digital arts & culture 1998

Andy Best & Merja Puustinen:

Conversation with Angels - defining a new narrative

"Conversations with Angels" is a online multimedia art work created by Meetfactory (Andy Best & Merja Puustinen). Utilising VRML97, it combines visual environments, animation, video, sound effects and text in a similar way to traditional multimedia. In addition, the multi-user cabability accessible via the Internet creates a whole new status of existence - an art work as a social process, allowing the construction of an online community within the artwork, which leads to new possibilities for narrative structure and storytelling.

A virtual world is a new space, both literally and conceptually. The world author or designer creates a place from bits and bytes. Meetfactory have given birth to a wild and wacky world far from the cold, sleek utopian (dystopian?) coporate cyber malls or the cyber punk realms of Quake and Doom. The visitor is simultaneously entertained, entranced, provoked and insulted by the stream of comments coming from the bots "living" in the world. The visitor, once they have reached the central courtyard (the "hub" of the world), is free to explore and find characters such as Carl the serial killer and his bored wife Marg, Anne, a lesbian princess who grows plants, Bob the redneck goldfish, an island with kids that are all fanatical political activists, etc, etc! Are you sure you're chatting with a real person or an AI bot? The bots can be more interesting for sure! The user/visitor is forced to interact with the bot characters to unravel their story - the visual environment will only give you some clues to the personality living in each space, but not the whole story.

The user can no longer sit back and just enjoy the show - you have to get involved with the characters to find out who they are, what they are, and through interaction drive the narrative forward. Each visitor has a unique experience which they alone have caused by their own actions. As they are often not aware how they are affecting the chat and animations, the interaction is much more transparent than, for example, clicking some hot spot on a cd-rom. As the user has the freedom to explore the environment however they like, a real sense of place is established. As each bot "chat" is carefully scripted, and each different environment designed to reflect or compliment the character living there, the narrative within the world is only revealed to the visitor who explores!

Finally, by allowing the user a choice of avatars (the 3D representation of themself in the virtual world), and whether to use third or first person perspective, the imagined experience within the world can be to a greater or lesser extent controlled by the visitor themself, leading to more satisfaction and enjoyment. It is possible for visitors to "role-play" within the world, adapting to the characters already there, or bringing in something totally new to add to the narrative. Over time sub plots and communities can develop solely through the actions and activities of users without input from the original world creators.

The goal of "Conversations with Angels" is primarily as a platform for communication and exploration of narrative structures within virtual worlds, carried out as a social process and provocateur. Besides being entertaining, it also encourages the viewer to explore, investigate, test and question preconceptions about the nature of the Internet and virtual spaces in general.

If you're ready for an intellectual, provocative, and artistic challenge, then get ready to visit "Conversations with Angels"!

Andy Best was born in the south of England, 1963. Since 1988 he has lived and worked in Helsinki, Finland. Merja Puustinen was born in Hamina, Finland, 1963. They have collaborated together since 1993. Currently they are developing 3D virtual environments for the Internet, with a special interest in creating new narrative forms appropriate to this new media. Themes include pop culture and media criticism as areas for artistic production. Works concerned primarily with social and political themes such as racism, the environment, feminist themes, big business and advertising. MEETFACTORY also work as producers and curators for various art projects in the real and virtual worlds.






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Last update: 30th of October 1998.