Cultural value», Vol. 6, No.

4, 2002, 395-417

Digital Dinosaurs and Artificial Life: Exploring the Culture of Nature in Computer and Video Games
John Wills
Oller the last 30 years, the computer and videogame has emerged as a popular recreational pastime. While often associated with the artificial and alien, it is my contention that the modern 17ideogameinforms 011 the subject of "nature" and what we consider to be natural. This article delineates some (~f the "natures" posited in computer game design. It provides a l7Illuableoteroieui of gaming culture and might serve as an introduction to further research Oil specific game genres. It argues that virtual worlds are currently seroing a dual p"rl'Llse, of reinforcing traditional stereotypes of the natural world (as "red in tooth and claw" or as a material resource), while gradually mooing towards radical, new forms of "oirtual" nature to contend with. lt suggests that the mimicking of biological systems ill computer games expresses both our lingering cultural interest ill the "great outdoors" and a need to :{il1e familiarity and substance to an electronic medium marked by its failure to fit with ill traditional notions of space and gt'ogrn/1hy.
Abstract

Searching for the true meaning of nature is an ill-starred quest strangely reminiscent of Arthur Dent's hunt for ultimate knowledge in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1979). "42", the meaning of "life, the universe and everything" offered by the computer Deep Thought, leaves Dent confused and disappointed. Genetic scientists "unlocking nature's secrets" may yet offer an alternative numeric value. Understanding what nature means in a cultural context has similarly intrigued a multitude of scholars.' Raymond Williams found "Nature" to be "perhaps the most complex word in the [English] language" (Williams 1976:219). Nonetheless, Williams highlighted three essential meanings of nature: a statement of human character, an inherent guiding force, and a description of the material world (219). There are, arguably, other meanings - such as nature as the proverbial "other" - and this article promises to touch on some of them. However, [ want to focus primarily on how videogame culture portrays nature in its "material form", examining what computers have to say on the meaning of nature as a biological realm. Recreational technology may seem an unlikely conduit for the study of the culture of nature. However, current theory suggests that there is no hard and fast line dividing the natural from the artificial. As illustration, many scholars now question the "naturalness" of the nonhuman world. Part of the quagmire over defining "nature" itself, confusion reigns over to what extent landscape is humanmade. As with the associated term "wilderness", nature has been recognized as a
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,l~ well .b l'llll'lgic.ll ,lgeJll'Y": In iJlil',IIIIIII,"1 l';,.Plllli' historian Willial11 <. r"J~I)J1 dl'd"I'l'~ nature til ill' ,1 "profoundlx

human construction" bv its complex -ocial heritag« (CnlJ1un 14Y~:2-l), The exh-n: that human exigencies mix with traditional forms of ecological process. so th.n few landscapes are practically left untouched by humanity, furthers this notion of nature as a fundarnentallv ~~)('ialconstruction,· From \"l>rdant suburban lawns t(! ailing trees bombarded by acid min, physical nature is consistently influenced bv human design, TIll' natural landscape 1<; increasingly interpreted (1S .1 culture;' invention, as we endeavor to construct .i "second nature' on top of .! prehurnan "first nature' (Crollon 144l.xix I, Virtual nature represents the apogct' of social construction theory. Unlike citv parks, :lOOS and back gardens, computer nature is the sole rcsl;1t of human enterprise, Ecological interference - the input of other species - is minimized in virtual reality, Only technology inhibits the creation of nature in virtual realms, with memory capacity and program subroutines setting the boundaries of artificial lift'. Such a purt' reflection of how one species views the rest of the natural world has its uses. As Cronon comments on virtual reality, 'although it initially appears to be the least natural of human creations, the most disembodied and abstracted expression of modernity's alienation from nature. it can in fact serve as a powerful and rather troubling test of whether we really know what were talking about when we speak of nature" (Crumm 19Y5:4.5), Digital worlds provide sterile laboratories in which to test human attitudes towards natural terrain and further discourse on the culture of nature. Despite their artificial belongings, computer characters and videogame environments carry significant potential to influence popular conceptions of the natural world, The rising popularity of the computer game as a form of mass entertainment promises significant shifts in the fabric of society. By decoding digital nature in the computer game. we are able to Sl't' the cultural interface of the electronic era at work, From the technological to the natural

Videogames have always relied on their ability to immerse players in coherent virtual environments. While, in recent years, games have drawn on extant cityscapes and wildernesses for inspiration, it is important to note how early computer technology furnished artificial worlds bearing little in common with material reality, The first computer games, dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, typically pioneered virtual landscapes sparse in form and extragalactic in direction. Game cartridges for the Magnavox Odyssey and the Atari 2600 rendered geometric worlds consisting of straight lines and squares. Triangles depicted spaceships in Spaceuiar! (1962) and Asteroids (1979), The novelty of rudimentary electronic landscapes evoked emotional paeans from arcade visitors, who embraced interactive environments despite their unnatural, inorganic demeanors. Players relished the chance to interface with the arcade machine, to become one with the game. They took control, fused with joysticks and neon screens, becoming cyborgs in the process. Game narratives fuelled a sense of hedonistic fantasy and other-worldly adventure. An opportunity to make a "laststand" against alien incursion lured garners to the dark, vacuous screen of Span' Innaders (197R), Consumed by sensations of isolation and struggle, players ducked

Nature took on its traditional role as the inhuman. Nature represented an infernal pest to vanquish. In the form of digital animals. The variety of digital natures found in computer games reflects the complex task of understanding "nature" in contemporary society. programmers cemented views of nature as an impressionable other. transplanting chronic fears of wilderness to digital territories. The mechanistic craft served as a powerful symbol of technological dependence. Isometric adventure 3D Ant Attack (1983). and artificial intelligence dictated game play. Digitized nature served as a valuable game device in its potential to enrich game play and foster interactivity.' It is these digital natures that will now be explored. Other titles depicted nature as a working biological system. Virtual nature behaved "red in tooth and claw" in Nintendo's Donkey K01lg (1981) with an angry cartoon gorilla challenging player survival. poignantly hidden on screen by his or her spaceship. The only natural agent in the process was the player. Other games featured digital recreations of familiar Earth biota. looming spider. slithering snake. Space Invaders created an alternate reality marked by alienation. Players assumed a tacit responsibility to save the planet while playing Space lntaders. Digital Beasts. utilizing traditional cultural antagonism towards the natural world to dictate artificial realities. "Red in Tooth and Claw" Countermanding various computer-generated creatures by timely presses of the joystick represented a key challenge in video games of the early 1980s. and an aesthetically pleasing setting. In The Smurfs (1983). Themes of technological advance. a spiritual guide. players negotiated a wild landscape brimming with peril. Wild pixels fostered necessary bouts of joystick "trigger itch". pixel plants and virtual ecosystems. and otherness. or rushing river. Computer entertainment exploited stereotypical views of insects. 3D Ant Attack resembled 1950s monster movies (such as Theml) that cast mutant insects as dangerous creatures and potent symbols of otherness. The sense of nature as an evil to be eradicated proved significant. Ideas about nature influenced early game design in a less palpable fashion. Success in the arcade game Centipede (1980) depended . Rather than providing textual commands to overcome specific on-screen dangers. featured a sprawling urban environment constructed from rows of identical building bricks. artificiality. reptiles and large predators. published on the Sinclair Spectrum home computer. Arcade attendees took pleasure from taking on savage nature. the other. programmers employed digital beasts to instigate instant joystick reactions.Digital Dinosaurs and Artificial Life 397 behind three decaying blocks while taking shots at a horde of encroaching extraterrestrials. players instantly recognizing nature as a synonym for danger. a platform-based adventure. Giant ants jeopardized player survival by patrolling city streets with ruthless assiduity. Deep-rooted nature myths established the mechanics of game play. players learning to jump and shoot in the virtual world of gaming by acting on their real-world prejudices. material progress. Programmers rendered virtual nature red in tooth and claw. Successful arcade titles drew on established nature tropes so that players knew how to act in unfamiliar electronic environments. every few seconds forced to avoid (usually by leaping) a diving bird. Cherry bonuses in PacMan (1980) underlined a popular treatment of the natural world as a resource base.

1 digital earth .a time of intense imperialism and capitalist rivalry.'ntlpl:.lmes predicate on exploiting "the most powerful human instinct" IIf survival (j Ierz 1947:79). TIll' natural . In order to test player abilities. a few relatively obscure titles highlighted a more . virtual nature continues to be rendered red in tooth and claw and cl fierce rival to contend with 211vears on from Ilu: ~llIlIrf. Thomas Hobbes described .for existence" (Williams 1%0:70). an interminable fight for survival.1 mushroom-filled landsr. "continua II feare. g.pc (1998).rpe.I~ symbols of worthwhile competition.md sundry bv l'\. with nature l·a~t as savage and predatory. The spread of aberrant creatures and killer microbes in game environments mirrors concerns over experiments in genetic science and fears over incurable contagions. absorbing "the gent' tic material of the indigenous creatures. In Leriatltan.'dt' In a ritualistic on-screen uis-a-cuon Along with . an epoch marked by . and danger of violent death" (Hobbes 1651 :62. Darwin delivered a convincing scientific narrative on the survival of thv fittest in the late 1850!>. evolving to become the ultimate fighting beast" (Edge.1 veritable insect invasion. shifting the broad trajectory of human development by creating new "survival of the fittest" scenarios in "survival-horror" adventures such as Dino Crist» (1949). According to programming veteran Eugene [arvis. Both titles helped establish tlupopular gaming philosophy of "rlearinu the screen" of all . Videogame culture meanwhile articulates the need for humanity to adapt and evolve in order to prosper. UlL"l·~SI)r I..1~ . countless bugs signified lL'giti 111 a tl· targets in the quest fllr the proverbial "high score". June 11J99:42)' Popular interest in the genetic revolution thus can be seen to influence the iormat of computer entertainment. Charles Darwin's theory of t~\'oluti(-m lurks in the backdrop of videogame epistemology.1 "state of nature" prior to the establishment of political society.ot . players assume the rule or "genohunters". em adventure game testing the ability of players to survive the dawn of a lethal mutating virus.' Programmers now re-englneer Darwinian theories of evolution to resurrect species of dinosaur on screen. testifying to the pm-wr of technology to reanimate long-dead creatures. Cultural illlxiety over ecological mutations is the backdrop to Parasite f. The ubiquitous adventure gaml' Tomb Raider (1941'1) features wolves and bears to battle with in wilderness settings. :\ "l~ntury later. Virtual nature. Virtual nature as a guide While many action-adventure games in the 19805 and 1990s depicted digital beasts red in tooth and claw.111 additiona i wl'c1pon agains] .1 last-moving l·I..1etin~ a traditional antipathy towards insectWithin videogame culture lies an unwavering fascination with nature defined as el "ruthlessly competitive struggh. electronic entertainment continues to offer c1 culture of nature based around struggle.1 perpetual struggle for resources.'" Virtual dinosaurs walk ... cast (IS mutant ants and resilient insects. In livl:» (200(». /vfilliJ'edc (1 Y82i introduced I)DT pesticide spray· . videogame programmers transplanted ideas of competition and survival to artificial settings. B\' adopting this convention. Designers fill electronic worlds with creatures deemed capable of challenging humanity's place at the top of the food chain." Games embroil arcade aficionados in a psychological battle for human control over nature and evolution.on shooting piece. original pagination).. and Cvntipcdc. Centipede. betravs similar themes of chaos and competition.

"I never thought I would enjoy spending so much time as a maggot" (Your Sinclair. players follow natural (game world) laws laid down by loquacious owls and amiable hedgehogs. In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998).5-98) depended on a symbiosis between a majestic. several electronic stories projected a virtual-based affinity with the natural world. Commonly identified as the opposite of culture.an environmental tenet popularized by ecologist Barry Commoner in the 1970s. entailed a visit to the "Great Deku Tree". Reminiscent of Greek views of nature as "saturated and permeated by mind" (Collingwood 1945:3). manual: 5) a single "Mana" tree and its eight seeds assured peace in the Secret of Mana. Japanese programmers often present nature as a harmonic. unable to continue its role as guardian.Digital Dinosaurs and Artificial Life 399 benign meaning of nature. Computer meanings of nature include Homo sapiens as a species necessary to biological survival. nature thus translates as good counsel (Winner 1986:135). one loosely based on Gaia theory and nature as a functioning whole.11 Through the medium of play. The innovative game Wriggler (1985) encouraged players to empathize with invertebrates by assuming the role of a worm trapped in a garden maze.9 At the same time. Tn order to survive in virtual realms. Only by the dragon and the human relying on each other could both survive and prosper. programmers translate the meaning of nature as an external moral guide and reliable source of instruction. If required. as Link. the broken tree. free from emotion or influence" (Squaresoft 1993. evolving dragon and its less-powerful human rider. Panzer Dragoon thus drew on ideas of nature as "a paradigm of interdependence and cooperation". role-playing games provide worlds shaped by ethereal concepts of goodly and wise organic life forms. Link assumed a stewardship role in the kingdom of Hyrule. the first duty of the player. called to Link for assistance. ideas of nature as a perfect system reflect cultural angst over societal health. . As "the guardian of peace. One computer journalist exclaimed. a towering dendron responsible for protecting the mythical wilderness of Hyrule from evil. Cronon highlights this form of nature as "a stable external source of non-human values" (Cronon 1995:24). and "an extraordinary interlocking system of mutual advantage" (Williams 1980:70). Assuming a folkloric kinship between human and animal creatures. This definition of nature proves customary in Japanese computer role-playing titles. Digital nature provides room for human input and adventure. such titles demonstrate a need for humanity to contribute to the functioning of natural systems. Final Fantasy games (1990 onwards) continually forward the notion of two diametrically opposed world-views. November 1991)7 Success in the Panzer Dragoon series (199. and were rewarded by learning to interact with their reptilian ally. The omnipotent tree proved emblematic of a nature worshiped for its rational judgment and ability to sidestep bias. Nature increasingly becomes a source of marvel for its semblance of holism and self-government when citizens worry over urban and political decay. Dying from a supernatural curse. humans can themselves serve as guides. Computer titles draw on the aphorism that "nature knows best" . However. Players realized their relationship with the dragon as one of interdependency. balancing force in game worlds wracked by social turmoil. the other promoting unfettered capitalism and industrial growth. this is perhaps no surprise given the overriding aim of the videogame to involve the player. As political scientist Langdon Winner points out.

to be appreciated by the connoisseur's eye sweeping over em expiln~e of landscape.J. Computer chips generated impressive collages of gushing waterfalls and mystical caves.I sense of player immersion. Like paintings. tl small. As in Thomas Cole's Catskill Mountains paintings. Arcade game~ such as Bombjack (1 Q84) and I'IlIIS (1 Y~4) employed picture backdrops to grant two-dimensional playing fields e1l1 illusion of aesthetic depth. Picture backdrops helped establish the idea of "eve candy" in videogarnes. trustworthiness. superficial embodiments of the natural world compromised (the already problematic notion of) virtual realism. from a distance similar to their organic brethren. With computer games propagating the concept of interactive entertainment. Whill. A two-dimensional embodiment of nature sets significant limits to interactivitv. The dawn oi three-dimensional graphics in the mid-1YYOs promised . programmers cast nature as c1 visual spectacle. Designers recreate flora and fauna in digital guise to grant legitimacy and coherence to their artificial worlds. the scale of the digital scene reduced the player to tl mere onlooker. there is a good chance it has already left the realm (If firsthand experience and entered the category of constructed experience that we can appropriately call simulation" (Hayles 1YYS:. I am not making it up'" (Winner 148b:122).:' granting their spectators engrossing views. The use of cultural and natural landscapes furthered . This is trustworthy. "to invoke 'nature' or 'the natural' in discussions in about social life is in affect asserting.. As technological advances guaranteed greater processor power. Virtual landscape designers transplant nature .I~ "the physical world around us" tl' myriad digital plains. Static "picture postcards" of monumental landscapes such as the Taj Mahal and the Parthenon distinguished BlllII/l_jack and PmlS from an older generation of games based around spatial voids and alien invasion. 'This is real.IS el tool of authenticity. giving e111 alien form of interartivitv the veneer of earthiness. This constructed state of organic abundance draws on the idea of nature .l three-dimensional universe with an . at first. I.-lllll i ~\. Developments in computer technology made this possible. Game designers soon recognized the need for players to interact with virtual nature in order for it to seem real. ultimately. As Winner explains. hllelo. Technology. videogame worlds came to resemble the canvases of Romantic-era painters in their favoring of grand wilderness displa ys. "When 'nature' becomes an object for i'i~litllconsumption. <. on new forms of adventure. videogarnes exalting nature as strange and magnificent. Computer games similarly use nature .IS .tl'd ." (i. Virtual forests and wildlife serve . aesthetic sweeteners to consume while playing. Digital nature apparently needed to mimic material liti' in order to gain stature among players. Virtual flora resembled plastic trees.1~ familiar frames of reference for players embarking.. static computer backgrounds failed to deliver a more rounded experience of nature's meanings by their focus 011 aesthetics. Videogame programmers indulged in their own electro-Romanticism./If!I'I' Mar.1 universal. and.J 111. limited representations of physical nature to symbolic and rudimentary forms. As N.ii- Nature: the physical world around us I'rogramrners frequently employ 11. Launched in 14411.1lUl't:!d~ a sign of authenticity in viocogames. such fine-crafted landscapes only partially simulated the nature experience. but close lip verging on the facile and inanimate. Katherine Hayles elaborates.1 new level of visceral engagement. in-ignificant and solitary figure. Like Romanticists. physical property.

videogames have regularly posited an alternative idea of nature as the quintessential unknown. eminently reducible to a series of mathematical instructions and machine codes. and established their own favorite virtual places. declaring. computer programs codify biotic systems. Romantic and science fiction influences merge in videogame epistemology. Nature as the unknown While the coherency of places such as Hyrule intonates that nature is perfectly understandable from the design point of view. and shot up into the air when burnt by hot lava beds. . a few games even experienced their own environmental problems.Digital Dinosaurs and Artificial Life 401 unrivalled richness of landscape. leaving the impression of a fully functioning ecosystem. A three-dimensional Hyrule proved similarly impressive in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. the imaginary becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish from reality. for the player. of "evolving". swam against water currents. (1985) to the verdant greenery of Myst (1993). In the quest to simulate a cogent reality. as if the machine automatically replicated organic life for the player to interact with. With developments in artificial intelligence allowing virtual creatures to act like their real-life counterparts. Early promotions for the Playstation 2 console relied on footage from the fighting game Tekken Tag Tournament (2000). The authenticity of artificial life (AL) thus threatens to undermine nature's meaning as a separate and distinctive physical plain. in turn. artificial life appeared capable of taking its own direction. From the snapping cartoon plants in Super Mario Bros. Programmers. The cyber-world of Ultima Online (1997) became so popular in the late 1990s that issues of overpopulation and resource depletion loomed. Videogames seemed destined to replay at least some of the tricky relations between humans and natural world. Edge computer magazine marveled at the authenticity of the game world. "Its vibrancy is almost tangible. Rather than focused around the player. Digital life forms contribute to the dissolving of boundaries between the natural and the artificial. nature appears knowable and replicable. Static picture backdrops have given way to sophisticated simulations of natural behavior. and a diverse array of domestic and wild animals. it feels alive in a technicolour hyper-real sense" (January 2000:70). and ruin. Mario (an Italian plumber) traveled across slippery snow. night and day (including a virtual sunset)." Digital forms of calamity seemed to mimic real ecological crises. of behaving independently. resemble Enlightenment philosophers in their treatment of nature as a machine. A promotional program showing butterflies landing on a lily pond recently silenced vociferous critics of Microsoft's X-Box console. This level of mimicking can question the true worth of material nature when artificial environments offer comparable experiences. Increasingly. Hyrule featured distinct weather patterns.Witnesses wowed at blades of grass blowing in a virtual wind. while a phantasmagoria of characters bludgeoned each other to death. Players purchased virtual properties on Internet trading sites in order to stave off ruin. The divide between the artificial and the natural appears to be closing. Players marveled at local fauna and flora. Such elaborate natural facsimiles demonstrate human knowledge of other species. A technology capable of rendering endless new worlds became a platform for replicating the one planet already mapped and populated.

~Vi/l. Reminiscent of .1 special treat. games routinely encouraged players to collect and catalogue countless plant and animal species lurking in virtual wildernesses. players shot Pokernon (on film rather than with a light gun).. explored and also respected. and with it.based textual adventures III till' IlJHOs assumed the form of multipleroute narratives.1 theme park ride. a mil-bound vehicle carried the camera-wielding player on cl winding route across Pokemon Island./lWII Snap forbade players from exiting the cart and disrupting resident wildlife species. Multiple-screen adventures such as IItic Aiac ("] 983) and Sabre WIIlf ("[984) invited self-taught lessons in cartography.. Explorers in . place names and curt textual descriptions served CIS game worlds.. Programmers have defined electronic nature as an agent to contend with since the earliest arcade machines. The centrality of nature in games is hard to avoid. player experiences. Resembling eighteenth-century botanical vuyages to the :'\ew World.u): . Players were unable to alter the natural landscape. literature scholar Ted Friedman posits the land as a crucial determinant of success and failure. Virtual nature thus shapes many game worlds. A bastion of ecological responsibility.to mark the natural boundaries of player movement and the edges of the arcade display. instead having to memorize virtual geology and adapt to sudden changes in course.as symbolic representations of mountains . /. Exploration typically operates as a cardinal game device. To help locate hidden treasures strewn across vast gaml' worlds. and. A mixture of wildlife photography and biological classification. with digital nature high in electro-Romanticism. Such computer narratives relied on the human imagination to conceive resplendent realms featuring nature dS . computer gamers fervently mapping complex mazes and pathways. Computer ." Friedman also notes the similarity between "the spatial storv that simulation games tell" and scholarly works of environmental history such <ISChanges ill the Land (1983) by Cronon. in part. Scramble (1981) first pioneered the use of virtual landscapes . Despite the absence uf visual elaboration. it's the hero of the story. Only by exploring the virtual landscape can the secrets of nature be fathomed. Such non-invasive environmental didacticism encourages the perception (If nature as an independent world to be visited.1 force capable of shaping individual fortune. POkt. similar to Steve jackson's dice-based "gamebook' Sorcvru' (1983).F . The initial appeal of home computer games in the 19ROsrested. players have in the past created their own impromptu maps.l virtual domain often discover nature to be . compass settings. Mimicking the sensations of low-level flying. a bright yellow mouse with the power to produce electrical energy. A collection of signposts. threw apples to Pikachu. Both Zork (1980) and Tlu: Hobbif 119M2) perated as interactive electronic o novellas. Instead. "The map is not merely the environment for the story. the scrolling shout-em-up required consummate joystick professionalism to constantly avoid the treacherous digital peaks which rose up from the bottom of the screen. One Spectrum title The Forcs! (1983) even served as a practical introduction to orienteering.1 dominant ethereal and material force. videogarnes helped mythologize nature c1~ vibrant and mystical. Scramble employed jagged lines . as . Pokcmon SIIIlI' (2000) invited players to engage with eponymous digital creatures in their "natural environment". Discussing titles such as Sid Meier's Cirilizatiou (1941). on the enjoyment of mapping fresh virtual territories.1S barriers to human progress. declaring.

An "appetite for encountering a succession of new spaces" contributes to both historical and virtual endeavors. Progress rested on sufficient knowledge of the game world's idiosyncratic features and how best to exploit its natural resources. the hugely successful Command and Conquer (1995) tied military campaign success to the effective monopolization (and depletion) of a game world's mineral deposits. Through exploration. Commencing with a tiny stretch of soil surrounded by darkness. to forward the separation of humans and nature. Released in the mid -19905. the overriding significance of landscape in videogame culture has failed to translate into sophisticated understandings of nature. mapped. their attempts to conquer virtual game worlds reminiscent of historic acts of subjugation. annexing peoples and countries to their initial home territories. its value dependent solely on human use. virtual nature was reduced to a goods store. and mastered by players of Nintendo video games" (Jenkins and Fuller 1995). Players symbolically transformed dark. Rene Descartes' motion to "render ourselves the masters and possessors of nature" seems pertinent to the actions of most game players (Descartes 1637 [1931]:119). nature commonly shifts meaning from the unknown to the known. motivating pioneer European explorers such as Christopher Columbus and games players adopting the role of Italian plumbers Mario and Luigi. and mastered by European voyagers and travelers in the 16th and 17th centuries and the fictional. virtual machinery enabling the transformation of squares of "wild nature" into proud icons of productivity. Devoid of intelligence or independent purpose. unlike Poktinwll Snap. Reflecting the cultural dominance of industrial capitalism. By "working" virtual . players of Cioilization gradually extended their influence across huge game worlds. virtual battles rendered the natural environment a basic raw material and expedient casualty. scholars Henry Jenkins and Mary Fuller recognize common ground in "the physical space navigated. Technology allowed players to establish cultivated regions from worthless land. Comparing computer entertainment to New World travel writing. Technological inventions in the game world aided plans of environmental conquest. brightly lit plots of farmland and urbanity. Several titles have paid homage to this colonial impulse.Computers seem to offer their own contribution to the idea of technological triumphalism over nature. most games identify the passage of knowledge with a transfer of power. programmers have too often presented biotic life as a simple human resource. Sabre Wlilf offered players the opportunity to assume the position of a nineteenth-century European explorer searching for lost treasures in a jungle occupied by unfriendly tribesmen and deadly creatures. However. unknown (and implicitly savage) land squares into recognizable.Digital Dinosaure and Artificial Life 403 Both avid games players and learned ecological historians focus their attentions on issues of environmental determinism. mapped. digitally projected space traversed. of defining possible scenarios for the terrestrial explorer and the virtual pioneer. Myriad game worlds draw on "Nature as a stock of economic goods" (Winner 1986:123). Players indulge in lengthy bouts of colonization. nature moving from a sovereign realm to an obedient servant of humanity. Virtual nature emerges as a bedfellow of material nature. A virtual resource In terms of game play. capable of shaping human destiny. Mimicking their real-world counterparts.

1 convenient electronic resource for shoppers. and.(J. as well as for mass consumption. VVili"· nature. players buy the opportunity to shape their own electronic landscapes. a park to design. satisfy desires of consumers to experience wild nature at home. mixing their labor with the product!' ol nature. Gardensoft claimed its game to be "a powerful and accurate mowing simulation". computer games indicate a mass market fur "nature fakes".. Nature embodies a commercial product dependent i. such as wind chimes and quartz stones. Videogames reliably provide visits to famous golf courses and desert islands. /. playermeanwhile assumed d proprietary relationship with tilt' land. In providing virtual landscapes fur player entertainment. Plavers g. Simlsle (1995) challenged players to develop a tropical island without causing catastrophic effects on delicate rainforest ecology.I·\ Nature as playground By purchasing games. homely climes. Even if tapping the letter "M" on a rubber keyboard hardly replicated the controls of a gaspowered grass eater. In the process.I. ultimately.j.. the meaning of nature is sometimes reduced in size. Just as capturing the essence of "authentic nature" in shopping malls has tested the resolve of the Nature Company. Conventional notions of humans as superior to nature (Merchant 1980:143) are tested by the ability of games to demonstrate human failure when taking charge of simulated terrains. A vital ingredient of gaming. where humans gained property b) .1I1 us for definition. artificial mementos and ersatz experiences of the great outdoors. Cardensoft's Advanced Laummotoer Simulator (988) for the Sinclair Spectrum transposed the holy grail of horticulture to a computer setting by tempting players to nurture the perfect digital lawn. they also highlight the fallibility of such an enterprise. A virtual stdtl' III nature resembled that posited by John 1ocke. programmers also explore their own idiosyncratic nature designs.lVe nature meaning and worth bv their own actions. Nature is simplified for technological expediency. nature is similarly packaged and commodified as . While multiple titles imply the need for humanity to assume a role as guardian. Natural products. turning wild plots into f. players relished the convincing aural thrum of the computer mower and the speed with which it "got grass". Videogame culture also has room tur tashionable modern treatments of nature as a recreational resource. Computer simulations offer . Titles in Will Wright's Sim series meanwhile continue to explore environmental quandaries associated with natural resource management. to exercise control over digitized ecology.j. Similar to animal figurines sold by the Nature Company in US shopping malls. Computer games thus allow players to dictate nature's development in virtual recreations of familiar. The game environment of Adoanced Laummotoer Simulator accurately simulated the mundane nature of mowing with d screen full of anonymous strips of green pixels.umldnd in the ~dl11~ 01 L·ii'/k_IIIII'. Virtual nature represents a canvas to paint. Software purveyors vend computer images of nature based on popular meanings and metaphors about ecology. 14 Computer games wrestle with the difficult question of human stewardship over nature.. fur sale. fitting ecosystems onto computer discs equally challenges the most capable game programmers. !\:atul't' served cb a resource lor progress towards a better society.

Computer games resemble theme parks in their unbridled focus on participant enjoyment. artificial entities such as Pikachu. In sprawling metropolises divorced from wild nature. In its compactness. Yoshi's Island has a tremendous variety of landscapes. Both Disney and Nintendo corporations strive to construct the ideal play world. but possessing just enough animal traits to . Mimicking park schematics. The accompanying player's guide to Super Mario World 2: Yoslli's Island (1995) notes: "Though small in area. Mario's scrolling adventures resemble cartoon reels produced by Walt Disney and Warner Brothers. programmers have duly recognized the possibility of artificial1ife. Successive sumptuous feasts of two-dimensional eye candy. the computer game offering an electronic voyage for new Romanticists. tasty magical mushrooms. The bounteous isle provides a technicolor adventure in electro-Romanticism. in particular. digital-based life forms seem possible. as well as formulate novel meanings. writer J. Game coders fashion unique. Each virtual "land" teems with cartoon biodiversity. The profound challenge of recreating organic landscapes in binary form inspires successive feats of virtual engineering. In Joystick Nation. an electronic mouse not found in the real world (unless you count shopping malls). a welcome break from industrialism. and internally coherent. Robert Wells terms Yoshi's Island a "Dream Garden". their endless barrage of "eye candy". Nintendo. rather than taking their cue from wilderness. smiling white clouds. and vibrant colors. the other by exploiting computer technology. videogames afford valuable escapes to greener pastures. equivalent to Cronon's concept of "second nature". Dark caves plunge deep beneath lush forests" (Nintendo 1995:4-6). Rather than simply replicate known landscapes and creatures. and climbable jungle vines. and their undisguised superficiality. backyards. programmers let their imaginations (allied with technology> forge fresh virtual terrains and species. Rather than seek out nearby woods. C. Despite the implausibility of such ecosystem diversity. kids (of all ages) enthral themselves in the fantasy world of Yoshi's Island. Virtual nature becomes part of making nature safer and more comfortable for society to cope with. Herz describes video games as "theme parks of the mind" (Herz 1997:145). brings Disney-style theme parks into the home. theme park. or even distant "material" theme parks. to the extent that new. Virtual nature is. Artificial nature thus offers an illusionary escape from artificial lifestyles.Digital Dinosaurs and Artificial Life 405 humans the opportunity to shape new forms of nature. or a "Virtual Idyll" (Wells 1998:149). Towards virtual nature: (i) The dawn of artificial life In making virtual nature. Earth biota assumes the form of verdurous "blocks" of grass. one by employing Florida and California real estate. Programmers assert a meaning of nature based around its entertainment value to kids. at the very least. fluffy. Snowy mountains tower over sweltering jungles. if not amounting to a third stage in the evolutionary process. Yoshi's Island presents an engrossing. accessibility. Mario games perfect virtual playgrounds (or microenvironments) to rival the trips to "Frontierland" and "Tomorrowland" provided by Mickey Mouse. digital flora and fauna replicate the well-trimmed bushes and artificial plants found in Disney theme parks. programmers include virtual nature as part of the fairground attraction. Nintendo presents nature as a series of animated characters such as Koopa the Quick (a tortoise) and Toad (a talking toadstool). but reached only by technological interfacing.

terrestrial places. I pr till' avid player. sentience and reality. with their own artificial brains. In the mid-199I. owners of virtual pets regularly treat their artificial offspring with the same affection as they do real cats and dogs. rantasticai di~it. an original.l·vj/i. (1lJ%) encouraged players to nurture artificial creatures with the same diligence as they would real-life babies. Blue]: IlIld Whit£' (2001) stands out for explicitly forwarding the concept of the player as the crucial protagonist in the evolution of virtual life. interactive and coherent realm that appears very real. it d(ll:'~ not seem to matter that virtual nature owes more to imagination and technologv than to scientific observation. responded to player commands via a microphone. the fusion of technology and nature. the genre of the "god game" has granted players. internal organs. Players apportion meaning to virtual nature through technological experimentation and godly oversight. electronic entertainment has played . Games show what we want nature to be. cleaning and disciplining pixelated life forms. Uncomplicated by material forces.1 significant role in promoting the concept of virtual nature by encouraging players to take responsibility for novel digital forms of life. what we want it to become. Moreover. Advances in artificial intelligence and computer technology have allowed both programmers and gamers to mold increasingly sophisticated artificial life forms. make it St't:'111 dlin' . computer worlds ably illustrate our predilection for crafting environments from scratch. It is this aspect lIt computer entertainment that advances a radical proposition. on a practical level. Whill' accepting 7iltllag(ltchi creatures as animate being!'>ultimately depends on widening traditional definitions of life. fantastical creations.li realmbecome familial. owes much to longstanding human fascinations with playing God in till' natural environment. extant nature. 1:0 reorient what we understand as natural. genetic codes. the 1. a fish-man hybrid. Over the past decade. feeding. able to determine the movements and characteristics of chosen creatures that OWt~ their existence to you.·1I}c· . With till' increasing sophistication of virtual realitv.ls. digital worlds reflect the imaginings of programmers. Plants and animals in virtual environments depend on Homo sapicn« for their genesis and destiny. their God. In recent years.l!.1Ild of Hvrule akin III . It not only transcends established meanings of nature but also tears down the barriers separating the organic from the artificial. Dating back to Populous (1989). In this final section. touching on the proliferation of artificial life forms. computer . I want to brieflv consider innovations in virtual nature. Via c1 computer platform. and the persistence of a mythic "return to Eden" narrative that together inform many gamin~ titles. addictive handheld virtual pets such as 7imltlglltch. of virtual life. and ecosystems. but retains few tangible links to terrestrial ecology or geography. As unique. Creatures (1996) for the PC featured independent teddy-like life forms ("i\iorns"). while Seaman (2000). namely the dawn of tl truly virtual nature. the impression of sculpting fresh systems of life. videogames (arry the potential to immerse us in worlds that appear natur~ll despite their roots in machine code. the idea of nature as our experiment finding fertile soil in digital realms. humans exercise omnipotent power over d digitized world that revolves around the player.I local park despite its virtualitv Pikachu and Hyrule are part lIt il virtual nature that has the potential to redefine popular perceptions of place. Videogame culture thus harbors the potential to influence our perceptions of material.1I1d "of nature". at the wry least. The rise of virtual nature. For the average player.

. Some assume a strong mechanistic countenance with cyber-age. and. point toward a state of techno-nature potentially revolutionary in scope: the cyborgization of the nonhuman. the microchip services plans by humanity to dictate nature's pathway. a cybernetically enhanced Newman. Following on from the plow. Towards virtual nature: (ii) The rise of techno-nature By interfacing with the computer. Progress in artificial life replaces conventional biological systems of creation with technological subroutines and pathways. assumes the chief role in a new electronic version of nature. Front Mission (1995) and Xellogears (1998) postulate worlds marked by a proliferation of Manga-styled Mechs. assuring the continual rise of a biomechanical world. while a small part of today's high-tech industry. envisioning life as a gunmetal cyborg. players nurture the growth of their individual "Mags". unaffected by the presence of other species. bulldozer and artificial pesticides. In a broad setting. it is no surprise that digital nature often betrays a robust machine influence. to avoid the cat. the mechanizing of species other than Homo sapiens. by consequence. computer technology abets a lengthy project of civilization to make nature an obedient technology. A number of game titles have so far welcomed the machine into the garden. humans tinker with the shape of life in a binary terrain by continually playing with viruses and matrices. Players assume the role of the human inside the machine. Rather than physically working the soil. Technology. Computer games thus offer glimpses of a new form of nature manufactured by human and machine. space mice consistently employ technology (in the form of rockets) to circumvent traditional predator-prey relationships-in essence. In Phantasy Star Online. Digimon (1999 onwards) games sport a variety of animal-machine hybrids that players collect and "raise" to higher levels of sophistication and consciousness. computer games. to the extent that spotting the divide between the natural and the artificial becomes impossible as well as moribund. In another Dreamcast title. The Mechs resemble giant robots dependent on human operators for their existence. rather biology. the cultural dominance of computers comments on the process of interaction between technology and nature. Phantasy Star Online (2000). With their virtual pets and artificial life. nature appears transportable to a new realm of meaning marked by technology rather than biology.Digital Dinosaurs and Artificial Life 407 games further the idea of nature as a social construction because virtual nature can be nothing else. best visualized as a space pirate's cyber-parrot. and thus dedicated to our cause. Technology and biology emerge as syncretic forces. Used for planning landscape gardens and genetic farming. while others take on a biological demeanor. players choose from the outset whether to embark on an adventure as a human. preparing us for the advent of biomechanical life forms. or as an android. Computers service the technological crafting of nature (or techno-nature). In the Dreamcast puzzle game Chu-Chu Rocket (1999). The Mags require regular feeding to evolve into new forms. The role of the player is merely to aid the mice in their technologically facilitated exodus. small roboticanimal creatures that float above the player's on-screen character's shoulders. Videogames have also explored the classic cyborg of human-machine hybridization. Given the extent to which technology impacts on contemporary society as well as ecological systems.

cyborgs also promise liberation. brimming with metal and machine. trepidation derives from traveling across landscapes devoid of earthly.'i . but impregnated with artificial life. As portrayed in Sonic Spinball (1993). Only it blue hedgehog. Just as the US Atomic Energy Commission used one of the first microcomputers. Appropriate given . Computers appeared partnered to this meta-narrative. Samus. The technological patina of Robotnik's world indicated its fall from grace. in turn. Robotnik methodically encased native creatures in metal ensembles. Yet Sonic. represented . able to explore an alien . The arcade shoot-em up R. A technologically crafted world has thus been simultaneously celebrated and derided in the modern videogame. In the original SOllie the H. the savior of nature. The robots meanwhile gradually take on (as well as influence) the pl'rs(l)1. As the sole human figure in the game. Such a narrative posited technological progress as servicing the separation of humanity from nature.1 palpable threat to biological existence.'dgt'llOg (1991). technology signified cl tool capable of distancing humans from their fellow species. Myriad machines subsumed nature with dire consequences. its inhumanity. !'.'r temporary exits the machmc entail till' exploration (If . . mining carts and toxic waste barrels. In Squaresoft's Final Fmltasy Vll.1 virtual goddess rising up above th~' twisted biometal. While Ml'troid highlighted the advantages of "techno-nature" in matters of survival. Only at the game's end (having defeated a giant mechanical organism called the Mother Brain) is the true identitv of Sarnus revealed dS a beautiful woman. The SOllie series constructed an artificial (and naive) divide between nature and technology. for calculations behind the first Hydrogen Bomb (Cowan 1997:294>. struggling with cl "destroyer personalitv" that unleashes the true destructive potential of his machine.\l'II(1gl'llrs when' the playt. players found themselves participating in an animal-led revolution against the nefarious arch-industrialist and maniacal inventor Dr Robotnik. From the invention of the axe to the first flight of the space shuttle. the lead character. Technology. till' player controls a "superhuman" cyborg. A sense of ambivalence towards techno-nature inhabits myriad game worlds. technology and planetary survival. innocent and functioning ecosystem.ll"01 their humans. literally mechanizing the ecosystem to suit his scheme for world domination.Jtl. appeared capable of separating technology from nature.I computer-generated "!ldety marked bv tilt' dorninanco of technological artifacts and genetic mutants. Sonic offered an environmentalist perspective on the relations between humanity.md forbidding subterranean world when' ordinary humans would inevitably perish. Robotnik used computer technology to overpower and ruin the earth. familial nature. Robotnik's realm consisted wholly of rusty pipes. by freeing animals from their mechanical suits. In till' Metroid (1986 onwards) series. Fei. green slime. Building on Enlightenment philosopher Francis Bacon's theory positing nature as machine. For players assuming control of a small craft on a trip through vast space caverns. Videoganu. the ENIAC 294. Sega programmers defined "nature" as a pure. many alternative titles offered narratives condemning an amalgamation of technology and ecology. Robotnik showed technologically advanced culture to be the enemy of nature.ill- Sections lit . an advanced technocity superstructure floating above its organic base only succeeds in polluting the land below..Type (1987) best captures this bipartite spirit of anxiety and exaltation. appeared hardly free from genetic modification given his blue hue and "sonic" speed.

Nature merges with technology. . are infatuated with relations with technology. its creation a form of digital nostalgia for paradise lost. multiple titles recreate past states of nature and society. In Reinventing Nature. whether old-growth forests or downtown Santa Fe. Parodius appealed precisely because of its virtual menagerie of cutesy whales. Players thus wander a mechanized wilderness. As well as computer games engaging in futuristic explorations of organic machines. predicting as well as memorizing patterns of enemy attack. an electro-Romantic exodus. exploring a chaotic. of cyborgization. The parody entailed the casting of nature as the antithesis of biomechanical technology. Parodius relied on orthodox game epistemology to encourage players to automatically fire on friendly species. The techno-world of R-Type is itself almost "natural" in its coherence. bucolic realm. Programmers envision unexplored wildernesses on a new electronic frontier. a stark symbol of individualism. Computer environments play host to a broader exploration of nature as Eden. presenting an intoxicating interpretation of techno-nature. Games provide a new platform for the perennial transformation of earthly biota into idealistic visions. Player success depends on the defense of a sole iconic spacecraft.' and Gradius with a scrolling landscape inundated with cartoon creatures. Triumph in both games rests on thinking like a machine.TYllc. Boasting an aesthetic style reminiscent of surrealist artist H. Virtual nature thus panders to desires for nature untouched by technology or humans.familiar marks of biotic realism identify the fantastical world of Gradius l1I (1991). both R-Type and its precursor. Paul Shepard comments: "As fast as the relics of the past. the arcade machine Parodius staged a parody of shoot-em conventions. Hashes of biota provide an aesthetic balance to the harsh lines and otherness of robot steel. techno-nature. Sand dunes and water bubbles . both R. Electro-Romanticism follows on from the works of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in promoting nature as an idyllic. The appeal of such game environments rests on their synthesis of the artificial and the natural. Natural spectacle enticed arcade devotees to place coins in the machine and take control of Pentarou. against waves of maniacal mechanical automatons with artificial intelligence. In 1990. Replacing the customary biomechanical worlds of R-TYI1i. ultimately becoming a cyborg in an artificial universe. Despite the opportunities to forge game worlds unimpeded by natural laws or social conventions.Digital Dinosaurs and Artificial Life 409 their purpose to lure people into interfacing with electronic amusements. providing digital eulogies to distant times. R. Towards virtual nature: (iii) A return to Eden Not all games predict a future teeming with cyborgs. are demolished they are reincarnated in idealized form" (Soule 1995:22). but also symbiotic. Giger. Wild nature had usurped the techno-nature of Gradius and R.Type and Gradius present mechanical game worlds with discreet biological patinas. programmers continue to construct folkloric realms such as the Arthurian kingdom of Ultima (1980 onwards). pink octopi and baby chickens. The game world had shifted from one vision of machine dominance to another based on biological abundance. videogames drawing on old Romantic paradigms for inspiration. Gradius (1985). a heroic blue penguin capable of firing "poton" torpedoes. Some prefer a return to Eden. Virtual nature becomes synonymous with romantic sentiment and primordial innocence.

Wild nature in the American adventure gamt' Myst is supremely rendered. purity. and pastoral \ illages. agricultural fields. programmers hav« olton disagreed over its specific form. Nature is subtly rewritten in the process. In this frame. Through the gaml'. and independence. In Other titles underline \. The construction of perfect digital ecologies indicates human-technological prowess at "making" natur .1 return to paradise. the cultural pursuit of the wild enters virtual terrains.'>: Forc« n 991 011\\ . and takes on a fresh technological allure.irds) arc viewed from above. virtual nature is an inauthentic facsimile. . a curt symbol of human detachment and alienation from the biologically nonhuman. "Humans and nature construct one another" (Wilson 1992:B). Force presents . Ii" It is both mvstical and realistic. virtual nature amounts to little more than c1 surrogate wilderness blanket. This dawn of a virtual nature coincides with escalating fears over the state of material nature. and even cities. Many virtual natures In The Culture of Nature. do coders unconsciously champion a virtual nature of similar fakery? Environmentalists might suggest that simulated nature hardly amounts to c1 worthy replacement tor the "great outdoors". Those who have' never comprehended the wonders of tree bark or plant shapes in the material environment marvel at the digital shrubbery in the computer gaml'. Shinin-. videogames. people indulge in nature inside the g.and the island paradise III My~t indicates a growing cultural belief in the highest state of artificiality as naturalness. While complex natural environments comprise of thousands of species interacting. the possibility even lies of technology forging better nature.Iap. resulting in a sanitized. anonymous dungeons. Alexander Wilson posited. locale only to visit for cl while. and a veiled threat to the survival of real wilderness..I patchwork quilt of beautiful forests. partially test the hypothesis. Amidst '. picturesque mountains.. virtual landscapes stem from the design templates of cl single life form. Creator Rand Miller explained his desire in Myst to put "together something that felt like a real world" (Stern 1997). .II1t:'Sl' roleplaying series Shill ill.. where even the most wild and overgrown regions . The technological sublime and natural sublime meld together. Shaped purely by programmers.1 paradise with rural and familial elements. ecologist Bill McKibben charges that industry and technology have destroyed nature's independent vitality. While such an exchange is easy to identify in national parks. of replication serving as replacement.m Arcadian scene only fractured by multitude dank. rather than in . By exercising hegemonic power over flora and fauna in game worlds. To some. They reinvent nature in a technological realm. Closer to plastic trees than tall redwoods. virtual wildernesses arguably show more about social values than plant biology. synthetic landscape. Rather than take to the park or a walk in the wilds.1ft' inst. In The End of Nature (JlN()).. the artificial trees of Mysl.. derisory for its sheer artificiality. +ldcmess as something other-worldly and nonhuman . exuding vitality.Whill' virtual nature offers .mtlv navigable by orderly trails and helpful guides. by their purely technological synthesis. digital flora relies on human technology alone for its synthesis. Conventional game worlds in the .. Computer games such as My~t provide electronic exoduses from humdrum cities to sublime realms of fantasy.ll1ll' due to its convenience and clearly signposted rewards.

On a broader level. as virtual architecture. two "consensual hallucinations" in the on-line game (to use William Gibson's much-quoted phrase). and we ourselves frighteningly inert" (Haraway 1991:152). that programmers see fit to convert nature into computer machine code reminds me of Gibson's classic depiction of cyberspace as a revolutionary domain without geography. as suggested by this article. allow us (as fresh initiates of cyberspace) to make sense of. Digital trees and flowers. "nature". there is no single route that we use to negotiate with the natural. Nature in the game thus affirms the definition of nature as a "societal category" offered by Georg Lukacs (Lukacs 1968:234). As there is no one nature. Games also comment on the application of technology in the environment. or (in computer terms) to process. "Our machines are disturbingly lively.Digital Dinosaurs and Artificial Life 411 a manicured suburban garden. A future world founded on technonature and the return of the Garden of Eden represent two competing visions in the computer game. According to evolutionary biologist Thomas Ray. . It is no wonder that such an experience can be mesmerizing. physical surroundings. "technological progress" versus "a return to wilderness". or techno-optimism versus electro-Romanticism. adroitly reflects the "many conflicting ideas of nature at large today" (Wilson 1992:13). and have always created. One theme to emerge from this article is that a desire to explore multiple relationships with the natural remains part of human nature. "Human nature. As Carolyn Merchant points out. to smooth over the jump from the earthy and the material to the electronic and the virtual. The underlying presence of biotic references in computer games testifies to a perpetual fascination with physical (as well as virtual) "other worlds". a key aim of artificial life (AL) remains "to introduce the natural form and process of life into an artificial medium" (Hayles 1996:146). a place without place. unfamiliar surroundings and pathways. They remind us of how we create. is one of the most complex concepts in western culture" (Herron 1999:xii). That many virtual natures exist in the game. a spatial void. virtual nature often reflects traditional attitudes towards material nature . stationary except for their mouse-clicks evidence of Donna Haraway's claim that. disassociating them from conventional modes of communication and interaction. lies behind the verdant greeneries of every Nintendo title. bewildering. Others betray the need for an organic veneer to new forms of technology. Nature in the game has so far been used to fill this spatial void. like nature itself. and substantiates labels such as wilderness as cultural constructions. They show our seemingly endemic proclivities to make over the natural. Games show the culture of nature in a technologically determined world.the electronic medium enforcing conventional outlooks on the organically nonhuman. Videogames ably illustrate the diversity of our behavior towards both artificial and natural environments. They signpost the virtuality of the real. Garners sit for hours gazing at computer screens. As we have seen. Some predict a clash between the man-made and the natural. The videogame experience temporarily serves to separate people from their immediate. and occasionally facile. Games highlight the myriad roles that humans assume in society and nature. the influence of mechanization and industry over popular meanings of the natural. The idea of the naturalization of technology. especially in its electronic realms (Helmreich 1998:238). Artificial worlds thus mirror one of the most intriguing cultural dialectics of the modem era. Players of computer and video games (especially on-line titles) find themselves in a realm that defies material logic.

Island. and remind players of the constructed world they enter. Technoevolution suggests new forms of nature . and in that sense. digital bytes serve as fresh building blocks in making our virtual nature (an electronic) reality. In turn. As Crumm introduced the concept of a second nature in Nature' . Despite veritable advances in technology. nature. but how little we consider the cyborgization of nature... and understanding... In virtual pets. ln the process. by working the soil. ignorance of the post-natural also reflects the early stages of virtual nature. superficial in that the perfect digital bushes. it is strange how interest has peaked ill the cyborg as human-machine hybrid. but not necessarily the postnatural. and other examples of technonature. However. analready part of the machine. As Henry Jenkins relates. even in this primitive technological guise.1 comfortable. superimposed our visions onto the material landscape. Alternatively..Mt'tr(lp(l/i~ (199'1).. and the rise IIi amorphous identities.. Scholars reflect on the post-human. if its niodu« operand! is to serve a~ . the presence lit virtual nature may proVt~temporary and supertioal ·1 barrier between humans and tilt' machine: temporary in its proviso to offer .. and us too. "One of the limitations of the contemporary video gantt' is that it provides only pre-structured forms of interactivity. In a technologically dominated world. so as to take into account artificial life forms deemed both technological and natural. Naturalizing electronic landscapes 111. In the computer age.. delineating how the remaking of material nature operated through the meat-packing hub of Chicago. Virtual nature answers our need for the organically nonhuman in the technologically nonhuman. but transitory. there remains the capacity to shift popular understanding of the natural through successive encounters with virtual life. No doubt linked to the influence of cyberpunk and visions of the future as city and computer based. realm of existence. and. virtual nature may be here tll stay as biological fragments dragged with us into the cyber-future. the identity of nature may be changed..J.i:' «. video games are more like playgrounds and city parks than wild-spaces" (Jenkins 149R).in the binary form of viruses and sentient computer characters. Ravmond Williams' "nature" as a description of the material world might require refining for a new dimension of virtual nature. Players whiling away their days in the Mario universe may expect from nature a hyper-reality to match the clear colors and textures of fllS"i' . virtual nature servicing the continual collapsing I)f boundaries between the artificial and the natural. Traditionally we have imagined (or virtualized) what we want nature to be. new possibilities for nature have opened lip on the horizon. perhaps the cyber-cities of Filial Falltasy point towards a third nature where we finally dispose of the meat entirely. ~'vili- However. The rising dominance of cyberspace IMS consequences for natural space. videogames familiarize millions of players with virtual nature and animal cyborgs. Videogames help pioneer this process. Predetermined actions underscore the finite limits of videogame freedom. especially if so much game play leaves little time for genuine experiences of the great outdoors..of digital life . bridge to a nev.1y at sorru: point be considered an unnecessary denial of their technological properties . computer entertainment in the 19905 has provided only maladroit illusions of organic lift:' and biological spontaneity.. 1 refutation of their intrinsic binary qualities. Prolonged exposure to virtual worlds full of digital dinosaurs and artificial life will most likely lead to new ways of seeing. Videogames ma~' yet encourage a tacit acceptance of biomechanical life forms.

Freedom Forum. The small cadre of titles included Turck: Dinosaur Hunter (1997) and interactive versions of Steven Spielberg's [urassic Park (1993). colonization. 7. 1971:41. For discussion of game worlds and virtual landscapes. 15. congestion and runaway housing costs". Provenzo 1991). Funky Bee (1982). 3. see Cronon (1995). Cronon (1995). so we chose to use dangerous animals instead. Colorful shots of historic places and natural vistas also distracted players from their immediate tasks in the foreground. 11. On the social construction of nature. and development even more completely than do the stories of individual conquest" offered by Nintendo. 72. (Winter 1996/7). by definition. causing them to badly time jumps in Bombjack or miss the balloons in Pang. Macnaghten and Urry (1998). and Wilson (1992). see Wild Earth. Claiming that "any major man-made change in a natural system is likely to be detrimental to that system". May 1999:41. Another critic lamented the commercial failure of a title that "could have changed the public perception of hermaphrodite non-vertebrates for ever". Edge. Thus. Friedman nonetheless expresses concern over a genre utilizing maps for its interface rather than physical interactions with game characters. Useful introductions include "The Natures of Nature" (Coates 1998:1-17). Games may present nature as a source of nonhuman values. and "The State of Nature Revisited" (Winner 1986:121-37). and Space" in Greg Smith (ed. 4. houses. Soper (1995). Soule (1995). the videogame has yet to receive much in the way of academic commentary. 6 (4). Jenkins 1998. producer Shinji Mikami studied the behavior of crocodiles and dogs. Creator of Tomb Raider Toby Gard commented on his use of wolves and bears: "I wanted to make a game where you didn't go around murdering hoards of faceless evil minions. 71. See Friedman. see Fuller (1995) and Friedman (1999). June 1999:71). 6. "Ideas of Nature" (Williams 1980:67-85).). all virtual nature is engineered by human process. especially overcrowding. Crash magazine. graphic designers created convincing artificial dinosaurs in the "survival-horror" adventure series Dine Crisis 1 and 2 (1999. lakes. Despite the absence of living examples to motion capture. 2. An increasingly Significant part of popular culture. and for wilderness. Commoner. Most scholars have concentrated on issues of violence and gender in video games (Greenfield 1984. but. 9. 5. Virtual parasites also reflect subliminal trepidation over computer bugs and e-mail viruses. Computer bytes perhaps represent an artificial embodiment of nature "red in tooth and claw". Commoner offered "Nature Knows Best" as "The Third Law of Ecology". Ted 1999: "Cioilization and Its Discontents: Simulation. see Eder (1996).2000). 12. players hovered above green fields. Subjectivity. In order to portray dinosaurs biting and feeding on screen. "Civilization II's dynamic of depersonalization elides the violence of exploration. Freedom Forum columnist Jon Katz noted: "so many people are coming online to play that Ultima is facing serious real-world problems. In another title. May 1999. from reasonably good intentions we ended up making a game where you spent most of the time killing endangered species" (Edge. 10.Digital Dinosaurs and Artificial Life Notes 413 1. Friedman worries that. 8. Of! a Siluer . Kinder 1991. April 1985. Notable works that consider the meaning of nature include Collingwood (1946). The problem is that man has pushed all of the dangerous animals we chose close to extinction. Edgt' magazine described Capcom's Dine Crisis 2 as the latest example of a growing "dinosaur extermination genre" in computer entertainment (August 2000:26). For an alternative view of wilderness positing its material form. pleasure boats and a variety of shrubs while searching for flowers to pollinate. See Prescreen: Dino Crisis.

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Wriggler (1985). Bandai. Secret of Malia (1993). Sabre Will! (1984). Squaresoft.Digital Dinosaurs and Artificial Life Parasite Eve (1998). Irem. His doctoral dissertation (2000) concerned environmental protest on the central Californian coastline. Konami. TamIl Raider (1996). Super Mario 64 (1996). Pokimoll SnaI' (2000). Telckell Tag Tournament (2000). CBS. Phantasy Star Online (2000). Sega. Acclaim. SimAnt (1991). Populus (1989). as well as ideas of "second nature". Sega. ShiniflX Force (1991 onwards). Namco. SimI51e (1995). unpublished. Squaresoft. Maxis. Maxis. Sega. Eidos Interactive. Sollie Spinball (1993). Origin Systems/Electronic Arts. Pirate Software. . Taito. R-T. S. Nintendo. Nintendo. Zork (1980). 417 John Wills teaches at the University of Essex.. Scramble (1981). Sega. Sega. lnfocorn. Xenogears (1998). (1985). Nintendo. Seaman (2000).lIIce War (1962). Turck: Dinosaur Hunter (1997). Ultima Ill: Exodus (1983). He is currently researching the meaning of the park in popular culture. Tamagotchi (1996). Space Invaders (1978). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Super Mario Bros. Sonic tire Hedgehog (1991). SimEarth (1990). Ultima Online (1997). Parodius (1990). Origin Systems. Nintendo. Squaresoft. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (1995). Maxis. Konami. Bullfrog. The Smurfr' (1983).1I11f! (1987). Ultimate.

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