Betreten auf eigene Gefahr
Das MOO "Freiraum" ist in einer textbasierten und webbasierten Version erreichbar. Die hybride Softwarekonstruktion ist allerdings beschränkt belastbar und wird von verschiedenen Browsern und Betriebssystemen nicht unterstützt. Das MOO ist seit 10 Jahren nicht mehr gepflegt. Seitenaufrufe und Prozeduren funktionieren nur beschränkt. Einloggen mit "Guest" ohne Password.
Unterwegs zu einer Datenwelt
Zu unterscheiden sind die Protokollvorgaben für SMTP, Telnet oder IRC von ihrer Einbettung in apparative und intuitive Zusammenhänge. Die Textmitteilung, die über SMTP transportiert wird, kommt über einen "mail transport agent" und liegt in einer "Mailbox", von der aus sie "weitergeleitet" oder "beantwortet" werden kann. Zwei Bestandteile sind zu unterscheiden:
- Regeln, welche den Ablauf eines Informationstransfers bestimmen
- Ergebnisse des Ablaufs, die weiterverwendet werden können
Die Kombination von Telnet plus IRC mit einer vorgegebenen Textumgebung erzeugt ein digitales Konstrukt, das als "virtuelle Welt" bezeichnet worden ist. Im Unterschied zu "Roman- und Filmwelten" ist in ihnen die handelnde Person aktuell (mittels eines "Avatars") präsent. Die ad hoc Exploration einer Datenstruktur richtet sich nach den Intuitionen und Schlussfolgerungen der Adressatin. Die Interaktion zwischen Maschine und Mensch geht über die Prozedur einer Supermarktkassa oder einer Passworteingabe hinaus. In der virtuellen Welt kann man "Personen treffen", "Räume anlegen" und "Gegenstände erzeugen". Man kann in einem "Hörsaal" einer "Vorlesung folgen". Es fragt sich, welche Art von Spiel das ist.
Unter dem Aspekt "Spiele lehren Fertigkeiten", der von Euphron genannt worden ist, bieten virtuelle Welten ein reiches Betätigungsfeld für Phantasie und soziale Gestaltung. So gesehen sind sie raffinierte Instrumente zum Training persönlicher und kollektiver Kompetenzen, vergleichbar etwa programmgesteuerten Fitnessprozeduren oder Flugsimulatoren zur Pilotenausbildung. Die technische Konstruktion ist ein Werkzeug zur Erreichung von Zwecken, die ausserhalb ihres Rahmens liegen. Man kann lernen, sie produktiv zu verwenden, aber diese Produktivität wirkt nicht auf sie zurück. Eine "intelligente Bohrmaschine" hat ihre "Fähigkeiten" eingebaut.
Bildung geht über die Verwendung solcher Artefakte hinaus.
Die Einstiegsseite in der Datenbank enCore0.db
Marktplatz 2 Markt 36 5 4 12 2 2 Fußgängerzone. 2 2 Hochragende Giebelhäuser rahmen die beiden Seiten des historischen Hauptplatzes. 2 2 Die Mitte des Stadtkerns besetzt das alte Ratsgebäude mit Turm und überdachtem Balkon. 2 2 In seinem Erdgeschoß ist die Fremdenverkehrsinformation untergebracht. An der Hauptfront führt eine Stiege in den ersten Stock. Zum Rathauskeller gelangt man über Steinstufen an der Schmalseite des Bauwerkes. 2 2 Ein Grünstreifen verbindet den gepflasterten Ratsplatz mit der westlichen Seite des langgezogenen Marktes. Gegenüber füllen die Tische und Stühle eines Cafes den freien Raum zur Hälfte. Sonnenschirme bieten Schatten. 2 2 Südlich liegt ein imposantes Gebäude mit kunstvoller Stuckfassade: die Bibliothek. Daneben schlängelt sich eine kleine Gasse.
Lambda MOO, enCore
Some helpful tools are already built into the database. In addition to being able to add "rooms" users could quickly create "notes" and "containers", include texts and pictures as well as links to distant "rooms", designed by colleagues. They had, at their disposal, the prototype of a "tape recorder", and a "movie camera" as well as the bare outlines of a "bot", i.e. a programmable software gadget entering into (some kind of) conversation with the avatars populating the MOO.
From the point of view of the teacher an interesting feature is enCore's generic "lecture room" providing some welcome filtering of the conversational turbulences that quickly result when students are invited to gather at a place and listen to a MOO lecture, which is another built-in resource, enabling a teacher to publish a pre-recorded text in real time and in a piece-meal fashion, interspersed with live discussion. This procedure can, in fact, be extended to provide the equivalent of a power point presentation. One command set provides for pictures being sent to a browser frame visible to any user present in the "lecture room". This is sufficient equipment to map some of the most common classroom practices onto an IRC-plus-database environment. Basically, it is an internet protocol supplemented with a set of special purpose software add-ons.
The Freiraum MOO developed into a playground for experimental writing, philosophical employment of software and virtual encounter. While I took care to put away enough time for traditional classroom instruction on Nietzsche's book students soon began to react by taking up Zarathustra motives, transforming them into narratives within the MOO. Zarathustra's zoo was established, as well as a brothel featuring the famous photograph of Nietzsche and Lou Andrea Salome. There was a cemetery including God's grave and a desert dedicated to the author of the lines "... weh dem, der Wüsten birgt". A monastery was built, pointing to the achievements of the Christian regime in preparing for the "Superman" who was, of course, depicted in comics fashion. One could enter an itinerary telling the tale of the demise of "the true world" and a labyrinth containing an extensive hypertext discussion of Deleuze, Klossowski and Foucault on Nietzsche. And one of the most elaborate sights was a sequence of rooms offering a Nietzschean view of Sergio Leone's film "One Upon a Time in the West".
The MOO server had, in short, triggered a surprising variety of individual reactions to a philosophical doctrine, evoking an unprecedented drive to merge private fantasies into an imaginary, yet public architecture, held together by the loose metaphor of a small German 19th century town. Philosophers like to write general accounts about the tension between technology and culture. The MOO experience provides another approach. All participants were perfectly aware of the fact that they were entering text into a database. Yet, they were just as certain about the social meaning of the enterprise. Technology and narrative were not perceived as separate domains. One had to simultaneously learn the languages of Nietzsche and the MOO.
I now turn to the philosophical employment of the software and will touch upon two examples. The first one is a kind of self-made edutainment project. Taking their cue from adventure games a group of students designed a high-rise building which, at each level, offers material on Nietzsche's life and philosophy. In order to ascend to the next level you have to be familiar with the instructions given on the previous one. This will let you answer a key question needed to proceed. When a player finally reaches the top and steps out on the roof she is greeted by Zarathustra's animals, i.e. the eagle and the serpent. Nietzsche's catharsis is mirrored in the adventure format and the reward for having completed the game is playfully fused with the philosopher's own doctrine of self-fulfillment exceeding the human subject. This is, to be sure, not profound philosophy.
The second example, however, is a more sophisticated exercise in circularity, a technophilosophical demonstration of the eternal recurrence of the same. The "Galerie Bois" is a collection of 24 icons arranged in a dial-like fashion. Pointing the mouse at an icon pops up a Nietzsche quote. And as you explore the room you notice an endless flow of text produced in the adjacent frame. Two little girls keep repeating an invitation. "Hello, Danny. Come and play with us. Come and Play with us. Forever. And ever. And ever." The girls and the quote are taken from Stanley Kubrick's "Shining". When, finally, you klick the button to leave, you are, however, in for a surprise. There is no exit; you are returned to where you started. It's only after several tries, accompanied by appropriate comments, that you are released from this intelligent and entertaining philosophical trap.
Social behaviour and even philosophical articulation are built upon (and in turn shape) software constructs. A MOO is not just a text depository. Due to the IRC heritage it is a place where persons or, to be precise, their avatars, are quite literally moving between letters. Within the shared digital space provided by the server, text and visuals of different origins are synthesized, items taken from the data base and items inserted from on-going tele-typing are fused into a screen output. Secondly, a virtual community of human participants built upon hybrid data exchange can be regarded as an emergent property of the server functions. Questions concerning identity, embodiment, representation and responsibility arise in due course, yet I shall confine myself to an observation concerning tele-presence.
The IRC protocol is of considerable philosophical interest because of the following novelty: It enables interactive live exchange between persons at widely different locations. Notice that they share a common time, but not a common place; real time meets the virtual blackboard of the chat server. In other words, the participants are present to each other even though it is only their avatars "meeting" on the screen. Our received notions of presence and absence are in for some revision here and, to stick to the current case, the change is already well under way. The MOO is quite unique in inviting participants to use pre-programmed as well as live on-line interaction with avatars to develop ideas and to provoke thought. It is a medium not only to contain and transport information but, at the same time, allows users to explore the modalities of mediation and to employ them in turn as (meta-)information. Here is a quick and concluding example. We had arranged a guided tour through Freiraum for students from the department. As they logged in they were invited to enter a "bus" that led them to assorted sights. Suddenly the bus got stuck in a traffic jam that was, as it turned out, caused by a demonstration of students protesting cuts in the university's budget. Do I have to add that this very day a real life demonstration was to take place?
What kind of linear improvement could one expect from confronting cultural classics with powerful, but largely untested software? As an orthodox philosopher I have to deplore the lack of focus and conceptual rigour invited by the MOO facilities. My attempt to impress students with a professional philosophical reading of the Nietzsche text has certainly been spoiled by electronic gadgets. Yet, looking at the project this way is obviously missing the point. The issue cannot turn on improvement in any straight sense. A change of rules rather than advancement on a given scale is at stake here. It’s easy to overlook that a humble database actually is an entirely new invention, opening up philosophical texts to social on-line co-operation around the clock. Nothing like this has ever existed in the history of the discipline. Students are prompted to inhabit the world of “Zarathustra”. It seems natural that they should shape the printed material according to their need.
I shall only mention three features that turn installations like FREIRAUM into promising platforms of interchange between the humanities and digital, networked communication. Given easy access to object oriented programming techniques students are offered a new approach towards theoretical contexts. Nietzsche’s highly figurative discourse supports this development particularly well. The book’s characteristic geography consists, among other things, of mountains, woods, caves, deserts and islands. Its zoology includes an eagle and a snake, spiders, monkeys, lions and a camel. This entire symbolic inventory can easily be re-interpreted by virtual entities, even though one has to be careful to avoid banality.
The project described here obviously does not fit into mainstream e learning. It does not contain pre-set assignments, discussion forums or carefully drafted units of knowledge presented in an orderly fashion for step after step consumption. The idea was rather to arrange a methodological jamboree drawing on resources from traditional philosophy, literature, theatre and everyday culture, including computer games. There are, consequently, no general lessons to be drawn from the enterprise, but some remarks on popular trends in e teaching nevertheless suggest themselves. There is a huge discrepancy between the common format of electronic classware and the potential revealed by the MOO experiment. Register cards are widely used to provide a digital mimicry of traditional learning units, clearly separated from each other in space and time. This kind of layout provides easy orientation and is, to be sure, convenient for undisturbed information exchange. The drawback is that such classifications neglect some of the most intriguing opportunities afforded by electronic networked interaction.