Posted this a week or two ago on my blog site and really thought it would find more of an audience here. In fact, I did have this site in mind when writing this and a few other entries, but somhehow have found myself unable to post on here for weeks now, likely because my account was soooo seldomly used. Anyhow, I hope someone out there finds this of interest. What do you all think about the early CD-ROM era?

About a week ago, I wrote a blog about technology and quality. The blog was entitled The CD-ROM Revolution. Few read it, and fewer commented. This is okay. I only write these as a measure of my own productivity outside of work/school/interpersonal relationships and because they interest me. Remember also that this is an obscure and only moderately political subject matter most people won't find of interest, and that it is also of great cultural value. I am following up that blog(s) with another one examining the subject matter of some of these early multimedia in analyzing a notable theme many early CD-ROM games and entertainment mediums shared. This themes is one of great relevance given the current state of our world and especially of the United States In this country, where "reality" TV continues to push scripted television off of the airwaves, we as Americans are currently fighting a too-often silent battle against a very real (as opposed to feigned) reality TV that we, as Americans are the very real stars of every day of our lives. Sigh . . . . This will be a very unfocused blog for me.

The fact is, even before George W. Bush took power, Americans were on screen and/or monitored in some way more in their daily lives in modern times than in any other period of human history. To some this would come as no surprise, given the digital revolution (as in, digital has, by now, almost completely subsumed the less powerful/more cumbersome analog standards of yesteryear) that has made such monitoring/peeping easier. However, the extent to which we were and are monitored would come as a surprise to almost everyone. Seven or eight years ago, I heard a statistic citing the amount of hours the average, busy American spent on videotape. Although unable to recall the pecific data, the amount of hours (yes, hours) we spend observed by human eyes or electronic eyes is staggering and more than a little spooky. Is this the age of the Number of the Beast or what?

Then Bush came into power as President, and we were attacked by terrorists, after which our cronie President and his flock had a collective wet dream and quickly put the average American under surveillance. Security at airports and at the borders went insane, red-light cameras were increasingly erected at intersections all over the country, and Bush ordered warrantless wiretapping of Americans en masse, internet activities were increasingly monitored and we found out just how traceable our private activities, browser histories, and information and identities really are. Bush's executive order for wiretapping effectively implicated private companies such as the ones we pay our phone bills to in this horrifying seizure of power over the populace.

Digital media and media at large, which once only feigned such surveillance in books like Orwell's "1984" (written in the high-1950s), films like "The Conversation," "The Parralax View," and "Network," in "Reality TV," and in early CD-ROM entertainment. Of historical significance, film also brought us what is likely the greatest synthesis of social commentary and wish fulfillment (of the desire to see without being seen) in Alfred Hitchcock’s amazing “Rear Window” starring all-time greats James Stewart and Grace Kelly. The film is a tour-de-force and is still used in film and art classes, among other things, due to its significance in the field.

Too long forgotten, I hope this early period of the digital revolution (and make no mistake, CD-ROM was a large and central piece of this revolution) is remembered and revived in history books and cultural works. I hope to help the process with this blog by summarizing what was going on in the trendsetting world of early "interactive" or not-so-interactive digital entertainment.

Of note in recent years, artist Wendy Richmond has used her cell phone to record digital videos of commuters, people on the street, and in general of people's public daily activities without their knowledge or consent. She then, again without their consent, artfully organized vidoes of this footage into pieces that have been exhibited on the net and in exhibitions around the world. In a somewhat similar theme, artist Hasan M. Elahi was taken into custody by the Feds upon departing a plane that had just arrived in the United States after a return trip from (I think) Switzerland. He was questioned and interrogated regarding his reasons for his frequent travels and his activities. Upon his release, he was informed he had been fingered as a possible terrorist harboring and transporting bombs. Hasan experienced a blatant act of racial profiling, and not only gave the feds his personal phone number, but has ever since maintained in an art piece available on the world wide web in which he monitors his own daily activities, updates them on the hour through writings, copies of ATM receipts, cell phone pictures, and much more. This information is free to the public, and to the Federal government to monitor, and monitor it they do. The site, called "Tracking Transience," has shown a great many hits from the Federal government, who continue to monitor his activities which he has willingly (and satirically) made available to them.

With this in mind, it is important to remember that the very origins of early CD-ROM entertainment has a great history of voyeurism. Scopophilia, the act of deriving pleasure (even sexual pleasure) from watching has a long history in film, but it is important to derive a distinction here, in that early digital technology gave the player/viewer a more active (labeled "interactive" so often at the time) role in this viewing. "Full motion video," a now dated and increasingly unusable term, was the talk of the day, especially when it came to computer and video games. Real actor could, for the first time, appear to move realistically, just as in real film, on a game screen. Games could, for the first time, be FILMED, not created pixel by pixel, or polygon by polygon, for mass audiences. This enew sense of power allowed game makers like Phillips Media, Sega, American Laser Games, and Digital Pictures to create games that made kids and adults feel as if they were [participating in the action. Problem was, although games and systems were increasingly marketed as "interactive," or "FMV," or "interactive ccinema," or even "you are part of the action!" the reality was that the technology wasn't able to deliver, and so not only did players and viewers eventually grow bored of the fact that they were watching more than playing after the novelty wore off, but they were resigned essentially to thwe role of viewer. This was useful in itself, however, because companies soon began to realize that viewing in itself was a pleasure, in particular to a more "adult" (and I use the term loosely) audience, and they were able to market many games under the pretense that not only were you part of the action, but you were able to view it without the characters knowing you were viewing them.

A brief history at best, and a footnote even in the history of videogames, this odd period is best exemplified by games such as the notorious "Night Trap," from the now lon defunct Digital Pictures. PResident Tom Zito was a huge proponent of the "next wave" and of "interactive cinema." "Night Trap" was not only one of the first CD-based games to use real actors for any length of time, but it was a ticking time bomb, and politician's and parent's realization of the new power to influence and befowl the imaginations of their children and the game's even mildly rique nature ignited into an inferno of controversy and backlash. The company's games were boycotted, but at the center of it all was the idea that cxhildren were playing a game that allowed them to be peeping toms; to be able to peek in at a "private world" (as best put in Alfred Hitchcock's seminal "Rear Window"), only insterad of this private world simply involving a murder, it involved a teenage girl's slumber party, vampirism, and multiple abductions and murders involving a drill to the neck. During gameplay, viewers (and make no mistake, this is what they are in this case) are allowed to use a concealed camera system set up around the house to switch between rooms while watching the action, mystery, and violence unfold. Tame even by that day's (1992) standards, the action nevcertheless involved scantily clad teens and grisly murder (the United States senate and Tipper Gore also, at various times, included meat hooks, prostitution, and rape in that list, although none of it was true). The game was briefly pulled off shlves before Digital Pictures, Sega, and the PC market decided to capitalize on the craze by rereleasing the banned game just in time for Halloween with a repackaged Sega CD and 3DO release and a PC "Director's Cut" of the infamous title.

One of the early CD-ROM titles was easily indicative of the game comp[anies' discovery of the duel nature of these "Full motion video" games/movies as products which allowed "ionteraction" with live actors in gameplay and which allowed the fulfillment of voyeurism, an often powerful drive in the human psyche. The game was tellingly called "Voyeur," and was popular enough to warrant a sequel several years later on the PC ("Voyeur II"). The game was delevoped by PHillips Media in promotion of their then new CD-i Interactive Player ("Player" used to distinguish the console as not merely a child's toy, but as a game player, movie viewer, and edutainment oasis for parents and their kids). "Voyeur" was hailed as the new system's showcase piece and was also released for the srtill novel PC CD-ROM. The game went right for the throat in being an essentially adults only title with a 'M' for Mature rating. The adult-themed title was the "Basic Instinct" of video games and interactive entertainment in depicting S&M, sex, sexual activity, innuendo, drug use, and p[olitical and sexual intrigue, along with a healthy dose of murder. In practice, the action was only the equivalent PG-13, the acting was at times comical, and the sex was often audio only. It was more daytime soap opera than Sharon Stone. However, this time the game played on a very real "Rear Window" style of peeping. You, as the playerr, are located in a swanky moder art-inspired p[enthouse across the way from the mansion of an industrialist and politician Reed Hawke who is set to run for the office of the U.S. President. Hawke is a nasty guy and its up to you to videotape and gather otgher evidence of his corrupt ways and to expse this data to the public at large to destroy his campaign and save the country. However, with a high-powered telescopic lense, and avanced videotaping equipment, the game is much more direct in its approach to giving the player the sense that they are really looking in on things they shouldn't see, but must. The game's a great play, but it is also further proof that there was a trend towards voyeurism in early interactive games and media.

Other games of this type included Ground Zero Texas, Double Switch, and many more. Collectively, these games and entertainment display that the media at large, even in this early era of digital media, was keenly aware of the public's lust for gossip, for the skinny, and to see what they shouldn't be seeing. They knew we pined for the details of the lives of the famous and the admired. They realized that reality was the goal, and they later attempted to fulfill that goal with Reality TV, with The Blair Witch, and with gossip rags and all the Paris Hilton's we could handle. The coming of CD-ROM merely perpetuated a trend that has existed in film (most notably, exploitation films of the 70s and 80s and the film noir "genre") for decades and on daytime TV for almost as long. The digital revolution merely focused this lust and the power to deliver its satisfaction in a way that had never before been as potent, or as addictive. CD-ROM was the early synthesis of this power.