Eye of Computer Software and Crogan's Flight Simulator

Logistical Space

(*This short essay is a commentary on Patrick Crogan’s “Logistical Space” in _Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation, and Technoculture_1, relating it to how we think about computer aided drawing software.)

There is no war, then, without representation, no sophisticated weaponry without psychological mystification. Weapons are tools not just of destruction but also of perception — that is to say, stimulants that make themselves felt through chemical, neurological processes in the sense organs and the central nervous system, affecting human reactions and even the perceptual identification and differentiation of objects2.

Before we attempt to make sense of software and its relation to our world, we have to acknowledge its history and how its underpinning technologies have shaped our perceptual world. Software that we interact with through the interface of the screen, mouse, and keyboard are not only means through which we consume and produce “digital” content — these screens and computer peripherals have also come a long way in structuring how we see and interact with the “real-world”3.

Crogan traces the development of flight simulation as a means to explain the relationship between the evolution of technologies of war and how the way we see the world is structured4. This relationship, for Crogan, balances on the idea that the visual is informational, and that perceiving something is a revealing of the perceivable information that it offers. And what is perceivable depends a lot on the technologies that mediate the act of perception — that is to say, the parts of the world that are perceivable to us are the parts that are made perceivable by the technologies (perceptual technologies) we use to make sense of the world. It is in the development of flight simulation that two core perceptual technological thrusts become apparent — Crogan points out that “the virtual space of flight simulation is a descendant of two related representational traditions: the diagram and the map, which is itself a form of diagram.”5 One is the translation of physical space into a logitisticized space6 (a “diagram”), and the other is the construction of a virtual analogue to the real-world (a “map”).

The “diagram” and the “map” dictate how we organize — and therefore see — space. Both represent our world in logistical terms: the “diagram” represents the real-world throgh a series of flows and variables, and the “map” does so through reducing real-world space to topography7. The “diagram” and the “map” come together to produce a “diagrammatic spatiality”8 that — in Michael Benedikt’s words — becomes “a ‘field of play’ for all information,” one where spatial and extra-spatial information (in a diagram of a building, such information would be material properties, load-bearing limits, circulation etc.)9. It is important to understand that to Crogan and Benedikt, the production of a “diagrammatic spatiality” is in fact a translation from a real-world grasp of the world to a diagrammatic grasp of the world that has consequences. It is essentially a virtualization of the world, a reduction of it to a “selective functional fidelity”10, geometric shapes, numbers and figures.

Crogan details how such “diagrammatic spatiality” is a crucial part of how flight simulation developed, and that these perceptual technologies and ways of seeing have made their way into software (in particular, computer games and related software). By understanding how flight simulation and the perceptual technologies that underpin it feeds into how we currently see our world, we start to be able to examine where the virtual and “real” meet in and outside of the software we use.


References:

Crogan, Patrick, Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation, and Technoculture (Minneapolis and London: University of Minneapolis Press, 2011), p. 37–58.

Further Reading:

Bogost, Ian, “Pretty Hate Machines: A Review of Gameplay Mode,” _Game Studies _Vol. 12 Issue 1 September 2012. Available: http://gamestudies.org/1201/articles/bogost_book_review


  1. Crogan, Patrick, “Logistical Space,” Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation, and Technoculture (Minneapolis and London: University of Minneapolis Press, 2011), p. 37–58. ↩

  2. Virilio, Paul, “Military Force is Based Upon Deception,” War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception trans. Patrick Cammilles (Verso: 1989), p. 8. ↩

  3. “Real” is used in it’s layperson’s sense here. The problem of dichotomizing the real/virtual in the sense of “physical” versus “imaginary” is summarized in an earlier chapter: “The ontological inquiry about whether the virtual duplication of something is real or not is a more simplistic and comfrotable question because it leaves untroubled the status of the real as a stable category for interpreting and placing phenomena.” (Crogan, Gameplay Mode, 23–24.) ↩

  4. Ibid., 37–38. “I will look at the history of the development of flight simulation technologies from the 1960s, a development that is a central thread in the wider history of digital computing, imaging, and virtualization.” ↩

  5. Ibid., 49. ↩

  6. Ibid., 48–49. ↩

  7. Ibid., 49. ↩

  8. Ibid. ↩

  9. Ibid., 50. ↩

  10. Ibid., 45. “In relation to the balancing act between simulator speed and credibility that has been a constant theme in the deevlopment of flight simulation, the move away from stand-alone systems toward “distributed itneractive simulation” necessitated a shift away from the goal of maximum illusionistic realism toward the goal of “selective functional fideility.” This was to reduce the demands on the scene generator component of the visual display systems of remotely networked simulators to a level capable of maintaining realtime interactivity for partipants in hte shared space of the simulation.” ↩