Lev Manovich: Synthetic Realism

In Chapter four, The Illusions of Lev Manovich’s book “The Language of New Media” synthetic realism and its discontents is clarified.

When discussing theories of illusion in art and media Manovich brings forth three potential arguments concerning three different relationships. These relationships are image and physical reality, image and natural perception, and present and past images. So, before computer media the following were sufficient:

  1. “Illusionistic images share some features with the represented physical reality.”
  2. “Illusionistic images share some features with human vision.”
  3. “Each period offers some new ‘features’ that are perceived by the audience as an ‘improvement’ over the previous period.”

Today, a breakaway from these theories is found in synthetic realism by moving synthetic images, such as, interactive 3-D computer graphics and animation. This allows for one to experience the moving around in a simulated 3-D space. Games are interactive in that they are animated in real time. When full motion video occurs in a game there is a higher level of detail resulting in realism.

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bludgeoner8
Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bludgeoner8

New realism is not analog or uniform. “New realism is partial and uneven.” Manovich elaborates that 3-D computer graphics are basically incomplete because there are gaps and white spots to be found. In contemporary culture, 3-D synthetic imagery is used more often resulting in a problem of realism. According to Igor Hardy’s Gamer’s (illusion of) Freedom”, “the player’s imagination can be best stimulated and deceived in order to identify with events inside the game, while making the player oblivious to the rigid patterns built by the machinery behind it.”

Manovich also sheds light on synthetic photographs produced by computer graphics. Manovich reminds one that although synthetic photographs may be considered inferior to real photographs, synthetic photographs are not only “too perfect” but also “too real.” This results in synthetic images generated by computers representing not only our reality, but also a different reality altogether. So, synthetic images represent the future not just the past as traditional photographs fully represent.

Manovich offers another perspective on existing theories in relation to illusionism. Essentially, previous theories place the subject acts as a viewer. New media turns the subject into a user interacting with a representation. Thus, the user is given control over the illusion.

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