Virtual worlds in ruins: an interdisciplinary approach to media archaeology
In the 1990s and 2000s, online virtual worlds appeared, defining new paradigms of the inhabited, the uninhabited and the passage of time. Made by avatars, these persistent universes, with their immaculate appearance, have, however, been subject to several levels of obsolescence and disappearance of life-in-simulation. Now, at the dawn of the creation of The Web 3.0, inquiring about the displacement of the notion of “ruins” of/into these synthetic environments, opens the way to reconsidering it, from aesthetic, material and historical angles. Thus, this research-creation considers itself within the realm of a “media-archeological” and poetic excavation of the recent past, through a layer-by-layer exploration of these universes with their laminated temporalities. It will not only study them in their technological materiality but also “on the surface,” in the first person, to understand how obsolescence affects the stage sets. These two fundamental elements of cartography are the base of our genealogical study. From that dual starting point, transposed to it virtual context, the ruin becomes a reading grid of worlds in rupture with their own history, where past, present and future are projected.
By combining the exploration of three research territories (The Sims Online, Second Life and Active Worlds) and their traces, this project seeks to question what remains of them in order to imagine and evaluate the possibility of ruins through anticipating those ruins. Moreover, the “media-archeological” methodology leads us to ponder the archive of these environments. Their conditions of existence are based on both political and economic decisions, but also on coding and technical objects (as well as recording media). As a complement to a limited soft/hardware preservation, gathering the remains of these worlds allows us not only to think about their fragmentary nature, but also to elaborate a multi-modal documentary preservation methodology based on the memory of places.
Hortense Boulais-Ifrene is a doctoral student in the research laboratories Arts des images et art contemporain (Arts of the Image and Contemporary Art) (AIAC, EA 4010) and TransCrit (English-Language Critique Transfers) (Transferts critiques anglophones, EA 1569) at the Université Paris-8. Her research-creation dissertation, directed by Gwenola Wagon and Arnaud Regnauld, is entitled “Virtual Worlds in Ruins: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Media Archaeology,” at the crossroads of theoretical and artistic curatorial research. In 2022, she co-curated the exhibition Back from AFK (Away From Keyboard) at Poush Manifesto with Lorena Lisembard. In 2020, 2021 and 2022 she was also production manager for the Ars Electronica festival.
Co-direction: Gwenola Wagon and Arnaud Regnauld