Thursday, 10 November 2011

Real food?

The food industry offers further examples of simulation. My favourite example of this is Chicken Tikka.
The perception of Chicken Tikka as foreign and exotic is in fact a misconception, as the dish was actually invented in the UK – most probably Glasgow (BBC, 2009). This was an attempt by Indian restaurants to provide for the milder British taste. 

As this is now thought of by most people in the UK as a traditional Indian dish, it becomes more real than the reality of actual traditional Indian dishes – Baudrillard’s ‘hyper-real’.

This trend is apparent across a huge number of food types, as food hyperreal is killing off the real. For example, there was a Jamie Oliver show on channel 4 where he showed children a range of processed (burgers, hot-dogs etc) and unprocessed meats (e.g. a chicken carcass). The children identified the burgers as cow, or sausages as pork – but couldn’t guess correctly what animal the unprocessed chicken was. 

This example is again apparent if we consider fruit. As genetic modification of fruit grows, we are beginning to view ‘real’ apples as weird looking or unappetising – instead wanting the ‘perfect’ hyperreal ones. I imagine a few hundred years ago there were no apples that looked like this:

And more that looked like this:
But let us think back further. Are braeburns, for example, real? In fact, they are the product of earlier methods of breeding that entirely changed apples. This is another key point from Baudrillard – sometimes what we think is real, when contrasted with new simulations, are in fact simulations themselves! The new simulations provide an alibi for the previous simulations. 

Baudrillard’s example of this is Disney Land. Disney Land acts as an alibi for the rest of America. The rest of America, too, ‘is Disney land’ he says – that is, the rest of America is also a fantasy world detached from the real – there is childish behaviour and fakery all over America. But because Disney Land is another layer on top of this, we start thinking America is the real. 

Simulation is not about what signs are real – not about: is Disney Land real? Are apples real? Is Chicken Tikka real? Instead, it is about masking the fact that the real is not real. 

I don’t want to get too far into the wider conclusions just yet – I’ll save them for a  final post on all this – now with examples from the adult entertainment industry, computer games industry and food industry I have plenty material to draw conclusions from.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Are computer games changing our reality?

Computer games often reflect real world activities with an added hint of fantasy – but how is this fantasy changing and becoming our reality?

The only games I’m really into are football (soccer) games, so we’ll start there. I know for starter’s that the player ratings in these games often influence my friends’ opinions on which players are good in real life. (It should be noted that this is especially true of those friend’s who prefer the game to watching real football).

So as an example, one of my mates is convinced that Fulham’s Moussa Dembele is God’s gift to football and has for too long been overlooked for the ballon d’or award. A bit of a reality check with some youtube videos, and I am still not convinced. 

This is perhaps even more true on games such as football manager. The game maker’s have a network of scouts that give player ratings across the world. These ultimately impact many fans’ opinions of the real life players (we are easily influenced creatures). 

More than just alter perceptions of reality, many computer games can totally change a person’s reality to something else. I’m thinking here of ‘Second Life’ type games, or equally World of Warcraft. I’ve got my fair share of friends who are obsessed with these types of games – and I enjoy hearing the horror stories of WoW players who live their ‘real’ lives just to facilitate them maximising their online lives. 

That is, they work just so they can pay their subscription – or more likely, still in their mom’s basement, they just get by on the bare nutrition scraped from toast and pop-tarts, just so they can get those few extra minutes on the game. They sacrifice everything but the ultimate basics in real life so they can maximise their lives in the game. In this way, the simulation is more important than reality, and so supersedes it. 

So in this sense these games may change our perception of the reality. Do they really change the ‘reality’ itself though? 

(All this is assuming there is something that is ‘real’ that is more than just people’s perceptions. What else is there?).  

I want to move away from these extreme examples for a moment and look at a very common one instead. Social media. Facebook brings our social interactions away from the face-to-face, and puts them online. We write messages, send links and instant message people instead of seeing them in real life. 

Our social relationships are increasingly being stripped of many elements that were present say a century ago. First, the percentage of relationships spent face to face has decreased. Furthermore, the percentage of time speaking, rather than typing, to each other is decreasing.

The logic behind this modern communication is that it is quicker and easier. We are told this so often that it often takes over our logic. For example, I increasingly catch myself tempted to text or IM a friend rather than calling them up – even though I know phoning them up would be quicker, easier and more effective really.
So again, having looked at a few examples of how computer games and computerised communication have simulated our real lives and social relationships, I return to ask what are the wider points we can draw from this. 

The football games and Second Life instances shows that simulations are a powerful force in forming our opinions of ‘reality’.  In fact, it becomes very unclear what ‘reality’ is, if not our perceptions. I don’t want to become bogged down in a ‘what is reality’ debate, (which I think mainly comes down to linguistics)– but these examples of simulations are powerful reminders that what we perceive as real is very readily influenced and transformed. 

Moreover, Facebook and WoW both exemplify how social relationships are increasingly simulated and imitated online. By putting them online, they are in a place that opens up capital opportunities – to subscribe to a service, or for advertising.