Archive Page 3 of 34

A Jihad for Love: Being Gay in the Muslim World

Is it easier to be gay in the Muslim world than straight? In Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for its adherence a puritanical strain of Islam, it’s forbidden to mix with an unrelated person of another gender. That makes dating straight near impossible but dating gay quite easy, even undetectable (within limits). A gay man in the Atlantic’s Kingdom in the Closet put it this way: “It’s a lot easier to be gay than straight here. If you go out with a girl, people will start to ask her questions. But if I have date upstairs and my family is downstairs, they won’t even come up.” It’s a fascinating turnabout of expectation.

And that got me wondering: What does it mean to be a gay Muslim? First time director Parvez Sharma set out to an answer just that question, and 5.5 years + 12 countries later he’s painted a study in contrasts: from relatively moderate Turkey to fundamentalist Iran to the the opening scenes with Muhsin Hendricks, South Africa’s openly gay Imam.

We watch a group of young Iranian men flee their homeland for safety in Canada. We meet Mazen, a member of the Cairo 52, and hear his stories of being tried and imprisoned simply for his sexual orientation. We travel with lesbian couple Ferda and Klymet as Klymet meets mom-in-law for the first time.

But more than anything we see people searching for acceptance — from family, the law, their religion. And, particularly in the last case, we see so many of them denied. Time Out New York asks the question perhaps many of us have:

Why would gay Muslims stay true to a religion that hurts them? Shots of beautiful mosques and kneeling supplicants pad out a brief running time that still feels too long because we’ve already heard of the abuses; Islam’s strict social censures are not news. Sharma forgets to push his subjects to a deeper truth — not on the courage to recognize one’s self and bear the consequences, but to leave dead things behind.

But that fundamentally misses the point of the film. What Sharma does brilliantly is show why Islam is very much alive in the hearts of his subjects — the calls to prayer, the value of family, the deeply held teachings of Muhammad, the beautiful writings on paper. If anything, the film shows us why it is so difficult, so painful for gay Muslims to make just that choice — the intractable choice between earthen love and love for God. And it shows why the work of people like Muhsin Hendricks, the gay Imam working to reconcile homosexuality and Islam, is so important.

The real power of A Jihad for Love, though, comes in quieter moments. Words between lovers, a phone call to a mother far away. It’s deeply humanizing. There’s a scene about halfway through the film when Mazen (of the Cairo 52) dons belly dancer garb and dances among his friends, men and women, gay and straight. The camera lingers on him — we see clear joy in his eyes. It’s a beautiful thing seeing someone express themselves, be themselves, without fear. You see into their soul. And, in showing us that, A Jihad for Love is a special document indeed.

For more, Watch the Trailer. A Jihad for Love is showing exclusively at the IFC Center in NYC, but it really deserves to open wider. We last connected with gay issues over at GayGamer.

My Perfect Day

Asian American pop culture mag Giant Robot has a fab regular feature called My Perfect Day, where a so-and-so (sometimes well known, sometimes not) gives a recounting of a recent smile-packed 24 hours. Here’s mine:

10:01 Wake up in the Upper West Side. Holy shit, is that clock right? Scramble for the shower, then the door. Gotta be in the Village by 11.

10:34 Enter the 103rd St. subway on Broadway and a train pulls up. This is fortuitous. Local-express-local with perfect transfers down to Christopher. Clearly divine intervention.

11:04 Petite Abeille for brunch with friends. I love those get-to-know-your-neighbor cramped space cafes. Mmmm… Belgian waffles. Mmmm…ham and gruyère omelette. Gotta walk through the kitchen for the bathroom? Call that extra food quality insurance.

1:12 Walk in the Village, through the tree lined streets and cobblestone pathways. 80 degrees and just overcast enough to make it gorgeous. Wonder aloud if there’s a more beautiful neighborhood on Earth. Curse those living here under my breath. Troll flea markets. Find a Chuck Mingus test pressing and Quatar Airlines business card holder — score!

2:00 Lunch at Gray’s Papaya. Fried fish sandwich (sacrilege!) and french fries. Fried and fried = double plus.

2:25 Catch A Jihad for Love at the IFC Center — a film about being gay and Muslim. Courageous, beautiful stuff. Walk into theater on a whim, walk out of theater inspired.

3:50 Kenny Graham’s West 4th Street Basketball Tournament at The Cage. Seriously wicked skills on display. But the best fun is mocking the goofs with the peanut gallery and haranguing officials, who jaw almost as much as the players do.

5:10 Walk into the Christopher St. subway station, and a train pulls up. (See a pattern here?) Head back uptown. Read Out of Poverty on the trip, a stunning new approach to empowering poor people.

6:00 Cleanse the apartment of bachelor debauchery — where most of the debauchery involved working all Friday night and Saturday. The place is piled high with takeout containers and books. (Okay, this wasn’t so perfect.)

8:10 Get out the bike and hit Central Park. I love night biking. It’s still light enough to see folks camped out in the Sheep Meadow for dinner. Second time around, the meadow fades into darkness, save for the click-clack of horse drawn carriages and the disembodied giggles of young couples. Lovely.

9:30 Back from the park and my wife is home from her business trip. We eat cheese and sip wine. We eat Thai and watch BSG. We marvel at how much better episodes are when there’s no Baltar to overact them into oblivion.

11:55 Boy Friends. Nightcap it with a little half stupid/half genius from Team Genius. Favorite lyric: “Sometimes life is impossible / Like that one level / With the thorns and shit.” But life ain’t impossible, it’s awesome! At least Sunday was. The thorns are another story, though.

So that’s the perfect day. And it just happened by accident. Considering the hellish 70 hour workweeks I’ve been turning in for the past month, maybe it’s cosmic payback.

Make sure to visit Giant Robot and their tiny-awesome NYC art space/store. Thanks to them for the inspiration.

top image via xpressbus, middle via my phonecam, bottom via team genius

Beyond Good & Evil Returns: Should We Worry?

Beyond Good & Evil is back! We thought creator Michel Ancel AWOL when he hadn’t been seen or heard from since Rabbids launched with Wii, but talk about a fine excuse. Our favorite realistically endowed “are you sure you’re black?” heroine has returned, with Pey’j in tow. (Could Double H be far behind?) This is good news.

Still, you have to worry. After all, even with so much going for it, the original BG&E bombed. And that title didn’t help. I mean, let’s face it, even the most devoted fans couldn’t figure out what Nietzsche had to do with Jade’s exploits. Everyone else wasn’t interested in a game written by a 19th century philosopher. Is Beyond Good & Evil 2 simply a working title? Let’s hope so.

But there’s something peculiar about the game, too. Even though I have fond memories of Jade’s world and its inhabitants, I remember less of what I did there. Where other favorites like Ico and Rez have big moments you just can’t forget (the windmill puzzle, a running man set to Rock is Sponge), BG&E leaves you with something different. Edge puts it this way:

There’s nothing memorable, nothing meaty in any of the game’s set pieces. It’s a game you finish in a happy haze, entranced by your time in Jade’s world, but hard pressed to remember a single fight, puzzle, race, or stealth challenge that stood out. And it’s this, more than anything, that is Ancel’s secret. […] Ancel may not be a master of story-writing, he may not map out the most sophisticated character arcs, and he may not have the instincts to set taut and rewarding game mechanics at the heart of the experience he creates, but he has an ability to create characters with instant resonance — and, if you doubt that, you only need to hear ‘Carlson and Peters!’ echo in your memory to convince you. In a videogame world — where those characters will be acting under their creator’s control for so much less time than in other media — this is unusually vital. (Edge 157)

More than that, BG&E creates a living world — not in the GTA sense but in how your actions interact with and change the place in ways that carry weight. Few adventure games take these kinds of risks when so much time has been put into crafting a world that’s just so. Even fewer dare to swap the central mechanism of affecting change from the pistol to the polaroid. These risks make BG&E great, but they also create confusion. Hopefully, all that pre-production research for BG&E2 has sought to better communicate atypical directions rather than blunt them altogether. What does it mean for BG&E to be “more casual”? We’ll see.

Michel Ancel followed BG&E with a muddy mishmash called Peter Jackson’s King Kong and Raving Rabbids, which matched hysterical characters with one-dimensional gameplay. In the former, Ancel was charged with making some else’s world interactive and in the latter he created characters without much of a world. In a lot of ways, then, coming back to BG&E feels like coming home to the place where so many of his strengths lie. After a few years of creative and monetary missteps, though, does Ancel still have it where it counts? If the fabulous trailer released today is any indication, he has indeed lovingly taken Jade & co to the next level. We want to believe.

Don’t miss the BG&E2 trailer. We last wrote about BG&E in The Sounds of Great Game Places.

Hanoi’s Hidden Graffiti

Some have argued that the street art scene in Vietnam is lacking — consisting largely of half-drawn scrawls and stenciled phone numbers promising everything from backyard bike repair to the hair cut of your dreams (for example). But for those who luck into it, there’s at least one place where all that changes.

Hidden in Hanoi’s super narrow back alleys is a special spot that features some beautiful work, flanked by great street food, homes packed on top of one another, and a truly lovely art gallery. Have a look.

I don’t know the artists (do you? drop a comment) and I make no claim they’re all Vietnamese, but it is nice to see this level of artistic expression on the streets of a beautiful country that has suffered so much. One might imagine that the communist rulers would frown on this combination of lawbreaking and artistic expression, particularly in the capital city. My only thought there is that artists stick together and protect each other. Hence the proximity to Mai Gallery.

I’ll have more on Mai’s and the whole gallery scene in Hanoi soon (suffice to say the best galleries there rival Chelsea’s). The city is booming in ways that it wasn’t just 5 years ago (iPhones are everywhere, people seem happier) but there’s a long way to go (the jobless rate remains high). Still, if the emerging art scene is anything to go by, Hanoi’s future is bright indeed.

See more shots from my visit to Hanoi’s graffiti row on flickr. Thanks to NYT for the pointer and to Jake for the conversation.

Update: Lunar, one of the artists involved, emailed more details on the project:

we were in hanoi in 2007 thanks to hope box project organized by dutch artist rienke enghardt. the artists who participated on the wall across mai gallery (there was works of hope box artists exhibited in it at the same time) were: angel (serbia), lunar (croatia), zorrox and few of his friends (hanoi), the london police (amsterdam) and def p (amsterdam). this is the wall with light yellow background starting with tigers and ending with london police lad characters. on the left site is unfinished piece by angel and me and i also spotted a piece from year earlier, i think it’s a guy from germany who writes zooloo if i’m not mistaken.

See more of Lunar’s work at

First Person Art

This week had us gawking at art and photography that transports — to places magical, funny, troubling.

First Person Soccer – super visceral ad by Guy Ritchie (Mr. Madonna, Lock Stock) makes you the soccer star

First Person Parkour – graphically beautiful game puts you in the head (and in control) of a free running master (find out how it works at Edge)

First/Third Splitscreen – Radiohead goes activist with a video that thoughtfully compares a kid’s life in the first and third world. Kudos to MTV Exit

Subway Culture Jam – mystery editing of NYC subway ads results in fall down hilarity

Massive Moving Wall – Beijing’s GreenPix gets in your face with is a huge, gorgeous media wall that has zero carbon footprint

Where the Mekong Die – Suthep Kritsanavarin captures jaw dropping scenery and puts you in the shoes of fishermen along the Mekong in Thailand

Web 3.0: Social Software in the 3rd World

What is Web 3.0? After the social software revolution ushered in by web 2.0’s architectures of participation, we’re all eager to think ahead to the next mind bending advance. But while many of the new web manifestos talk about the next step for web technology, the target market for those technologies is equally important. I believe the third generation web will be about finding ways to make social software relevant to those who have benefitted little from it to date: web 3.0 is social software in the 3rd world.

But here’s the thing: the next social software revolution has already begun — spurred by the massive uptake of mobile phones in developing nations. 68% of mobile phone subscribers anywhere are in the developing world. In Africa, mobile subscribers have jumped from 10 million to 200 million in the last four years. The growth is stunning. And it’s accelerating.

Why the explosive growth? One reason is sheer need. Africa has 12% of the world’s population but only 2% of the global landline network. Building wired infrastructure is far more expensive than wireless alternatives. But that’s just the beginning. The recent IBM Global Innovation Outlook put it this way:

African use of mobile phones has been far more innovative than in Europe, largely because meeting the specific needs of Africa requires innovation.

And the cellphone is empowering because it provides what Jan Chipchase calls a “fixed identity point,” that is, for people displaced by war, floods, drought, or faltering economies, having a way to always be in touch is essential for both maintaining community and for doing business.

Economists say this will be huge. As a recent New York Times article put it, mobile communications enables the “just in time” business. In the 1930’s, Toyota radically revamped how its supply chain worked. No longer did it stock parts, instead encouraging assembly plants to order from the factory only when parts were needed. The company became decentralized, incremental. Waste was reduced, efficiency increased, defects were corrected more quickly — and profits rose. Economists believe that the cellphone can enable this same kind of radical shift in developing nations, largely because they don’t have the technological baggage we do.

Some examples:

  • When Indian fishermen got cellphones, they started calling around to prospective buyers before reaching shore. The ability to negotiate at a distance increased profits by 8% and reduced consumer costs by 4%.
  • SMS is used in Kenya to allow anonymous questions about culturally taboo subjects like AIDS, breast cancer, STDs and more. Answers come back quickly from health professionals at no charge.
  • A live-in housekeeper in China who was essentially an indentured servant got a cellphone and suddenly a whole new set of customers were able to reach her and book her services, allowing her to grow her business.

Of course difficult questions remain. How do you design for people who are illiterate, making $4 a day, and with no access to electricity? Design for the Other 90% provides important answers, repeatedly demonstrating that these challenges can be overcome when folks get creative — and at a profit, too. Paul Polak puts it this way:

Thinking of poor people as customers, instead of recipients of charity, radically changes the design process.

But here’s the central point: little attention has been paid to the role social software can play. And that seems strange since these little connected devices are in so many pockets. It’s a huge opportunity, especially since many of the approaches used in the west can’t be applied, at least not directly. For instance:

In Cameroon, bankers complain of loan delinquency rates as high as 50 percent. But tontine payments are taken so seriously that borrowers faced with delinquency have been known to commit suicide. (nyt)

How, then, do you design to support informal economies in places where the formal economy isn’t as important? What features can help communities that are widely dispersed by war maintain their bonds? What role can social software play in helping steward social change and stability? These are the big questions. And that’s why there’s no better place to test the true promise of social software than in the developing world. Confronting these challenges requires a radical rethink of what social software means. Web 3.0: social software in the 3rd world.

Jan Chipchase holds design studios in poor communities, asking participants to design their perfect phone — with all sorts of revealing results: a landmine detector, GPS to help orient prayers towards Mecca, the ability to monitor cheating boyfriends and husbands. But perhaps the most telling was just two words: “peace button.”

While the idea of a button that instantly invokes peace might seem ridiculous, the power of mobile phones to affect social change is quite evident: be it energizing protests or spreading divisiveness.

If the third world is already doing amazing things with basic mobile functionality (texting, voice), imagine what they will do when the real dreamers of social software apply themselves in this new venue. I don’t know what that future would look like but, with so much of Earth’s population still unaccounted for in current designs, it’s an opportunity that will be increasingly difficult to ignore.

images via ibm and nyt

Death (and Typing) in Tokyo

Eyes squinting, zero light, monsters everywhere, you’re typing for your life. Yeah, you heard me.

The sudden obsessive uptake of a certain competitive typing game called TypeRacer reminded me of a recent visit to Tokyo. You see, it was there that I saw a couple kids playing Sega’s fabulous Typing of the Dead with unusual fervor late one night in Shinjuku.

For those unfamiliar, Typing of the Dead is a refit of the stunningly mediocre shooting game House of the Dead, but where the former provisioned traditional light guns to dispatch monsters, the latter hands you a keyboard. In TOTD, each word you type right blasts a monster, and speed counts — bigtime. That seemingly minor twist makes a boring game brilliant. If you haven’t tried it, you must.

Typing of the Dead has never appeared in arcades outside Japan (it has seen console release stateside). And it was fun to see Japanese players stuck to it like glue when the game really didn’t get much love back home. Good times, particularly since the kids couldn’t stop giggling to themselves as they nonchalantly typed Japanese characters at blinding speed. Competitive typing, cooperative typing. Either way, it’s goofy awesome.

Ah, Japan. And speaking of Japan, where else can you find fresh pastries just outside the door of an arcade?

Holy cow! Has it really been 6 months since I got back from the Asia trip? I’ve got lots of stories to tell. More photos soon!

Virtual World Futures: Five Trends from VW08

Think you know virtual worlds? So did I. Then I went to Virtual Worlds 2008 and had my eyes opened — both good and bad. It’s a relatively small conference (say 1000 people) that features some of the best and brightest in the space. And the diversity of that space struck me: from proprietary platforms to “curated experience” to open clients to world staffing and more. And nearly all of it focused on entertainment, not business (though back room chatter says the organizers engineered it that way). Here’s a rundown of the major trends I saw:

1. “There’s Nothing to Do”
In the list of top complaints about virtual worlds, that has to be at the head of the class. And folks at VW08 were painfully aware. (Not that there weren’t a good number of examples of that old “if you build it, they will come” cluelessness.) Compelling content draws people, the community retains them. And that’s why events are central to the future of virtual worlds. Make way for service companies who know how to do them right. Take Electric Sheep’s CSI: Second Life.

2. Measured in Minutes
Websites are high penetration, quick engagement; virtual worlds are low penetration, long engagement. In the CSI experience, for example, they saw multiple hundreds of thousands of people spending an average of 36 minutes exploring the space. The idea is to package experience, not information. One speaker put it this way: “With virtual worlds it’s no longer about content, it’s about context.” Or, the ad folk put it: “Traditional online advertising is measured in 12-14 seconds. Virtual world engagements are measured in minutes.”

3. Emergence Matters
There was plenty discussion about the unique power of virtual worlds to enable the speech, gesture, sketch interaction paradigm. I don’t particularly buy it. What I do buy, though, is the water cooler effect. Perfect quote: “I’m not going to bump into you on a half million dollar telepresence session.” Emergence is a more significant value of virtual worlds than most people think. Capitalizing on it is the challenge.

4. Come Together
40% of virtual world users also use social networks, and there’s also a good deal of overlap between virtual worlds users and gamers. The prevailing thinking at VW08 was that all three would start to look pretty similar. We’re already seeing this with the social end user content creation features in games (Halo 3, Little Big Planet) and the emerging social networking features in virtual worlds. Our kids won’t know the difference between a virtual world, a social networking site, or a game. All three will be everywhere, just to different degrees.

5. The Age Divide
If you’re over 30 you’re in Second Life, if you’re under 30 you’re anywhere but. A packed room was asked who used Second Life and every hand went up. So went the conference demographics. Will Linden be able to convert folks who’ve grown up with Habbo as they age? They should worry.

Bonus! Quotes
Some great quotes overheard:

  • Avatars: “Avatars are the ring tone for the younger generation — it expresses what you like to everyone around you and, at the same time, makes you feel good.”
  • Standards: “Right now we’re in the CompuServe/AOL days. Walled gardens everywhere. Standards are coming but there’s no business case, which is causing grief. They will come.”
  • Measurement: “Google made the click through metric mainstream. But in the early days of the web, we tried to measure eyeballs, which ended up not working out at all. Virtual worlds are different again. It’s all about time spent.”

Time spent. It’s the holy grail in our ever accelerating sound bite society both, online and off. We don’t pause, we perpetually multitask (to our detriment). I recently spoke with photographer Raul Gutierrez, who was troubled by just this problem. As improbable as it might sound, then, perhaps some future virtual world might provide his solution.

image via dean terry

Mexican Pictures and the Future of Photoblogs


I’ve been a fan of Raul Gutierrez’s photography for some time. His understated style has always gotten under my skin in that subtle way: the first time you see the image, you pause for a second and keep going. Only later do you realize it’s still with you and come back to it again, this time for longer. There’s an authenticity in his style that really makes you feel a connection with people and places far away. He captures the small things.

I became a devout follower of Raul’s photoblog, Mexican Pictures, a few years back — watching his travels from Tibet to Cambodia to China to Mexico to Vietnam to East Texas with increasing interest. Then, in late 2007, his posting suddenly stopped.

And the way it stopped was mysterious. Those last sets of photos were different than what went before. Instead of travels, we started seeing scenes from home; photos of his wife and kids. Why walk away when you’ve got such a good thing going? What happened?

Turns out life did. Raul puts it this way:

The easy answer is that two new babies entered my life in 2007, my second son, Gabriel, and the company I helped create, 20×200. I went from around 5 hours sleep to around 3 which is pretty much my breaking point.

From the way it ended, you certainly could have guessed. Just as fellow photoblogger Rion Nakaya’s blogging changed after her clever baby reveal, so did Raul’s. But somehow those home photos are no less magical for it. Take this shot that, for me, evokes Guiherme Marcondes’ dreamy Tyger:

But that’s only half the story. For Raul, the concept of the photoblog itself was failing:

The more complicated answer is that for over a year I’ve been noodling with the idea of a more refined form for the photoblog. I came to feel that simply posting pictures daily didn’t give them enough context. They became disposable visual junk food. Clicking through a linear site like mine becomes a somewhat random experience especially if you are a photographer who shoots in a variety of settings and has a diverse project set (it’s less problematic with photographers who are very focused and work around and around a singular idea or set of ideas or whose photographs are a linear part of their journey). Showing the work as portfolios is the obvious answer but most portfolio sites are boring and static (the content might not be boring, but the form is). You visit a portfolio site once and are done with it. So the problem is how to design an image based site that is dynamic with regular infusions of fresh content but is able to present those images in context. The other design goals are to be clutter free, and easily navigable by anyone and to present nice big images. I haven’t figured it out yet.

So the deeper question, then, is how do we help photographers show their work online in a meaningful way considering our ever accelerating bite sized info overload culture? It’s a tall order but, if you consider the richness of seeing a photography exhibit in a physical gallery, it’s tough to argue that we can’t do better. While sites like flickr have some of the trappings of galleries (community, dynamic content, custom albums), they’re also full of noise, random access, and just general ADD. Plus, any artist wants fine control over their presentation and flickr forces everything into one monolithic style.

Where to next? How do we give the web the meditative quality and context of a gallery visit? Is it a zooming UI? Some VR walkthrough? Perhaps one direction lies closer, in the fan’s experience with Mexican Pictures. While surely not everyone lingered at the site, I did. And I found myself getting sucked in again and again, looking up names of places I hadn’t known before and wondering about the people who live there, the people I was seeing in Raul’s photos. That extended and deepened my experience, even though it didn’t all happen in one shot; even though my first engagements were invariably short ones. The question then becomes how do we encourage this kind of behavior? How do we provide tranquil spots in a random access world?

Fortunately, we may not have to wait until the problem is fully solved to see the return of Mexican Pictures. Raul tells me that he’s got some new projects in the works that will likely make it onto the web. Here’s hoping.

For more, see the Mexican Pictures archives, Raul’s text blog Heading East, and his flickr stream. Liz Kuball has an interview and his new business venture 20×200 has seen some nice writeups, too. Raul last showed offline at the Nelson Hancock Gallery.

That Looks Awesome! Why 3D Immersion Ain’t

There’s been a lot of talk about the value of immersion in 3D virtual worlds of late. Overheard at VW08: “It’s just like the real world, but you’re able to share it with far flung friends and family. You can see them standing there and all the things you do in the real world happen naturally — presence, gesture, place — they all transfer. That is the power of virtual worlds: to be immersed.” Many of us want to believe; especially considering all the sex appeal currently associated with online worlds. But take this example:

Players in World of Warcraft are in the heat of an epic battle. And they’re losing. Just as the last great warriors are about to fall, a sword powerful enough to vanquish the evil one is discovered. But at the pivotal moment when the sword is being handed over to the valiant party leader, the action comes to a screeching halt — and a sheepish farm boy asks: “Uh… How do you hand something from one player to another?” Response: “Bring up your inventory screen Control-I…”

Hello man behind the curtain! This is a classic scene from South Park, but the reason it’s so funny is that it rings true. Immersion in online worlds is beautiful, but it ain’t perfect. Just because a 3D world looks reasonably close to the real one doesn’t mean it’s perfectly straightforward to interact with. Often the contrary.

People are central to virtual worlds, but it’s instructive that we have so many different ways of representing ourselves. Which is the most immersive representation? Which lends itself most readily to deep social interaction? Avatars in Sony Home might look realistic but that level of detail makes them more complex to customize (plus they’re precariously close to the uncanny valley). Representing people as dots makes them super easy to customize but limits expressiveness. Nintendo’s Miis offer a clever middle ground — where the design of emotive avatars is easy to learn but takes a lifetime to master.

So, avatars are central to immersion, right? I mean, we’re visual creatures, after all. But so many questions remain: Is it easier to socialize in WoW or IRC? Is it easier to stay in touch using Twitter or Second Life? Folks come down hardcore on all sides. Why? Because it depends. One might be better for presence, the other better for focusing on the thread of conversation. One might be better for being in the moment, another for tracking communication over time. Some folks might find a pure text interface engaging in its simple immediacy; others find a graphical world engrossing for its visual detail. All these things can be immersive.

Text adventure innovator Infocom traded on just this issue — making it known that leaving something to the imagination can be more powerful than laying it all out there. And while Infocom ultimately broke its promise to never make a game with graphics (it’s most masterful games remain the text ones), the point still stands. Immersion is contextual: it’s different for everyone. It’s all about getting into that flow state where the medium disappears and the world consumes you. Which is more immersive: spending years in an empathic online forum for breast cancer survivors or playing Call of Duty 4? Just as I can be equally immersed in a book as in a movie, so I can be equally immersed in a text-based world as in a 2D graphical one as a fully 3D surround sound shutter glasses lights out rumble enabled experience. Want an example? Witness the endlessly addictive ascii art of NetHack.

Immersion isn’t about taking over your screen, it’s about taking over your mind. And it never happens the same way twice.

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