In America, Jean Baudrillard suggested that the mirror phase had "given way" to the video phase and the contemporary era of the screen image. But have we not changed again, reverted back to the mirror or at least mutated into a new hybrid of mirror and video?

There is a model for what we are attempting to describe here: the two-way mirror so adored by psychology practice. As children we play in these special rooms while the medical gaze and its recording devices sit quietly behind the silvered glass. Eventually, we learn of the duplicity, not unlike those moments in which we discover the fictions that are Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Michael Jackson's whiteness. Whenever in the same situation again, we are subconsciously aware of the mirror and wonder what lurks on the other side.

The regime of the screen intensifies, both in quantity and quality. The sheer number of screens increases beyond even that which Baudrillard could imagine. There is a viral proliferation of the screenal, vectoring beyond home (television) and work (computer) to infect every public space (monitor, jumbotron, electronic billboard, arcade game, etc.), and even the very flows of human movement themselves (laptop, PDA, cellphone).

But the nature of the input interface has changed as well, "democratized," a contagion of interactivity to match the proliferation of the screenal. Now we are all "creators," all able to see ourselves extended into the data networks of the ludic-virtual. In other words, all complicit in the creation of a new mirror — a slightly kaleidoscopic mirror, mind you — but one that captivates us like Narcissus long beyond that mirror phase of childhood.

Like the two-way sort used in psychology, however, this new era of the interactive is at once mirror and screen, at once opportunity for enclosed self-contemplation and open performance. For we all know what lurks behind the silvering of this new mirror and that is the gaze: sometimes manifest as benevolent glance and sometimes as cold, clinical, unblinking stare. Always performance.

Narcissus never suspected that Echo was swimming below the surface of the pool, but we know better.

* * *

There is a certain congruency here with videogames that allow one to toggle between first- and third-person perspectives. Vilém Flusser discusses the difference between line and surface and its implications for perception and thought, but, writing before the videogame revolution, neglects to consider the volumetric. All three appear in the planar form, but since Flusser distinguishes between line and surface, or text and image, it seems important to understand that the videogame is also of an altogether different character, for one actually enters its non-space to control the avatar during one's play.

This is not the same as a three-dimensional setting being reduced to the two-dimensional planar surface through perspectival optics, as with photography, film or television. In that case, one's vision identifies strictly with the point-of-view of the camera and one must imagine the depth of field that is represented on the surface. With the contemporary videogame, on the other hand, there is literally a three-dimensional non-space that has been mathematically modeled "behind" the screen. While the screen thus appears as a site of reduction, this is not due to the nature of cognitive engagement with this non-space, for we are continually monitoring multiple points-of-view as our bodily expertise increases in these ludic environments.

Admittedly, an entire history of static versus scrolling versus spatial gameplay environments needs to be told here, but suffice it to say that the emergence of the ludic subject from the primordial digital ooze of the surface to become volume is the most significant challenge to perception and thought since the invention of photography.

The split of the two-way silvering between mirror and screen is perhaps one way to understand this challenge to perception and thought, manifest in the ludic environment as the ability to instantaneously switch between the subject and object, between the I/je/? and the one/on/??? pronoun positions.

What of the you/tu/??

This was the opening in which wii would like to play // we don't have tickets found its niche. In "sprinting" the videogame 100-metre dash against a local, embodied competitor there was an explicit engagement with the you/tu/? at the nexus of I/je/? and one/on/??? positions. No, people didn't actually run, but yes, they did flail their arms, breathe heavy, and perhaps even shed a bead of sweat. No, people didn't face each other, but yes, through a Japanese interface both Chinese and English engaged amicably, not in translation but rather as a mediation.

And yes, in the process a temporary we/nous/?? was established: a micropolitics of the social body that first began with a politics of the moving and sensing animal body.

(a work-in-process between elaine w. ho and sean smith towards "17 days in beijing: screen of consciousness on the micropolitical," a text for public issue 40)


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