Rune Klevjer – Graphic Virtuality and Agential Twofoldness

This research work aims to conceptualise graphic virtuality as a distinctive media form, which is the commonly defining element in a range of screen-based (2D / 2D) or immersive (VR) interfaces, in gaming- and non-gaming contexts. I argue that graphic virtuality is a specific form within a broader field of virtualities, which is uniquely able to recast the relationship between action and representation at the level of perception and bodily intentionality. The overall argument is drawing on Merlau-Ponty (2002 [1962]), Sudnow (1983), and Walton (1990), and I will use the Angry Birds (2010) mobile game as a point of departure. I suggest we can define graphic virtuality via 5 core concepts:

1. Perceptual concretisation is the process through which abstract information
structures are being encountered in perception as concrete objects, as objects of our “extended touch” (Sudnow 1983). Graphic virtuality is a concretised agential structure, a sort of magic conversion from the realm of the symbolic to the realm of the tangible. The concept of concretisation (or reification) resonates with the broader idea that “virtual” means virtually physical (fex a virtual disk drive). In terms of graphics, concretisation may refer to a conversion from on-screen visuals and visualisations to concrete objects.
2. Virtualised intentionality is the perceptual habit corresponding to the process of
concretisation. “Virtual” in this sense is a subject-side modifier; we are virtually looking around a corner, we are virtually crashing a vehicle. Graphic virtuality is a virtualisation of bodily space, via a process of perceptual habituation.
3. Graphic virtuality is a perceptual game of make-believe (Walton). Pulling a rubber band in Angry Bird is analogue to seeing a ship in a painted picture. In graphic virtuality, actionable structures are thus inherently representational (“fictional”). This resonates with the general idea that virtuality collapses the distinction between action and representation.
4. A virtual body (avatar), as offered by for example Super Mario bros. (1985), is a
concretisation of virtualised intentionality. Via the mechanism of prosthetic incorporation (Merleau-Ponty 2002 [1962], a virtual body extends our body as both subject and object. Crucially, therefore, virtual bodies can be acted upon, allowing us to vicariously interact with and inhabit virtual environments.
5. I will suggest that there is an agential twofoldness in graphic virtuality, which requires a dual account of rational action. Whereas an experiential or “situated” account of rational action is premised on an actor’s perceptual access to a certain state of affairs, epistemic accounts are premised on an epistemic access to states of affairs, i.e what we know, or think we know, when we act (Davidson 1963).

On an experiential account of graphic virtuality, we are rationally interacting with virtual objects, environments and agents. On an epistemic account, we are intentionally changing states of affairs in computers, for ludic and aesthetic purposes. Because of the double agential structure that is characteristic of graphic virtuality as a media form, both types of accounts are necessary and appropriate.

Davidson, D. (1963). Actions, Reasons, and Causes. The Journal of Philosophy, 60(23), 685-700.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002 [1962]). Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge Classics. Nintendo. (1985). Super Mario Bros. Nintendo.
Rovio. (2010). Angry Birds [Android]. Rovio.
Sudnow, D. (1983). Pilgrim in the Microworld. Eye, Mind and the Essence of Video Skill. Warner Books.
Walton, K. L. (1990). Mimesis as Make-Believe. Harvard University Press.