Alternative Cartographies

On the »mapping« projects »./logicaland« and »theyrule«,
presented at the Ars Electronica 2002 in Linz

Matthias Dusini
(published at springerin)

The collective simulation game »./logicaland« was developed by the Viennese graphic artists and programmers Maia Gusberti, Michael Aschauer, Nik Thoenen and Sepp Deinhofer at the Turin Biennale in the spring of 2002. The theme of this festival of contemporary art, initiated by Michelangelo Pistoletto, was »Big Social Game,« with the Internet chosen this year as host country. A reworked version of »./logicaland« was presented at the beginning of September at the Ars Electronica in Linz. Entitled »Unplugged,« the festival was dedicated to the question of to what extent the uneven distribution of information technologies excludes certain groups from access, and what opportunities can be found to uncover or to compensate for this gap between rich and poor countries.

»Social statistics and graphics pose a fundamental challenge to use. We are particularly interested in the culturally and politically diverse perspectives that come into play in various representations of the world. We planned to produce a collaborative model of the world, and in the process we stumbled upon the simulation models of the seventies,« reports Maia Gusberti. One of the best-known simulation models was the »World 3« model. It was developed for the publication »The Limits of Growth,« brought out by the Club of Rome (1974) in order to calculate the state of global resources. The Club of Rome was a group of independent scientists who were among the first to cast doubt on the optimistic view of progress that prevailed in the post-war period.

For its online game »./,« the Viennese Web Art group drew on the »Regional World« model, the source code for which was available on the Internet, making it suitable for adaptation as a community game. »Regional World was the first simulation to take into account regional developments. Even though it was originally developed for an insurance company which was primarily interested in assessing energy resources in the wake of the energy crisis of the early seventies, it seemed to us to be the most compact model available«.

As early as the sixties Buckminster Fuller had already conceived his »World Game,« a simulation game using a computer that was fed with all relevant information on the state and quantities of world resources. The game was to be played on a world map the size of a football field, surrounded by a raised balcony for the players. Television satellites were to broadcast the World Game tournaments all over the planet. Fuller proposed the project as the U.S. contribution to the Montreal World Expo in 1967 - and received a rejection letter in reply. »It first had to come to the so-called oil crisis in 1972/73 before computer-aided global simulations could achieve the recognition that World Game was denied,« writes Joachim Krausse.[1] Fuller's ideas were finally popularized in the spectacular traveling exhibition »Our World - A Networked System,« produced by Frederick Vester and shown in various versions throughout the German-speaking countries from 1978 to 1996.

In »./,« a smaller version of Fuller's scientific world theater, participants play for 22 hours at a time, manipulating some of the parameters for financial and resource distribution in 185 nations. The starting data were taken from the 2000 statistics contained in the »CIA World Fact Book 2001.« Given the opportunity to change investment amounts in industry, agriculture and hightech, the users become voting citizens of the world, with the power to shape a country's destiny. They exercise this power thanks to the game operators' server, which takes the parameter changes into account when carrying out calculations for future values. »Noticeable in the participation up till now has been that most visitors come twice, but then do not return again,« remarks Michael Aschauer. »In the accompanying forum there was once a short Brazilian hype, with everyone wanting the country to become bigger, but that was over quickly.«

The actual aim was achieved nonetheless, namely »to show ad absurdum the power of the Internet as a global participatory tool.« This is evidenced most clearly on the graphic showing the locations of the players. Africa and South America hardly appear at all. »We were concerned above all with the design aspect as well,« says Maia Gusberti. »How can I visualize complex global economic relationships and sharpen peoples' perception of their own individual entanglements and opportunities within the network of the 'social system'«?

Another simulation game presented at the Ars Electronica 2002 was called »They Rule.« »They sit on the boards of the most important corporations in America. Many of them sit on government committees. They make decisions that touch our lives. They rule.« These sentences appear on the home page. »They« are the executives of American business. Like the inventors of »Logicaland,« Josh On/Futurefarmers make reference to a historical model: the book »The Power Elite,« written in 1956 by C. Wright Mills, which depicts the cross-connections between the protagonists of the American power elite.

»They Rule« uses the possibilities of the Internet to try and illustrate the power field made up of politics and business. »It's not a conspiracy. They are proud to rule. But up until now the links between them have been concealed from the greater public.« Now the users can unmask the invisible hand behind the power fields of American neoliberalism. They can take a look behind the scenes at the management offices of America's major corporations and click through to find out the »sidelines« pursued by members of the corporate boards. They can also add their own information and create their own power cartel in graphic form, stored under their own heading and viewable by the other players.

As one parameter indicating the importance of the managers, a special button reveals the donations made by, for example, Paolo Fresco or Andrea Jung, both members of the board of General Electric. In order to relieve the game of the disreputable tone of a conspiratorial secret list, a link leads directly to a search engine, where the person in question can then be looked up at his or her official Web address.

In 1975 Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers created a miniature atlas the size of a matchbox, which showed all countries at the same size, so that Switzerland does not appear to be any smaller than Argentina. Broodthaers expressly recommended that artists and members of the military make use of the atlas. The artist Öyvind Fahlström, rediscovered at Documenta X, also drafted alternative world maps in his pictures. The most concrete attempt at representing the relationship between global cartography and local economy was undertaken by Alighiero e Boetti at the beginning of the seventies, when he had carpets made in Afghanistan depicting world map motifs in which the countries' surfaces were filled with the pattern of the national flag.

The low-budget versions of the Internet community games that were exhibited at the Ars Electronica draw upon the interactive opportunities that the World Wide Web has made possible. However, they can also be seen against the tradition of artistic cartographies, in which a subjective gesture of incompleteness and arbitrariness calls into question the claim to validity of the traditional models propounded by business and science.

Translation: Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

1 Joachim Krausse: Buckminster Fullers Vorschule der Synergetik. In: R. Buckminster Fuller: Bedienungsanleitung für das Raumschiff Erde und andere Schriften, edited by Joachim Krausse. Dresden 1998, p. 214-306.