Worker - Athlete - Hacker

As I have mentioned earlier, the business model for the professional sports world is comprised of two components, or double-jointed: first, what we might call a capitalist component, in which the athletic worker class sells its labour to the capitalist owner who in turn provides the means of production — ie. the sports stadium or arena of competition — for uncertain game outcomes to be manufactured.

Simultaneously, to borrow Wark's framework, we have a vectoral class interest that seeks to capture the vectors of representation — ie. images, information, identities — that are produced in and around the uncertainty-of-outcome manufacturing process. This isn't necessarily straight "work" on behalf of the athlete, however, since the creative quality of the "hack" can impart sign value that raises the total value of the representation beyond pure commodity. While a Dwyane Wade dunk and a Tim Duncan layup are both worth two points in the uncertainty-of-outcome sense, the former's hack has far more value as it relates to television highlights, sports videogames, merchandise sales, etc.

Thus, we can say that the professional athlete of today becomes a hybrid of manufacturing and revealing, to use Heidegger's terms, which allows for the production of both the repetitive and creatively unique outputs. At the same time, the athlete has also become a technologized body, a cyborgian body, with the technologies enabling both the manufacturing and revealing tendencies.

Put another way, we can say that the vectoral class interest of the post-industrial age tends to outsource body movement, though this isn't the same outsourcing of body movement that the capitalist performs in exploiting the labour of the working class for commodity production. Rather, the worker-athlete-hacker exists in the paradox of sportocratic commodity production, wherein the value of the commodity lies in its creative uniqueness — in which case, however, it ceases to be a commodity. It is the legacy of commodity production that is the system stress in an economy that desires the uniqueness of the hack.

Revisioning Chess

Eye Level, the new blog of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, points us in the direction of the Ben Davis review of "The Imagery of Chess Revisited," currently on exhibit at the Noguchi Museum. Many very cool artistic interpretations of the chess set.

Man Ray
Silver Chess Set
The Museum of Modern Art

A sample from Davis' review:

[T]he "Chess" show points [to a] common interest: the mutation of traditional art forms by technology. You've got Man Ray's combination of reverence and technophilia, Calder's decorative sensibility combined with an eye for technical innovation and Noguchi's organicism intertwined with the polish of industrial design.

Chess — a mythic game but also one associated with cold scientific rationality — seems to have provided a field on which to wrestle with such tangled feelings about artistic modernization. It's an ambivalence Duchamp famously took to the next level.

. . .

Thinkers from Wittgenstein to Saussure used chess as a key metaphor to illustrate how meaning is produced. Like words, the values of chess pieces are not determined by any positive, intrinsic property, but by a set of arbitrary conventions. Change all the pieces on the board for stones and good players can progress just fine, because the specific pieces are only place-holders for certain functions.

Duchamp became influential for bringing this lesson of the chess board to the art world, showing that art, like chess, is a set of rules that functions independently of the positive properties of the pieces — replacing the art object with a bike tire or a bottle rack, for instance. Asking his friends and contemporaries to trade the traditional chess pieces in for their own inventions at the Julien Levy Gallery was, in a way, the beginning the infiltration of his ironic relation towards visual values into broader artistic discourse.

conceptualizing:// networked_performance

A conceptual framework I am borrowing from the networked_performance blog to help me with my thinking on Global Village Basketball and other networked elements of sport.

Networked Performance

Any of a number of approaches to performance that incorporates computer networks (the internet, wireless, telephone, or other) or a combination of networks in the creation or distribution of a work. Works may be any mode, format or combination, such as synchronous, asynchronous, ongoing or fixed duration, distributed, local, etc.

Distributed Performance

Music/Theater/Dance/Cinema. Occurs simultaneously in multiple locations via networked interaction. Physically dispersed participants coming together through the network. For example, the performers in two or more locations play to audiences in their performance spaces and simultaneously to worldwide Internet audiences by means of especially created websites.

Collective Net Performance

A network-enabled performance in which a group collectively activates or participates simultaneously in the performance experience. Can be local or distributed. This is how I understand the Global Village Basketball game.

Augmented Reality

Involves overlaying a virtual world on your view of the real world so that you experience both at the same time. Unlike virtual reality where you cut yourself off from the real world in order to immerse yourself in a computer generated virtual world.

Ubiquitous Computing

Ubiquitous computing seeks to embed computers into our everyday lives in such ways as will render them invisible and allow them to be taken for granted.

Flea, Basketball and Democracy

The NBA has a Blog Squad now, which I am sort of loathe to mention, since they don't seem to understand (or perhaps they wish to control) some of the basic characteristics of blogs, such as permalinks to individual posts and commenting. Nonetheless, there is a great outpouring of passion on the blog from Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who is a die-hard Lakers fan and is part of the Blog Squad. In an interesting post (which of course I can't link directly to), Flea reminds us that:

as is with jazz music

basketball, being america's greatest export

is the finest example of what is great about a democracy

people working together within a structure to accomplish something

but free to express their individual character as they like

to improvise on a theme

Oh yes, Flea, I'm feelin' ya! In fact, I've thought similar things here before on sB.


Many times I wondered with envy why I couldn't jam like jazz musicians are so often wont. Then I finally realized that jazz musicians probably thought the same thing about pickup basketball players. It's the same thing! Both create with a loose set of rules and peers that bring myriad skills to the mix. Where the jazz ensemble offers a pulsing bass to complement a burning sax, the cagers counter with sweet guard penetration for a no-look bounce pass to the backdoor cutter. Sometimes there's successes, sometimes there's failures. It's the same thing…

The brilliance of Flea's post (beyond its poetic structure), is its implicit recognition that there is something political about the way that basketball is played as a sport — specifically, something democratic. But I have to take issue with him for not taking the analysis one step further: it is PICKUP basketball that is the purest expression of what he is describing as democratic, not the hyper-controlled NBA variant that he is so fond of following.

Flea could have written his post in very dry English, with perfect Strunk and White grammar to boot. But he didn't — rather, he found the gaps and spaces in the structure of language to convey his ideas far more beautifully. Similarly, the pickup basketball player finds the gaps and spaces in the language of James Naismith to convey his ideas more beautifully.

Therein lies the true democratic potential of the sport, which I hope to articulate more clearly with Global Village Basketball.

Typing With Sound

Many sports videogame title offer a "create-a-player" module so that one can create a virtual character to compete in the game environment. The create-a-player module for EA Sports' NBA Live '06 is quite sophisticated, allowing one to customize the standard elements like height, weight, skill level, etc., but also skin tone, hairstyle, and choice of tattoo. Naturally, the icing on the cake for such a module is to allow for the individual's name and number to appear on the game jersey.

NBA Live '06, among other games, accomplishes this with a virtual keyboard that one "types" with the game controller, as seen below.

My question is: When are we going to take it to the next level of customization, and type with sound?

We have discussed already that the voice track for a sports title is made up of thousands of voice fragments variously stitched together and recombined. Would it not also be possible to record a library of phonemes and then use these to construct personalized names for the game, "spoken" by the game announcers?

First of all, when creating a player, you would be able to go through the existing rosters in the game to see if anybody had the same last name as you. If so, associate yourself with the last name voice file already in the system, and move on.

If not, then we use the alternative, a virtual keyboard similar to the one used for typing letters. The difference in this case, however, is that you are typing phonetic symbols. By mousing over the phonetic character on the keyboard, one would hear the phoneme being pronounced. Tapping the key would add it to your phoneme-chain display. Hitting a "play" button would allow you to hear the phoneme-chain being pronounced, with adaptive technology in place to "smooth" the phonemes together into one word. Saving it creates a unique last name voice file. Additional functionality might be put in place for advanced smoothing and tweaking of the pronunciation.

There is obviously little incentive for a company like EA Sports to have Marv Albert or whomever record every name that might possibly play the game. But there is an incentive for each individual player to have his or her own name in the library — the incentive of greater personalization. It would be advantageous for the game publisher to create an open web-based library for unique last name voice files (similar to what EA Sports did with golf course files in Course Architect) so that players could upload and share their creations, while others could see if their name was already in the system before creating one of their own — sort of a Web 2.0 perspective on sports games.

Of course, I have absolutely no idea of how to accomplish this technically, just that it, or something comparable, will happen soon. Maybe it already exists. If not, can a game programmer please contact me? ;)

Game Ejection

The Associated Press, via ESPN: "A fan was escorted from the [Air Canada Centre] after holding up a sign that read 'Raptor Killer' with a picture of Toronto general manager Rob Babcock."

Didn't this fan read the small print on the back of his ticket?