usually with a title “best music for -…ing,” and without an ending. Lo-fi sound is used as a painkiller to endure studying or working on “boring as if it would never end” tasks, or just to kill tedious time. That is, it is not sound for appreciation, it is only a tool.

The objects as part of the background give the player pareidolia. When the player gets close to an object by pressing the keys “A”, “D”, and “space”, the hypnagogic character’s eyes grow big and round to alert the player. During the endless play when the character falls down into the bottom of the screen the game is reset and repeats the same endless game loop. It reminds us of the punishment of Sisyphus. All the settings make the player feel like she sees herself moving around from one streamed platform to another, or that she herself is the streamer. The division between the streamer and the audience is not clear, this also makes the game experience ambiguous.

Mukbang(foodstream) and sleepstream

It is hard to tell streamers real lives from those on their live stream. Game stream in particular is completed within one or two hours. As presented in a TV show From Start Till Clear, it is not surprising that a streamer plays dozens of hours without any sleep. For a long stream, the streamer eats delivered food in front of the camera (foodstream). Sleep content (sleepstream) has long been mainstream in the stream world. Eating and sleeping, the activities that were once in a private area away from public eyes have become the objects for a show that produce profit in real time.

Can each one of us as individuals resist this new type of lifestyle? The essay by Rodenhouse, part of the LIVE-ISH project, gives a somewhat pessimistic answer: "Through the screen, we have made ourselves portable, copyable, predictable, cheap, and therefore expendable." It is too early to decide what the artist intends in the project because at the moment the next work EP3: PAIRINGS (2019-) is being livestreamed on Twitch. Still, we should keep in mind that nobody can be sure that this episode will be the last one.

Sungkuk Park is a game programmer and game critic based in Berlin. Park has contributed articles to Misulsegye art magazine in South Korea in South Korea. His articles include Game as an Exhibition, Exhibition as a Game, and Possibility of Impossibility of Art Game. He is currently training to combine gameplay and visual technology with a focus on animation and VFX (visual effects).

  1. an activity to record the status of a system or operation information in chronological order while the system is running

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